Sunilkumar, the dean of the institute, has been arrested in relation to a complaint of rape by a student.

Students protesting at Kerala's School of Drama in Thrissur Students' protest at the campus
news Protest Wednesday, March 02, 2022 - 14:10

A rape complaint against Sunilkumar, the dean of the prestigious School of Drama in Kerala’s Thrissur has brought to light a larger culture of misogyny and hostile environment to women on the campus. The dean was arrested on Tuesday, March 1, a day after he was suspended from the institute. Meanwhile, students of School of Drama have been protesting since February 24, not only demanding that Sunilkumar be removed from his post but also an overhaul of the institute to do away with the toxic, misogynistic environment.

The issue came to light after the 22-year old student complainant attempted suicide and was hospitalised. The complainant was staying with Sunilkumar and his partner at their home due to unavailability of hostel facilities when Sunilkumar allegedly started making sexual advances towards her when his partner was not around. The alleged sexual assault happened on January 21, after which the complainant left the couple’s house. While she disclosed the abuse to some friends, the survivor did not make a complaint out of fear. Later, Sunilkumar also allegedly threatened her against disclosing the rape.

The rape complaint against Sunilkumar has also prompted many to open up about their own experiences, with multiple involving the suspended dean. For instance, Subin KK, a post-graduate student of the college, alleged that Sunilkumar has been “a habitual predator.” “But this (the alleged rape) was extreme step. There were students who were subjected to harassment by him, but they were scared to complain. However, this woman dared to speak up. Some of my seniors and super seniors were subjected to harassment too,” Subin said. 

Yama Gilgamesh Rangath, a Malayalam actor, wrote in a Facebook post on February 28 that the revelations coming from the School of Drama are not surprising. An alumna of the college herself, she said, "It has never been a women-friendly campus when I was a student, or even after that. The number of female students is low in the first place. I was the only female student of my batch. I still remember the campus as a violent, chauvinistic space. I never felt like going back to the campus because of the bad experience I had from the teachers as well as from the fellow (male) students," Yama's post read.

She also mentioned Sunil in the post. “What provoked me about Sunil is that he talked about his friend (a woman) in a really bad language. Such a person can never be a friend. I said publicly that I would slap him if I ever saw him again around me. I can say one thing after looking at the current controversy - the developments will lead to moral policing of women in the campus. But I am happy that the male students are with the female students [now], something which we were not able to dream of when I was a student,” Yama said in the post. She recounted that during her time in college, she faced stalking and sexual harassment too. “Senior students used to call me slurs. Students of the boys’ hostel used to boo at me, and verbally harass me whenever I would pass by. It was a big problem for them that I didn't take them seriously,” the post read. 

Moral Policing

Subin also said that moral policing of female students is prevalent in the institute. “There was a meeting on February 24 in the college solely for moral policing women. In that meeting, women students were called in alphabetical order and questioned about their behavior in the campus,” he alleges. 

The meeting was called by hostel warden Najmul Shaji and Head of Department of Drama, Vinod V Narayanan. Subin says that it was convened after women in the second year questioned not being allowed to participate in acting exercises for a monologue series that is part of the curriculum after 9.30 pm while the men had the permission to rehearse at any time. Instead of addressing the women’s concerns around this discriminatory ‘curfew’, the teachers used the opportunity to justify the curfew and further moral police them. Subin alleges that in the meeting, the authorities justified the curfew stating that if women students are also given freedom, they will be kissing male students under the streetlight and other such statements. “At the same meeting however, when the survivor asked why the authorities didn’t care about the harassment she had faced and were silent on it, there was no response,” adds Subin, who is also part of the Action Council which is leading the protest against Sunilkumar.

Yama’s post said that she was in solidarity with the students who are protesting. "I don't have any emotional connection to that place where I was a student for five years. I still remember the teachers of the National School of Drama (of which Yama is also an alumna) with huge respect and love. I don't have that connection to any of my teachers at the School of Drama. The degradation was not just from gender discrimination. Teachers would also divide students, made them fight each other," Yama's post read.

Callous attitude towards misconduct, abuse

This ‘moral policing’ meeting seemingly kicked off a discussion about other allegations of sexual misconduct by Sunilkumar on the campus and the callous attitude of the authorities towards complaints of abuse. In November 2021, the survivor had complained that a guest faculty named Raja Variar had hit her on her hand during class, however, the issue had not been taken seriously. “The survivor also mentioned that she had complained about the harassment [by Raja Variars] to Vinod V Narayanan and another faculty member, Ambili. Both of them took it casually, and blamed her asking why she didn’t boycott his class. She had also orally complained to Vinod V Narayanan, but he too didn’t take it seriously. This is how casual they are about abuse,” Subin said. 

When TNM reached out to Raja Variar, he said that he was “just conducting a class on five senses” and rapped the survivor on her wrists to “make a demonstration”. On February 28, he also said he was not aware of the complaint against him. 

“After the meeting on February 24, the complainant saw that other students supported her. She was scared before this,” Subin added.

It was a day after the meeting that the survivor decided to file a second complaint with the police, revealing the alleged rape by Sunilkumar. The FIR for the same was registered on February 27. In an earlier complaint, the FIR of which was registered on February 25, the survivor had accused Sunilkumar and Raja Variar of harassment. According to her friends, the survivor was afraid of revealing the rape out Sunilkumar’s fear.  

Sunilkumar has now been remanded to judicial custody.  

Read: Kerala drama school dean allegedly rapes first year student, she attempts suicide


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