The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sexual harassment slur on historian
- Students file FIR against error-tainted author of NCERT books

New Delhi, Jan. 17: Historian Makkhan Lal and controversy have a way of courting each other.

Back in 1994, Lal stirred a hornet’s nest by speaking up in favour of the Babri Masjid demolition. Now, a first information report has been filed against him, alleging that he sexually harasses his students.

Two students of the Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management — of which Lal is the director — have lodged an FIR at the Hauz Khas police station, accusing him of indulging in “sexual harassment” and making “indecent remarks” at women students.

The FIR has alleged that Lal “threatens female students that if they don’t do what he asks them to, they would not receive their degree”. It has also accused him — Lal is known to be close to the Sangh parivar — of flaunting his “political contacts” to silence dissenting voices.

Lal has been director of the institute since 1998. But he went on leave two and a half months ago after students went on strike within the institute, protesting against the alleged harassment as well as other malpractices and financial irregularities. An inquiry was then ordered.

Although the Hauz Khas police have slapped IPC Section 509 against the historian, he was non-committal when contacted by The Telegraph. “This is a free country. Lot of irresponsibility is creeping into the society. Everyone is free to say whatever he wants,” he said.

“I had proceeded on leave so that there is no scope for anyone to say that I tried to influence the inquiry constituted by three different organisations.” He also denied allegations of financial malpractices.

Apart from Lal, the FIR has accused another institute staffer, Ashwani Asthana, of sexual harassment and passing “indecent remarks against girls”. He allegedly also indulged in “character assassination” of a Master of Arts student of an earlier batch. Asthana is an office superintendent but also gives lectures on archaeology.

Lal first hit the headlines 10 years ago when he opposed a World Archaeological Congress resolution condemning the destruction of historical monuments. Last year, there was a furore over two NCERT history texts he wrote — Ancient India for class XI and India and World for class VI — because both were littered with spelling and grammatical errors.

At its 63rd annual session in Amritsar, the Indian History Congress had come out with a report titled “Index of Errors”, cataloguing the mistakes made by Lal and other authors.

“The language was poor with many spelling and grammatical errors, infelicitous expressions and obscurities, which is a primary error that any school text book must avoid,” the congress had said.

After the scandal broke — the institute offers post-graduate degree studies in archaeological and heritage management — Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit had appointed a one-person panel to conduct a probe.

Retired IAS officer Janak Juneja, who is handling the inquiry, said: “I’m conducting the inquiry. I’m going there almost daily and hope to file my report soon.”

The institute’s management board met last Thursday to discuss the allegations made by the students.

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