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Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Other Side Of The Kalakshetra Story: A JNU In The Making?

It all began when Leela Samson, the former director of Kalakshetra Foundation made an accusatory post against a teacher (who she did not name) on her Facebook account. The post was later deleted.

Over the past few days, several other articles pinpointing the nature of the teacher-student relationship in an institution like Kalakshetra have been cropping up, especially by the likes of The News Minute, The Print and so on.

According to TNM and The Print, students interviewed claim that a teacher named Hari Padman had behaved inappropriately with the students. However, a report by News 18 reveals that the students were disciplined by the teacher as is the culture of the institution.

While most of these accounts are anecdotal and far too few without any hard-hitting evidence, the truth behind the matter is far from what has been reported by TNM which has even exaggerated the location of institution saying, “Kalakshetra’s geography isolates it from the city, and most students doing their fine arts courses live on campus.”, sounding as if young girls and boys are taken to an isolated island to be tortured and harassed.

Kalakshetra Foundation is located in Thiruvanmiyur at the edge of Adyar, Chennai which is one of the prime spots of the city. Just like Theosophical Society in Adyar, the institute has a sprawling campus with greenery and feels completely different from the hustle and bustle of a busy city.

The institute was founded on the principle of a gurukula system by Rukmini Devi Arundale and to date has been following that tradition and style of teaching and learning. An integral part of Indian culture and knowledge system, is the guru-sishya parampara which is the mode of transmission of knowledge – be it the arts, philosophy, or spirituality. In this parampara or practice, the disciple (sishya) lived with the teacher (guru) and learn not just the subject matter but also moral values and life skills. The relationship between the guru and the sishya is considered sacred and is based on mutual respect and devotion.

This Indic tradition has been a target of attack by the leftists who for long have likened it to an exploitative system with their oppressor-opressed binary. Artist-activists such as TM Krishna, Chinmayi, and Anita Ratnam have been propagating the idea that not everything about the guru-sishya relationship is sacred and that it must be scrutinised.

Leela Samson And The Controversies Surrounding Her

During her 7-year tenure as the head of the organisation, Leela Samson has been accused of making “irregular” appointments and placing “arbitrary” contracts flouting rules and procedures as the Director of Kalakshetra Foundation. Doubts were also cast over her qualifications by her own colleagues from Kalakshetra.

There have also been allegations made against Samson herself like the one below. However, news portals did not find it fitting enough to report on.

The Case So Far

The sexual harassment allegations against Haripadman are based on anonymous posts on social media platforms. The Director of the institution, Revathy Ramachandran, had already established an Internal Complaint Committee when the matter was brought to light. Despite the absence of an official complaint, Revathy Ramachandran took suo moto action to address the issue. The internal investigation, led by the current director of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Revathi Ramachandran, concluded that the allegations against the accused teacher Hari Padman were baseless rumors created by “vested interests” to damage the institution’s reputation.

On March 19 of this year, the ICC cleared Hari Padman of any wrongdoing. The National Commission for Women also found no evidence to support the allegations. After initially calling for action against Hari Padman by the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP), the National Commission for Women (NCW) later decided to close the case.

The NCW issued a statement stating that after reviewing the Director’s clarification and the report submitted by the Internal Complaints Committee, no proof of sexual harassment was found on the premises of Kalakshetra. As a result, the Commission decided to close the matter since the victim denied experiencing any sexual harassment during the IC committee’s inquiry.

Furthermore, the Kalakshetra director Revathi Ramachandran met with the DGP to submit the ICC’s findings. As per the state police chief’s statement, Kalakshetra conducted an internal inquiry through its committee and found the allegations to be “baseless.”

In a media statement, the Kalakshetra Foundation declared that a comprehensive investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made over social media determined that there were no such cases and that the allegations were unsubstantiated.

On 29 March 2023, NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma visited the campus to enquire about the harassment allegations.

So, the institute on its part has followed every due process in order to ensure a safe space for all. Yet, a few students have boycotted ongoing exams and have been sitting in protest demanding ouster of Haripadman.

