Respected ICC, Chairperson of FTII and the Ministry of I&B,
I am writing to you to make a complaint against the Director of the institute, Bhupendra Kainthola, for creating a hostile work environment for me, intimidating me and obstructing my work in FTII because I raised my voice against sexual harassment. Since the harassment is being perpetrated by the highest authority at the institute–the Director himself, I am forced to share my complaint with the Ministry of I&B and Chairperson as well.
I am writing to you after being ostracised by the student community and ridiculed by the Director after my complaint against L and my stance against a faculty by the name Nilanjan Dutta in a case of sexual harassment. The Sexual Harassment Act told me that ICC has to be approached if there is any kind of harassment as a result of complaining against sexual harassment or being a witness in a case of sexual harassment. After having waited so long for justice I am once again, seeking it through due process.
As you are aware, in the complaint against Nilanjan Dutta by X, Y and Z, I was one of the students who testified against Dutta in an ICC meeting with around 27 girls who signed the letter asking the administration to look into incidents of sexual misconduct by Nilanjan Dutta. Before X made her complaint, she and I had gone to the Director for help, unaware of his sexism or misogyny. It was common knowledge that Nilanjan and the Director were very close so we made it very clear that since Nilanjan was a powerful professor, and his friend, we needed assurance from the Director that X would get justice. He said that personal friendship was different from sexual harassment but in reality, as I witnessed later, this was just the beginning of a series of actions targeting me.
Even though Nilanjan was dismissed over charges of sexual harassment for the second time, it was never announced in FTII or in the media. This struck me as odd because in a previous instance of sexual harassment by Nilanjan, he was called out in an award ceremony by former student Adwaita Das, regarding an incident in her first year when he sexually harassed her during ragging. After this made news, he was dismissed only to be brought back again. He was then dismissed again following complaints from three women students. In March 2018 an online portal reported it. A few students from FTII were anonymously quoted in it. (https://wokejournal.com/2018/03/28/sexual-harassment-in-ftii-professor-dismissed/)
Following the assessment of our dialogue film exercise, I started to notice strange coincidences in my evaluation. Even though my work was much appreciated by external faculty in the feedback sessions, the internal marks did not reflect my performance. Eventually, it reached a point where I topped in the evaluation by the external faculty in third semester. But this result was withheld by Prof. Sandeep Chatterjee owing to discrepancies in internal marking. He had noticed intervention from Debkamal Ganguly, another faculty, in my marks.
Meanwhile, as you are aware, I faced severe sexual harassment from L, my classmate, and was forced to make a complaint with the ICC. During this time I was very vulnerable, with my own classmates siding with the man who abused me. I did not want to go to the police and wanted to follow due process under the Sexual Harassment Act.
The ICC found L guilty and he was suspended from the hostel for a period of three months. I felt cheated. I would have to be in class with L, and after three months, I would have to share even the hostel space with the man who inappropriately touched me and terrorised me by knocking at my door at three in the morning. This was going to be especially difficult because L showed no signs of redemption or guilt, and instead continued to play a victim to garner sympathy among my classmates. But still, I found courage to go on, thinking L’s suspension would at least send a message to the highly sexist, misogynistic and toxic environment of FTII.
But the experience I had, when Director Kainthola handed over the ICC report to me, in front of a few members of the ICC, told me that FTII had no intention whatsoever to address the rampant sexism and sexual harassment on campus. Kainthola handed over the report to me and said that I might not be ‘happy’ with the action taken against L. It was so humiliating, to think that the head of the institute thought that my complaint was about procuring some punishment for a man and being ‘happy’ with it. This was gender discrimination and sexual harassment harming my work as a film student. I was seeking justice and he was talking about some sort of pleasure he thought I might be getting out of this complaint!
I then asked him how the institute was going to implement this punishment. He said, about the recommendation of the ICC that L should attend therapy sessions, that the institute could only tell him to do it but not make him do it. Let me add that when I am writing this letter, L has already violated this punishment by staying in the hostel after his curfew hours.
