Published: 23rd October 2018
I will hold you by the hair and drag you out: Damning parts of the petition that made Symbiosis' Anupam Siddhartha go on leave
This is just one of the many harassing things that the director allegedly told the students on campus, besides ignoring a list of sexual harassment complaints. Read the entire petition sent to SCMC
One hundred and six past and present students from the Symbiosis Centre for Media and Communication signed a petition seeking the resignation of Anupam Siddhartha, the director of SCMC, Pune. The students had in their petition claimed that the director had been responsible for the creation and promotion of an extremely toxic culture of bullying, shaming and had been complacent in normalising an atmosphere of sexual harassment. Siddhartha has since been asked by the management to go on leave, reports have confirmed.
When the #metoo movement broke out in India, a lot of journalists came out to speak up on the sexual abuse that took place in their workplaces. The same way, a number of media students from Symbiosis came out to speak about the incidents of sexual abuse on their campus. Whilst not accused of sexual abuse himself, the director was held accountable because he had ignored a large number of complaints and even dismissed them as frivolous.
The Symbiosis site lists the director as holding a Master’s Degree in Literature in English with a specialisation in Linguistics. He has also studied films at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) and is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the Symbiosis International University (SIU). He has eight years of experience in the print medium, three years in the electronic media and 21 years in education, including 16 years with SIMC.
Probably the most glaring words in the petition are the director allegedly telling female students that 'he will hold them by their hair and drag them out of the college campus'; '(wrongly) tell the parents of the student(s) that they are sexually active'; 'that he will cut their hair in public for not tying it up' etc. What is even more horrific is the allegation that the director has even threatening to publicly strip students of their clothes for something as insignificant as wearing the wrong uniform on the wrong day. According to one of the testimonials that is attached to the petition, the director had even asked a student to go from class to class and explain how he was 'stripped to his underwear' by the director himself for not adhering to the rules.
In one of the anonymous testimonials, a former student said that many of the students spent hours in detention just because the director was in a 'bad mood' and needed to vent. The student said that 30 hours was a minimum for detention, "He even made policies that would limit the number of detention hours a student could complete in a day. It made it impossible to do detention even if you had half a day off, we could not do one hour at a time, always in a bunch or twos. Not even three, it was either two or four," the student said. And these detentions were for things as trivial as students not getting a haircut or not wearing the right kind of shirt.
"It wouldn't have mattered if the management took a day or a week to respond. What is important is that an honest and genuine investigation is conducted by the ICC. If that doesn't happen then another petition will be filed," a petitioner said.
Many other students have gone on to say that he has harassed them to such an extent that one of them claimed that they had gone into depression and even contemplated suicide. His unnecessary remarks on students' attire and body language like - 'Why are you wearing red lipstick today, are you going to kiss someone?' was also pointed out in the petition. They claim that it is these remarks that have led to slut-shaming, bullying and sexual harassment being normalised and internalised at SCMC.
In one of the testimonials, a student has also said that the director once boasted about how he managed to bury a sexual harassment complaint. In one testimonial, a student recounts that Siddhartha had dismissed a complaint against a faculty member named Vijay Shelar by saying, "When have you even acted like a girl to deserve to be treated as one?" The director has also been accused of failing to take action against Suhas Ghatne, who have been called our for sexual misconduct.
In the petition, the present and ex-students say - Though we, students of SCMC Pune, acknowledge and accept our share of indiscipline and trouble caused to the institute and its more 'disciplined' and 'worthy' stakeholding students, we do not agree that any of it warranted the director to act the way that he has done.
Calling him a 'learned' man, the students have said that they do not disbelieve his knowledge or his skills as a professor but are extremely concerned that he maybe unfit for the position. Interestingly, when Edex reached out to current students, a few of them said that they did not want his to resign because he has dome some "excellent work" in the college and it was his discipline that made SCMC one of the top media colleges in India. But they also added that they don't disbelieve their alumni and don't want to undermine their struggle in any way.
One of the petitioners said that she also felt the same about the director in her initial years on the campus, she called it a sort of 'Stockholm syndrome'. Having been a student leader, this petitioner who did not want to be named said that she had never imagined that these complaints would go past the campus because they didn't have any power to do anything. While they were also in awe of the director, it took them some time for them to realise that there had been a certain pattern he displayed that involved constant fat-shaming and bullying.
Now that the director has been asked to go on leave within just a day of the petition, the petitioners are glad, but they don't want it to stop there. "It wouldn't have mattered if the management took a day or a week to respond. What is important is that an honest and genuine investigation is conducted by the ICC. If that doesn't happen then another petition will be filed," they said.
We were unable to reach the director for a comment.