'Private parts groped, sexually assaulted, body shamed, and abused with casteist remarks.'
These are some of the serious harassment allegations that the students of Kalakshetra Foundation’s Rukmini Devi College for Fine Arts have been making against four faculty members of the institute in the past week. The students accused professor Hari Padman and the three repertory artists, Sanjith Lal, Sai Krishnan, and Sreenath, of sexual harassment and protested on 30 March against the management over their inaction.
Following the unprecedented protests, the Chennai police arrested Padman on 3 April based on a complaint registered by a survivor who is an alumni of the college, The Hindu reported. The arrested professor was reportedly suspended with immediate effect, and the three contractual staffers facing similar allegations were dismissed, pending an inquiry.
'Need Assurances in Writing'
In a press statement issued Tuesday, 4 April, the institute’s governing board said that it has constituted an independent inquiry committee to look into complaints of sexual harassment. It also said that the panel is led by retired judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Courts Justice K Kannan and comprises former Tamil Nadu DGP Letika Saran and Dr Shobha Varthaman. The release also added that a new student counsellor and an independent advisory committee would be appointed immediately to strengthen the administration of Kalakshetra Foundation.
However, some students of Kalakshetra said that they are not confident about this move. Why?
Speaking to The Quint, a third-year student at Kalakshetra questioned the college's delay in taking corrective action against the sexual harassment-accused faculties. They also said that many students are confused, scared, and have lost hope in the system because, in the past, whenever they complained, they were either turned down or given unfulfilled promises with no real action taken.
"The institute has set up a new inquiry committee now after the police have booked the accused faculty members. Why did they not make this move back when we complained first? Should we be relieved that the college is finally taking steps to create an inquiry committee to probe the matter, or should we be worried because it raises suspicions about how fair the investigation will be? I'm worried that they'll threaten students before the law can punish the accused. Without a written assurance that the management will stand with the students and take necessary action against the accused, everything looks sketchy."Student at Kalakshetra told The Quint
Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) President K Veeramani on Tuesday criticised the institution and said there was apprehension about whether the setting up of the panel was a diversionary tactic or an attempt at whitewashing the issue, the Telegraph India reported.
A student currently studying at Kalakshetra told The Quint that the lack of an official student council in the college has been one of the major reasons why there has been a huge communication gap between the management and the students. They said, "Isn't it basic that a college should have a student council to ensure the welfare of the students on campus? Isn't it concerning that at a time when any reputed college in the country has a student body, Kalashetra, which is a union-run government college, did not have a student council until we formed one for ourselves while protesting for our rights".
The students have formed a union with Jisma KK as president and Shakthi Shivani as secretary, Onmanorama reported. While the current meetings and media addresses are led by the student representatives, who were elected ahead of the protests, the students claim that the student body that aims to work for their welfare on campus is not officially recognised by the college yet.