The action from FTII that followed after this confirmed my fear that Kainthola was targeting me for having raised my voice against sexual harassment. It became clear to me why he thought sexual harassment in workplace was about women being ‘happy’ with punishing men.
HoD of Direction, Sandeep Chatterjee, who noticed the irregularity in marks that I mentioned earlier had examined the evaluation sheets to find that there were big gaps in my internal evaluation. He wrote to Kainthola regarding this but no action was taken against Debkamal Ganguly and there was no inquiry into this discrimination. Instead, to my utter shock, I was given a notice which said that I will be suspended from FTII for the whole of 6th semester, that I had to vacate the hostel at the end of 5th semester, that I would not be allowed to make my diploma film, that none of my films will be sent to any festival, I would not get any scholarships or be sent on any foreign exchange programmes. Professor Sandeep Chatterjee who pointed out the discrepancy in evaluation was warned and accused of professional misconduct. To humiliate me even further, the order stated that my films could only be sent to festivals where “award for the director of the film is not involved”.
The inquiry report of this committee was submitted in April but the order was only handed to me in August, almost like Bhupendra Kainthola was waiting to hand L the punishment before handing me mine. Sandeep Chatterjee was served a show cause notice in June for the same.
(It is common knowledge among students that Debkamal Ganguly is the uncle of my classmate S and he sat in the admission interview that selected her without disclosing this fact. In the marksheet that Sandeep Chatterjee found irregular, my marks were reduced corresponding to a rise in S’s marks.)
I was shocked and completely broken when I was served this order by email. The reason mentioned for this action was a disagreement I had had with my sound person during my Dialogue film exercise which was settled in the presence of six faculty members. Another committee also looked into the processes of my film’s sound. I was told that the matter was resolved again and that they had found nothing to take any action against me. There was no mention of why there was an inquiry into a matter that had already been resolved twice or the complainant in the matter or the rulebook that was followed to take this severe action unheard of in the history of FTII.
The order was clearly meant to destroy my career and I immediately sought legal advice on how to appeal against this. I was told that the appellate authority in this matter is the Director. But when I called him, he harassed me further. He made accusations against me and refused to inform me the details of the inquiry that was obstructing my work. ‘You don’t have to know that,’ he said when it is my right to know these details.
The most humiliating and bizarre of these insults were when he threatened me saying he knew that someone was calling the inquiry committee members from Kolkata and that I was behind it. ‘We know who it is’ he said, while I was almost in tears, trying to pursue my career as a filmmaker.
I am writing to you to say that it has now become very evident that the Director is obstructing my work just because I made a complaint of sexual harassment and gave witness against his close friend Nilanjan Dutta. Now I know how foolish it was for me and X to trust this man to deliver us justice. Debkamal Ganguly is aiding this as I am proof to the belligerent nepotism that he is practising in FTII.
There are witnesses and documents substantiating all these and we will be able to testify in front of the ICC but it will have to be made sure that Bhupendra Kainthola steps down from his position of power as the Director of the institute for this to happen. When the ICC, students and faculty and all others are directly under his power, an inquiry against him cannot take place. He has almost succeeded in destroying me and my career and I do not want my fellow students or professors to suffer the same way.
The students or employees who come forward to report sexual harassment are to be protected by the institute or employer. Instead of helping me in my fight for justice, FTII, under the leadership of Bhupendra Kainthola, has ganged up against me so much that I am now unable to be in my own room in the hostel. Records will show you how I have had to leave FTII after brief periods of stay because the hostility was affecting me.
The highest authority in the Institute himself is targeting me for having spoken up against sexual harassment and injustice. I am hoping against hope that the due process will not let me down this time as the Sexual Harassment Act promises me that action will be taken against those who create an intimidating, offensive and hostile work environment, [Chapter I 3 (2) of the Act]. Bhupendra Kainthola is trying to stop me from making films just because I am a woman who called out sexual harassment happening under his watch.
Direction and Screenplay Writing
Batch of 2016