TN women’s panel chief visits Kalakshetra: ‘Got 100 written complaints, 4 names’ – The Indian Express

Students and some faculty members at Kalakshetra Foundation’s Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts in Chennai called off their protest Friday, even as Chief Minister M K Stalin assured appropriate “legal action” if the allegations of sexual harassment of students on the campus “are confirmed”.
Tamil Nadu State Women’s Commission chairperson AS Kumari also visited the campus Friday and spent at least five hours with students, listening to their complaints in private at the Kalakshetra auditorium.
“I have received nearly 100 written complaints of sexual abuse and harassment from students. I spoke to 12 students in person and close to five people over Zoom… The students have given written complaints as well. After examining them we will submit a report on Monday,” Kumari said, adding that four people have been named in the complaints.
Meanwhile, the four persons against whom the allegations have been made, were called back to Chennai from Hyderabad where they were scheduled to perform Friday at a three-day arts festival organised by Bharatanatyam exponent Ananda Shankar Jayant. Jayant declined comment on the issue.
The protest, which broke out Thursday, followed days of rumblings on the campus and outside that an assistant professor and three repertory artistes at the country’s premier cultural institute had allegedly sexually harassed students. The protesters demanded the four be removed.
Soon after the protest began, the institute’s principal, Pakala Ramadas, postponed the ongoing exams and ordered the campus shut until April 6.
Chief Minister Stalin, who was responding to a calling attention motion in the Assembly, said, “All measures are taken to ensure the safety of women protestors.” He, however, added the police had yet to receive a written complaint on the issue.
Kalakshetra is an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Culture. Also Friday, a day after forming a union, the students wrote a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Culture, detailing the alleged abuse that they said had been going on for several years now.
In the letter, the students demanded action not just against the assistant professor and the three artistes but also against the institute’s director and head of the dance department, alleging they did not take cognisance of a large number of complaints from students.
“Beyond the four faculty members, students have faced body shaming, verbal abuse, and casteist remarks… The affected students have refrained from speaking publicly for fear of retribution and dismissal from the institution,” the letter stated.
A senior faculty member, who refused to be identified, told The Indian Express, “The abuse has gone on for years now, even when many faculty members were students themselves.”
When contacted, noted Hindustani classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal told The Indian Express: “I think it has reached this level primarily because all of us have remained silent – whether it’s people who’ve undergone these traumatic experiences or whether it’s people, who, having heard about it have not asked questions, including me… In a sense we have all been complicit.”
Mudgal said the matter needs to be dealt with as an issue of exploitation irrespective of the gender of students.
“I have been told by other musicians to not speak about it because people will then not send their kids to learn. Not speaking about it has led to all of this going unchecked. It takes a lot of courage to make these complaints particularly when you are complaining against a revered artiste. Also, whether it is a woman or a male student, it is an issue of exploitation,” Mudgal added.
Before the protests began, the primary complainant in the case denied the allegations during a session with the college’s internal complaints committee, prompting the institute to ask the students not to spread “misinformation” regarding the issue on social media.
Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma,  who had initially sought police intervention in the matter, also wrote to the state DGP to not pursue the issue further.
The allegations of sexual harassment at the campus came to light when Leela Samson, a former student and former director of Kalakshetra, put up a social media post only to redact it later. In the post, Samson had spoken about “a haven of the highest art and contemplation — now turning a blind eye to how young girls are treated”.
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