Kalakshetra sexual harassment case: 7 students approach Madras High Court to make campus safer

The Madras High Court said today that it would take a call after a week on reconstitution of the internal complaints committee (ICC) at Kalakshetra Foundation, following petitions filed by seven students of the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, run by Kalakshetra.

Kalakshetra accused teacher Hari Padman had his bail petition dismissed last week. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@nandajourno

The petitions dated April 11 were filed by the seven students in the context of the recent Kalakshetra sexual harassment controversy, which has seen four male teachers suspended, and one of them — Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts Assistant Professor Hari Padman, a principal dancer of the Kalakshetra repertory — arrested.

The bail petition of Hari Padman was dismissed by the Saidapet Magistrate Court on April 11, the same day when the students’ petitions were filed. The bail petition was dismissed after advocate R Thirumoorthy argued that if Hari Padman got bail, then students might not come forward with any complaints.

After the arrest, Divya Hari Padman, wife of the accused teacher, filed a counter complaint with Chennai Police, alleging instigation against her husband by other teachers out of professional jealousy.

In an interview with Connected to India shortly after the controversy first made news, former Kalakshetra director and renowned dancer Leela Samson said that she, too, had intervened in a sexual harassment allegation during her tenure, though that case did not go beyond the campus.

Today in Madras High Court, Justice M Dhandapani, before whom the petitions filed by seven Kalakshetra students came up for hearing, said, “A decision can be taken on reconstituting the ICC on April 24. I will name the (suitable) person to the committee.”

The students’ petitions asked for the reconstitution of the ICC and a gender-neutral safety policy to deal with sexual harassment and other kinds of harassment at Kalakshetra. The judge directed the Kalakshetra management not to intimidate or victimise any students, complainants, representatives, and faculty members who raised sexual harassment complaints. Also, the court directed the Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women to produce its inquiry report.

The judge said that the identity of the seven petitioner students would not be revealed, and accused teacher Hari Padman must be restricted from entering the campus or contacting the students.

The six respondents made party to the high court petitions — for a writ of Mandamus — are the Kalakshetra Foundation, Union Ministry of Culture, Tamil Nadu State Department of School Education, Union Ministry of Education, Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women, and Kalakshetra director Revathi Ramachandran.

Portal for anonymous complaints

The independent inquiry committee chaired by Justice (retd) Kannan decided on April 12 to set up an online platform where Kalakshetra students could log in and write about their sexual harassment experience, if any, anonymously. The template for the portal would be finalised on April 19, reported the agency United News of India.

The committee also intends to undertake a physical inspection of the Kalakshetra campus on April 25, and collect all the available evidence — from CCTV footage to WhatsApp messages — related to the sexual harassment allegations.