Stop Maligning Students Who Complain About Harassment: Alumni to Symbiosis University

It’s been nearly a month since Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad (SLS-H) found itself mired in controversy for evicting two students from their hostels right after they complained about being sexually harassed by a professor, Srinivas Mehthuku.

After the college put out a statement citing “disciplinary misconduct” and “Defaming the Faculty Members, Institution and Symbiosis System in Social Media” as reasons for evicting Snigda Jayakrishnan and Y.K. Apoorva, approximately 600 alumni from Symbiosis law school campuses across the country came together to express their concerns to the university’s management.

At the time, the group was hoping to get a positive response from the management that would clarify the sequence of events involving the two students. However, now, they are choosing to publicly express their concerns over the university management’s actions.

The following is a jointly released press statement from the group detailing the nature of the two students’ complaints about the college’s redressal process as well as the university’s reactions to their complaints.

“With the entire nation speaking up in support of the #MeToo movement, its deeply worrisome that the recent incidents of sexual harassment against 2 students by Professor Srinivas Mehthuku and other misconduct which have arisen at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad (SLS-H) have been swept under the carpet. The extreme responses of Symbiosis International University (SIU) to such claims of harassment have been inadequate and reckless. There appears to be an intentional conflation of matters with a view to obfuscate the issue and shy away from taking responsibility for obvious deficiencies in handling such sensitive matters.

Also read: Symbiosis Law School In Firestorm For Evicting Two Students After They Alleged Harassment by Professor

It seems that a couple of students of SLS-H had repeatedly raised the issue of sexual harassment on campus, but having received no satisfactory response from the college, resorted to writing a letter to the Commission for Women and Child Development, requesting directions to the college to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to hear the issues. They also later took to social media forums to raise their grievances, including other issues of institutional deficiencies. In response, college authorities claimed that they had set up an ICC, which conducted fair proceedings and looked into the matter, yet failed to disclose the findings or report of the ICC to the students. To make matters worse, SIU issued public statements, which muddied the waters, aggressively claiming that the students in question had numerous disciplinary issues and poor academic and attendance records.

It is unsettling to see the manner and extent in which SIU has responded to these issues of sexual harassment and other institutional shortcomings. The students who have spoken up have had their reputation maligned, with official press releases naming and shaming them.

In light of the above incidents, a large number of alumni have written to SIU expressing their concerns about the actions of the institution with respect to the issue of sexual harassment and the treatment of the students in question. These concerns, unfortunately, have not been addressed adequately and SIU seems intent to stick to its guns insofar as its treatment towards the students is concerned.

Without getting into the merits of the issue and accepting that each side may have its own version, what needs to be considered is the proportionality of action that the college has taken in this case. On various allegations of sexual misconduct by a faculty member, SIU claims to have suspended the person in question, but on disciplinary issues, the college has gone ahead and punished the complainants, making it appear more like vindictive and vengeful retaliation for highlighting deficiencies. This attitude trivialises the genuine grievances of students regarding sexual harassment and other institutional deficiencies, and must be condemned strongly. The very public adversarial stance taken by the institution against its own students and the statements issued by the institution which, for all practical purposes, malign the integrity and character of the students, are disproportionate and unwarranted, and unbecoming of the standing and reputation that SLS carries within the community.

SIU’s conduct of releasing public statements prior to conclusion of any pending proceedings is a clear indication of the high-handed approach of SIU towards the students and the alumni who have raised issues presently. The likelihood of any committee constituted by SIU being impartial and unbiased is remote considering the public position taken by SIU in advance of these proceedings. It is therefore essential that SIU be called upon to take responsibility for its irresponsible actions of releasing public statements, and constitute committees which inspire faith amongst the larger community to look into the alleged disciplinary issues of the complainants; sexual harassment complaints made by the complainants; and the issue of the leaked CCTV footage which is a significant security threat on a residential campus.”

It remains to be seen if and what the university’s management will say to its concerned alumni.