Published: 28th November 2017
Every 15 mins he used a sexual metaphor in class and smirked: Jadavpur University's students on how their prof sexually abused them
The students have been boycotting the professor's classes but no amount of protests and demands have altered the administration's stance, even new batch of students are wary of him
For almost a decade, literature students from Jadavpur University have had to endure classes conducted by a man who students claim has managed to make even the Ramayana sexually explicit. Almost the entire strength of the Department of Comparative Literature has been boycotting the class of Prof Sumit Kumar Barua, who has not just been accused of molesting a student but also has a history of using unnecessary sexual innuendo and gestures in class — or as a student put it, creeping the hell out of his students. And, as reports suggest, endless complaints have yielded no results.
However, what is shocking to the students is the lack of empathy from the administration — particularly the apathy of the "eminent feminists" who teach them. Neglected by their teachers they claim they have no one to turn to except, of course, social media, as the last resort. Which is how a post blew social media up over the weekend.
How the sexual abuse shocked the class
According to Shristi Dutta Chowdhury, the second year Masters student who has put up a Facebook post about the incident, Barua has worked in the University for nine years. Her first tryst with Barua's strange behaviour was in her very first class with him in her first semester as an undergraduate student. The same semester when they studied the Ramayana, "He would have a smirk on his face while he talked in excessive and unrequired detail about the sexual relationship between Ram and Sita, he would use hand gestures implying something sexual. He would do this for every class," she explained. "Ever 15 minutes he could come up with a sexual metaphor. All of us would feel so uncomfortable and he could see that but he would continue doing the same thing with a smile on his face," said Aritry Das, a former student.
Endless Struggle: Students from Jadavpur University have reached their wit's end and resorting to talking about their problems on social media
This wasn't limited to teaching. He would allegedly do the same thing when it came to handing out notes to his students, "He would draw a picture of a breast or scribble sexually suggestive words on the notes," she added. The student said that he would also text students things like "I like you, you are naughty but sweet" and "You are so beautiful, why won't you talk to me".
When poetry was the perfect cover
And then things really got put of hand. "Once he asked if he could fondle the breasts of a student who was alone in his class and when she reacted with shock, he said it was a line from the piece of literature he was reading. He did this all the time. He even turned up at the same student's house randomly- he had a very stalker-like behaviour," she explained. When the student raised the issue for the first time with the HOD, she was assured that the matter would be taken care of and "advised not to talk about the incident." The HOD was changed in a few weeks.
"Once he asked if he could fondle the breasts of a student who was alone in his class and when she reacted with shock, he said it was a line from the piece of literature he was reading. He did this all the time. " - a student at the University
The professor has also been accused of molesting a student at a party after she had passed out, but after the administration repeatedly intimidated the students through various ways, the three complainants finally decided to demand an unconditional acknowledgement of the sex offence and apology. The department staff also assured the students that the professor would be suspended for a year, atleast that is what they told the students. Turns out, the professor went on paid leave to 'write a book'. "This was eyewash and he was, in fact, being sent away from our eyes until things are forgotten on a paid leave.Only much latter did we realise we were hoodwinked into believing SKB was punished in the form of suspension when he was simply on a leave. His sexual misdemeanour brought him an award," Srishti said.
But why has 'due process' failed?
One year later, the professor came back from suspension to campus and allegedly said that he had been on paid leave and had taken a break to write his book. This has infuriated Chowdhury and her classmates, who continue to feel unsafe in his presence and are simply hopeless. Boycotting has also not helped them. In fact, the HOD suggested three options at an "informal meeting" — take it up to the ICC, give up his class entirely or attend the classes without a fuss. But he has also warned the students that if they go public about this "informal meeting" he would outright refute them. "The VC has also met us to decide what we can do but we didn't get to any sort of conclusion. So what do we do? Just continue to endure this disgusting behaviour in his classes?" she questions.
Hello, where have all the feminists gone?
The apathy they receive from professors who teach Feminist Studies in the college is what has astounded the students the most. "These professors are supposed to be some of the most eminent feminists and academics in the country and they don't want to acknowledge sexual abuse by their peers. Not just that, they are equally to blame because they help cover up the issues and the onus is always on the victim to prove that the crime took place," Srishti said.
Fight for safety: Students also boycotted their convocation programme to protest against the professor.
The general mindset of students on campus is to finish the course as quickly as possible and get out. "We have courses on feminism but nobody wants to support us. All the students who have raised their voices have been isolated by the department in one way or the other. Students have become apprehensive and this sort of hostile attitude only discourages students, especially female from continuing their studies. This whole issue is just eating into the students," she said. Professor Barua and the VC remained unavailable for comment.
The Raya Sarkar effect
With neither the administration to fall back on or the ICC (their case is not valid as complaints have to be made within first three months of the incident taking place), the students have resorted to speaking about the issue on social media. Did Raya Sarkar's list give influence their "coming out" on social media as well? Srishti says that isn't entirely the case but says that Sarkar's list provides some kind of hope. "It's good to know that there is some kind of support on social media, we hope we receive the same sort of support."
Then comes a powerful accusation. "Barua is not the only man on campus to sexually assault women, there are other professors who do the same. I once knew a girl who was molested by the son of a very powerful academic on campus. The administration covered it up. There are a lot of powerful men taking advantage of innumerable college girls, we have enough first-hand accounts to prove this," Das said.