Scientist dismissed for sexual harassment of colleague

The employment of one of India’s top researchers, Kanury V.S. Rao, 59, who specialises in immunology at the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad, an autonomous institute under the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, has been terminated. This was based on the recommendation of THSTI’s 19-member governing body, after a committee constituted by the institute investigated and upheld charges of alleged sexual harassment levelled against him by a junior woman colleague.

“The governing board has ratified the decision to terminate Dr. Rao’s services,” Gagandeep Kang, executive director, THSTI, told The Hindu on the phone. “It is his decision whether he wants to further pursue the matter in court. From our side, the process has been completed.”

Appeal planned

Dr. Rao told The Hindu that he would contest the decision in court.

Dr. Rao, who was the THSTI-National Chair, was charged by the Institute with “… using unwelcome sexually determined behaviour, such as sexual advances, loaded comments or remarks resulting in causing harassment and interference,” according to excerpts from a petition filed by Dr. Rao last November in the Delhi High Court, challenging the THSTI committee’s verdict. The Hindu has viewed the petition.

The instances of harassment include an episode where Dr. Rao allegedly molested his colleague in March 2015 in a hotel room when they were attending an academic conference. An investigation into the matter, however, began only in June 2017, after the researcher filed a written complaint following a workshop on workplace sexual harassment law organised by the THSTI.

Dr. Rao — a member of three of India’s top science academies and a winner of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award, India’s top science prize — has denied the charges.

"The allegations of sexual harassment against me were entirely fabricated and simply represent a case where professional disgruntlement evolved into a larger conspiracy to malign and defame me, in order to eventually effect my removal. Unfortunately, the enquiry committee also solely went by empirical impressions, relying for its findings only on weak circumstantial criteria rather than any real evidence. Key issues such as discrepancies in testimony, and the absence of any corroborative evidence whatsoever were completely ignored. As a result, the principal of natural justice was grossly violated. I strongly maintain that I am innocent of the charge, and am determined to vindicate my position in a court of law,” he told The Hindu in a written statement.

THSTI avers that Dr Rao’s employment has been terminated following all the steps required by the “Visakha guidelines,” (now superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013) and a recommendation by the Governing Board of the THSTI which includes, among others, multiple scientists and Secretaries of the science Ministries.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 3:07:02 PM |

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