Rampant sexual harassment in India’s academia, a committee found out that Indian Professor Lawrence Liang, dean of its School of Law, Governance and Citizenship sexually harassed a girl student pursuing a PhD.
The debate about sexual harassment in academia erupted last October after scholar and author C Christine Fair published a scathing piece, naming fellow academics who had harassed her. In the same month, several women in India crowd-sourced a list of names from Indian universities, alleging that many professors had harassed women.
Liang – a well-known lawyer from Bengaluru (Bangalore) whose career highlights are detailed by Wikipedia – was named on that list, but no proof was offered against him at that time. He is a co-founder of the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) and the author of two books – Sex, Laws and Videotape: The Public is Watching and Guide to Open Content Licenses, both published by the influential Piet Zwart Institute in The Netherlands.
Multiple incidents alleged
The first incident, recorded in the committee’s final report occurred on April 8 or 9 in 2015. The complainant met Liang, who was visiting Delhi for a conference. During their meeting, she alleged that Liang “forcibly kissed her, despite her asking him to stop more than once”. Liang did not deny that they had met or kissed. His defense was that “there was a physical ease between them” and although they “kissed for the briefest moment”, once she asked him “let us not do this again,” he stopped. He also told the committee that he “apologized” and the complainant told him “not to be embarrassed”.
the second incident occurred in February 2016 when Liang visited Delhi to deliver a lecture when the president of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student union, Kanhiya Kumar, was arrested for sedition. On the morning of the 27th he met her and “hugged and kissed her in a way which was unwelcome”.
In September 2017, the woman heard of similar incidents involving Liang and decided to file the complaint – on October 10 with Ambedkar University. On October 27, four days after the list of Indian academics was published on Facebook, Ambedkar University accepted her complaint and began inquiry proceedings.
The witness alleged that Liang “had a reputation of behaving similarly” and that two cases occurred when he was associated with the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), a progressive lawyers collective in Bengaluru.
The committee went a step further to examine two other cases involving interns who had worked with Liang when he was with the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru. It examined the testimony made available to them and arrived at an unambiguous conclusion. Liang argued that as ALF was a “small organization of 18 people” and there was some ambiguity on what constituted sexual harassment.
But the IC’s conclusion differed. “Sexual violence or unwanted sexual overtures define sexual harassment in University spaces, as well as outside it. Therefore the incident with the intern… that of an unwelcome kiss constitutes sexual harassment even if it occurred in a non-University space.”
Complaints about review set-up
Meanwhile, a student member of the university’s Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment, who spoke to Asia Times on a strict condition of anonymity, voiced unhappiness about the manner in which the inquiry was conducted. “It is the norm that any inquiry committee must have a student representative. However, in this case they did not include any student representative.”
The student said the university’s Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment has seven student members and seven teachers. The other six are nominees, non-teaching staff and external members.
“The student representatives … are quite upset that they weren’t included,” the committee member said. “So we have written to the faculty representatives to convene a meeting to discuss the issue.” According to this member, the fact that University authorities had still not acted upon the recommendations of the inquiry committee – two weeks after they were issued – had created a suspicion that the faculty was trying to favor Liang.
“From my experience, it seems that the rules are designed to protect the abuser rather than the victims,” the complainant told Asia Times. Her identity is being withheld to protect her as well as the fact that the law prohibits disclosure of her identity unless she agrees to it.