Over the past four days, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even WhatsApp groups have seen a barrage of #MeToo stories. Journalists, writers, actors and corporates have already been called out. Now there are accusations streaming in from college campuses as well. From the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, alleged instances of sexual harassment by a former student have been revealed, among others. In Pune, more than 30 students and three faculty members have been accused from the Symbiosis Centre of Media and Communication (SCMC). College authorities are forming internal committees to investigate the allegations. We spoke to students, alumni and authorities and here’s what they say.
An alumnus of SCMC, who spoke to YourStory on condition of anonymity, said that faculty member Suhas Ghatne, had allegedly touched her inappropriately during her camera practicals sometime in late 2009/early 2010. Here are the texts she shared with us.
When asked why she didn’t report the matter to the college authorities, she said she had no evidence, and added, “Obviously the college was going to believe him.”
Soon after, another student accused him of inappropriate behaviour, and the college suspended him after an internal investigation. However, after a while, he was brought back as a consulting faculty. His name still remains on the college website as of October 11, 2018.
In another case, a student accused a faculty member of zooming in on her chest in a photograph, during computer practicals.
According to a former student’s tweet, besides, Prof Ghatne, another professor Vijay Shelar was terminated last year.
An anonymous complaints box has apparently always existed in college. Yesterday the students were reminded of its location. As for the professors, Vijay Shelar was terminated last year and action has been initiated against Prof. Ghatne. (5/n)
— Vaishnavi Suresh (@VshnviSuresh) October 9, 2018
Besides the faculty, instances of #MeToo –revealing toxic relationships that turned sexually or physically abusive have also been revealed among students. In one case of a relationship gone horribly wrong, the college had allegedly suspended a student, and asked for a sworn affidavit from him and his parents that stated he would stay away from his former partner. One current student says that there are many cases that aren't reported to the college authorities.
An ex-student, Vaishnavi Suresh, who has been vocal about collating #MeToo stories, acting acted as a medium between SCMC students and the University authorities, said, “The culture was normalised in SCMC. Sexual innuendos, jokes, etc. were regarded as normal by the faculty and students. Roman Polanski, the child rapist and filmmaker, and others such personalities were looked up to as idols.”
The college authorities have apologised to the survivors/victims from the college in a Facebook post. “Though (it’s) disheartening to see so many similar stories from so many people across the country, it’s also certain that change has come. And finally, for good,” read the post.
YourStory spoke to Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar, Principal – Director of Symbiosis Society, who said, “I am glad that the students are reaching out with their stories. Currently, we have a committee called the ICC, the ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ (ICC) that is made up of three faculty members and three students. This committee adheres to the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines.”
In the Facebook post, the college has named three students who are part of the ICC - all of them currently studying at the university. This meaning that their grades will still be assessed by the university, which might give rise to a conflict of interest.
On Wednesday, we had reached out to the Director of SCMC, Prof. Anupam Siddhartha and had a conversation about what’s happening. However, on Thursday morning, in a text, he withdrew his statement saying he could not comment as the internal investigation has begun. Some students, alumni, and parents have also accused him of creating an unhealthy culture at the University over the years.
When asked, Dr Yeravdekar said that the matter was being investigated.
She also said that Symbiosis was creating a forum where faculty members will be coached on gender-sensitivity. Earlier, the professor for gender sensitivity was a documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, Stalin K Padma. Ironically, he, too, has been accused of harassment by a former intern.
— Sandhya Ramesh (@sandygrains) October 10, 2018
Dr Yeravdekar said she was unaware of this particular case.
At the moment, students and college authorities are working together to see how they can resolve the situation. “The reason I am helping the college to figure out what went wrong is because I can at least try and help the institute create a safer environment for the next generations. At the moment, they are open to amendments,” she said.
She ended her conversation saying, “You don't have concrete laws to jail someone for making you feel uncomfortable. Plus, the definition of sexual abuse is too nuanced.”
Five times, SCMC has been ranked the number one college for mass communication in India by India Today’s survey of colleges until 2017.
Besides Symbiosis, similar cases are coming up in other colleges. At Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai, alumnus Meghnad Bose has been accused of sexually harassing more than one student while he was studying there. The survivor/victim is a journalist and wishes to remain anonymous. Seeing her post, more stories about him started pouring in. One of his former friends called him out, and said that Meghnad “bullied, harassed and emotionally abused women.” He is also accused of passing lewd comments about his fellow female students, even asking them to sit on his lap. When confronted, Meghnad apologised in a Facebook post.
I am sorry. This is my unconditional apology. I am really, really sorry. pic.twitter.com/5B7gkPLjgu
— Meghnad Bose (@MeghnadBose93) October 6, 2018
He was working as a journalist with the Quint, and well known for his stories around gender and rape culture. The company has mentioned that they are ‘in the process of ascertaining more details’ about him.
Besides Meghnad, another student accused is Indraneel Sen, currently working with PTI in Delhi. The survivor/victim said, “He has harassed me for years, telling me he loved me, threatening to kill anyone who touched me/married me.” The tweet also read that he has harassed others.
Earlier this year, a former ACJ student reported faculty member Sadanand Menon to the college’s Internal Complaints Committee. The institute was accused of not taking the story seriously. In May, 2018, it sent out a press release, saying, “The ACJ wishes to make it clear that on matters such as this, when unproven allegations that are not within its jurisdiction to investigate or enquire into, are made involving its faculty, whether full-time or adjunct, staff, and students, it has to stand firm on the ground laid down in the law of the land. It cannot make any subjective judgments based on speculation or rumour.”
According to the press release, Sadanand Menon would not be teaching his course for the current academic year.
Besides, SCMC, ACJ, stories are pouring out from Manipal University, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute. This is a developing story.
Disclaimer: The writer is an alumni of SCMC 2011.
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