Lawrence Liang, a professor at Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), was one of the academics named in the crowd-sourced List of Sexual Harassment Accused (LoSHA) back in October 2017. Now, in an inquiry led by the University’s Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment (CPSH), Liang has been found guilty of sexual harassment. But the verdict, along with receiving support has also been criticised.
— Arpita Chakraborty (@arp_chak) March 6, 2018
The complaint of sexual harassment was filed with AUD’s CPSH on 10 October 2017, before the LoSHA was posted. The survivor is a PhD student at another university in Delhi. According to the inquiry’s final report, Liang had molested her multiple times between 2015 and 2016. The CPSH accepted the complaint though the complainant is neither a student nor a colleague of Liang’s at AUD and began the inquiry.
Intriguingly, in making its verdict, the inquiry also took into account details about two other cases where Liang had sexually pursued interns at the Alternate Law Forum (ALF), which he co-founded in 2000. The committee seemed to take those events seriously, pointing out that it showed his “willingness to cross legal and ethical boundaries when in a position of power”. The verdict on the inquiry and Liang’s penalisation only addresses the sexual harassment faced by the PhD student.
The committee recommended his removal from his position as the dean of the School of Law, Governance and Citizenship and he’s been barred from holding any administrative position for the next two years. It also issued a “warning letter” that he would face “serious consequences” in case of future complaints.
The inquiry process is significant, particularly as it was a complaint lodged by a student outside the University and it has been lauded as having expanded the boundaries of due process in the case of sexual harassment complaints.
But even so, Liang will continue to teach students at the University, and in two short years, can hold a powerful administrative position once again. Some believe that the University has, because of this reason, has failed to compensate the survivor with justice. The complainant herself has called the verdict inadequate.
His name appearing on the LoSHA, sparked public discussion about the implications of the List on the reputations and careers of the the men who appeared on it. A “statement by feminists” was published on the progressive blog Kafila, of which Liang was also a core member at the time, that said that it was worrying that “anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability.” This statement received a lot of flak at the time dividing Indian feminists on where they stood on the LoSHA.
However, soon after Liang was found guilty, an admin notice was posted to the blog stating that Liang would no longer be writing for Kafila.
A day later, prominent feminist and JNU professor Nivedita Menon, wrote a post on Kafila in response to the verdict finding Liang guilty. She wrote in support of the due process that was followed in his case. She added that that “the minimum punishment cannot be termination from a job,” which seems to be support of his removal as Dean but also the decision to let him continue as a professor.
While it is clear that the Liang verdict has certainly expanded the horizons of due process in sexual harassment cases, it has also triggered another debate among Indian feminists about how punishment should be meted out and what constitutes fairness in situations where the nature of harassment doesn’t directly occur in obvious student-teacher contexts.
Liang has issued a statement saying he refutes the committee’s report in its entirety and has appealed against the verdict.