VBU students stage hunger strike protesting inaction against harassment allegations

These allegations encompass a range of issues, such as caste and gender discrimination, workplace harassment, psychological distress and sexual misconduct

Six students from the Department of Anthropology at Visva-Bharati University (VBU) are staging a one-day hunger strike today, Monday, August 21 to protest the lack of action regarding their complaints of caste and gender discrimination against Dr Arnab Ghosh, an Associate Professor within the same department. When EdexLive spoke to one of the complainants, on the condition of anonymity she stated, “As a PhD supervisor, he has only consistently hindered my thesis submission without providing any form of assistance.” 

In addition to her, three other female students from the department have also raised similar grievances against Dr Ghosh. These allegations encompass a range of issues, such as caste and gender discrimination, workplace harassment, psychological distress and sexual misconduct.

A year goes by, concerns yet to be addressed 
In an email addressed to the Registrar of VBU, dated August 18, the students submitted an all-encompassing compilation of references detailing their efforts to bring attention to the matter. These include formal complaints, appeals to university officials, and even reaching out to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). Despite their persistent efforts spanning over a year, the students feel that their complaints have not been adequately addressed by the disciplinary committees and the ICC. 

"This isn't the sole instance of VBU shielding sexual offenders. Previously, a similar leniency was extended to Prof Rajarshi Rai," claims Prof Sudipta Bhattacharya, President of the Visva Bharati Faculty Association (VBUFA). He alleges that such individuals receive protection due to the complicity of the Vice-Chancellor, Bidyut Chakraborty, claiming that Chakraborty himself faced punitive actions at Delhi University (DU) due to sexual harassment allegations. "Despite ICC having substantiated the case against Rajarshi Rai, no consequential measures were taken. It's unsurprising that a similar pattern is manifesting in the case of Dr Ghosh," he claims.

In their joint statement, the students expressed their concerns over their safety and well-being. They have alleged that Dr Arnab Ghosh has engaged in character assassination and rumour-spreading, which they believe is an attempt to intimidate and silence them. “The moment we filed our first complaint, the harassment had become a daily ordeal for us, but we kept patience and hoped that the university administration would act,” the letter asserts. It further conveys that the hunger strike represents their final recourse to garner attention to their plight.

Painful flashbacks 
The student also recounts details of how Dr Ghosh deliberately impeded her research progress in response to her rejection of his unwelcome advances. "The atmosphere became unbearable. He would make overtly sexual insinuations, commenting on my physique, attire, and even my skin tone. Initially, I chose to ignore or not engage, believing that the situation would subside naturally. However, his behaviour only escalated, eventually encroaching upon my PhD work. He obstructed my data collection, denied me any breaks and provided no assistance whatsoever. I managed every aspect on my own," alleges the student, whose thesis submission has been stalled for an entire year.

Upon reaching out to Prof Mahua Banerjee, the Public Relations Officer of VBU, for a comment, she conveyed that the protest was unfolding outside the university premises, specifically in Subarnarekha. She affirmed that the university has acknowledged the matter and is actively engaged in an ongoing investigation by the ICC. "The ICC investigation is a comprehensive process that requires a certain amount of time. Therefore, the students are advised to exercise some patience," notes Prof Banerjee.

However, on the other hand, the students plan to escalate their efforts if the university does not act following their hunger strike. They intend to involve external bodies such as the police, judiciary, National Commission of Women, National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), University Grants Commission (UGC), Prime Minister's Office (PMO), and others if their grievances are not addressed promptly. 

Related Stories

No stories found.