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“I have received a lot of support from students, and many have reached out to me now," said a 31-year-old assistant professor, who was employed at Kolkata’s St. Xavier's University (SXU) till last year. She has levelled allegations of being “forced to quit” by the University as they “objected to her private social media posts” in October 2021.
She also alleged that her photos – which were on her private Instagram account – were accessed by a first-year undergraduate student and his father. In February this year, the Kolkata police filed an FIR against unknown persons under sections 354C (voyeurism) and 509 (insulting modesty of women) of the IPC.
On 8 August, The Wire reported that a former assistant professor at SXU, Kolkata, alleged that the college authorities forced her to quit her job on grounds of posting “objectionable” photos on her social media.
The Quint reached out to the assistant professor and her lawyer, the Vice-Chancellor (V-C) and the Dean of SXU, and the Kolkata police. The Quint also accessed the complaint copy submitted to the officer in-charge of a police station in Kolkata, dated 24 October 2021, and a copy of the FIR filed on 24 February this year.
On being asked about allegations levelled by the ex-assistant professor, the Dean of Arts and Social Studies, Dr. Achyut Chetan, said, “no comments.”
Meanwhile, Felix Raj, V-C of the University, sent across a response readied by their lawyer, which stated that the legal notice sent to the university by the complainant was "ill-motivated" and contained "fabricated allegations." The response further asked for an "unconditional apology" from the professor and "a compensation of Rs 99 crore for damaging the University's reputation."
What Happened at the University on 7 October 2021?
The woman joined the University as an assistant professor in August 2021. Two months later, on 7 October afternoon, she claimed that she was summoned for a meeting with the V-C. In her police complaint, she claimed that she was informed about the meeting on the same day, but the “nature of the meeting was not disclosed to her.”
In the letter, she claimed that once she was inside the conference room, she saw seven professors from across departments seated there. “This was followed by what I can only describe as a trial of moral policing and character assassination,” she alleged in her complaint.
She also claimed that the members of the University present in the room read out a purported letter sent to University authorities by the father of a first-year undergraduate student, which claimed that he had “caught his son looking at objectionable pictures of her on Instagram.”
“I was repeatedly shamed by the members of the meeting for continuously uploading ‘provocative’ and ‘inappropriate’ photos, which ‘might corrupt the minds of young men’,” she told The Quint.
She further claimed, “The University never checked the veracity of the complaint, and I don’t understand why a random complaint was given so much importance.”
The ex-assistant professor claimed that her photos – which were uploaded on her private Instagram account – were circulated in the room, and she was asked to identify if they were her photos.
She told The Quint, “I can’t trust anyone ever again. At first, I was revolted by what was being said. I felt like someone had sabotaged me. My immediate thought was that my account had been hacked and I kept thinking that my privacy had been invaded. My profile was under surveillance of people I do not know. I had done by best to shield my personal life from my professional life.”
At least two of the photos she was asked to allegedly identify were of her in a swimsuit and were posted as an Instagram story in June 2021 – two months before she joined the University.
“Instagram stories last 24 hours. Those two pictures could not have been viewed by the said student in October 2021,” she claimed in her complaint.
She claimed that she “repeatedly asked them (the members in the room) where they got the photos from.”
“I was told that the father of a student had emailed them the photos. In the meeting, they circulated printouts of the photos. I asked them to destroy the printouts and whatever copies of the photos they have because that’s an invasion of my privacy, but everyone in that room, including the VC, looked at my private photos posted on a private account,” she claimed, over a call with The Quint.
FIR Lodged After Repeated Attempts
In her police complaint, she alleged that the only way someone outside her follower list can gain access to said photos is by “hacking” or “screenshotting the photos." In her police complaint, she further alleged sexual harassment. An FIR was lodged against unknown persons under IPC sections of voyeurism and insulting modesty of women.
The police have told The Quint that they are trying to identify "whether the photos from her social media account were unlawfully obtained." They have also recorded her statement.
The October complaint, however, was not turned into an FIR at first. “I wrote a letter to all the top officials of the Kolkata police in early November 2021, but there was no response to that either. The case was finally transferred to another police station from the Cyber Crime department and the FIR was lodged on 24 February,” she said.
'Wrote Apology Under Duress'
The ex-assistant professor claimed that later that day on 7 October, she was asked by one of the seven people present in the conference room to “write an apology as this is what the authorities are looking for.”
She claimed in the complaint that she wrote the letter “under duress to save my job.” In the complaint, she alleged that when she submitted her apology to V-C Raj on 8 October, she was told that the committee had unanimously decided to remove her because her images had reportedly gone ‘viral’ in the student circle. She alleged that she was given two choices – either the University terminates her contract or she willfully resigns.
In the complaint, she claimed that she was told by the V-C that her actions can be constituted as ‘criminal offence’ if the student is found to be a minor, as the complainant had every right to levy charges against her. She resigned from the University on October 25, 2021.
In her resignation letter, she stated that she was “bullied and browbeaten into submission” during this whole ordeal.
She told The Quint, “I felt the University was being extremely suppressed in their replies. If this was a disciplinary procedure, then why wasn’t due process followed? Why wasn’t my Dean involved in the process?”
The ex-assistant professor sent a legal notice to SXU on 1 March asking for the complaint letter from the student’s guardian and other relevant complaints. The University, through its advocate, responded that the notice was ‘ill-motivated’ and contained ‘fabricated allegations.'
The reply, accessed by The Quint, further denied most of the allegations levelled by her against the University, especially those of ‘bullying’ during the meeting. Instead, the reply accused her of maligning the reputation of the University and she was asked to tender an unconditional apology and a compensation of Rs 99 crore.
Netizens Speak Up
Several netizens, including ex-students of the University, have taken to social media to condemn the incident and the culture of ‘sexism’ that exists on campus.
Ex-students spoke about incidents during their tenure when they were moral policed by the authorities.
Meanwhile, the professor has received many messages of support and endearment from her students. She told The Quint, “Some students knew about it but now that the story is officially out, many more are reaching out.”