St. Xavier’s University in Kolkata seeks Rs. 99 crore damages from professor who was asked to resign over Instagram pictures

Father of a first-year student complained against her for pictures of herself she had posted on Instagram account.

Published : Aug 11, 2022 22:15 IST

St. Xavier’s University.

St. Xavier’s University. | Photo Credit: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

An assistant professor of St. Xavier’s University who was allegedly forced to quit for uploading her own pictures, deemed provocative, on her “private” Instagram account, has been sent a legal notice by the university seeking Rs.99 crore in damages. The university’s notice was in response to the professor’s legal notice to the governing body of the university.

On 7 October 2021, the university authorities are said to have confronted the professor, who joined the university on August 9 that year, after the father of a first-year student complained against her for certain pictures of herself she had posted on her Instagram account. She had uploaded the pictures on June 13, 2021, almost two months before she joined the university. The professor maintains that her account was “private” and hence could not be accessed by anyone other than those who were following her. Moreover, her uploads were “stories” that remain for 24 hours only and not “posts”.

“On October 8, I was told by the VC to either resign or risk imprisonment as a consequence of an FIR that the student’s father would be filing,” the professor told Frontline. Following the puja vacation that year, she submitted her resignation letter, dated October 25, in which she wrote:

“The unfair trial of 7 October 2021 to which I was subjected to—where I was accused of having indulged in improper social media behaviour, and the subsequent questioning by the so-called committee where my private Instagram pictures, illegally accessed and printed out without my permission or knowledge, were displayed with the intention of maligning my character, accusations of having corrupted the impressionable minds of students and defiling the pristine image of the institution were flung about, and the subsequent pressuring by your side compelling me to resign, have taken an unprecedented toll on my mental and physical health and brought untold stress and misery upon my family.”

The professor had filed a police complaint of sexual harassment and character assassination perpetrated by the highest administration of St. Xavier’s University, using pictures that were illegally accessed, circulated and published. She had also written to the higher authorities of Kolkata Police and complained to the National Commission for Women citing police inaction. In February 2022, a fresh FIR was accepted by the police and on March 1, 2022, she sent a legal notice to the governing body of the university asking them to furnish a few documents and details of the complaint that was filed against her. The university reacted with a demand for Rs 99 crore and an “unconditional” apology.

The legal notice from the university stated:

“At the outset, I say that your legal notice is an ill-motivated, after-thought, dishonest and desperate attempt to reopen and agitate the matter of your Client’s voluntary resignation on 25/10/2021… Your Client has acted in a reckless and uncalled for and unwarranted manner and has caused and still causing immense and irreparable damage to my Client’s good name, fame and goodwill and extensive irreparable damage by marking and forwarding and circulating and publishing copy of your notice amongst more than 30 members of the governing board of SXUK and others containing highly objectionable, derogatory, defamatory insinuations, allegations, imputations and remarks against my Client, SXUK thereby rendering and exposing herself liable to be proceeded against under criminal law as well as civil law for punishment and for damages, tentatively assessed at Rs 99 crores which your Client is liable to pay to my Client apart from tendering unconditional and unqualified apology for having done so and further unconditional and unqualified undertaking not to do so in future and also call upon your Client to withdraw your above legal notice.”

The incident sparked off outrage on social media, as it brought to the fore issues of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and criminal invasion of privacy. Several gender rights activists have called it a “classic case of misogyny.” There was no response from the university till the time the report was filed.

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