Saturday, May 28, 2016

PLEA FOR HELP FROM SEXUAL HARASSMENT COMPLAINANTS at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata

This message was circulated by Maitree, a women's rights network in Kolkata. It contains an e-mail from a woman student of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata (personal details deleted). All concerned individuals may please write to 
the Chair of SRFTI <chairman@srfti.ac.in>
and the Director <director@srfti.ac.in+91-33-2432-0070 (phone) asking for : 

  1. safety of the complainants 
  2. copy of ICC report to be given to the complainants 
  3. action to be taken on the basis of ICC report 
Thanks for your support

Letter from complainant 
The ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) for Sexual Harassment found two professors guilty of sexual harassment and recommended the harshest of punishments for them. This report was submitted more than two weeks ago and the student complainants were not informed of this. We got to know of it from a newspaper report. Moreover the ICC report was shared with the accused professors and not the complainants. I believe this resulted in the professors instigating the students of the institute who are backing them to create more violence and intimidation on campus. 

This has affected the complainants directly and we have not had a moment of peace or a night of good sleep ever since. A complainant (me) and a supporter have shifted from their hostel rooms to the guest house of the institute fearing attack. The male student who shifted to the guesthouse did so after he received a death threat from a senior student. We are writing to you because we know that we are not going to receive any support from within the institute where 150 students who support the professors have ganged up against 5 or 6 of us. We will not be able to continue our studies here if this situation continues.

We are writing this letter to brief you about what has happened to us in the past five or six months and how it has reached a peak after the submission of report by ICC

Context: 
In December 2016, four girl students of SRFTI (Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute) made 5 complaints of sexual harassment against 3 professors of the institute. One complaint was also made regarding the indiscipline of one of the professors. Ever since that the girl complainants and their supporters who amount to just three male students in the institute have been subjected to tremendous amount of intimidation, isolation, public slandering, been ostracized to the extend that they seldom got any student to collaborate with them in their film projects done as a part of the curriculum. 

ICC started its enquiry on 1st February 2016 and submitted its report in April 2016. I myself complained about two professors. Professor 1 had raped me and Professor 2 had subjected me to serious sexual harassment. The institute handed over my complaint of rape to the police without my permission and without letting the ICC know. In fact i had repeatedly made it clear to the ICC that i was not ready for a court trial because i have had very traumatic experiences dealing with the police and court back at home, Kerala. 

After the rape case was handed over to the police and the media picked up the story, a meeting was held by girls of the instituteUpon request boys were also allowed. In that meeting everybody agreed that i was lying about the professor and that the reputation of the institute was getting tarnished due to this. They decided to write a letter to the press saying all of them girls were safe on campus. They took to facebook and put up a series of posts saying the same. Under these posts i was subjected to great humiliation when students and ex-students joined hands to call me names. One of them called me an ugly woman and a mental case with a history of suicide attempt.

I made my complaint public and sought support from women's rights groups outside and filmmakers because except from one or two students nobody supported me inside the institute. I approached Swayam, Sanghita and the Women's Commission of West Bengal. It was only because we received support from these organizations and bodies that us complainants could survive the humiliation and isolation that we were subjected to. My own mother wrote to the director and women's commission on several occasions. 

Meanwhile the Dean of the institute was trivializing sexual harassment on campus. He would go to groups of students while they were in class and say things like 'if these modern laws of sexual harassment were applied even I would go to jail'. He said that SRFTI was not ready for such standards of sexual harassment. This is apart from having mocked me when i first went to him with one of my complaints. We filed a complaint against the Dean on this matter. A one person jury was set up, we deposed in front of the jury who was a retired judge. The Dean had to opt for voluntary retirement following this inquiry. 

When we thought that we could now start working in peace the institute imposed a ban on public drinking in SRFTI. The party lovers immediately assumed the sexual harassment complainants as the ones behind this ban. The same night when the badminton tournament was going on an announcement was made through the microphone that there would be a party that night. Immediately and mockingly it was corrected to the announcement that there would be a 'bhajan keertan' that night. 

