A Jawaharlal Nehru University professor resigned from his administrative positions on Friday after the Delhi Police registered a sexual harassment case against him. The case was registered on Thursday after seven students in the varsity filed complaints against him.
The accused, Atul Kumar Johri, is a professor in the university’s School of Life Sciences. He is also a special invitee in the varsity’s academic council.
In their complaints to the police, the students accused Johri of often passing remarks with sexual overtones, demanding sexual intimacy from students, commenting on their appearance and threatening them with ruining their academic careers.
The police later registered a case under sections of the Indian Penal Code related to using assault or criminal force against a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty, and using words and gestures to outrage the modesty of women, senior police officials said.
On Friday, groups of students protested outside the university’s administrative building, demanding that Johri be immediately suspended.
Chain of allegations
On March 10, one of the students who eventually filed a police complaint had sent an email to Johri in which she questioned his conduct, and called him a characterless person, but did not specifically mention sexual harassment. The student had copied that email to several individuals associated with the School of Life Sciences, where Johri is a professor, said students privy to the complaints.
The same day, the student left her hostel room and did not return. On March 12, her parents filed a missing person’s complaint with the police after they failed to contact her for two days. The student was later traced to a relative’s house.
But by then, her email had led to other students emerging with similar allegations against Johri. Over the next few days, eight other students came out to speak of similar harassment. All the complainants are enrolled in doctoral programmes in the university. The time period of the allegations of sexual harassment against Johri range from 2011 to 2018, said students who are known to the complainants.
On Thursday, seven students, including the 26-year-old who wrote the email lodged police complaints on the basis of which a case was registered. On Friday afternoon, two more students lodged complaints against Johri, taking the total number of complainants to nine, said a police official.
On Friday, university students protesting outside the administration block got agitated at one point when it emerged that unidentified officials from the varsity’s administration had taken six of the nine complainants for a meeting with the Vice Chancellor.
No trust in internal committee
“We were asked to show evidence against the professor [Johri],” said one of the complainants. “But we refused to do so because a police case has already been registered and the matter is sub-judice now. We were also asked to take up the matter with the university’s Internal Complaints Committee, but we refused that proposal too as we have no trust in the committee.”
In September, the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration had dissolved the varsity’s Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment committee, an independent body, and replaced that with the Internal Complaints Committee. Students and teachers in the university protested against the order and moved the Delhi High Court. While the matter is still being looked into by the court, the Internal Complaints Committee remains functional in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
While the police said that the case was now being investigated, till Friday evening, they were yet to summon Johri for questioning.