Kalakshetra & Cricket Coaching Sexual Harassment Cases – An Abuse Of Guru-Shishya Relationships?

It is not hard for perpetrators in a position of power to silence their victims because of their position of power. Kudos to the young women who have spoken up.

Trigger Warning: This speaks of sexual harassment, grooming, and child sexual abuse, and may be triggering for survivors.

Recently, two sexual harassment cases have rocked the headlines: The Kalakshetra Foundation case of Chennai and the Uttarakhand Cricket Coaching Centre case.

Both may be geographically distant but there are commonalities: both are sexual harassment cases involving persons in teaching roles and pupils in their care. Both involve age disparities and a power dynamic inequity.

Heartening in both cases is that fact that they have come to light. The girls involved have felt empowered enough to call out the harassment, exploitation and intimidation and hopefully the perpetrators will get their just desserts as well. Even as there are people speaking on the other side.

Kalakshetra case: charges against an assistant professor and three other dance teachers

Assistant Prof. Hari Padman was arrested on charges of sexual harassment two days after he went missing following being charged by a former student of the Kalakshetra Institute. The allegation is that of sending obscene messages via social media and of sexual harassment.

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Students had been protesting for days for action to be taken against instructors at the institute before action was finally taken. Students (yes, plural) showed WhatsApp conversations that evidenced harassment by instructors (yes, also plural).

The cricket coach who asked for sexual satisfaction from a 15-year-old

It is the sort of thing that makes the stomach turn and the mouth curl in distaste: Narendra Shah, owner of a cricket academy is charged with sexual harassment and criminal intimidation, sexual abuse of children and offences under the SCST act as well. A 15-year-old girl and two other teen girls have made multiple allegations against the man who has attempted suicide and is currently in hospital.

Image source

Shah allegedly molested the girls repeatedly and asked them to ‘fulfil his sexual needs’, used expletives and made threats. He was known to enter into the hostel rooms of girls at the academy in the middle of the night. There is also a caste angle. Shah also allegedly made casteist remarks; telling the girl to ‘consider herself lucky’ that she was being ‘allowed’ to mingle with and play alongside ‘upper caste people’.

The misuse of power?

In both these cases (and countless others) we see men in positions of power misuse that power. Sexual abuse is always about that power dynamic where unequal positions place the perpetrator in an advantageous position vis-à-vis their victim. The subject of the harassment is often too vulnerable to be able to speak out against the abuse. In each of the above cases we have seen how the authorities have been slow to act on complaints or how they have been mishandled precisely because of that power dynamic.

Those harassed or abused may be scared of being disbelieved and in turn being blamed and dismissed as being a trouble maker. Or they can be silenced because the perpetrator has power over their job or advancement prospects in the organisation. This is very much the case in the Uttarakhand case where young girls with ambitions of playing cricket at high levels are being asked for sexual favours and threatened with retribution if they break their silence.

It is the very men charged with nurturing and teaching the girls and women in their care who turn predators. To begin with, those women may be flattered by the attention, then uncomfortable and then alarmed. Before they know it, they are trapped in a pattern of abuse and shamed into silenced.

Very soon it becomes a case of too-late-to-speak-up (which it never is, by the way.) We see this at educational institutions, training institutes, workplaces and anywhere there is an unequal power dynamic that can be exploited.

The invasion of safe spaces – for students and co-workers

For young women with talent and the aspiration to achieve something, this is a double whammy. Not only are their ambitions and dreams stymied by rapacious men who misuse their positions, they also find that what they imagined to be safe spaces are no such thing. What they imagine will help them better themselves and achieve new heights turn into hellish experiences that erode their trust and their very sense of self.

It could be the fear of losing a job or place in a team /performance troupe or even the fear of personal harm because of which so many women feel unable to report. In the case of the Kalakshetra case, it was a former student that filed the report, which appeared to give others the courage to come forward. In the Uttarakhand case, it had to have taken the girl immense courage to speak out against sexual harassment and casteism. Again, it was probably this that emboldened the other young girls to come forward.

All too often, women are made to believe that the abuse/ harassment is just something that they have to live with – that it is normal; that if they feel uncomfortable or violated, they are overreacting or imagining things. I suppose we can take heart from the fact that things are changing – the pace may be glacial and victim blaming is still rife, but perpetrators can no longer rest assured that they can continue to act with impunity.

Editor’s note: There have been allegations from the other side too to the Kalakshetra story.

Images source: Twitter

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Reena Daruwalla

A former lawyer, now freelance writer, fauji wife, mother, singer, knitter and lover of my own cooking, I have altogether too many opinions and too few convictions. The more I learn the more I am read more...

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