The Other Side Of The Story

Inside sources from Kalakshetra who wished to remain unidentified note that most of the allegations of sexual harrasment and other types of harassment by the teacher Haripadman and other dancers/students are either completely fictional or small issues blown out of proportion.

Insiders say that the core issue is of three teachers namely – Nirmala Nagarajan, Nandini Nagarajan and Indhu Nideesh – who harbour professional rivalry against Haripadman. A majority of the students who are aware of the drama have refused to come out and have chosen to remain silent fearing reprisal from the other side.

“It’s not sexual harrasment but just plain professional rivalry by bitter teachers who are ready to sacrifice the institution of Kalakshetra to get their way”, notes a very close source from Kalakshetra.

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) committee has been very active and even has a Leftist lawyer who has herself stated there is no evidence in the complaints that have come in thus far. However, sources say that new allegations are being concocted actively by Nirmala Nagarajan et al., instigating students to protest demanding Haripadman be kicked out.

In a development that surfaced late Wednesday, 29 March 2023, screenshots of a complaint filed by a dancer of Kalakshetra with NCW, the Kalakshetra Board and the Ministry of Culture, surfaced on social media.

In these screenshots three teachers have been named and accused of allegedly collecting evidence of harassment against the teacher in question (Hari Padman) and the institution itself.

Some instances mentioned in the complaint point to the fact that a female teacher may have harassed a male student. However, this has not been highlighted anywhere or taken up by the CARE Spaces organisation which has vociferously campaigned for the female students.

Another screenshot of the complaint in the same tweet thread indicates some displeasure in the steps taken by the present director in restarting a repertory.

In another set of screenshots that became public, the original ‘report’ by The News Minute seems to fall flat.

It was also noticed that an organisation named CARESpaces.org seemed to be toeing the agenda of peddling a certain narrative.

  1. On 29 March 2023, a person who has been with Kalakshetra for 12 years wrote a complaint to the Secretary of Union Ministry of Culture coming in support of Haripadman and the institution.

The complaint says “I have known Haripadman sir for 12 years and I have never seen him make a single inappropriate remark to anyone. He is a strict teacher and he is not abusive. He is also very dedicated to dance and Kalakshetra. Haripadman sir only taught PD for two years and last year he only taught interns and repertory. So, the other students don’t know him.”

Like in the previous accounts, this complaint also blames Nirmala and Indhu for the unravelling episode saying that the two circulated rumours against Haripadman with a promise of removing probation concept if they protest against him.

It also blames Nandini saying she blows up a routine matter like a teacher scolding a student into a sexual harassment issue.

“She has been leaking information to outsiders – activists and press – even before she takes it to the POSH committee. This damages the reputation and credibility of the institution of Kalakshetra.”, the complaint noted adding that Nirmala and Nandini are targeting people they want gone.

“Kindly consider this as a complaint from me and I request you to please order an investigation into the activities of Nirmala teacher, Nandini teacher and Indhu teacher. Please do not allow Kalakshetra to be destroyed.”

Attack On Haripadman? Attack On Kalakshetra? Or Attack On Guru-Shishya Parampara?

Whether dance or music, any art for that matter, requires strict disciplined life, and penance to master. This includes following a strict diet, routine, etc. Confusing discipline and rules for harassment is something that is commonly seen among the woke generation.

Detaching bhakti and devotion from the arts has been a concerted attempt by leftists over the years and trying to make the sacrosanct nature of a gurukula and the guru-sishya relationship and everything within Sanatana Dharma seems to be the aim. If students are unable to follow these guidelines and rules, there are several other institutions available in the country that are even more “flexible” in this regard for them to choose from.

That being said, it is possible that a sadist or sexual predator may take undue advantage of Guru-Shishya Parampara. Such instances of abuse have to be dealt sternly following due process of law based on a comprehensive investigation.

(The story was published on TheCommuneMag.com on March 30, 2023 and has been reproduced here with permission.)

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