Calcutta: Four girl students of Visva-Bharati sat on a daylong hunger strike on Monday in Santiniketan to protest the alleged inaction of varsity authorities in response to their multiple complaints of mental and sexual harassment by a professor since 2021.
Several other girl students joined the protest in solidarity and demanded that the varsity's internal complaints committee (ICC), which acts in cases of mental and sexual harassment in workplace, takes action against the accused professor.
They also protested against the reluctance of varsity officials, including vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty, to take action against the accused person "despite officials being aware of the complaints".
"The first complaint against the professor was lodged by me in 2021. I lodged the first complaint against him with VC Bidyut Chakrabarty in January this year after being harassed mentally and sexually. I lodged complaints with all varsity platforms, including the ICC. This hunger strike is to protest against the inaction that followed," said one of the students.
The four students sat on hunger strike holding several posters and a large flex on which was written their demand to save varsity's female students against mental and sexual harassment and caste discrimination.
"We sat for over six hours. We withdrew from the hunger strike after one of us fell ill," a student said.
Another protester said that the professor was allegedly trying to damage the academic career of all the four students as they resisted his malicious and shady proposals. The other three complainants echoed her.
The accused professor on Monday said he couldn't speak to the media because of the varsity's gag order.
"I can't speak to the media because of an administrative order. It is for the varsity authorities to decide whether they would speak in this connection," the accused professor said.
Visva-Bharati's acting spokesperson Mahua Banerjee claimed an investigation against the professor had started after the complaint was lodged with the ICC.
"The ICC received a complaint against the professor a few months ago. We have started an investigation and a few hearings have taken place," said Banerjee.
Many on the campus raised questions about why the authorities sat on the complaints since 2021 and did not take action against the accused professor earlier.
"Why it was so late to start a probe against the accused person? If any woman or any female student lodged a complaint against someone with any of the varsity officials, the matter should have been forwarded to the ICC," said a senior varsity teacher.
The students said they would approach the police and top officials of the Union education ministry in Delhi if the authorities took more time to take action against the accused.
"We could have approached the police earlier also, but we continued to repose faith in the varsity administration. Now the time has come to approach the police and top official in Delhi against the inaction of varsity authorities. We have a plan to lodge a complaint with the office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi," said one of the protesting students.