Students Protest At Chennai Art Centre Over Sexual Harassment Charges
Around 200 students staged a protest on Thursday at Kalakshetra Foundation, a top arts and cultural academy in Chennai, demanding justice for the survivors of alleged sexual harassment by four male faculty members.
The students held placards saying “We want justice” and shouted slogans against the administration and the National Commission for Women (NCW), which they have accused of dismissing their complaints.
The protest came a day after NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma made an unscheduled visit to the Kalakshetra campus. She met with the director, Revathi Ramachandran, and some of the faculty members.
Students say she asked them to tell her in public, in the presence of students and faculty members about incidents of sexual harassment.
“She asked one by one, ‘were you molested, were you molested’. Is that the way to do an enquiry? Their aim is to cover it up,” a woman student said. A former student of the academy added, “This has been going on for years.”
On what kind of harassment survivors faced, one student said, “It’s sexual messaging, abuse if we resist, low grades are given and no dance opportunity no matter how good we are.”
Another said, “Over the years many were sexually abused… remember we are talking about 18- or 19-year-old girls who can’t dare to complain.”
Ms Sharma had also earlier asked the state police chief C Sylendra Babu not to pursue the matter as the main complainant denied allegations of sexual harassment during questioning by the internal complaints committee of the institute.
Earlier this week, in a report, the body had claimed the allegations of sexual misconduct by the faculty members at Kalakshetra were “disinformation”.
“None who is involved in any unsavoury activity will be spared,” Ms Ramachandran said. She said the people facing allegations have been questioned and the board will consider taking action as per the law.
Kalakshetra Foundation, founded in 1936 by dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, is an institute of national importance that offers courses in Bharatanatyam dance, Carnatic music and other traditional arts. It is known for its high standards of excellence and discipline, and has produced many eminent artists over the decades.
The sexual harassment scandal has shaken the institution and its alumni, who have expressed solidarity with the students and their dismay over the handling of the issue. Some prominent artists, such as singer TM Krishna, have also spoken out against Kalakshetra’s response and called for a thorough investigation.
“As you know, no process of enquiry will be effective unless the atmosphere is caring and compassionate towards those who are alleging sexual abuse, in these cases, young students and alumni. When the place is so hierarchical, no one will speak freely and fearlessly,” Mr Krishna said in a statement.
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