New Delhi, Oct. 9: Pavitra Bharadwaj’s fight for justice has just begun. After her suicide.
For four years, the 40-year-old lab assistant in a Delhi University college had knocked on every door with her complaint of sexual harassment against her college principal. Last year, she lost her job after two internal complaints committees gave the accused a clean chit.
Last week, she set herself on fire.
Today, the National Commission for Women (NCW), which Bharadwaj had approached four years ago, took the first step towards probing her allegations against G.K. Arora, the principal of BR Ambedkar College, and another employee.
It met Delhi University vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh, Delhi State Commission for Women chairperson Barkha Singh, Delhi police commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi and additional commissioner (North-East) V.V. Chaudhary to investigate the allegations and prepare a report.
In the past four years, Bharadwaj had approached all these officials at some point or the other.
“She had come to us in 2009, but at that point her case was purely service related. We asked her to approach the internal committee of the university to address her grievances,” said NCW member Nirmala Sawant Prabhavalkar, who is part of the committee probing the circumstances that led to the suicide.
“We have found out that she approached the Delhi Commission for Women and Delhi police. Today, we spoke to all those involved and we will submit our report soon. I believe there must have been something going on for her to take such an extreme step.”
Arora, who had earlier denied the allegation, was not available for comment.
The case dates back to 2009 when Bharadwaj, a laboratory assistant in the geography department of BR Ambedkar College, accused Arora and another employee of sexual harassment.
A college complaints committee and a higher panel later exonerated both. In 2012, Arora sacked her.
Aditya N. Mishra, former president of the Delhi University Teacher’s Association, said Bharadwaj, an alumnus of Ambedkar College, joined the institution in 2005.
“Problems started when the principal joined in 2007. She repeatedly complained to the authorities and even approached me to take up the matter. Since 2009, matters became worse and she approached everyone from the NCW, DCW, the chief minister and her last complaint was to the vice-chancellor of Delhi University. In her letter, which she wrote days before she set herself on fire, she has detailed how Arora asked her for sexual favours,” said Mishra, who today recorded his statement with the NCW.
Sources familiar with the case said Bharadwaj had written some 20 letters complaining about the harassment, including one that she addressed to Delhi’s lieutenant-governor.
Last week, she set herself on fire in front of the secretariat. Admitted to hospital with 90 per cent burns, she died on October 6 — months after a law to protect working women came into force.
But by the time Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill this April, Bharadwaj had lost her job.
Police sources said they found a note in which Bharadwaj blamed Arora and the other employee for being forced to take the extreme step.
Bharadwaj left behind an eight-year-old son. Her husband is a head constable with Delhi police.
Her death prompted protests by teachers and students who said Arora shouldn’t hold charge as principal till the probe was on. “The situation in Delhi University is like a bomb waiting to explode. Failure to fix responsibility and take urgent systemic corrective measures can lead to an irretrievable breakdown of all that has been good about our university,” said teachers’ union president Nandita Narain.
Sources, however, said that in his statement to the NCW today, vice-chancellor Singh had made it clear that Arora would not be suspended pending the investigation.