Kalakshetra row: How leftists targeted Hindu beliefs over alleged sexual harassment

Kalakshetra row: How leftists targeted Hindu beliefs over alleged sexual harassment

The Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai has recently come under the scanner over sexual harassment allegations, with leftist intellectuals and publications exploiting the opportunity to target the Hindu tradition of ‘guru-shishya parampara.

The controversy began on December 24, 2022, when an ex-director of Kalakshetra named Leela Samson (2005-2012) alleged that a teacher at the Rukmani College of Fine Arts (an institution run by Kalakshetra Foundation) had been harassing and molesting students for over 10 years.

She had claimed, “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.”

Kalakshetra Leela Samson
Screengrab of the now-deleted Facebook post of Leela Samson

“In my alma mater no less! We have to get society as a whole, the staff, the man’s wife and the victims to admit of guilt. The said teacher must be brought to book. He must be punished. Rukmini Devi did not build an institution and all her ideals to be abused so,” Samson further alleged.

The former Director of the Kalakshetra Foundation, however, did not name the accused teacher and even deleted her contentious post. Interestingly, the screenshot of her Facebook post was re-posted by a US-based ‘Care Spaces‘ on December 25, 2022.

The organisation shared multiple stories of students, who have allegedly been harassed by an assistant dance professor named Hari Padman. In January this year, ‘Care Spaces’ started an online petition (with 700+ signatories), seeking transparency and redressal of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Kalakshetra Foundation (an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Culture) has an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), which was established under Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act [pdf].

Although it is alleged that no ‘official complaint’ was filed against the said teacher, the Internal Complaints Committee nonetheless took suo motu cognisance of the matter.

The internal investigation, headed by the current director (Kalakshetra Foundation) Revathi Ramachandran found the allegations to be ‘rumours’ manufactured by ‘vested interests’ to malign the reputation of the institution. On March 19 this year, ICC gave a clean chit to the accused teacher Hari Padman.

The National Commission for Women (NCW), which initially demanded action against Hari Padman by the Tamil Nadu DGP, later sought to close the case.

In a statement, it noted, “The Director’s clarification and the internal complaints committee report did not find any evidence of sexual harassment on campus. The Commission has come to a conclusion to close the matter as the victim has denied sexual harassment while she was inquired by the IC committee.”

Meanwhile, the Kalakshetra Foundation warned against gossiping, rumour-mongering and bad-mouthing about the institute in public. “Those engaged in such activities are warned that appropriate legal action will be taken against them,” it had cautioned, which was later dubbed as ‘gag order.’

Leftist publications exploit a sexual harassment case

Although the Internal Complaints Committee has exonerated Hari Padman and the NCW has sought closure of the case, some students and alumni are clearly unhappy with the decision. They have accused the incumbent director Revathi Ramachandran of being ‘sympathetic’ to the accused teacher.

While we seek justice for the alleged victims, it is important to note how leftist publications such as The Print and The News Minute are attacking the Hindu tradition of ‘guru-shishya parampara‘ under the pretext of reporting on allegations of sexual misconduct at the Kalakshetra Foundation.

In an article (archive) published on March 21, senior correspondent at The Print, Shubhangi Misra, attributed the alleged sexual harassment cases to “the skewed power dynamic and the normalisation of the ancient guru-shishya dynamic, even in modern times.”

To further back the outrageous claims, the leftist publication quoted one ‘activist’ TM Krishna as saying, “Any mentor-mentee relationship is unequal. In the case of the guru-shishya parampara, the guru’s unbridled power is sanctified.”

“This leads to toxic class environments, discouragements, verbal and sexual abuse, and control over the student’s life…Just because some of us had healthy relationships with our guru doesn’t mean the system is all right,” he had claimed.

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The Print quoted one anonymous teacher as saying, “This culture of seva (service) is not just about one teacher. Gurus who came before him also did the same things.” It also cited allegations against other teachers to paint the ‘guru-shishya dynamic’ as sinister.

The vicious propaganda piece thus insinuated that the core of sexual harassment of students in institutions is the ancient Hindu tradition of reverence that exists between a student and teacher. This is akin to suggesting that institutions devoid of such a dynamic are free of sexual misconduct.

It is interesting to note how the leftist outlet used allegations against a handful of teachers in classical arts to malign the centuries-old tradition of ‘guru-shishya’ prevalent in Hindu culture.

A similar stunt to link Hindu culture to an environment ‘conducive of sexual abuse’ was attempted by another propaganda news outlet, The News Minute.

It claimed, “TNM spoke to six current staffers at Kalakshetra Foundation on the condition of anonymity, who alleged that the culture at Kalakshetra, and the students’ isolation from the outside world, enables abuse.”

The News Minute cited strict discipline at the Kalakshetra Foundation to make for its frivolous and sweeping conclusions. “Famous artists are the gurus at the institute, and this means the power differential between students and teachers is huge, said staffers TNM spoke to,” it further insinuated.

Leftist intellectuals target Hindu traditions

Leftist intellectuals and social media activists too were at the forefront of the defamation campaign against Hinduism. One Rituparna Pal went on to blame ‘Brahminic nationalism’ for the alleged culture of abuse at the Kalakshetra Foundation.

She claimed, “While the recent articles in publications such as TNM bring to light cases of sexual abuse students have faced in Kalakshetra, it’s disappointing to see 0 focus on how brahminic nationalism shaped the institution’s policies and how that plays a huge role in the culture of abuse.”

Another such activist, Nrithya Pillai, also exploited the allegations of sexual misconduct to bash the Brahmin community.

“If there is a culture of sexism, misogyny, body shaming, slut shaming and Brahminism – the line between abuse and sexual abuse is very blurred. What then constitutes sexual abuse in such a space? This is a question we need to answer when we think of places like Kalakshetra!” she brazened it out.

Popular performer ‘Anita Ratnam’ suggested that there is nothing sacred or divine about the Hindu dance form of Bharatnatyam. “For all those dancers sitting on the fence munching popcorn, “wake up” and realise that all is not “divine” and “sacred” about our Dance Art,” she claimed.

The allegations levelled against a teacher at the Kalakshetra Foundation thus gave an opportunity to the usual suspects to make it all about Hinduism, its rich culture and ancient traditions.

The article was first published in Opindia on March 28, 2023.

Featured Image by Freepik