Teachers at Kerala college transferred after supporting sexual harassment survivors

This is the latest move by the authorities of SN College near Thiruvananthapuram to allegedly dissuade six students who complained against an assistant professor for sexual harassment.
Students of a Kerala College protesting inside the campus
Students of a Kerala College protesting inside the campus
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SN College at Chempazhanthy in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram has taken action against five teachers who supported students who complained against an assistant professor. While three of them have been transferred, two have been suspended. The college authorities claim that the action – which is being seen by some as an attempt to further intimidate the complainants and those supporting them – has been taken with the knowledge of the management, Sree Narayana Trusts Kollam.

The accused is T Abhilash, an assistant professor of the Department of Political Science in the college. Six women students of the college, located at about seven kilomteres from Thiruvananthapuram city, had accused T Abhilash of sexual harassment and sending them inappropriate messages in July 2021. The students had to approach Governor Ariff Mohammed Khan in August as the college authorities allegedly did not act on the complaint properly.

Now, action has been taken against five teachers – Manu Remakant, Lakshmi AJ, Remya CR, Lekha NB and Sangeeta Hariaharan – who had been supporting the complainants. While Manu Remakant has been transferred to SN College Cherthala, Remya has been transferred to Nagyarkulangara, and Sangeetha, to Kollam. A memo was issued to these teachers prior to the action, regarding which they received communication on Monday, November 8. However, it is alleged that the teachers weren’t given enough time to respond to the memo. “The norms have been clearly violated in the transfer. The two remaining teachers have been suspended as they can’t be transferred,” a source close to the teachers told TNM.

Lekha, a sociology teacher, has been suspended as there is no Sociology Department in any other branches of SN College and transfer is not possible. Lakshmi, a commerce teacher, has also been suspended. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that no action against Abhilash has been taken so far. 

“In the memo, they were asked to give a reply in ten days, but it was sent to the teachers so late that it would reach them after ten days only,” the source added. “The reasons cited for action in the memo for all except one are also strange – that the teachers had liked a Facebook post of another colleague who put a post questioning why can’t women drink if men can. The teachers liked it because of the feminist viewpoint but it has been construed to say that those who liked it are allegedly promoting alcoholism.”

The transfers of the three teachers are also apparently against an order issued by the Director of Collegiate Education in Kerala in August this year, which made transfer and appointment of posts in the aided colleges under the Higher Education Department – with stipulated working hours less than 16 – non-permissible. "It has come to notice that college managements are doing transfers as there is a provision for it in the university laws. The government is considering appointing a committee to look into it. Private aided college managements are directed to stop transfers until further orders," the order reads.

Students, irrespective of political unions, protested the action taken against the five teachers on the campus on Tuesday, November 9. In a video of the demonstration, the student who protested can be seen asking the principal why action has been taken against these teachers. The principal can be heard replying that he has no role in transferring teachers. When TNM contacted SN College principal Anilkumar, he responded saying that he was in a meeting and didn’t respond thereafter. 

“It’s like unleashing terror on whoever has taken a stand,” the source added, referring to the transfers and suspensions.

It was in a session of Veyilpookkal, a platform launched by Manu Remakanth for online interaction of students with teachers, that the students first came to know about the Internal Committee under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (PoSH) Act. This acted as the catalyst for the women students to formally complain against Abhilash T, hoping the authorities would take a fair stand. However, Abhilash claimed that the complaint was the result of a section of teachers’ grudge towards him and that the students’ allegations were false. Abhilash had told TNM that one professor had targeted him and alleged that he didn’t know the complainant students.

 Slut-shaming, cornering

While the five teachers have allegedly come under fire for supporting the complainants, the women who complained have also allegedly been subjected to intimidation. In the IC meetings, they were allegedly questioned for hours, asked questions not related to the issue, humiliated and were issued conduct certificates with ‘satisfactory’ comments. “A ‘good conduct’ certificate was issued till the date the complaint was filed, but it was changed to satisfactory from the date the complaint was filed,” a student who is a witness told TNM. 

"One person who was initially appointed as an external member of the IC resigned after hearing the students' version. We firmly believe that she is a friend of one of the teachers of the college who support the accused professor. She is a lawyer. Her professional accountability might have prompted her to resign as she may not have been able to submit a fair report," the student added.

"In the 15-page IC report, it has been written that the respondent (Abhilash) is a good person while the complaint is malicious and the evidence is fabricated," the witness added. In October, 11 students, including the witnesses and the complainants, were even issued a show-cause notice for lodging a 'frivolous' complaint, and directed not to enter college for 30 days.

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