St. Xavier’s University in Kolkata seeks ₹99 crore in damages from teacher after she was ‘forced’ to resign over Instagram pictures

St. Xavier’s University sent legal notice to an assistant professor who had alleged that she was ‘compelled to resign’ by the University authorities.

St. Xavier’s University sent legal notice to an assistant professor who had alleged that she was ‘compelled to resign’ by the University authorities. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

An assistant professor of St. Xavier’s University in Kolkata, who was allegedly compelled to tender her resignation in October 2021 for posting objectionable on Instagram, has been slapped with a legal notice by the University, seeking ₹99 crore in damages.

“I under instructions from and on behalf of my client call upon your Client to forthwith pay the aforesaid sum of ₹99 crores apart from tendering unconditional and unqualified apology for having done so,” a letter addressed to the professor from lawyers representing the University said. The University’s letter was in response to a legal notice which the professor had sent to the University in March 2022, demanding that she should be reinstated with a formal apology.

While the developments relating to the case took place from October 2021 to March 2022, the matter came to the fore recently after several media reports highlighted the issue. In her resignation letter dated October 25, the professor, who did not wish to be named, alleged that the University authorities had put pressure on her “compelling me to resign”, and that the developments had “taken an unprecedented toll on my mental and physical health and brought untold stress and misery upon my family”.

“You have not offered any explanation about who the complainant was and how the photographs — which were posted months before I joined this institution and which were shared with a select, tightly-controlled audience for 24 hours only — were accessed, neither have you provided any assurance that the photographs will be destroyed,” the resignation letter said. 

The woman had filed a complaint before the Purba Jadavpur Police station, alleging that her Instagram profile had been hacked. She had also alleged “sexual harassment” by the members of the so-called inquiry committee set up by the University. The lady has forwarded the letter addressed to Jadavpur Police station to the National Commission for Women. Finally, an FIR was registered by the police in February 2022 against “unknown persons” under Section 354(C) (voyeurism) and 509 (outraging modesty of a woman).

According to the legal notice sent by the University to the professor, the institution received an email on October 4 by someone who identified himself as a father of a student. The father said his son had seen photographs of the professor “in a sexually explicit way causing deliberate public exposure” on social media and that he strongly urged the university to take necessary action. The University set up a five-member committee to look into the complaint.

Speaking to The Hindu about the developments relating to the case, the professor said that she wants to take the case to its logical conclusion and is prepared for the legal battle. “When I first read the legal notice, I was appalled at the University seeking damages of ₹99 crore. At first, I thought it was a typo, and then I found that the amount has been written twice,” the professor said.

The professor said apart from the moral policing aspect, she was surprised how the photographs which she posted on her private Instagram account could be accessed by a student. “Nothing explains as to how photographs posted for 24 hours in June 2021 were apparently accessed by a boy who became my student in August 2021,” she said. 

The incident has evoked strong reaction from gender rights activists who said that the University had no business to poke their nose in what photos a professor posts on social media. Swati Chatterjee, a gender rights activist, said that the incident is a blatant violation of the right to privacy of a woman when photographs shared for a select group are used to malign her image and coerce her to leave her job. Shampa Sengupta, another activist, said that developments point out how misogynist the mindset of people in academic institutions can be. 

“To me it appears that the University took the decision because they were unhappy with the professor’s attire and it has nothing to do with student’s well being,” she added.

The University has not reacted to the allegations so far. The publication reached out to a top University official but there was no response till the report was filed.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 2:13:27 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/st-xaviers-university-seeks-99-crore-in-damages-from-professor-after-she-was-forced-to-resign-for-instagram-pictures/article65757763.ece