Panel was set up to probe allegations of sexual harassment against teacher Akhilesh Gundecha
Students of the Dhrupad Sansthan, an international music school here, are divided over the composition of the new internal complaints committee (ICC) set up to inquire into allegations of sexual harassment against teacher Akhilesh Gundecha.
While a group of 70 students have welcomed the new composition after the previous ICC was dissolved following objections by a section of students that its members were close to the Gundecha family, another 25 students, who claim to include at least 10 victims, have termed the recent composition “hasty” and the process “exclusionary”.
The new ICC was declared on September 16 by Anant Gundecha, secretary of the organisation that promotes the ancient style of Hindustani classical music. Its members are Raka Arya, professor at the National Law Institute University, Bhopal; Gagan Sethi, former member at the National Human Rights Commission; Anu Gupta, social activist at the Eklavya Foundation; and a female and a male student of the school.
An anonymous statement issued on behalf of 70 students, who included at least three survivors according to a signatory, expressed happiness the organisation had responded to their concerns. “Through a fair, transparent and dialogic process, we, the students, have selected and endorsed all members of the reconstituted ICC,” the statement said. Further, the students hoped the school continued to remain a “premier centre” for the style’s training, while offering a safer and more inclusive space.
Meanwhile, a student, requesting anonymity while claiming to represent the 25 dissenting students, said many had no idea of the statement as there had been virtually no communication between the groups and nor were they fully involved in the composition. “The trust deficit has increased now. The survivors won’t partake in the ICC’s proceedings,” he claimed.
The student added, “The ICC has been formed hastily despite our demand for a few more days’ time to understand the law better. Further, we believe one of the members has prejudices and may not be able to function independently.”
Stating the school had asked students to be actively part of the process, Mr. Anant told The Hindu, “Many among the dissenting students attended the first few meetings to understand the process. Usually an institute initiates it, but we went a step ahead and wanted the students to form the committee. We were not present in the process. We said it’s your committee, and you should be involved in the process.”
Later, social activist Sushma Iyengar, part of the first ICC, briefed students about the law prescribing the ICC, its functions and the recourse available to survivors, following which students nominated external members who were finally picked by consensus of Ms. Iyengar and a few senior students. The student representatives chosen were backed by the majority of the students, the school said.
When asked if Ms. Iyengar’s participation again in the redressal process didn’t go against students’ objections initially, Mr. Anant responded, “When she spoke about the process, every student voted for her to be again on the committee. But she said as she was part of the previous one, this time she could only spread awareness on the process and the proceedings.”
The allegations against Mr. Akhilesh and his brother the late Ramakant Gundecha were first made public by a Facebook user in a post on September 2, who shared them from an anonymous source who had earlier posted them on a WhatsApp group. The organisation’s chairman Umakant Gundecha had earlier said allegations against Ramakant wouldn’t be inquired into for now, as he was no longer alive to defend against them.
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