New Delhi: The National Commission for Women (NCW) has decided to rescind its letter to the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP), demanding an inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment at Chennai’s Kalakshetra, which was first reported by this website, ThePrint has learnt.
In an exclusive investigation published Tuesday, ThePrint had quoted current staff, students and alumni alleging long unchecked sexual harassment by a teacher, described as the ‘most influential man on campus’ of Rukmini Devi College for Fine Arts, Kalakshetra Foundation — a central government-funded institute of national importance.
Within three hours of the report getting published, the NCW tweeted that it had written to the Tamil Nadu director general of police (DGP) demanding a fair probe into the matter.
But on Friday, NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma told ThePrint that the ‘concerned student’ had said she shared nothing more than a student-teacher relationship with the staffer and denied allegations of harassment. Based on this, Sharma said, the NCW is planning to rescind their letter to DGP C. Sylendra Babu.
The DGP has confirmed to ThePrint that the NCW apprised him of their intent to withdraw their letter to him.
Notably, Kalakshetra Foundation director Revathi Ramachandran had met the DGP Thursday. Speaking to ThePrint Friday, DGP Babu said that in the meeting, Ramachandran and the director informed him that the “concerned person” has denied all the allegations against a senior teacher. Babu had also said the police are planning to initiate an inquiry into the matter “immediately”.
On Saturday, the foundation also issued an official statement on its website — signed by its chairperson S. Ramadorai — responding to the NCW tweets, terming allegations of sexual harassment “unfounded and baseless”.
Referring to ThePrint’s report, the foundation said that it has provided the NCW with “facts and the actions that had already been initiated by the foundation on the matter referred to in the magazine.”
“I don’t understand how NCW can rescind their letter even before a police inquiry is conducted,” said Somabha Bandopadhyay, lawyer and founding member, Unmute.help, an online platform that connects artists who have faced sexual harassment to lawyers.
Bandopadhyay added that hundreds of stories have been shared on Care Spaces — US-based platform which describes itself as “the first Indian performing arts safe-space” — as the organisation claims, which raises the question why just one girl saying she hasn’t faced any harassment is enough for the NCW to stop the inquiry even before it started.
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NCW letter to DGP
On 21 March, the NCW wrote to the Tamil Nadu DGP; ThePrint has seen a copy of the letter.
In the letter, NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma had written: “The reported incident (of alleged sexual harassment) is appalling and extremely concerning raising a serious question on the safety and security of young girls/women enrolled in Kalakshetra Foundation. The Commission condemns it in the strongest possible words. You are, therefore, required to direct the concerned Police to ensure that the aforesaid provisions are invoked in the F.I.R along with other relevant provisions of law against the accused teacher and also, against the Director of Kalakshetra for shielding the accused teacher.”
“The matter needs to be thoroughly investigated in a fair and time bound manner. The accused persons must be arrested at the earliest and the victims coming forward with their sexual harassment incident should be provided all necessary assistance in the matter. A detailed action taken report must be apprised to the Commission,” the NCW wrote.
In a notice issued on its website on 19 March, the foundation said that it had initiated a “suo motu” inquiry into the allegations after they surfaced online.
However, it must be noted that there is no mention of any written complaint.
ThePrint had reported how various staff and teachers of Kalakshetra expressed lack of trust in the internal committee proceedings, and that the college had issued a gag order, banning discussion of the allegations on 19 March.
One former staffer of Kalakshetra, who resigned on 6 February 2023, maintains her complaint of verbal abuse has still not been heard by the internal committee of Kalakshetra.
“I have been on the campus since 2012. If Kalakshetra really wants to know what’s happening, they should talk to me. If I have raised a complaint, I should be heard. That’s the proper way of doing things,” she told ThePrint over the phone Saturday, requesting anonymity. ThePrint has seen a copy of the letter she sent to the internal committee.
The statement issued Saturday also said that the foundation has further requested the NCW to consider actions already taken, and that if the NCW is not satisfied with their adequacy, the foundation would welcome further inquiry by it.
The foundation has further said that this response has been notified to the appropriate authorities, including the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article reported that Tamil Nadu Director General of Police C. Sylendra Babu had met the student. This is what ThePrint had learned from the National Commission for Women (NCW). The DGP has now told ThePrint that he never met the student. The article has been updated. The error is regretted.
(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)
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