Four professors of Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, who had resigned in protest over the delay in action against students who allegedly harassed and used casteist slurs against an assistant professor in the university, have withdrawn their resignations after assurance from Education Minister Partha Chatterjee. The minister assured the professors that issue will be immediately looked into.
According to the complaint registered by Saraswati Kerketta, who is an assistant professor in the Geography department of Rabindra Bharati University, on May 20, she was surrounded by a group of students and verbally abused for almost four hours. The assistant professor had submitted her complaint to the Vice Chancellor (VC), however, almost a month after the complaint was filed, no action had been taken against the students by the University administration. Other professors of the university had also made similar allegations.
The matter came to light on Monday, June 17, when heads of Bengali, Sanskrit, Economics and Political Science departments’ Bharati Bandopadhyay, Amal Kumar Mandal, Bindi Shaw, and Bankim Chandra Mondal; including deans of three other departments- School of Languages and Culture, Department of Visual Art and B R Ambedkar Study Centre, resigned from their posts.
The four departments’ heads who had submitted their resignation letter to Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chaudhury, the VC of the university, had been protesting against the lack of action against the accused students. The incident was followed by filing of resignations by the heads of two more departments and the directors of six study centres.
The accused students allegedly belong to the Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP), the student wing of Trinamool Congress (TMC), the party which is in power in the state. TMCP has however denied the allegations, and have accused the assistant professor of threatening and harassing students instead.
On Tuesday, Partha Chatterjee visited the university and held meetings with faculty members and the VC, following which he ordered an enquiry into the matter. After the meeting at the University, the Minister told the media, “this is not expected at a place which has been named after Rabindranath Tagore. Such practices will tarnish the reputation of the institution. This should not have happened.”
He added, “a probe has been ordered, and we want it to be completed at the earliest. Anyone found guilty will be severely punished. What happened is a matter of serious concern and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is herself looking into the matter. We could not make contact with the victim professor. I will try and contact her and make her speak with the Chief Minister.”
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Though the teachers have withdrawn their resignations, they have demanded that the TMCP leaders against whom the allegations have been made, and the non-teaching staff who had also been involved in the incident, be suspended immediately for a better investigation into the matter.
TMCP leader Biswajit Dey, who is one of the accused students, claimed that the assistant professor harassed the students and threatened to destroy their careers. “She was ill-mannered,” Dey told Scroll.in. “There were several complaints against her by students. On that particular day, students approached her because she gave abnormally low marks in an examination. No one harassed her,” he said.
Teachers’ Council Secretary Debabrata Das told The Quint that after Chatterjee’s intervention, the VC gave an official statement that the resignations would not be accepted. "We have demanded the suspension of student union leader Biswajit Dey and Sushanta Chakraborty (of non-teaching staff) for a fair probe into the charges of harassment on racial grounds and restoring a conducive academic atmosphere," he said. He added that if they are not removed before the enquiry, the teachers will resort to further protests.