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‘Vulgar’ case on professor

Ahmedabad, Aug. 7: Gujarat police have filed a sexual harassment case against a university professor accused of writing anonymous obscene letters to three women lecturers following a complaint by the trio on Sunday night.

Sharman Jhala, a veteran professor who heads the university’s political science department and has many PhD students registered under him, has apparently gone into hiding, further confirming suspicions that the 55-year-old wrote the letters.

Manisha Gohil, the women’s crime branch officer who is investigating the case, said the professor, who is on leave, was on the run and couldn’t be traced. Sources said his house is locked and even the whereabouts of his wife isn’t known.

Jhala has been booked under penal code sections 354A and 509 for gestures intended to outrage a woman’s modesty. If convicted, Jhala can be jailed for three years

The sources said Jhala had been writing the “vulgar” letters for the past two years but the matter came to light around two weeks ago when the three lecturers complained to Gujarat University vice-chancellor M.N. Patel. But Patel neither questioned the professor nor ordered any probe, the lecturers told the police who have since sent the letters Jhala wrote, in Gujarati as well as in English, to a forensic lab for a detailed handwriting analysis.

The police have also collected handwriting samples of 10 other male professors of the university to eliminate other possible suspects.

Asked why vice-chancellor Patel chose not to take action against Jhala even after the lecturers had reported the alleged harassment, a senior faculty member said “it could be because he is close to BJP leaders”.

“The vice-chancellor probably wanted to cover up the matter,” the faculty member said.

Patel said Jhala was granted leave for 15 days on July 30. “He may not come back because we are going to suspend him,” the VC said. “I am seeking legal opinion.”

The police are probing why the university authorities granted Jhala leave when the lecturers had already told them about the letters.

Former vice-chancellor Parimal Trivedi said the matter might have been resolved long back if the university’s women development cell was active and functional “as it was during my tenure”.

The cell is being revived but it is too late, said one professor, Gaurang Jani, who described his colleague as a possible “psychic case”.

Investigating officer Gohil said Jhala’s wife Bhavnaben, who has filed an anticipatory bail application in a city sessions court on her husband’s behalf, had reportedly approached the three lecturers last week, seeking forgiveness for the professor.

The application is due to come up for hearing tomorrow.