Rukmini Devi College for Fine Arts, Kalakshetra Foundation, in Chennai, is an institute of national importance. It is directly funded by the Ministry of Culture. Students in this institution are under strict regimes and inflexible rules.

There are CCTV cameras all over the campus that surveil every student, teacher, and visitor. Day scholars are not encouraged to spend time on campus apart from their regular training hours. Hostellers are not allowed to leave the hostel except for one weekend a month. 

Students have alleged that sexual harassment by a senior faculty has pushed them into fear and distrust in the institution. At first glance, the college acted immediately as the matter surfaced online. Under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act 2013, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) took suo moto action and launched an investigation.

But according to students, all the voices against harassment cases are getting silenced as the college authorities have warned students of legal action if they talk about the case. 

Raising Voice Against Exploitation

Former Director Leela Samson, in a Facebook post, wrote about a faculty member who had been involved in molesting and harassing students for a decade. Samson deleted the post, but it caught the attention of many. Various responses of having experienced molestation came up. Screenshots were taken and posted on Instagram, and alumni and students shared their stories extensively. 

Samson wrote, “A public institution, a haven of the highest art and contemplation, now turning a blind eye to how young girls are treated. They are vulnerable. A male member of the staff is known to be threatening and molesting them, who are not yet adults.”

One comment read, “The guy who portrays Laxamana is a pervert. He openly stares at girls and misbehaves with them. He has proudly said that there’s no cottage in Kalakshetra where he hasn’t ‘made out’ with someone.

Aggrieved students took to the US-based Care Spaces (Conscientious Artistes Rallying for Ethical Spaces) for expressing themselves, which proclaims itself as “the first Indian performing arts safe space.

On 25 December 2022, an online peer group forum and anonymous email facility were started to help the students come out and share the stories of any misconduct faced by them on campus. 

A petition was started by the Care Space demanding accountability and transparency from the Foundation. As reported by The Print, “The petition has been signed by 641 artists, including alumni and students. Of the signatories, more than a hundred identified themselves as current staff, students, and officials of Kalakshetra.”

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sexual harrasment

Curtains Down Over The Allegation

In an official notice posted on its website on 19 March, the foundation said, “A concerted and organized effort is being made to spread rumours and allegations, mostly through social media, aimed at maligning Kalakshetra Foundation. Gossiping, spreading rumours, and bad-mouthing are incredibly toxic in a learning environment.

According to the Foundation, it has been following all the guidelines of the PoSH Act. It holds external member briefings annually and informs students of the internal committee members. It also changes the members in a timely fashion.

Students felt that they have not been adequately supported. Teachers, alumni, and students all agree that the basic and crucial component of the PoSH Act is to help victims file complaints easily. Instead, they are being threatened by legal action.

The students have also been pressured to support the person involved in the case. “He’s the right-hand man of the director. She [Ramachandran] does everything per his advice and trusts him blindly. He’s the one running the show, not her,” a Kalakshetra teacher told The Print.

G Narendra, a Bharatnatyam dancer and alumni of Kalakshetra, alleged, “Students and teachers have been actively discouraged from raising complaints about harassment, and warned of ‘consequences’ if they dare to do so. I have seen a letter from the administration to a staffer, threatening dismissal, citing sections related to misbehaviour for sending these complaints.”

The Guru-Shishya Relationship

The accused teacher has considerable influence over casting. He is the most influential person on campus and a showrunner. Many have alleged that it was an unsaid rule that to get a spot in the dance drama, one has to adhere to his orders. The guru-shishya relationship is being used to further the sinister mindset of the powerful.

The culture of seva is not just about one teacher. A teacher said, “Gurus who came before him also did the same things.” But with the MeToo campaign, the sector of performing arts is trying to find its reformation. 

There were allegations of sexual abuse by various women against Pandit Birju Maharaj. 12 students of Bhopal’s Dhrupad Sansthan alleged mental, physical, and sexual harassment by Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha. An internal committee was set up that found them guilty, but they filed a petition in Madhya Pradesh High Court, where the case is pending.

Chennai Classical Arts Community has also raised its voice against sexual harassment. Sadanand Menon, an aide of Chandralekha, was featured in the 2018 list of predators in Indian Universities. He has been accused of sexual harassment, but he has denied those claims.

The stories of sexual exploitation are consistent and reflect the difficult battle that women have to face when they stand against an institution. The unequal power dynamic is still favoring the institution.

Image Credits: Google Images

Feature image designed by Saudamini Seth

Sources: The Print, The Hindu, Hindustan Times

Find the blogger: Katyayani Joshi

This post is tagged under: harassment, PoSH, Kalakshetra, faculty, guru, shishya, institution, Ministry of Culture, dance, performing arts, Bharatnatyam, silencing, voice, power, legal action, rumours

Disclaimer: We do not hold any right, or copyright, over any of the images used. These have been taken from Google. In case of credits or removal, the owner may kindly mail us.

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