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Lapses by college helped VP continue misbehaviour?

Despite the Pune police directive, Abasaheb Garware College did not have a complaint box in place for female students; the sexual harassment cell of the college also had not received a single report against former vice-principal Gautam Bhong

While the unceremonious exit of Abasaheb Garware College Vice-Principal, Dr Gautam Bhong for his alleged sexual misbehaviour with women has raised serious questions about the safety of female students and staff members in colleges across the city, mid-day has found that Garware college itself did not have the proper systems in place for students to complain.

Dr Gautam Bhong
Dr Gautam Bhong

Despite the Pune police having made it mandatory for colleges to install a complaint box for female students to be able to report sexual harassment, no such box had been put in place in Garware college. And, while college principal Shrikant Gupta claimed yesterday that the college has a separate sexual harassment cell as per the Supreme Court’s Vishakha guidelines, not one complaint against Bhong had been lodged there, raising questions about whether students felt safe reporting such incidents to the cell.

Dr Gautam Bhong’s cabin
Dr Gautam Bhong’s cabin has been sealed by the college. Pic/Shashank Sane

When mid-day asked Gupta about the complaint box, he seemed to be unaware of any such norm to be followed by colleges, despite many city colleges having installed the boxes, which are supposed to be monitored by the local police stations. “Our college doesn’t have such a box. But we are going to put it up in the campus soon,” he said.

17midday report

When Inspector P A Chougule from the Deccan police station was asked about this lapse, he said, “I don’t know about the complaint box, but the college has a separate cell to deal with sexual harassment complaints. If anyone comes forward and files a complaint against the vice-principal in this particular case, we will certainly take stern action against him.”

Several staff members had come forward on Monday and told mid-day how they felt unsafe working with the vice-principal, and how Bhong was infamous for his approach towards women. This has raised questions on how the college’s Nirbhaya Cell did not receive a single complaint against him.

In face-saving gestures after the mid-day report yesterday, the college arranged a special lecture for post-graduate female students to make them aware of the people to contact if they face, or have faced, sexual harassment. The college has also prepared special posters to raise awareness. “These posters will get printed by tomorrow (Wednesday) and we will immediately put them up throughout the campus,” Principal Gupta said.

“The college has dedicated a cell named ‘Nirbhaya’ to deal with complaints related to sexual harassment and we conducted a lecture to spread awareness among PG students in the morning. The Nirbhaya Cell has been active since the past five years. So, it is not like we arranged today’s (Tuesday’s) awareness programme on the basis of any specific incident. Please don’t link the two,” Gupta added.

When mid-day asked him, however, if the cell had received any complaints from female students or staff members against Bhong, Gupta said, “No the cell has not received any complaint against Dr Bhong.”

Cabin sealed
Meanwhile, the college authorities have sealed Bhong’s cabin. “After he tendered his resignation last week, I relieved him of his charge within a day and intimated the concerned officials of Savitribai Phule Pune University that he was no longer associated with the college,” Gupta said.

A female staff member said, “In the staff room, I saw a notice informing us about Bhong’s resignation and strictly instructing staff members not to contact him.”

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