Kolkata: A 30-year-old former assistant professor has alleged that she was asked to resign from Kolkata’s St Xavier’s University last year over what the premier institute described as “objectionable posts” on her private Instagram profile.
The allegedly “objectionable” photos are believed to include those of the professor in a bikini, shorts, and gym clothes, and were shared as “Instagram stories”, the teacher said. This social media feature allows users to make posts that disappear after 24 hours, and restrict the audience.
According to the former assistant professor, the stories in question were posted before she joined the university — also her alma mater — in August 2021, and shared with a close group of friends.
“I was asked by Father Felix, the vice-chancellor, if my mother approved of these photographs and if they adhere to appropriate dress code. Another woman… asked me if it was appropriate to post such kind of photographs,” she told ThePrint.
The former assistant professor said she was asked to apologise for the matter, and she did, but was told to quit nevertheless.
The matter dates back to October 2021, but the former assistant professor claims that it was only in February 2022 that an FIR was lodged on the basis of her police complaint, that too against “unknown persons”.
She also sent a legal notice to the university on 1 March this year, following which the university sent her a Rs 99 crore defamation notice. ThePrint has accessed both documents.
ThePrint contacted Xavier’s Gender Cell head, but she declined to speak saying the matter is “sub-judice” and her “professional commitment” doesn’t allow her to speak to anyone but the university authorities about the case concerned. The official was talking about the ongoing legal battles in connection with the case.
ThePrint sent emails to the vice-chancellor’s and registrar’s offices seeking comment on the matter Tuesday evening, but hadn’t received a reply until the time of publishing this report.
The entire episode, the former assistant professor said, has taken a toll on her family.
“My father collapsed on the road twice and he has been worried. As a former student of Xavier’s, he cannot fathom this. He had encouraged me to take up this job,” she told ThePrint.
She also hasn’t been able to return to social media. “I couldn’t get myself to post anything because I was only thinking of the consequences of the past. I not only lost my job, but also had to crowdfund my legal fees. I couldn’t even pay for my parents’ treatment.”
Jhuma Sen, the former teacher’s lawyer, told ThePrint that she was considering further legal action against the university.
How it happened
On 7 October 2021 — within two months of taking up the position — the former assistant professor allegedly received a call from the university asking her to meet the vice-chancellor.
She was allegedly taken to a room where the vice-chancellor sat with the registrar and five women — two professors and two assistant professors from various departments, and a secretary.
“It was an interrogation chamber where one woman read out a complaint from a student’s father regarding my social media post,” she told ThePrint.
The former assistant professor claimed she wasn’t given the name of the student, and was only told that the head of Xavier’s Gender Cell had received a complaint that she had shared “sexually explicit, borderline nudity” content on her personal Instagram account.
“I was shocked,” she told ThePrint. “The thumbnails of my Instagram story, which I had shared with a private group of people on my friend list, were being circulated in the room to confront me.”
Only one university acquaintance — the head of the Gender Cell, who was one of the five women in the room — was on her friend list, the former assistant professor claimed.
‘Moral policing, trauma & resignation’
On that day, the former assistant professor was allegedly asked to submit a report and tender a letter of apology.
“I gave an apology letter saying it wasn’t my intention to malign the university. But without even reading the letter, the vice-chancellor said the committee had unanimously recommended my removal. He asked me to resign citing personal reasons,” she said.
She was allegedly told that keeping her on would “tarnish” the image of the university.
“I protested saying that it wasn’t right. But I decided to resign. I felt humiliated,” she told ThePrint.
The legal tussle
From then on, the legal struggle began. The former teacher claimed she filed a police complaint in October 2021, but it was not converted into an FIR.
She even wrote to the National Commission of Women, which in turn wrote to Kolkata Police for action, but to no avail.
“In February this year, my lawyer suggested I file a civil suit and I did,” she said. “The university replied after a month saying I had defamed the university and sought Rs 99 crore in damages from me.”
It was only on 24 February 2022 that Kolkata’s Techno City Police Station finally registered an FIR, although it was against “unknown persons”. The FIR — accessed by ThePrint — was lodged under sections 354(C) (voyeurism) and 509 (outraging a woman’s modesty) of the Indian Penal Code.
In May, the former assistant professor recorded her statement before a magistrate under section 164 (recording of confessions and statements) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)