A teacher who was allegedly forced to resign from St Xavier's University, Kolkata, over some bikini pictures she'd put up on Instagram, says she felt "shame, horror, revulsion... every emotion with agonising intensity" after facing the institute's "kangaroo court" in October last year.
In an article in The Indian Express, which withheld her name on her request, she describes the meeting with the vice-chancellor and others as "a modern re-enactment of a witch trial, where I was interrogated and subsequently slutshamed over my private Instagram pictures".
"Not only was I morally policed and harassed for over an hour over images which I had privately shared with a select group of people, but I was also forced to tender my resignation," she alleges.
While she filed a police case under Sections 354(C) (voyeurism) and 509 (outraging modesty of a woman) in February, the university officials sent her a legal notice alleging defamation — seeking Rs 99 crore as damages — after the matter became public recently. Vice-Chancellor Felix Raj told The Telegraphthat the institution "did not force any teacher to resign" and that she apologised for she had "erred" in "inviting students to her Instagram account".
The teacher, in her article, underlines that she is also a former student of St Xavier's, from where she has a BA in English. She went on to Jadavpur University for MA and then to a European university for her doctorate, which she got in 2020.
She took up the job as an assistant professor of English at her alma mater in August last year, at a time when "people were falling ill, loved ones were being lost, and most academic institutions had hiring freezes" due to Covid. The job let her be close to her parents in Kolkata, her hometown, she says.
"I was elated at finally being assigned texts that I liked teaching... The students were sincere and perceptive, and the in-class discussions were animated and immensely engaging," she says.
"This idyllic pedagogical journey was, however, to be brutally terminated soon and in a manner which still sounds more like a bizarre nightmare."
In the October 7 meeting, she alleges, she was told by a panel led by the vice-chancellor that a student's father had complained after seeing him look at her pictures. The complaint "denigrated my right to bodily autonomy and reduced my personhood to a mere sexual receptacle". She points out that five women were part of the panel — this was "particularly insulting and traumatising".
She goes on to address specific theories thrown around ever since her resignation became news around two weeks ago.
"To all those who have asked me why I didn't wait for them to fire me, I ask: can you possibly place yourself in my position?"
She adds, "I was told that my failure to voluntarily resign would be punished by the lodging of a criminal case against me for putting up 'objectionable' photographs."
Her father and she struggled with stress and bouts of Covid thereafter, she says. "I was driven to financial ruin... unable to contribute when my father was hospitalised twice in a matter of months."
Having since taken up a job in the Delhi-NCR region, she calls the last 10 months "a relentless nightmare", but says that her "burning, raging sense of wrongdoing and the consuming desire to seek justice" remains.
She even says the complainant "has the right (however misplaced) to disapprove of the way in which someone conducts themselves in their personal life". But, she adds, "Subjective morality cannot supersede the law of the land."
There's been support for her in online campaigns in particular, in which a number of women put up photos in bikinis to challenge the idea of what's 'obscene'.
She says it should not matter what she was wearing. "Although the infamous 'swimsuit' pictures have hijacked the narrative... Above all, I am fighting to reclaim my bodily and feminist agency."