SC lays down the law to St Stephen’s over unfair internal inquiry

New Delhi  — St Stephen’s, one of Delhi’s top colleges, came in for fresh criticism on Monday with the Supreme Court pulling it up for what it called an unfair internal inquiry against a professor for allegedly making “defamatory remarks” against the principal, Valson Thampu.

The remarks against Thampu were in connection with his handling of a 2010 sexual harassment complaint against the college librarian. The court’s rap comes at a time when the principal is facing demands to step down for allegedly trying to hush up a recent molestation complaint against another faculty member and “intimidating” the victim, a PhD student.

Pointing out that the inquiry committee instituted against professor Nandita Narain on January 8 last year was filled with members nominated by Thampu himself, the court asked, “The inquiry sought to be conducted by you amounts to being a judge in your own case.”

“Because you are St Stephen’s, it doesn’t mean you can do anything. Is it that no law applies to you,” it asked college counsel A Mariarputham, rejecting his contention that the courts could not interfere in this case because St Stephen’s was a minority institution.

The court dismissed the college’s petition challenging a Delhi high court order that had put the inquiry on hold on the same grounds, Hindustan Times reported.

Narain, also an alumnus of St Stephen’s, had challenged the committee’s constitution on the grounds that the principal was the complainant against her and, therefore, his nominee could not be party to the decision-making process — a view the high court had upheld.

The inquiry against Narain came six months after her remarks allegedly criticising Thampu’s handling of the sexual harassment complaint against the librarian appeared in a newspaper. Narain has maintained she was misquoted but also admitted to taking up the victim’s cause.

The victim, a library assistant, had approached the college’s sexual harassment committee and, when it did not act on her complaint, moved Delhi University’s apex committee. According to media reports, the DU panel ruled in her favour but Thampu dismissed its recommendation of action against the librarian and instead, asked for the woman’s conduct to be checked.

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