The teachers of the college have accused the principal of siding with the student who has been abusive to professors and other students.

TVM principal suspended for allegedly failing to discipline student who assaulted teacherCollege of Fine Arts Thiruvananthapuram.
news Controversy Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 14:41
Written by  Cris

On Friday morning last week, Professor AS Sajith, the principal of Fine Arts College, Thiruvananthapuram, was suspended from service. Principal Secretary, Higher Education Department, Usha Titus wrote in the suspension letter that he was suspended ‘as per Rule 10 of Kerala Civil Service Rules (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules of 1960 pending enquiry for misuse of power, non-compliance of Government Orders and failure to maintain discipline as Head of the institution’.

Sajith knew a complaint had been filed against him by the teachers of the college but he was not aware of a suspension order coming. A series of incidents, involving a dog that’s reportedly raised in the campus by a student, has led to the suspension.

Teachers complaint

The final straw was a complaint from Professor Charutha Reghunath, a lecturer in Applied Arts, whose car hit a dog and then, the student who was taking care of the animal on campus, allegedly dragged the teacher out of her car, snatched her keys, put the dog inside and drove away.

“This is not an isolated incident. There have been a number of incidents of harassment by this student and others like him. Every time a complaint is filed, the principal favours the accused and does not take any action,” Charutha says.

Principal’s explanation

Sajith denies this. “I forwarded the teacher’s complaint to the women’s cell and formed a high-level committee within two weeks. I called the parents of the (accused) student too. I also filed a police complaint because the teachers wanted police protection. But their problem is that I did not expel him. I had suspended him from the college but even then he would hang out on campus. I told the watchman to not let it happen and also informed the police. I cannot physically pull him out. He was suspended last year too, just before the exams and therefore couldn’t write them. So I thought, let him write the exams this time, finish the course and leave the campus for good.”

It is the third incident with the dog. Before Charutha, it was Professor Jayachandran, HOD of Applied Arts, who had hit the dog with his car and the student had reportedly been abusive then too.

‘Influence of alcohol and drugs’

“It is not just the cases with the teachers. There are some students like him, who under the influence of alcohol and drugs, create problems in the campus and the hostel. I have made at least four complaints to the principal myself,” says Arun, a third-year BFA student. “But the principal protects these students, talks about their family backgrounds and their talents and lets them go. One of the students I complained about urinated in my room in retaliation.”

‘Favoured’ student had led protests against him

The student who takes care of the dogs (there are at least two dogs, according to another student) on campus, had been at loggerheads with the principal a few years ago when there was an issue after a girl entered the men’s hostel. Protests had taken place against the principal for not taking any action.

“It is the same student who led that protest earlier. I could have thought of taking revenge by expelling him, as the other teachers wanted. But why would I want to ruin a student’s life for petty revenge? I don’t think he is a criminal like he is made out to be,” Sajith says.

Directorate of Technical Education interferes

However, Charutha says that even the suspension of the student did not come from the principal, it came after the teachers jointly sent a complaint to the Directorate of Technical Education.

“A few officers had come to investigate,” Sajith agrees, “The student was suspended but they agreed that we could let him write his exams. They had also not found fault with the actions I took.”

The director of Technical Education was not available for comment when TNM contacted her. Her comments will be added when she responds.

College vandalised

Professor Charutha says that yet another development took place on Wednesday when some students whom the principal had “protected” vandalised the walls of the college in protest.

“He would always protect the accused students and close his eyes towards the presence of anti-social elements on campus,” she says.

Some of the students are giving another petition to the DTE, citing various incidents which have caused trouble within the campus and the hostel as well as the response of the principal in each case.

KS Dilipkumar, who is finishing his MFA course this year, says he is sad for both of them, the principal for his suspension and the teacher who was assaulted.

“The saddest part is that none of this has any connection with art, which is what the college is all about. The problem is created by dogs – which some students want to raise in the campus and the hostel and which some other students have a problem with. The dogs create a hygiene problem in the hostel and even bite some students who then have to take anti-rabies injections. The principal has reacted to these incidents by forwarding the complaints to the Corporation. But when Corporation workers come for the dogs, the students taking care of the dogs send them away.”

‘Peace on campus when Sajith was away’

The MFA course is fairly new. “It is a day after the result of the first MFA batch comes out that I get my suspension order. When it was being set up and an inspection team had come to the college, there are teachers here who tried to stop it saying an MFA course was not needed there. I suspect there can be vested interests here. Another time was when I got a new art gallery opened this year within the campus by the Chief Minister, but that was also not easy – there was opposition from some quarters. I have been a victim of such harassment for a long time now, coming from other teachers. I don’t know the reason – it is perhaps political or religious differences,” says Sajith. He has been a professor at the college from 1997 to 2012 when he was made principal at the Thrissur Fine Arts College. In 2014 he took charge as principal in Thiruvananthapuram. There was a gap in between when for one year he worked in Mavelikkara and Tensing Joseph took his place.

Charutha says that was the year there was peace on the campus. “He (Tensing) sent out all the anti-social elements from the college, stopped all outsiders from coming to the campus. But the next year, when he was replaced (by Professor Sajith), it was the same old situation again.”