The Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai witnessed high drama in the past 24 hours, with the students of the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts continuing their protest to seek the dismissal of four senior faculty members who are accused of sexual misconduct.
The protest found resonance in the state Legislative Assembly on Friday, 31 March. Chief Minister MK Stalin assured the House that he would initiate a probe, and legal action would follow if anyone is found guilty.
The students remained on the campus on Friday, despite the institute shutting down the college till 6 April. The authorities have also asked the students to vacate the hostel.
The students prevented the car of Kalakshetra director Revathi Ramachandran from leaving the sprawling campus at Thiruvanmiyur. A defiant director left the car and walked towards the gate.
She fainted before reaching the gate. Later, a police vehicle took her away.
State women’s commission meets students
Tamil Nadu State Women’s Commission (SWC) Chairperson AS Kumari visited the institute and interacted with the students on Friday.
According to sources, the SWC chairperson heard the alleged survivors in private and assured action. A large posse of police was also on the campus.
Accusing the Kalakshetra management of shielding the accused faculty members, the students have been protesting inside the campus since Thursday.
Speaking to South First, a protesting student said the management was trying to act against teachers who were supportive of the agitators.
“The Internal Complaints Committee, chaired by Director Revathi Ramachandran, is ignoring the student’s concerns,” she said.
On Friday morning, senior police officers visited the campus and urged the students to withdraw their protest.
“The officers assured us to take action and urged us to go home. But, DGP C Sylendra Babu and the Chennai City Police Commissioner Shankar Jiwal have said that they won’t initiate a probe until a complaint is lodged. How can we trust the police,” she asked.
Director Ramachandran spoke to the students on Thursday and promised action. When the students demanded the promise in writing, she refused.
Soon after, the management declared a holiday for the institution till April 6. In a statement, it said that the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts would remain closed from 30 March 6 April.
“All inmates are requested to vacate the hostel within two days with immediate effect. Exams scheduled on these days are postponed. The new dates will be announced in due course [sic],” the statement read.
“All students have joined the protest and the management says they are concerned about the safety of students. But how come they are closing the hostel and leaving the students in a lurch,” a second-year student told South First.
“They (the management) and trying to trivialise the issue by delaying a solution,”, she said, adding that the students would not give up their protest.
Students name faculty members
Meanwhile, the students named the faculty members accused of sexual misconduct and demanded their immediate termination.
“We, the students of Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, Kalakshetra Foundation, have decided to stand in solidarity (with those who were allegedly abused) until the accused, Mr Hari Padman, Mr Sanjith Lal, Mr Sai Krishnan, and Mr Sreenath, are immediately dismissed from the institution,” they said in a statement.
They also demanded an immediate end “to the verbal and sexual harassment and body shaming and colourism at the Kalakshetra Foundation”.
Expressing a lack of confidence, they also sought the appointment of a new counsellor. Another demand was the “assurance of privacy and basic human rights” to hostlers.
All four accused faculty members, meanwhile, were sent to Hyderabad for a performance at the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) at Madhapur on Friday.
Stalin assures action
MLAs belonging to the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Pattali Makkal Katchi and other parties made a special mention of the ongoing agitation in the state Assembly. They sought action over the charges of sexual misconduct levelled against the Kalakshetra teachers.
Speaking on the issue, VCK’s SS Balaji said that the police were inactive. The Kalakshetra is under the control of the Union government, he pointed out.
Replying, Chief Minister Stalin said the National Commission for Women (NCW) had initially directed the DGP to initiate action against the alleged perpetrators of the crime but later withdrew its directive.
He said state government officials had held talks with the students.
“On 29 March, the NCW chairperson visited the institute and spoke to the students. She did not take the police with her. As far as the government is concerned, we will initiate an inquiry into the issue. If the allegations are proved, whoever it may be, we will take stringent action against them,” Stalin assured the House.
The NCW asked the police to close the investigation after Kalakshetra informed it that baseless charges of sexual abuse were being made as part of a scurrilous campaign to malign the institution’s credibility.
No written complaint, say police
Additional Commissioner of Chennai City Police Prem Anand Sinha said that they were yet to receive any complaint in writing and they were waiting for the outcome of the probe by the State Women’s Commission.
“There is a lot of misinformation being spread on social media and we spoke to the students. They are waiting for the management to take action,” Sinha told a news conference on Friday.