Questioning The Modesty Of A Young Professor’s Attire Is Workplace Sexual Harassment

The recent forced resignation of an Assistant Professor from the reputed St Xavier's University of Kolkata has brought focus on the face of the Work Place Sexual Harassment Scenario in Academia.

The nation is celebrating its 75th Anniversary of Azadi ka Mahautsav, but when will Indian women be freed from the clutches of colonial Victorian ideals? Ideals that were imposed on the Indian women for being a supposedly a ‘savage’ race in comparison to the Caucasian ace.

The recent forced resignation of an Assistant Professor from the reputed St Xavier’s University of Kolkata has brought focus on the face of the Work Place Sexual Harassment Scenario in Academia.

A teacher’s workplace is an educational institution where her subordinates are her students. Students have been otherwise overlooked as the potential workplace harassers due to the pious nature of a teacher-student, guru-sishya relationship.

When institutions are selectively moral

In academic institutions, students are seen as the vulnerable and impressionable lot. Provisions have been outlined for their protection against any harm caused by the teachers, whether of the sexual nature or not. However, the scenario is not the same in a vice-versa situation.

That being said, I want to discuss the teacher-student relationship in our native cultural context. The Indian academic tradition has assigned the guru or the teacher, a place higher than gods, when placed on the pedestal.

We have seen how various sculptors of the past have envisioned goddesses with heavy bosoms in charming poses, often sculpted without any veiling of the privates parts.

Echoes of colonial indoctrination

That were an essential of the Victorian tradition —  if we go through the tradition and culture of the dwellers of the Indian Subcontinent prior to the invasion of Islamic rulers and the British, it is well documented that blouse was not an essential part of female attire due to the hot and humid climate of the subcontinent.

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These sculptures still reside as principle deities in many temples and are even engraved in their essential architecture.  Such sculptures even grace most of the museums in India as well as abroad.

Now, the question arises whether a person entering a museum or a devotee entering a temple envisions a goddess as a sexual object?

Thereby finding it offensive to his or her religious and pious sentiments, so much so that he or she may demand the removal or breaking of the idol of the goddess?

Most people won’t even dare to think in that direction.

Now, as I have established that in Indian Academic tradition, guru has been offered a seat next to or even above gods. Is it not wrong on the part of the student to visualize or rather fantasize their teacher?

Why was the father snooping on someone’s private pictures?

Especially in the context of sexual attraction, that he, and his father, found ‘offensive’ when the teacher wasn’t wearing the ‘objectionable’ attire in question at her work place?

But rather in the comforts of her private space, in her private digital area— intruded repeatedly without consent — which was again a crime of sexual harassment on the part of the student, his father, and the academic institution he studies at.

Asking for a resignation from the teacher on account of something a student and his father found offensive to their belief, when the said student and his father were clearly violating the code of ethics established between a teacher and the student.

This is wrong and equal in degree to the crime of sacrilege and profanity on the part of the student, the institution and the parent as far as the moral policing for the attire is concerned.

The wrongs against this female assistant professor didn’t stop there, but she, as she has mentioned in her interviews, was subject to shaming of sexually explicit nature!

Her family was subjected to mental harassment and trauma, and she is sued by the institution to a financial sum amounting to crores for posting a picture of hers on a social media platform! It was visible to a controlled number of followers in her private group for 24 hours, and uploaded two months before joining the institution.

Young women can’t seem to escape sexual objectification!

In the higher education, the age gap between the students and the teacher is quite less, at times, almost negligible. Due to this, female assistant professors are continuously becoming the targets of perverted fetishes of male students!

Young adult men who have started fantasizing their teachers as sexual objects, many encouraged and under the influence of movies like Main Hoon Naa.

The male students often trifle with female professors, suggesting some social media post or the other. And often due to the policies and decisions like the one in above; in cases of female professors try to ignore such advances instead of snubbing and making an official complaint against such students.

Don’t downplay male students’ obsessive behaviour as crushes

The obsession of a male student is talked off and promoted as a crush on the teacher, whether they have witnessed them in any “objectionable” circumstance. They even shamelessly ask their young professors about their marital status.

Also, the Victorian novels advocate a strong case of governess turned romantic interests of the male parent. This Victorian representation has also placed young female assistant professors in a vulnerable position as far as the parents are concerned.

Academia is a predatory place for young women scholars

I, being, an academic and former guest faculty had faced such situations too. But instead of making a formal complaint, I too had to let go because of the decisions like the one being made by institutions.

I was even threatened with bringing the moral code of dressing in shorts on my honeymoon when I just enquired about maternity leave while working as a Guest Faculty (which I must mention is denied due to the ambiguity of rules mentioned in UGC rules).

The question on the modesty of a female teacher should be an objectionable offence, but the offence should be taken by the teacher. But the scenario is mostly the opposite.

Which constitutional amendment or public rule is enforcing the dress code of a saree or suit for a teacher outside the premises of the educational institution she is employed with?

A young teacher’s right to privacy has been violated

her Right to dress according to her choice and beliefs is being challenged; her Right to hold a respectable position in society and means of income is being taken away, and yet she is the one on the receiving end of the Societal Judgement and moral policing.

Even in the ancient Gurukul system, where the students used to reside within the premises of the guru’s house while performing daily duties for the guru’s family, the privacy of the women of the Guru’s household was a pious code and unflinchingly maintained by the students.

In the present scenario, if the students are violating the moral code by stalking a teacher’s private account by unfair means, why they are not held accountable for the cyber crimes and harassment of the sexual nature?

Why are the educational institutions which are supposed to bring out educated, cultured and law-abiding citizens siding with the potential offenders of sexual crimes and punishing an innocent, honest and hard-working woman who is fully committed to her profession on account of a criminal’s sexual fetish.

When will we demolish Victorian ideals of piousness?

In a few weeks time we will be celebrating Teacher’s Day, but when will our female teachers be able to achieve independence from the Victorian ideals?

From moral policing on the appropriateness of attire and from the supposed image of “ideal role models” which have been shredded to mere sexual object due to fantasizing by the students.

As I had pointed out in the fictionalized account of one of my real life experiences “The impeccably pleated saree of a teacher”, that was published in Hindustan Times on the occasion of Women’s Day 2020, the saree as an appropriate attire for a teacher is a symbol of long-standing tradition of female enslavement.

Teaching is the ideal profession for most women in India as far as the permission to work after marriage is concerned because it in a way forces women to remain clad in a saree at home, at work and otherwise, thereby enchaining women in the moral code without explicitly mentioning that.

Thus, time and again I have asserted that saree should remain a part of daily dress code provided it’s a choice and not a forced agenda of society’s tutelage of appropriate behaviour for women.

The incident is an act of workplace sexual harassment

The above-mentioned incident has brought to light a major area of concern with regard to sexual harassment of women at work place, and it should be treated as such.

There is no other way of looking at such injustice and resultant victim blaming of the female assistant professor. There are no questions raised when a male teacher poses with borderline nudity in boxer shorts for his beach vacations, although it might be downright offensive to many.

So why hasn’t a similar line of treatment been met with the female teacher? It is not just a case of shattering ideals and being offensive to someone’s belief, but rather it’s a case of workplace injustice and gender bias for which the institution should be held equally responsible.

Image Source: FatCamera via Getty Images, free on Canva Pro

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About the Author

Dr. Nishtha Mishra

Dr. Nishtha Mishra is an internationally published author. She is a Doctorate in English Literature from one of the reputed Central Universities. She has been an all round topper and has 5 gold medals to read more...

25 Posts | 17,213 Views

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