The Arts

Dhrupad Sansthan: Five-Member Panel To Probe Misconduct Allegations Against Two Gurus

The panel will have three external members and two students of the gurukul.

New Delhi: After two famous gurus of the Dhrupad Sansthan Bhopal, were accused of sexual harassment in a Facebook post put out by a group called ‘Dhrupad Family Europe’, the residential music gurukul has announced it has reconstituted and nominated five members to the Internal Complaints Committee in consonance with the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2013.

Ramakant Gundecha and Akhilesh Gundecha were accused of sexual misconduct by several students, who also said the gurus threatened to ‘ruin their careers’ if they spoke up.

In a statement issued on September 16, the Sansthan said the five members are Raka Arya, professor of  National Law Institute University; Gagan Sethi, former member of the NHRC; Anu Gupta, social activist of Eklavya Foundation; and two students of Dhrupad Sansthan – Ankita Athawale and C.S. Balasubramanian.

The Sansthan, which had announced the setting up of the ICC on September 5, announced through its secretary Anant Gundecha that the Committee has been reconstituted “after exhaustive deliberation with the student community” and the “nominated shall assume their respective office with immediate effect.”

Students hope for fair, transparent process

In response to the development, about 70 students of Dhrupad Sansthan Bhopal too issued a statement saying that they were “happy” that the Sansthan responded to their concerns regarding complaints of sexual harassment in the institution.

“Through a fair, transparent and dialogic process, we, the students, have selected and endorsed all members of the reconstituted ICC committee, and look forward to the start of a fair and compassionate hearing of the complainants, as well as its conclusion in the stipulated three month period,” they submitted.

These students said they “stand in solidarity with anyone who may have faced any form of unwelcome sexual advances at any point in time, no matter how far in the past or how recent.”

They also declared that it was of paramount importance to them to see the situation handled fairly and quickly as per the legal provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2013. The students said they were “hopeful of a constructive, collaborative and inclusive way forward” and were “committed to making the institution a safer and more inclusive space for learning and have faith that it will continue to remain a premier centre for Indian classical music (Dhrupad) training.”

Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha. Photo: Flickr/Joe Mabel CC BY SA 2.0

The allegations

Earlier this month, the Sansthan, which is accredited by UNESCOs cultural heritage committee and draws most of its students from Europe, found itself in the midst of serious sexual harassment allegations after an Amsterdam-based yoga teacher spoke up on behalf of a friend who did not want to be identified.

Through a Facebook post, the teacher alleged that several victims of the two gurus remained quiet about the harassment due to threats. “We have been prisoners of this silence for fear of reprisals, for fear of your judgments, for believing the threatening words Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha would say to keep us silent. Fortunately enough, things are starting to change worldwide… They would threaten us saying they always get what they want and won’t accept ‘No’ as an answer,” the post said.

The yoga instructor claimed that the two gurus made sexual propositions to students and touched them inappropriately. They would also caution them that if they “ever wanted to have a career in music” they would have to “comply” and a refusal to oblige would result in “trouble at the Gurukul”.

Ramakant died of a heart attack last year and his elder brother Umakant heads the Sansthan. Akhilesh, the third sibling, plays the pakhawaj and accompanied them on the tours. He has also played along with many other maestros.

Responding to the charges then, the Sansthan had issued a statement signed by its chairman Umakant, declaring that an internal committee will look into them. “The committee shall look into the allegations levelled against Akhilesh Gundecha, and until the committee submits its report, without averting to the merits of the allegations, Akhilesh Gundecha has voluntarily recused himself from all the activities of Dhrupad Sansthan,” it read.

Some observers wanted Umakant also to step down as chairman temporarily to allow a fair inquiry.