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Kalakshetra Sexual Harrassment Row: Accused Booked, Students Call Off Protest

Following TN CM's assurance at the state assembly, the accused faculty in Kalakshetra was booked by Chennai police

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On Friday, 31 March, assistant professor Hari Padman of the college at the Kalakshetra Foundation in Tamil Nadu was booked under several sections of the IPC, including the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act.

The action was taken after an alumna of Kalakshetra filed a complaint of sexual harassment against a teacher at the Adyar All Women Police Station in Chennai. The complainant studied from 2015 to 2019 and then discontinued following the alleged sexual assault by the teacher, The Hindu reported.

What’s happening at the Chennai's reputed dance school? Kalakshetra Foundation’s Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts in Chennai is an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Culture. It is under the scanner after nearly 100 women from Kalakshetra Foundation lodged petitions with the Tamil Nadu Women's Commission complaining of verbal abuse and sexual harassment by at least four male faculty members.

The Indian Express reported that the allegations of sexual harassment at the campus came to light when Leela Samson, a former student and former director of Kalakshetra, put up a social media post only to redact it later. In the post, Samson had spoken about “a haven of the highest art and contemplation — now turning a blind eye to how young girls are treated”.

The students started protesting at the college on Thursday morning, 30 March, which continued overnight while the college remained closed. Tamil Nadu State Women’s Commission chairperson AS Kumari also visited the campus and listened to their complaints in private at the Kalakshetra auditorium, The News minute reported.

On Friday, Tamil Nadu's chief minister, MK Stalin, assured legal action against those found guilty in the matter. Stalin also said that a police team, including the joint police commissioner and deputy police commissioner of Chennai, visited the college campus to probe the matter.

The students have reportedly announced that they will call off their protest after the Chennai police filed an FIR against the accused teacher in the alleged sexual harassment case. The case has been registered under Sections 354(A), 509, and 4 of the Women's Harassment Act, the police said, Hindustan Times reported.

The Quint spoke to survivors and their friends who alleged that the sexual abuse by the accused faculty members has been going on for years since 2008, but whenever they complained, the management did not take action.

A student currently studying at Kalakshetra said, "Even before joining Kalakshetra, I had heard about the sexual abuse prevalent in the college. I nudged it, thinking it was a rumour. But once I joined the college and got to hear the real stories from close friends, things started sinking in. If it was one or two who were complaining, we might raise doubts that it may be due to personal vengeance. But there are literally so many students at Kalakshetra who have been individually subject to such horrific body shaming and sexual assaults. How can so many stories be untrue?"

I feel guilty for not standing up back then. Had I done that, many students now would not be facing harassment from the same teacher
Ex student and survivor from the college at Kalakshetra Foundation
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One of the survivors who dropped out of college following the assault has now revisited the college to show solidarity with the students who are currently abused by the same faculties. She opened up about the sexual abuse she was subjected to when she was studying at the college. She alleged that the environment at Kalakshetra was not conducive to filing a complaint against an abusive teacher. She said she feared dire consequences for outing the abuser, and hence she dropped out of college and even changed her career from dancing to television anchoring.

A male student from the college told The Quint, "Even men have been abused by the accused faculties. There is absolutely nothing that we were able to do. The management threatened us, stating we would be suspended and sent out of college if we continued to speak out against the perpetrators. We (students) were constantly silenced. Who should one support at times like these? Is it fair to side with the oppressor and demean the oppressed?".

Following the continued protests on campus, the Kalakshetra college administration had said the ongoing exams will be postponed and that the college would remain closed till April 6.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Sexual Harassment   Tamil Nadu   Chennai 

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