Kolkata: Allegations of inaction on multiple sexual harassment complaints filed by scholars and students against teachers at Visva-Bharati University in Bengal’s Shantiniketan now mark what is an already controversial tenure of Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty.
Multiple students have written to authorities ranging from the university’s topmost officials to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Draupadi Murmu, requesting justice. In August, students led a day-long hunger strike in protest. But no concrete steps have been taken, they allege.
The Wire spoke to some of those who have alleged that they have been sexually harassed by teachers and then that their complaints were ignored, not acted upon or inadequately addressed.
Several complaints in the last two academic years
“My PhD advisor attempted to forcibly kiss me and engaged in inappropriate touching. The University is permitting him to continue teaching, even after the Internal Complaints Committee found him guilty of sexual harassment.”
“He took me to a road behind the Natyaghar, which was deserted and there all of sudden he broke down in tears and embraced me tightly even before I could react. He quickly started running his hands all over my body and started rubbing his against mine in the most gross manner that one can imagine.”
“My guide told me that he would only allow me to submit my thesis if I met him alone in a hotel room.”
These are some excerpts from formal complaints filed and statements made by students at Visva-Bharati University this year and the last.
Visva-Bharati was founded by Rabindranath Tagore and was recently declared the world’s first living heritage university. For suffering students though, the central university has become more of a living nightmare than a sanctuary of learning and peace.
A PhD student who lodged a complaint against a senior teacher in the department of education, Rajarshi Roy, said that Roy’s ties to senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders has ensured for him a degree of safety in his position.
“Rajarshi Roy is my PhD guide and a powerful man. He is related to an influential BJP MP in the state. His wife is a BJP worker. That’s why he remains in his teaching position, despite spending days in jail over rape attempt charges. Because of his political influence, the V-C is protecting him instead of following the ICC recommendations,” the PhD student said.
Roy allegedly turned down the student’s requests for pre-PhD submission, extension, and re-registration, reportedly due to the student’s refusal to accept his alleged advances. The situation intensified when the student filed a formal complaint with the university’s ICC in June 2022. Roy pushed for the withdrawal of the complaint, and was allegedly backed by another faculty member, the student said. With no response from the authorities, the student went to the police and an FIR was lodged against the guide in May, 11 months after her initial complaint to the ICC.
The Wire has seen her police complaint, which was turned into an FIR, and the ICC complaint she filed. Multiple emails she sent Roy, requesting him to check her PhD work, were also seen. This student, like others, requested anonymity for this piece.
Only 48 minutes after she filed the police complaint, Sakuntala Misra, the chairperson of the ICC, sent out the report that had actually found Rajarshi Roy guilty three months prior, back in February 2023. Roy was notably implicated twice in 2016 and 2019, in cases that had to do with sexual harassment.
The ICC report concluded:
“It is established and confirmed that the respondent (Rajarshi Roy) is found guilty of repeated offence of sexual harassment of lady as per provisions of Section 2(n) (i), (ii), (iii) & (v) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and clause D (1) (i), (ii), (iii) & (v) of the Policy on Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (PSHWW) of Visva-Bharati.”
Rajarshi Roy was arrested and later released on bail. Subsequently, he faced a month-long suspension from the University, but has since returned to work.
Roy’s phone is switched off and The Wire has not been able to reach him otherwise.
“We have submitted our report to the university authorities. We don’t have anything more to say,” Sakuntala Misra told The Wire.
Another faculty member, assistant professor of dance, Sumit Basu, who was detained for around two weeks in April 2022 for allegedly hurling castiest abuses at a Dalit student. However, Visva-Bharati chose to enforce only a weeklong suspension, which went against the established rules and guidelines.
Prashanta Ghosh, a faculty member in the department of music at Sangeet Bhavan, did not experience any repercussions despite facing allegations of sexual harassment in 2023.In July 2023, the student filed a police complaint, accusing Ghosh of attempted molestation. In the police complaint, turned into an FIR, submitted by another research scholar, it she reported that Ghosh had allegedly harassed and stalked her over an extended period, even sharing pornography with her against her consent.
The Wire has obtained a copy of the FIR where she stated that the teacher threatened to ruin her career if she did not comply with his requests:
“He made it clear in no uncertain terms that I need to maintain a physical relationship with him and while maintaining such relationship I should mimic the actions of the actress, as depicted in the said pornographic clip. He kept a vice-like grip on me by misusing his position of authority over me and repeatedly threatened to ruin my career including threats to make my exam papers disappear.”
Professor Arnab Ghosh from the Department of Anthropology also faces several allegations of sexual harassment since 2021, as well as charges of caste and gender discrimination. One research scholar has said that she was refused maternity leave, while another has alleged she was called a “beggar” for requesting a fellowship grant. Several students also reported instances where Ghosh allegedly tied the progress of their theses to their willingness to “meet him in a hotel.”
“He rejected my promotion from Junior Research Fellow to Senior Research Fellow despite my post-graduation with distinction from one of India’s most prestigious research institutes. On multiple occasions, he lewdly told me to ‘go and have fun’ with my husband,” said one of the complainants who adds that she lost a fellowship grant of nearly Rs 12 lakh as a result.
A member of Ghosh’s family told The Wire that Ghosh would contact this writer. This report will be updated when he does.
On August 11 and 12, two posts surfaced on a Facebook group called ‘VB Confessions’. Such ‘confessions’ pages are common for educational institutions and offer students anonymity when they write it. In the posts, students asserted that they were “physically and mentally tortured by multiple teachers” in the music department. Instead of investigating these claims, the university dismissed the allegations outright, labelling them as a malicious campaign against an internationally reputed institution.
Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty staged a nine-hour hunger strike on campus in protest against these posts.
The students have made multiple attempts to have their concerns addressed.
In addition to the ICC, they have sent several letters to the PMO, the President of India, the National Commission for Women, the Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for OBC, the University Grants Commission, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Despite these appeals, the Vice-Chancellor, known for frequently making controversial statements, has not taken significant action to address these grave allegations.
The Wire reached out to the University and Mahua Banerjee, in charge of public relations there, stated, “We will decide as per due processes applicable to all who are associated with the university.”
Professor Sudipta Bhattacharya, president of the Visva-Bharati University Faculty Association and a faculty member in the department of economics and politics at Vidya Bhavana said that he was recently served with a chargesheet for filing an FIR against the VC for an allegedly anti-Bengali post written by him.
“Professor Bidyut Chakrabarty’s inaction clearly indicates an intention to protect the accused faculty members and perpetuates an environment conducive to sexual harassment at Visva-Bharati,” Bhattacharya said.
Many of those unhappy with Chakrabarty pointed to the fact that in 2007, an employee of Gandhi Bhawan had accused him of sexual harassment. Delhi University sexual harassment committee found him guilty in 2010. Consequently, he was asked to resign from his positions as the director of Gandhi Bhawan and the head of the political science department. He was also debarred from holding any administrative post in DU for a period of three years.
An RTI enquiry later revealed that the committee recommended that “whenever such persons are considered by the University for any assignment, which involves intensive interaction with female colleagues/ subordinates, their past conduct is kept in mind.”
The university has meanwhile seen numerous show-cause and suspension orders issued to students and teachers since Chakrabarty assumed his position as V-C in November 2018. The university has, so far, embroiled itself in more than 100 judicial proceedings and has allegedly taken up fights with several employees and students. Most of interim court orders have been against the university.
Aparna Bhattacharya is a Kolkata-based political analyst with experience in campaign strategy, communication and public affairs. She is co-founder of Populytix, a data analysis and market research firm.