Five professors of Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata have resigned in protest against a delay in action against students who allegedly harassed an assistant professor of Geography in the varsity and taunted her on the basis of her caste and skin colour.
The Trinamool Congress Chattra Parishad, the ruling TMC’s students’ wing, which runs the student union at the university, denied the allegations and instead accused the teacher of threatening and harassing students.
According to the teacher’s complaint, on May 20 a group of students allegedly gheraoed her in a room for nearly four hours and harassed her with verbal abuses.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, is yet to accept the professors’ resignation and has called a meeting on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee went to the university campus and held a meeting with both the V-C and some of the professors who have put in their papers.
The professors who have quit are Amal Kumar Mondol, Head of Department (HoD), Sanskrit; Bankim Mondol, HoD, Political Science, and director of Bangladesh Study Centre and School of Languages; Bindi Shaw, HoD Economics; Bharati Banerjee, HoD Education, and Ashish Kumar Das, director, Ambedkar Study Centre.
They had submitted their resignation on Monday.
The minister said, “A probe has been ordered, and we want it to be completed at the earliest. Anyone found guilty will be severely punished. What happened is a matter of serious concern and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is herself looking into the matter. We could not make contact with the victim professor. I will try and contact her and make her speak with the Chief Minister.”
Chatterjee also said, “I have told the students that if their behaviour made professors feel insulted, they should immediately apologise.”
Confirming that a probe has been started on the basis of the complaint by the teacher, Vice Chancellor Ray Chaudhury said, “Such incidents should not take place in any academic institution, especially not in one named after Rabindranath Tagore. If others have specific complaints, such complaints will be probed as well.”
But a section of professors alleged that the university authorities are yet to take any concrete steps against the students accused.
Bankim Mondol, one of the professors who resigned, said the victim was so scared that she left her paying guest accommodation and moved to a relative’s house. “I was not present; she (victim) told us about the incident later. She said that she had asked students to go for a review since she herself did not evaluate the copies,” Mondol said.
Biswajit Dey, a TMCP leader who is pursuing PhD in Drama at the varsity, however, told The Indian Express: “We trust the probe committee. Let the truth come out. The lady professor used to harass students and threatened to destroy their careers. She was ill-mannered. There were several complaints against her by students. On that particular day, students approached her because she gave abnormally low marks in examination. No one harassed her,” said
The Indian Express could not contact the teacher in question.
One of the students accused, who did not wanted to be named, said, “We did not harass her. We just asked her why many of us got so low marks.”
The victim, who comes from Jalpaiguri in north Bengal, had joined Rabindra Bharati University as an assistant professor of Geography in September 2017. She has studied in Benaras Hindu University and the Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
She lodged a complaint with the V-C and the teachers’ council on May 23, based on which a probe committee was formed.
In a bid to put pressure on university authorities to act on the matter, members of the Arts Teachers Council held a protest rally at BT Road campus of the university.
“The university authorities are trying to push the matter under the carpet. There is an Internal Complaints Committee and Prevention of Caste Based Discrimination Committee at the university. Instead of referring the matter to these committees, the vice-chancellor formed a new committee which has been sitting on the complaint for a week,” Prof Bankim Mondol said. “We decided to take out a rally and hold a convention (but) a section of students insulted us. We are scared – the students have harassed us repeatedly. That is why I decided to resign.”
“First they harassed a woman professor, and when we protested, they harassed us,” said Amar Kumar Mondol, a professor in Sanskrit Department.
Debabrata Das, English professor and secretary of the Arts Teachers Council at RBU, said: “Even during our rally, some people, mostly from the students’ union, hurled abusive slogans at us. They even shouted caste slurs against the Geography professor. Student union members gheraoed us for over five hours when we held a convention to discuss the issue. Yesterday, we held a meeting again, where the professors decided to resign as a mark of protest against the incident.”
Head of the Department of Mass Communication and Videography, Debjyoti Chanda, said: “We strongly condemn the incident. We want the authorities to take immediate action,” he said.
But TMCP’s Dey maintained: “The students were agitating and protesting for a long time against private tuition offered by professors, and against hiring of guest lecturers by HoDs. We also demanded biometric attendance for professors, who are irregular.”
Calling it a conspiracy, he said, “These are Left-minded professors.”