Atul Kumar Johri, the Jawaharlal Nehru University professor accused of sexual harassment by his students, was arrested by the Delhi Police around 5.40 pm on Tuesday, days after a First Information Report was registered against him following several complaints.

By 6.10 pm, he was taken to the Patiala House Courts in central Delhi. By around 6.30 pm, Johri’s lawyer moved an application for bail. By 7 pm, Johri was granted bail and he walked out of court despite being booked under a non-bailable offence in as many as eight separate cases.

What went wrong?

On March 16, after seven students in the varsity filed sexual harassment complaints against Johri, the police registered a case against him on charges of outraging the modesty of women and using words and gestures that led to outraging the modesty of women.

The first of the two charges is non-bailable in nature and is punishable by imprisonment, whose term can extend up to two years.

It then took the police three days to ascertain that each complaint actually merited a separate case. This is because each complainant has a different narrative, and the time and place each alleged criminal offence occurred also differs.

On Monday, students from Jawaharlal Nehru University surrounded the Vasant Kunj police station, under whose jurisdiction the varsity falls, demanding that separate cases be registered against Johri in connection with each complaint, and that the professor be immediately arrested. The stand-off led to students clashing with the police. Hours after the episode, the police finally registered eight First Information Reports against Johri on the basis of the multiple complaints they had received against Johri till that point.

Multiple First Information Reports means Johri will be tried separately in each case. In such circumstances, even if an accused manages an acquittal in one case, they can be convicted in another, said senior police officials and lawyers.

Why the delay in arresting Johri?

Explaining the delay by the police in taking action against Johri, Dependra Pathak, a special commissioner and spokesperson of Delhi Police, said: “We had to take legal opinion on the matter. There was some confusion because the initial set of complainants had approached the police together. Later, it emerged that there was a considerable gap in terms of time of occurrence of the criminal incidents.”

But was there really confusion about the time period of the alleged sexual harassment? From the day the first complaint was made – when the complaints were clubbed together – it was clear that the alleged incidents took place between 2011 and 2018, as has reported earlier.

But despite registering the first case against Johri on March 16, the police took three days to summon him for questioning – he was called to the police station only on Monday.

“This happened because Johri was a lecturer and held administrative positions,” said a senior Delhi Police official who did not wish to be identified. He added that the police were suspicious that the complaints against Johri could be part of campus politics as Johri is also at the centre of an ongoing attendance row in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Johri has claimed that he has been targeted for his stand in favour of the compulsory attendance rule. The row over mandatory attendance has seen a massive agitation led by students, and has led to the lock-down of several schools and centres in the campus.

When Johri did not turn up for questioning on Monday, he was summoned again the next day, and was finally arrested after around three hours of questioning.

But in court, the Delhi Police seem to have failed to vigorously object to Johri’s bail application. Students and activists severely criticised the Delhi Police for this.

The criticism prompted a statement by the police on the matter. It said:

“All the facts and circumstances were elaborated before the Court, including the fact that the accused has been arrested in eight cases. The bail plea was opposed by Delhi Police mentioning the apprehension of the complainants regarding intimidation from the accused, he being in various authoritative position in JNU. After hearing both sides, the court has given Conditional Bail to the accused with the conditions that the accused should not hamper the investigation in any way or intimidate the complainants and also furnish the surety of Rs 30,000 each in all eight cases. Further investigation in the cases is on.” 

— Dependra Pathak, Delhi Police spokesperson

Lawyers, however, say that these are general conditions that apply in all bail cases.

“It seems the prosecution was way too reluctant in taking a firm stand against the bail application,” said Bidit Deka, a Delhi-based lawyer. “The casual attitude of the prosecution and the police authorities in such cases can be precarious in ensuring the safety of women.”