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Exclusive: Kalakshetra probe recommends police cases against 3 teachers

TNM has seen the operative part of the report which also says that the statements of Kalakshetra’s ex-director Leela Samson cannot easily be discarded and that faculty Hari Padman was guilty of misconduct.

An inquiry committee, helmed by retired judge Justice K Kannan, that probed allegations of sexual harassment at Chennai’s Kalakshetra, has found that Kalakshetra faculty Hari Padman was guilty of gross misconduct. TNM has seen the operative part of the report which also says that the statements of Kalakshetra’s ex-director Leela Samson cannot easily be discarded. The report further says legal assistance should be provided for the students who have complained of sexual misbehaviour from three other faculties to register their complaints with the police.

Accountability lies with the teacher
In March 2023, two survivors and six staff members of Kalakshetra had spoken to TNM detailing how Hari Padman would invite them to his residence within the campus. They said that denying his advances invited severe humiliation and repercussions, even leading to some women quitting their course altogether. One alumnus later filed a complaint against him at the Adyar police station, following which protests erupted on the campus. He was subsequently arrested on April 3 on various sexual harassment charges, and on June 3, he was granted bail by the IV Metropolitan Magistrate in Saidapet on the condition that he should appear at a police station daily.

The inquiry committee, set up by S Ramadorai, Chairman of the Kalakshetra Foundation in April, found that though Hari Padman’s actions may not come “within the definition of sexual harassment under the relevant provisions of the Sexual Harassment Act”, it could be “construed as gross misconduct; a conduct unworthy of a public servant...”

The detailed report elaborates that irrespective of how any student would see their relationship with Hari Padman, if he has encouraged proximity with students in a way that it “raised eyebrows” or led to “hushed conversations” among students, he cannot be absolved of misusing his power and position as a teacher on campus. The report recommends the imposition of a major penalty upon Hari Padman, including removal from service, for his misconduct.

The report further goes into detail about the unequal power dynamics in a guru-shishya relationship and says that any sexual intent of the teacher to a student is an abhorrent expression of asymmetry of power. The committee underlines that Hari Padman’s defence that his activities embodied only a guru-shishya relationship, does not stand. The committee which consisted of former Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP) Letika Saran and Dr Shobha Varthaman, apart from Justice Kannan, concluded that the onus of accountability for responsible behaviour lies more with the teacher.

Give legal assistance to students
The committee report says that veteran dancer Leela Samson, who has spoken about harassment at the Kalakshetra campus, is not a voice that can be dismissed when taking stock of how the campus functions. It says that there is no reason to attribute any motivation for an ex-Director to make wild allegations against a current faculty.

Further, the report strongly suggests that the students who have complained of sexual misbehaviour by three other faculties, namely Sanjith Lal, Saikrishna, and Srinath, must be provided with legal assistance to register their complaints with the jurisdictional police under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code.

While the inquiry committee had, through a press release in August this year, confirmed that it has submitted its findings, the report has not yet been officially published or submitted by Kalakshetra before the Madras High Court. The report, which can alter the course of conduct at Kalakshetra if implemented, seeks to foster more student safety and structure on campus, diligently demarcating how teachers must draw boundaries with students.

Ban entry of students to teachers’ quarters
Commenting on the ‘Guru-Shishya parampara’ which is followed at the Kalakshetra campus, the committee notes that this system has traditionally worked with the Shishya being only persons of male gender. But, when the guru is a male and the shishya a female, the committee emphasises that the standard of behaviour is expected to be so high that “there should be no scope for any form of sexual advances that can sully the purity of the relationship.”

“It might require debate in the present day and time whether it is possible to preserve this tradition in its pristine purity,” the committee’s report reads.

To further facilitate more structure within the Guru-Shishya relationship, the committee also says that students must not be invited to the “physical and emotional proximity of the teacher at his residence.” “We, therefore, advocate for a complete ban on entry of students into the teachers’ quarters, except on social occasions where there could be community celebrations, but never a one-on-one invitation,” the report recommends.

Student grievance cell, able administrators, alumni association
For the safety of the students on campus, the inquiry committee report also recommends the establishment of a students’ grievances redressal committee, as contemplated by UGC Regulations of 2023. To ensure impartial administration, it is also proposed that able administrators with “background in human resources management and organisational skills, with high level of interest in performing arts as additional interest, shall alone be considered for the posts of the chief functionaries, such as Director and Principal of the Institution.”

The report further says that developing a strong alumni association of ex-Kalakshetra students is vital to fostering a sense of community and transparency.

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