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Research Scholars Lash out at Visva Bharati VC for ‘Sitting’ on Sexual Harassment Complaints

In the past 2 months, at least five women scholars have submitted complaints to the ICC, gone on hunger strike, but VBU is yet to act.
Visva Bharati University

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Kolkata: Several cases of alleged sexual harassment against a professor of the prestigious Visva Bharati University (VBU) have been filed by some research scholars, who allege that a not a ‘single case’ has seen any punitive action by the authorities as yet.

The students, who said they had lodged complaints with the ICC or Internal Complaints Committee of VBU, accused the Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty of “sitting on the files” even after affirmative action had been recommended by the ICC.

Several students told NewsClick that they had knocked every door for justice to those who faced sexual harassment but no action has been taken so far. They had even gone on hunger strike.

Appalled by the university ‘s “inaction and apathy” on complaints of sexual/physical harassment, gender/caste discrimination, the aggrieved scholars have even sent emails (seen by NewsClick) to the President of India, Prime Minister’s Office, Union Education Minister, Union Women & Child Development Minister, National Commission for Other Backward Classes, Human Rights Commission, University Grants Commission etc., but in vain.

Incidentally, VB Vice Chancellor Chakraborty himself, in his earlier stint in Delhi University’s political science department, had faced multiple sexual harassment allegations and was asked to step down.

The most recent case that has enraged students of VBU’s anthropology department pertains to their research guide, Associate Professor Dr Arnab Ghosh, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by some women Ph.D scholars. 

In fact, recently five women research scholars, most of them from the anthropology department under Ghosh, held two hunger strikes to draw the attention of the authorities. The first hunger strike took place on August 21, 2023, while the second one was held as recently as October 17.

One of the complainants said she had informed the Head of the Department of Anthropology about the alleged sexual harassment on July 5, 2023, and the formal complaint to the ICC was submitted on August 7. Yet, no action has been taken.

Another complainant said she had submitted her complaint of sexual harassment to the HoD, Anthropology, and ICC on July 19, 2023, and was still awaiting action.

Yet another research scholar said she had submitted her complaint of sexual harassment to the HoD and ICC on July 19.

Recall that VBU’s NIRF (National Institute Ranking Framework) ranking has plunged under this VC’s stewardship, with several controversies dogging it.

For example, one Prof Rajarshi Roy, a research supervisor, had to spent several weeks behind bars on charges of sexual misconduct with his students. He did not lose his job but was reinstated after he got bail.

Newsclick spoke with Mahua Bandopadhyaya, Public Relations Officer of VBU, about the allegation levelled against Ghosh. She said that the university was well aware of the allegations and the ICC had recommended action against the said professor. The details of the action would be made public in the coming weeks, she added.

Incidentally, the same professor was accused of sexual misconduct before 2010, too, and that time, he had been warned by the VBU authorities

The VBU Faculty Association has also lent support to the protesting students. Prof Sudipta Bhattacharya, president of VBU FA, told NewsClick that the association stands firmly with the students and has demanded exemplary punishment to the erring teachers.  “It is unfortunate that such a huge number of cases of harassment by research supervisors are being reported in VBU,” he added.

VBU was established in Shantiniketan by Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. It was given the status of a central university in 1951 and accorded the prestige of being an 'Institute of National Importance."

A student, who did not want to be named, said, “How can the VBU VC punish the accused, as he too was accused  of sexual  misconduct? It is a fact that birds of the same feather flock together, and at the cost of students. The accused professors are spending their days in merriment, despite lip service by the PRO that the guilty will be punished,” adding that VBU was is “fast becoming a sexual predators’ den.” 

 The angry students said they are now thinking of intensifying their protest.

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