The external committee set up by The Wire to probe sexual harassment charges against its consulting editor Vinod Dua has dissolved itself out of frustration after the committee was ‘unable to proceed further’ due to lack of unconditional consent.
The Wire set up an internal committee on 17th October 2018 following sexual harassment charges levelled against Dua by a filmmaker, Nishtha Jain who accused him of stalking and sexual harassment back in 1989. Dua, a Consulting Editor with The Wire, had denied the allegations. On 18th October, Jain put up a Facebook post where she said that at first, The Wire had put up an internal committee to probe into the matter, but upon realising that at the time of the incident, neither Jain nor Dua were employed at The Wire, they formed an external committee to probe into it.
The internal committee, however, had come with terms and conditions. They had asked Jain to respond with consent and complaint within 24 hours otherwise the case would be dismissed. She had expressed anger that the committee cannot dictate terms like this. She had asked for an external committee to look into the matter and asked for a five-member committee as is the norm against four-member what The Wire had set up an internal committee.
Later an external committee was formed to probe into the allegations comprising of Justice (Retired) Aftab Alam, a former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice (Retired) Anjana Prakash, a former judge of the Patna High Court, former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, Prof Patricia Uberoi and Prof Neera Chandhoke. While Jain had “expressed misgivings and raised questions relating to the manner in which the External Committee was formed”, especially since the committee was to set up its own terms and conditions, Jain sent her formal complaint to the committee on 26th October. The next day, the committee set up the procedures to be followed which included personally appearing before the committee and allow cross-examination by or on behalf of the other side.
On 3rd November, in a statement, Dua denied the allegations and countered allegations. He also asked the committee to treat it as his ‘full and final statement’. He refused to be cross-examined by Jain. On 24th November, Jain expressed her misgivings and raised questions on the constitution of the committee. She also raised objections to Dua’s stand that he would not let himself be cross-examined by anyone. The committee then urged Dua and Jain to not put up pre-conditions with regards to the proceedings.
To this, Jain responded to Dua’s 3rd November statement and countered Dua’s arguments in detail. Dua, however, continued to remain adamant and refused to be cross-examined. He even said that the committee set up by The Wire without informing him and he was given no choice but to participate in the inquiry ‘to clear his name’. Dua further added that “despite this”, he consented for the inquiry on condition that he would not participate in any cross-examination.
Dua had agreed to appear before the committee but continued to be adamant that he would not do so if either Jain or her representative was present. He had agreed to answer questions the committee would have on the ‘basis of his statement’ while continuing to dodge the cross-examination.
On the committee’s 3rd meeting held on 19th December, the committee tried to show that both, Jain and Dua are being uncooperative in the investigation by claiming that the consent of the parties is not unqualified. However, as seen above, while Jain has been cooperative, and even responded to Dua’s clarification, it was Dua who stonewalled the investigation by refusing to face Jain as well as participate in cross-examination.
Unless Dua withdraws his condition, the committee felt the investigation was not going anywhere and concluded that “no useful purpose would be served by prolonging the process and that it is unable to proceed further in this matter.” The committee further put on record “its frustration over a potentially useful exercise being aborted midway.” The committee, before dissolving, even recommended that should such a need arise in future, The Wire should take an unconditional consent in writing by all those concerned and abide by the procedures set by the committee.
The committee’s frustration at not being able to proceed further because of Dua’s arrogance and obstinance is evident as the committee had to dissolve itself before any conclusion is reached.