A letter written by a student of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), before she attempted suicide twice earlier this month after allegedly being subjected to sexual harassment on campus, is doing the rounds on social media. Having survived both attempts, she is presently in Mumbai for work. Speaking to The Indian Express, she said “sexual and mental harassment at the institute led her to take such a decision”.
“Don’t tell me I didn’t fight. Don’t tell me I didn’t try. I am ending my life after trying everything. If you are a student of SRFTI and you are sexually harassed, raped, there is no way you can live. I tried to end my life once because of SRFTI. I did not succeed. This time I am sure I will. I will only have to facilitate it. The institute has done rest of the work. Your ‘film school’ is a sexual violence zoo, I am your first carcass. Eat me now to your heart’s content,” her letter says.
In December 2015, the student filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee for Sexual Harassment (ICC-SH). “Besides me, there were six other girls who had complained against professors and students of sexual harassment. Three professors and four students were suspended soon after. After the incident, the whole campus turned against us. One of my complaints, which had the charge of rape, was given to the police without my permission. The case is being heard by the Calcutta High Court. After inquiry, all three professors were found guilty by the ICC. They then challenged the decision in high court. An NGO arranged a lawyer for us (the student and her co-complainants) and three of us are party to the case now. We are unaware of its status,” said the student.
However, following appointment of current SRFTI director Debamitra Mitra in January 2017, the ICC which had found the professors guilty was dissolved on grounds that it was “anti-men”, alleged the student. Eventually, SRFTI’s acting chairperson Amala Akkineni revoked the order dissolving the ICC, she added. A second ICC was set up to look into complaints made against students, who were found “not guilty” owing to lack of witnesses, the student claimed. Despite her taking the matter to Information and Broadcasting Secretary Ajay Mittal, nothing was done, she further alleged.
“The acting chairperson noticed our complaint and revoked the decision. She also said that she had spoken to the director, and we could speak to her directly. As I was in Mumbai at that time, I asked my mother, who was in Kolkata, to represent me. But the director harassed my mother. Then she sent me repeated mails asking me to vacate my hostel room though my course was not over. I had left my luggage there and was staying in Mumbai. When I returned to Kolkata to take my luggage, I was once again harassed by the authorities,” the student said, adding that she then filed a police complaint against the director. When she did not get a “proper response” from the police, she attempted suicide.
“I rented a lodge near SRFTI because I could not stay in the hostile atmosphere of the hostel. On July 4 (this year), I wrote the note and attempted suicide. The next day I had gone again to the campus to take things out, but I was harassed again by guards. Back in the lodge, I told my friends that I had attempted suicide. I shared the suicide note with one of my friends earlier that evening. She is a student of Jadavpur University, and also a founding member of Women Against Sexual Harassment (WASH).
I asked her to keep it if I did not survive that night. Seeing my message in WASH’s Facebook page, an SRFTI student called the director, who said I was lying. After hearing this, I had a second breakdown. I asked my friend to make my suicide note public. After that, I slashed my wrist again. My friends took me to a hospital. This continuous harassment resulted in my attempt to take my life. It is abetting suicide and criminal intimidation,” the student told The Indian Express, adding she now fears that SRFTI authorities might prevent her from getting her diploma.
SRFTI director Debamitra Mitra told The Indian Express she had no knowledge about the student’s suicide attempt. “I have not heard about it. She came to the institute to vacate the hostel, and was given time for it. I was in my house. I did not even meet her. She has written false things about me on social media, and I had no idea about it. I learnt about it later. When I came to know about the complaint, I asked the police to come. Later, I saw the complaint letter. Nothing of that sort happened as she claimed in the letter. All those (allegations of) physical violence and me threatening her, are baseless. I don’t even have her contact number. I did not even meet her, and I don’t know how she made that complaint to the police.”
Mitra added that the institute will not hold back the student’s diploma. “Of course she will get her diploma. She is our student, and will get her diploma in convocation next year,” she said. A few other SRTI students, on condition of anonymity, said sexual harassment was a regular affair at the institute. “Besides her, other students had also lodged complaints of sexual harassment against professors. For taking such a bold decision, unfair treatment has been meted out to these students.
Sometimes, their films are not sent to international film festival. Most of the time, there is complete non-cooperation from professors. Repeated complaints against them have not changed the situation even a bit,” said one of the students.