After the 'bhajan keertan' that happened that night a group of five students banged an iron rod on a pole at around 6 in the morning and woke the girl's hostel up. When my friend and i went out to see what they were doing they asked us to record what they were doing. My friend recorded the incident on his phone. A student shouted at him, referring to me 'jaake suna dena apne behen ke laudi ko'. 

You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evjl-KAvq-A

After this incident the students of the institute went to the director and said that they wanted the ban on public drinking to be lifted. In the same meeting i questioned the director why he had refused to meet the students regarding sexual harassment issues and was addressing the students when the subject was drinking on campus. He said that i couldn't ask such questions to him. I left the meeting. 

A meeting was called by the external member of the ICC, Ms. Soma Sengupta to sensitize the students about sexual harassment, Vishakha guidelines etc. The students who were intimidating the complainants the most did not attend meeting despite the repeated individual invitation by the president of the students association. They continued with their harassment and intimidation. 

Meanwhile after the ban on public drinking instead of the violence dying down, it re-emerged in full force. Students started drinking and swearing above our rooms, banging the floor so that it thundered in our rooms downstairs etc. Following complaints from female students regarding this incident three male students were banned from entering the hostel. This was the beginning of another phase of intimidation and violence. 

The three accused students kept out of the hostel for some weeks and re-appeared after that. As complainants who were tired of approaching the authority again and again we decided not to make an issue of this flouting of law as long as they remained peaceful. But on another party night three male students in a drunken state went to one of the complainants' rooms at three in the morning and started knocking at her door violently. When this incident was reported the three male students refused that they had even gone to the girl's room at night. Later after the intervention of student body representatives they admitted their mistake and apologized. The apology letter which was sent to the then President of the student's association was named 'knock-knock', clearly mocking the complainant and her supporters. 

In another bizarre turn of events the student association was dissolved. This was done in a non democratic way at a meeting held on the terrace which is called 'ragging terrace', where about 40 students assembled and cornered one member of the student association who is sympathetic to the cause of sexual harassment. He was accused of violating trust because he had caught a member of the student body lying in one of their meetings and had made a recording of the same. In the same meeting when two of us complainants interfered saying this sort of public trial was not welcome, we were pushed and pulled by these forty people. One of them threatened me coming obscenely close to my face and yelled 'I am not scared of you. I am not Shyamal Sengupta'. The name mentioned is that of a professor against whom i had complained and was found guilty by the ICC. This public trial went on till 3 in the morning at the end of which it was declared by the mob that the student association had been dissolved. 

The very next day another meeting was again held on the terrace. It was not revealed that an election was going to be held. Not all students were invited. When it was decided that an interim student body would be formed, the nominees who stood up were the same people who were and are still suspended from the hostel. In fact they were not even allowed to stand in that space when they stood as nominees. Nobody raised an objection because nobody who would raise objection was present there. The mob decided who the candidates would be. The mob elected the new representatives. All of them active supporters of the guilty professors. 

This is an SOS call. The isolation and intimidation which is continuing now has reached a stage where members of the 150 students group are taking to social media calling complainants 'people who seek attention', 'pseudo feminists', 'mental patients', 'insane elements' etc. One of the students has urged the SRFTI alumni to join hands with them to 'kick insane elements' like me out of the institute. 

Only two days ago when i went to the director of the institute regarding the most recent threat which i had received in which i was again called 'behen ke laudi' and threatened that 'this happened outside the institute, now what will you do?', i was humiliated by the chairperson of the institute, Mr. Partha Ghosh. I wrote to the director, the ICC and the Ministry of I& B regarding this incident where he blamed me for 'provoking' the students to intimidate me. He said that 'taali ek haath se nahi bajta he'. (You can't clap with just one hand.). He also asked the fellow students who were present there to 'control' me. 

Is it us complainants who should be controlled? There has been no action on the professors who have been found guilty. The copy of the ICC report has not been shared with us which is our right while the guilty professors have full access to it. Is there no respite from this injustice for us women? We are all students just like the rest of the 150 here who want to make films. In fact my own shoot is starting in less than two weeks. All day we are either worried about the development in the institute, if there is going to be an attack on us, if our friends are going to get attacked or if we will be able to sleep. It is not possible to continue our studies in such a state of anxiety. 

Please help us.
Thanks,
for the complainants,

(sexual harassment complainant)