At a time when a section of top wrestlers of the country are on the war path against BJP MP and former federation boss Brij Bhushan Singh for alleged sexual harassment, authorities at Visva Bharati have mired themselves in a fresh controversy for allegedly shielding one of its senior teachers who was pronounced “guilty” of molesting and attempting to rape a research scholar by the varsity’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC).
Authorities at the central university, the haloed abode of peace founded by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan, have been, to begin with, sitting on the ICC report for months. They have also allegedly “hedged” the victim’s queries seeking details of action taken against the accused in response to her Right to Information (RTI) application.
The accused, Rajarshi Roy, a professor with the Department of Education, Vinaya-Bhavan, Visva Bharati, was arrested on June 3 and remanded to judicial custody for two weeks after being produced before the Bolpur Sub-divisional Court a day later. But that was after the victim decided to file a complaint at the local Santiniketan police station, realising that she was being stonewalled by the university.
Ironically, the department Roy represents is responsible for imparting training to aspiring teachers who would, in turn, shape the minds of young students in schools and higher citadels of learning. Roy is also the husband of a top Mahila Morcha leader of the BJP in Bengal who, reportedly, holds considerable sway in not just her home district of Birbhum but also across the state.
Notwithstanding the arrest of the accused, which took place within 72-hours of the victim’s complaint on May 31, it has now come to light that the Visva Bharati authorities were aware of Roy’s “guilt” as early as February this year but chose not to initiate any kind of disciplinary action against him. University public relations officer Mahua Banerjee confirmed to The Telegraph Online that she wasn’t aware of any measures that were taken against him even a day after his arrest.
“The university kept dilly dallying about the status of the ICC report every time I asked them. They were dragging it for unusually long,” the victim said.
“I was sitting at the police station filing my complaint on May 31 when I suddenly received a call from the university asking me whether they should send me the report. After going through it I was aghast to find that the ICC had already found him guilty three and a half months ago and that the university did nothing about it,” she added.
The Telegraph Online has documents that show that while the FIR against Roy was filed at 12.30 PM on May 31, a soft copy of the ICC report was mailed to the victim at 1.18 PM, 48 minutes after that.
Interestingly, the covering letter of the ICC report has May 30 as its date stamp. The victim further alleged that only two pages of the nine-page report was made available to her, omitting the pages containing the recommendations of the ICC against the offender.
Based on a complaint filed by the victim before Visva Bharati ICC on 29 June, 2022, the nine-member committee submitted its report with each member signing at the bottom of each page and providing February 10, 2023 as the date. In between, the victim reportedly appeared thrice before the committee for hearing. Sakuntala Mishra, the committee chairperson, claimed she did not “remember the exact date” of the submission of the report but added, “If the signatures say February 10, then the report must have been submitted either on that day or within a couple of days from that date at best, no later.”
The committee sated in its findings: “It is established and confirmed that the respondent (Rajarshi Roy) is found guilty of repeated offence of sexual harassment of lady as per provisions of Section 2(n) (i), (ii), (iii) & (v) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and clause D (1) (i), (ii), (iii) & (v) of the Policy on Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (PSHWW) of Visva-Bharati.”
As per the sections of the policy, Roy was found “guilty” under clauses “physical contact and advances”, “demand or request of sexual favours”, “making sexually coloured remarks” and “any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”.
Clauses H (3) and (4), specifying ‘Enquiry Procedures’ of the policy, also state that “The inquiry shall be completed within a period of ninety days” and “On completion of the inquiry the Internal Complaints Committee shall provide a report of its findings to the employer within a period of ten days from the date of completion of the inquiry and such report shall be made available to the concerned parties”.
Given that the ICC took over seven months to complete its inquiry since the complaint was filed and that the university took about 11 months to hand over the report to the complainant, that too parts of it, both actions appear to stand in violation of Visva-Bharati’s own statute.
Responding to an RTI application filed by the victim on May 10 this year, Visva-Bharati confirmed that the committee had completed investigation and submitted its report. But, according to the victim, the university provided cryptic responses of “Not known/Not Applicable” to questions on whether any action was taken against the accused and to a request for copies of the report.
The victim admits the prolonged fight for justice has taken a toll on her. She hasn’t been able to submit her thesis “on account of sustained non-cooperation from my research guide and the department”. This has forced her to seek an extension of her submission deadline.
“All of this has taken a toll on my mental and physical health. I am extremely worried about what he might do to me and my family once he gets out of jail,” she said.
She revealed that she was assigned Roy as her research guide in February 2016. “Three years later, his advances towards me were making me uncomfortable. He used to call me at his home on the pretext of my PhD supervision, even though that could easily have been done at the department, and was more interested in discussing personal matters. He wanted me to travel abroad with him for seminars and my reluctance would make him agitated. He began making late night calls and started passing uncomfortable remarks. There were at least two occasions when he tried to make inappropriate and embarrassing body contact on the pretext of dropping me home at night on his two-wheeler. I stopped going to his house and that angered him further,” the victim alleged.
“In June that year, he compelled me to sit in his car saying he needed my urgent attention about the pre-submission seminar related to my PhD thesis. In the car, he tried to force himself on me. I raised an alarm and he let me go, threatening to destroy my life and career if I spoke about it. I was worried about my husband who was known to him and kept quiet,” she continued.
“Following my marriage, his attitude towards me got more and more vindictive. His physical advances never stopped but he became verbally abusive. He kept delaying the necessary procedures for final submission of my PhD thesis while his drunken night calls and threats kept continuing. Every time I approached the departmental heads seeking redress, I was either discouraged from submitting complaint letters or advised to make a compromise,” the victim further alleged.
“In August, 2019, after I moved to Raigunj following my appointment in a college there, Prof Roy, accompanied by a department colleague, came all the way to Raigunj and misbehaved with me. He was deeply disappointed at finding my husband at my place,” she said.
Why did she take three years to lodge a complaint with the ICC and another year to complain to the police? “I was mostly worried about how this would impact my married life. It took me a while to confide in my husband and it was with his encouragement that I made my grievances public.”
According to documents accessed by this website, Roy is an alleged repeat offender with, at least, one more FIR lodged against him at the same police station on the basis of a similar complaint filed by another student of the same department back in 2016.