Third Visva-Bharati professor faces sexual harassment charge; protest on campus | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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Third Visva-Bharati professor faces sexual harassment charge; protest on campus

Aug 21, 2023 07:31 PM IST

One of the research scholars who filed a complaint against the anthropology professor told HT on Monday that she faced harassment since 2018 when she was a student

KOLKATA: A fresh row has broken out at Visva-Bharati, West Bengal’s only central university, after three research scholars and a post-graduate student brought sexual harassment charges against a professor in the anthropology department and organised a protest on Monday.

Visva Bharati, set up in 1921 by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan, is West Bengal’s only central university and the prime minister is its chancellor. (HT archive)
Visva Bharati, set up in 1921 by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan, is West Bengal’s only central university and the prime minister is its chancellor. (HT archive)

The four women held a hunger strike on campus with their faces covered, alleging that the authorities took no action against the professor despite receiving around 20 complaints from them since March 2021.

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The women sent an e-mail to the office of the registrar on August 18 saying they would hold a peaceful protest on Monday. They said they would subsequently move the police, the court, the National Commission for Women and even the office of the prime minister who is the chancellor of Visva-Bharati.

The e-mail, a copy of which was seen by HT, said: “The moment we filed the first complaint, the harassment had become a daily ordeal for us but we kept patience and hoped that the university administration would act. We are scared of our life and safety. We also came to know that he (the accused) started character assassination and spreading rumours to outrage our modesty….”

Visva-Bharati was set up by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan in Bengal’s Birbhum district in 1921.

Also Read: Anonymous social media post alleges student sexually harassed by multiple Visva Bharati teachers

This is the third incident of sexual harassment that has surfaced in the university in the last three months.

On June 3, a professor from the education department was arrested by the local police following charges filed by a woman working on a Ph.D thesis under his guidance since 2016. In his case, the university’s spokesperson, Mahua Banerjee, said the sexual harassment committee conducted a thorough inquiry after receiving the complaint and submitted its report to the authorities.

On August 11, the campus was rocked by an anonymous social media post accusing several teachers from the music department of sexually harassing a student for at least two years. Denying the allegation, the university said in a statement that it was a malicious campaign against the institution of international repute. Also, vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty held a hunger strike for nine hours, condemning social media posts on the issue and publication of media reports.

One of the research scholars who filed a complaint against the anthropology professor told HT on Monday that she faced harassment since 2018 when she was a student.

She said: “In 2021, the professor stopped the fellowship stipend I am entitled to as a Ph.D scholar. In January 2023, he directly made an indecent proposal. I complained to the vice-chancellor. The university’s internal complaints committee (ICC) called three us separately and recorded our statements but the fourth complainant has not been summoned yet.”

The anthropology professor could not be contacted as his phone was switched off throughout the day.

The vice-chancellor did not interact with the media either.

Spokesperson Banerjee said: “The ICC follows a procedure. It has done a part of its job. It cannot pass a judgement by hearing only one side. The professor has submitted a written reply to the committee. The committee will call him after studying it.”

Members of the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association said the academic careers of the four women were in danger.

Separately, the campus has witnessed a number of agitations in recent months following disciplinary action against teachers and students, most of whom moved the Calcutta high court, the university authorities. Several court orders went in favour of these petitioners.

On July 26, a post-graduate student of rural management was suspended for an entire semester for writing three social media posts in support of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen who has been accused by Chakrabarty of illegally occupying 13 decimals of the 1.38 acres covered by the campus land his father took on a 99-year lease in 1943.

The university passed an eviction order against the 89-year-old economist on April 19, stating that it would take possession of the 13 decimals, or 5550 sq. ft, unless Sen vacated it voluntarily. Sen challenged the order. The dispute is being heard by the Birbhum district court following orders the Calcutta high court passed on May 4.

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