Numerous Complaints Against a Jadavpur University Student Raise Questions About Laws Tackling Sexual Harassment on College Campuses

25 August 2016
At Jadavpur University, in July 2016, a Facebook post by a student alleging that she had been sexually harassed and assaulted by a classmate received unforeseen support. Many other young women stepped forward and shared their experience of being harassed by the accused student. The post also kick-started a conversation on sexual harassment on college campuses in India.
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At Jadavpur University, in July 2016, a Facebook post by a student alleging that she had been sexually harassed and assaulted by a classmate received unforeseen support. Many other young women stepped forward and shared their experience of being harassed by the accused student. The post also kick-started a conversation on sexual harassment on college campuses in India.
CC BY-SA 3.0

On 7 February 2016, Eklavya Chaudhuri, a third-year undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University (JU) in Kolkata, stepped up to the stage at a poetry slam event to perform one of his poems. A rising star in the city’s burgeoning poetry scene, Chaudhuri, the son of a senior professor at the university, was a face familiar to much of the audience. The event was at a local café, and in attendance where about 20 or so people—regulars in the poetry circuit. His performance that night, his friends later said, was in his characteristic style: dressed in an oversize shirt with his hair unkempt, the lanky Chaudhuri recited his poems in a high-pitched voice, moving energetically across the stage. His act was met with loud applause from the people in the room.

By the end of July, all of this had changed. On 27 July, a student of JU posted a photo to Facebook. Taken through the window of a classroom, the image showed a lone Chaudhuri sitting on a bench. “Eklavya Chaudhuri attending class as his classmates stand outside in protest,” the student wrote. Chaudhuri’s classmates had refused to sit with him. Many of the students, including his friends, had boycotted the class. Chaudhuri attended the class with only one other student in the room. When he left the classroom at the end of the lecture hour, the students gathered outside applauded, as if cheering his exit.

The applause was a form of protest—an expression of boycott for Chaudhuri. Four days earlier, on 23 July 2016, a student of JU had uploaded a post to Facebook alleging that nearly a year ago, she had repeatedly been sexually assaulted and harassed by Chaudhuri. “I was molested by a classmate of mine, Ekalavya Chaudhuri, on four different occassions within the space of my department,” she wrote. “The person who did this to me was a respected student, a budding academician and an influential member of the exclusive urban intellectual circuit,” she added.

She wrote in the post that she had lodged a complaint against Chaudhuri with the English department, on 24 August 2015. “It was the best thing I ever did,” the complainant said. But even though the department handled her complaint “carefully and with attention,” she said, the harassment continued. “The molestation and the forcible pressing of penis against my crotch stopped,” but “the glares and the stares did not stop.” The complainant alleged that, for several months following her complaint, a friend of Chaudhuri’s had continued to harass her on his behalf. Chaudhuri’s friend, a student from another university, the complainant said, “bullied me online several times,” and subjected her to “endless stalking, making cheap comments on Facebook.” The complainant also attached screenshots of her conversations with Chaudhuri and his friend to the post. “MY HARASSMENT WAS NOT JUST SEXUAL, NOT JUST ONLINE, NOT JUST OFFLINE. HARASSMENT, FOR ME, WAS EVERYWHERE,” she wrote. “Those who have followed this molestation incident would also know that I am not the only one Ekalavya Chaudhuri has sexually harassed,” she added.

The post went viral. It was shared widely by hundreds of students, within and beyond Jadavpur University. Over the next few days, several young women in Kolkata—some even underage—shared their own stories of harassment by Chaudhuri, all of which were eerily similar. Many shared screenshots of conversations they said they had with Chaudhuri over Whatsapp and Facebook as proof of the alleged harassment, which were then shared by other students, who added comments and posts declaring their support for the women. Though Facebook took down the complainant’s original post saying it did not abide by their community guidelines, countless students took screenshots of the post and shared them. On 25 July, two days after the original post, two students registered an official complaint against Chaudhuri with the college. The next day, 13 women issued a joint statement alleging that they had been sexually harassed and assaulted by Chaudhuri. “We have been touched without our consent. We have been objectified filthily. We have been made to feel like pieces of meat by a man who is utterly despicable,” their statement said. He is, they alleged, “A molester. A sex offender. A sexual predator.”

Tanushree Bhasin is an independent journalist and photographer based in New Delhi and Kolkata. She has previously written for The Sunday Guardian, Firstpost, Scroll.in, The Wire, Huffington Post and Youth Ki Awaaz.

Keywords: sexual harassment Sexual Assault UGC Saksham Jadavpur University internal complaints committee
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