Taking note of the molestation complaints filed by at least three students, the Jadavpur University has initiated an inquiry into the incident and suspended the accused, whose parent was slated to take over as head of the English department from August 1. The accused, also a student of the English department, is said to have molested more than 13 students, who came forward last week to speak about the alleged harassment on social media.
Vice-Chancellor Suranjan Das held a meeting on Thursday with the current of Head of Department Professor Santanu Biswas and the accused’s parent to work out the Arts Faculty Student’s Union’s demand of not letting the concerned parent takeover as HoD till the inquiry was over. Although there hasn’t been any formal announcement yet, sources suggest that the accused’s parent is likely to give up the position.
Speaking exclusively to IndianExpress.com, the accused said, “I will not be responding to any trial on social media. This is extremely distressing and uncomfortable for me. I will cooperate with the committee to find the truth of whatever complaints there are against me. I will speak on the issue only after that.”
Professor Biswas told the IndianExpress.com that the V-C has requested a Board of Studies meeting on Friday where the parent of the accused would formally announce whether the said person would take up the headship or not. “The teacher has not been asked to step down because the statute doesn’t allow us to ask the person to refuse the headship. In the meeting, the teacher concerned would tell us whether the said professor wants to take up the post or not.”
Students from Jadavpur University have also alleged that the accused’s parent has tried to shield him before. When probed on the issue, a university official said they “wouldn’t be surprised if the teacher acted like a parent” even if there was nothing to prove it so far. Though the students who levelled allegations against the accused worry about being marked unfairly, the university officials say they are yet to come across any “concrete evidence” which would suggest that the said parent has been unfair on any occasion.
The same official also said that despite trying to understand “what was going on in the mind” of the accused’s parent, the official was unable to do so since the said professor “was keeping the cards close” to their chest. However, the accused’s parent has reportedly stated that they would “discuss these things in the appropriate forum” instead of speaking to the media and would present their version before the inquiry committee.
Shounak Mukhopadhyay, a member of AFSU, told the IndianExpress.com that on Tuesday students walked out of class when the accused came to attend his regular classes. According to university professors, the accused had ‘spontaneously’ taken the decision to not attend the classes till the probe was over, even before he was asked by the University to stop attending his classes since he ‘did not like’ the students walking out. Mukhopadhyay also said that he has heard many people alleging misconduct and sexual harassment on the accused’s part for ‘over a year.’
In the victim’s Facebook post where she complained of sexual harassment, she had mentioned another female friend of the accused from Presidency University who also ‘bullied’ the victim on various occasions. Speaking to IndianExpress.com, Janhabi Mukherjee denied bullying anybody. Referring to her Facebook comments, Mukherjee said, “It was a rude comment and perhaps I should not have made it, but it was a comment that was brought on by a long line of offensive comments made towards me– both verbally and virtually. But all that is not visible in the post because that has been going on for a long time. I don’t understand how one comment from me could have led to something so big and nasty on social media.”
Mukherjee claimed that she doesn’t even know a lot of the people on social media who have been complaining against her. Denying all allegations of a relationship with the accused, Mukherjee also said that she has been friends with him for three years. While speaking on the sexual harassment allegations levelled against the accused, Mukherjee said that she “never had any such experience with him”.
In 2014, another molestation case from Jadavpur University had shaken the nation with the then Vice-Chancellor Abhijit Chakraborty not taking the allegations seriously causing widespread protests that ultimately culminated in his removal. In the current scenario, the University’s swift action makes one wonder if this is indeed to avoid any such backlash. “What is happening now, should have happened even back then,” says Professor Biswas.
He said the victim had ‘informally’ lodged a complaint against the accused last year and added that though she did not want to lodge a formal complaint, she wanted the professors to speak to the accused and issue a verbal warning. “During the Hokkolorob movement, the V-C refused to listen to the victim for seven days. The arbitrary inquiry committee set up back then asked her questions like what she was wearing etc. But in this case, we did the opposite. We asked the victim what she wants by way of justice. We did not determine what is just for her. Because that is Jadavpur’s sense of justice.”
Despite repeated requests, the victims were unavailable for comment.