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Updated: November 8, 2012 11:51 IST

Battling social odds

Rahi Gaikwad
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Facing the brunt: Of gender and caste discrimination. Photo: Paul Noronha
The Hindu Facing the brunt: Of gender and caste discrimination. Photo: Paul Noronha

One woman takes on the government in Mumbai, hoping for justice

Top brass of Mumbai’s police department are wary of one name — Chitra Salunkhe. For a decade, this former academic has waged a lone battle against alleged discrimination and harassment, leaving a mind-boggling trail of events.

In her complaints to the police and the court, she feared and spared no one. Additional Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners of Police, even the State Anti-Terrorism Squad chief, all had to face a high-level inquiry owing to her charges against them.

A report of this probe by a retired Maharashtra Director General of Police (DGP) was submitted to the Bombay High Court recently. While giving a clean chit to most of the top officers, the report criticised the casual manner in which some of them treated her complaints.

In 2002, Ms. Salunkhe, a professor at Mumbai’s Siddharth Law College, first complained to the police against lecturer V.B. Tiwari for allegedly insulting her. In 2003, she filed another complaint of verbal abuse. The following year she was sacked from her job during the tenure of Principal A.K. Inamdar. Refusing to be cowed down by this, she got a stay on the termination order from the tribunal.

Having taken on the college management, Ms. Salunkhe started facing harassment from Mr. Inamdar as well. In this regard, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission order dated March 24, 2006 states: Principal Inamdar entered the classroom while she was teaching and insulted [her] before the students. She was asked to get out and was abused...

The principal even chided the students for giving her the best teacher award, the order notes. Ms. Salunke’s cabin was also vandalised. “Thus,” the order found that, “she has been insulted and her human rights and dignity have been violated by Principal Inamdar.”

Rapping the police for their inaction, the Commission said, “The offence should have been investigated as offence under the Prevention of Civil Rights Acts, 1965, because the insult and maltreatment was given because she is a Scheduled Caste. The senior inspector abdicated his duties by classifying the offences as non-cognisable.”

The twist in the saga came in 2005 when Ms. Salunkhe conducted a viva voce. She found that the printed list of 15 examinees had a 16th name entered in hand. It was of IPS officer K.L. Bishnoi. The officer was shown to have cleared his final year LLB examination, while Ms. Salunkhe claimed he never appeared for the exam.

Several IPS officers conducted inquiries into this complaint and backed Mr. Bishnoi. Ms. Salunkhe finally filed writ petitions at the Bombay High Court in 2009 against Mr. Bishnoi and many other IPS officers alleging that they were shielding their colleague. The Court then ordered a probe by the retired DGP into the matter.

In his report, the former DGP recommended the State government to issue advisory notes to two IPS officers for their “casual attitude” towards her complaints. The other officers were exonerated though.

The Salunkhe case has an interplay of caste and gender, owing to which urban Scheduled Caste (SC) women tend to face discrimination in seemingly progressive and modern spaces. Back in 2008, two schools teachers from the SC community in Mumbai had complained in vain to the concerned arms of the State machinery of suffering caste abuse from the management.

With respect to Ms. Salunkhe, the former DGP observes: “I find that [she] has been harassed and persecuted over the years both as a woman and Scheduled Caste person by her colleague Mr. Inamdar. The Mumbai University can take steps to create less discretionary and more rule based examination system in its colleges so that such issues do not arise in future.”

He cites from the Commission’s report that “all acts of harassment towards her started when she became the only NET [National Eligibility Test] qualified teacher in Siddharth Law College.”

Time and again, the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission wrote to the People’s Education Society, which runs the law college, to look into the harassment faced by Ms. Salunkhe. In one such letter, the body even recommended the principal’s immediate “transfer” in view of the Visakha guidelines of the Supreme Court.

It took a serious view of Ms. Salunkhe’s alleged “illegal detention” at the police station and called for a probe report from the police. The State Scheduled Caste Commission also demanded strict action and a report into the matter.

Having waged this long and daunting struggle to get justice, Ms. Salunkhe’s resolve is still strong. She still comes to court with the same fighting spirit. Her only regret is having spent less time with her 20-year-old son in his growing up years.

“All this torture,” she remarked, “is only because I am a woman. I speak up because I am educated and a lawyer myself. Other women in my position would be too afraid to speak.”

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