Kalakshetra gave itself clean chit over charges of sexual harassment; NCW wants teacher, director booked

A probe by the Foundation's Internal Complaints Committee did not find merit in the complaints raised by the students.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Mar 24, 2023 | 12:51 PM Updated Mar 24, 2023 | 12:51 PM

Kalakshetra. (Supplied)

Taking cognizance of the reports of alleged sexual misconduct by a male teacher at Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has directed the Tamil Nadu police chief to file a First Information Report (FIR) report against the accused, and the director of the institute.

NCW Chairperson, Rekha Sharma, on Tuesday, 21 March, urged the state Director General of Police to book the teacher. The panel asked the police to file an FIR against the director for allegedly shielding the accused teacher.

The directive was issued through a tweet.

A senior police officer told South First they were yet to get a formal directive from the NCW.

The NCW also sought a thorough, fair and time-bound investigation into the accusations. The accused persons must be arrested at the earliest and the survivors should be provided with all necessary assistance in the matter.

The Commission has also sought a detailed action-taken report. It would initiate a probe if the report is not satisfactory.

Also read: Police inspector suspended for sexual harassment of woman complainant

Allegations against teacher are not new

Established in 1936, the Kalakshetra promotes fine arts. In 1993, the Union government passed a Bill, recognising it as an institute of national importance. Kalakshetra is an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Culture.

A former student and prominent performer told South First that the allegations were not new.

“They were first made two years ago. A student, who was a relation of a senior official at the Centre, had called him out, besides complaining to the management,” she said. “She was verbally abused when she refused to heed the demands of the senior teacher,” the former student said.

The Ministry of Culture appointed danseuse Revathi Ramachandran as the director of Kalakshetra in April 2018. Her appointment was later extended till 19 April, 2023, on the expiry of the normal tenure of three years.

“I complained against the senior teacher in mid-2022 after he made inappropriate remarks about my physical appearance and poses while practising. But it was not taken seriously,” a student told South First, requesting anonymity.

“I later learnt that he is a habitual offender and had misbehaved with several other senior students,” she added.

The Kalakshetra management had taken note of allegations of harassment against the male teacher several times. But he managed to wriggle out each time, reportedly using his close links with the institute’s director.

Also read: 24% hike in child sexual abuse cases in South India; Tamil Nadu 4th in India

ICC reconstituted, but no students in panel

In 2022, a student lodged a complaint with the Union ministry and decided to expose the teacher before the media. Following her move, Director Ramachandran reconstituted the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) on 14 June, 2022.

The committee has the director as its chairperson, Advocate BS Ajeetha, Nandini Nagaraj, a lecturer from Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, and Uma Maheswari, principal of Besant Arundale Senior Secondary School, as its members. The panel does not have a student representative.

Sources said the ICC took up an inquiry suo motu and convened a meeting with students in January 2023. An official note from Kalakshetra said a probe report was filed.

The report stated that “the committee did not find merit in the allegations”. Refuting the allegations, the management warned the students of initiating legal action against those engaging in “gossiping, spreading rumours and bad-mouthing the institute”.

“The ICC, taking advantage of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, stated that aggrieved women could lodge a written complaint of sexual harassment to the ICC or to the Local Complaints Committee (if the complaint is against the employer), within three months from the date of incident and in case of a series of incidents, within three months from the date of last incident,” a student, who had levelled charges against the teacher, told South First.

“What if I was subjected to harassment some eight months ago and take my own time to come out of that trauma and finally make up my mind to launch a complaint? By then, the stipulated three months would elapse and my complaint would be ignored and a clean-chit would be given to the accused teacher,” she said.

After ICC gave a clean chit to the accused teacher, CAREspaces, a US-based Instagram platform, initiated an online signature campaign in January 2023 after several past and present students shared their experiences.

Also read: DAV management terminates Hyderabad-region director over sexual assault

Disheartening situation

Anita Ratnam, senior performer and founder and publisher of NARTHAKI, an online dance magazine, spoke to South First.

“Sexual misconduct against women is a crime. The rules are clear and to imagine a space for creative development and dance becoming sullied with perverted behaviour going unchecked for nearly a decade is horrific,” she said.

“To imagine that an internationally reputed academy, founded by a woman who loved craft, heritage, animals and dance, becoming an unsafe space for young and vulnerable women is distressing. As an alumna, it deeply saddens me,” she added.

Rukmini Devi Arundale, along with her husband, George Arundale, founded the Kalakshetra.

Director Ramachandran refused to comment. “We cannot talk to the media. We will clarify the whole thing through a press release,” she told South First.

She met DGP C Sylendra Babu on Thursday, 23 March, and submitted the ICC enquiry report.

Surprise at NCW move

Sources close to the Kalakshetra management expressed surprise at the NCW move.

“How can the NCW direct the police to file an FIR without conducting an inquiry when the commission itself has the powers to summon the complainants and record their statements,” a source wondered.

“Without going into the complaints, directing the police to file an FIR and naming the individuals, makes the action look prejudiced,” she added.

When contacted, NCW member Khushboo Sundar told South First that the members were not entitled to comment on the suo motu cases taken by the chairperson.