As Jadavpur University professor Kanak Sarkar is barred from teaching for comparing a girl’s virginity to a ‘sealed water bottle’, students & alumni lay bare a litany of allegations.
New Delhi: Professor Kanak Sarkar has spent nearly two decades making his students extremely uncomfortable, alumni of Jadavpur University, Kolkata, say.
The professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University was recently divested of his teaching duties and banned from campus, pending investigation, after his Facebook post comparing a girl’s virginity to a “sealed water bottle” went viral.
But students say this is not the first time the professor has displayed inappropriate behaviour — Sarkar is notorious for casual sexism, crossing personal boundaries and sexual harassment, a fact students say could not have evaded the university administration’s knowledge for so long.
“He’d walk around with the roll-call sheet during examinations and tick-mark the girls he thought were pretty,” Ankita Ghosh, a former Bachelor’s student of Sarkar’s, told ThePrint. “I’ve seen him do it.
“He asked for my phone number under the pretence that I could distribute notes to the class, but I knew his character so I gave him my mother’s,” Ghosh added. “He would keep texting, asking why I wasn’t replying and saying I should check my messages in the evening because that’s when he gets lonely.”
Since Sarkar’s post went viral Monday, and following a protest by students Tuesday and Wednesday demanding his dismissal, multiple accounts of harassment, sexist behaviour, and professional incompetence have emerged against the professor.
“We did not really gain anything from his class,” Anushtup Burman, who pursued a Master’s in International Relations at Jadavpur University, told ThePrint. “Compared to the world-class faculty that Jadavpur has, professor Sarkar seemed like the odd one out. He would repeat the same jokes, and his grasp over his subject matter was novice at best.”
Sarkar has been teaching at Jadavpur University for over 20 years. In 2014, he was made the head of the International Relations department, the consequence of an administrative policy that requires heads of departments to be changed every two years.
He completed his Master’s from North Bengal University in 1995 and secured a PhD from Jadavpur University in 2016, according to the university website.
At Jadavpur University, where Sarkar started teaching on 1 August 1997, he taught a Master’s programme in political sociology, as well as a foundational Bachelor’s course in western political thought.
According to Ghosh, “he was the most incompetent professor” she’s ever had.
Ghosh said the professor would take short-cuts to teaching by simply handing out basic synopses of political thinkers like Aristotle and Socrates, and expect that to be enough study material for students.
“Once, in the middle of class, for no apparent reason, he said ‘I like humps, and people who hump’,” Ghosh told ThePrint.
From the look of it, Sarkar never got along with colleagues. According to Ghosh, she “never saw him speak or spend time with anyone, really”.
“He had a corner room, away from everyone else, where he sat all day when he wasn’t in class,” she said. “I don’t think I ever saw him in the library or somewhere else.”
Ghosh and Burman aren’t the only ones with strange memories and experiences to share.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Swetasree Mal, a former student of the university, wrote, “During my second year of undergrad, he (Sarkar) forcefully held my arm under the guise of explaining that mehendi wasn’t representative of Bengali culture, and I should have applied ‘aalta’ instead.”
Multiple students posted on social media about Sarkar’s alleged tendency to comment on the length of students’ skirts. Burman said he once went as far as asking a girl to change out of pants “because she’ll look better”.
According to another account, Sarkar once asked a student if she wanted to grow up and become a model, saying her “figure is very model-like”.
“He also asked me if I have a lot of male friends, because, according to him, I’m what men would ‘enjoy’,” former student Adrija Chatterjee quoted a student as having told her.
This kind of inappropriate behaviour, however, was never discreet and university officials knew about it for years, staff members say.
“He’s been here for last 20 years,” professor Om Prakash Mishra, Sarkar’s colleague and the current head of department for international relations at Jadavpur University, told ThePrint.
“It’s a question of mannerisms, behaviour, and viewpoint. It’s a question of students feeling intimidated, feeling harassed and that has been building up for many years. But there was nothing official about it,” he said.
“I divested him of teaching duties and the university barred him from entering,” added Mishra. “The other aspects relate to instituting an inquiry, and taking further disciplinary action, which will be conducted and initiated at the university level.”
Jadavpur University professor Kanak Sarkar who made controversial remarks in a Facebook post has been divested of his duties with immediate effect. pic.twitter.com/OlmdshSSUI
— ANI (@ANI) January 16, 2019
‘To protect a certain image’
Angana Kundu, a first-year Master’s student who helped organise a protest against Sarkar Tuesday, said the Vice-Chancellor’s steps were just an attempt to “protect a certain image”.
“It cannot be possible that he was not aware of Kanak Sarkar’s behaviour or that of other professors, like Protosh Bhattacharya (who was asked to maintain a physical distance from students after they formally complained that he invaded their personal space repeatedly),” Kundu told ThePrint.
“It’s not like he’s taking steps against all the professors accused of sexual harassment, he’s just looking at Sarkar’s case,” she added.
Sarkar is said to have ties to the Trinamool Congress, currently in power in West Bengal, which Kundu says “gave him a whole other level of entitlement”.
He was also on Raya Sarkar’s List of Sexual Harassers in Academia (LoSHA), published in 2017.