Mumbai: St Xavier's accused of mishandling student's harassment complaint

Oct 11, 2018, 07:49 IST | Pallavi Smart

While student alleges St Xavier's college committee dealt with her complaint 'maliciously,' newly-appointed principal says he supports her and would review the 2015 case

Mumbai: St Xavier's accused of mishandling student's harassment complaint
The incident occurred in 2015, when Kripa Fernandes was an Arts student of the St Xavier's college in Dhobi Talao. File pic

With the #MeToo movement gaining momentum, a former student of the prestigious St Xavier's College has come forward to allege that the college mishandled her harassment complaint in 2015. The newly-appointed principal of the institution told mid-day that he supports the student and will be taking a review of her case.

'Most malicious'
The student, Kripa Fernandes, who is now based out of Bangalore, wrote a Facebook post about her experience, which occurred in 2015. Back then, she was an arts student in a relationship with a boy from the science stream, which turned physically and mentally abusive. She complained to the college's Women's Development Cell (WDC). Fernandes wrote in her post, "The WDC took up my case but handled it in the most malicious way possible. Ever heard of the abuser's statement being taken before the victim's? I have. I went through it. Ever heard of the abuser's witnesses being called upon but not the victim's? No prizes for guessing if I went through it."

She also named the members of the committee who, instead of taking action, allegedly labelled her as someone suffering from a mental disorder. When mid-day reached out to Fernandes, she said, "I was shocked at the way my complaint was handled by the committee. He [the accused] used to hit me and stalk me. He had turned my friends against me by spreading rumours so that I would have no one around me. He was very possessive and would not allow me to speak to any other boy."

"But while I was explaining all this to the committee, I was questioned about my relationship with him. My witnesses of the assault were never called by the committee for hearing. The entire next year, which was my final year in college, was very difficult for me as I was ostracized by the science section due to some rumour spread by him," she said. Fernandes said she has received a lot of support because of the post, but nobody from the college has reached out to her yet.

New principal 'concerned'
When mid-day tried to reach out to WDC, it was made clear that the committee won't be giving any statement on allegations raised by students, as the committee and its functioning are very confidential. However, the newly-appointed principal of the college, Dr Rajendra Shinde, said he would review the allegations. He told mid-day, "I've just taken over as principal, and hence am not completely aware of the case from 2015. I'm concerned about the complaint and support the student as nobody should have to face harassment. However, we will take a review of the case to understand what exactly happened then and then a further course of action will be decided upon."

'The complaint was taken seriously'
Dr. Frazer Mascarenhas SJ told mid-day, "I'm saddened by the pain that our alumna, Ms. Kripa, still feels regarding what happened five years ago, despite attempts made then to bring protection and healing. Unlike other #MeToo events, Ms. Kripa's complaint was taken seriously, investigated thoroughly by a competent, properly formed sexual harassment committee, and appropriate action was taken against the student concerned, including what Ms. Kripa herself has stated and other restrictions.

The committee was formed of three senior women professors, who the college felt are sensitive, empathetic, and well-balanced in judgement, along with a senior member of the Jesuit staff and an experienced member, of impeccable reputation, of a women's organization. Which member of any institute will agree to serve on such a committee if their reputations can be torn to shreds on the social media, without them being able to defend themselves, since they are bound by a confidentiality clause?

While Ms. Kripa's hurt is obviously genuine, we must find other ways of solving such problems than an unfair social media trial. That despite serious action taken by the college, Ms. Kripa did not feel confident to report the further abuse she now refers to, is regrettable, as that could have led to the dismissal of the offending student and other necessary action. I would like to meet with Ms. Kripa to clarify this issue and to see how healing may be possible."

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