Indian professor recalls ‘slut-shame’ horror after being forced to quit over swimsuit photo

·4-min read
A professor in India’s Kolkata city has alleged that she was forced to resign over her swimsuit pictures  (AP)
A professor in India’s Kolkata city has alleged that she was forced to resign over her swimsuit pictures (AP)

A professor in India has broken her silence for the first time since she was forced to resign from a prominent university after a parent of a student reported her “private” swimsuit pictures to the college administration.

The professor from the eastern city of Kolkata said she was “slut-shammed” in a “modern re-enactment of a witch trial” over the picture she shared privately with a select group of people on Instagram.

In an opinion piece in the Indian Express newspaper, the professor who did not reveal her identity, accused St Xavier’s College, Kolkata, of forcing her to tender her resignation in October last year amid denials from the university.

“Not only was I morally policed and harassed for over an hour over images which I had privately shared with a select group of people, but I was also forced to tender my resignation,” she wrote in the article on Thursday.

The incident has dominated headlines in Indian media and triggered an outpouring of anger among the teaching community and women rights activists on social media.

The backlash has also kicked off an online petition demanding “disciplinary action against Felix Raj (Vice-Chancellor of the university) with immediate effect”.

The petition has garnered 24,273 signatures till Friday as academics raised questions about how an institution could penalise an employee for their attire outside the campus.

This is the latest controversy over attire that has dominated Indian universities after a few Muslim students in the southern state of Karnataka were denied entry to school with head-coverings on.

Six teenagers were refused entry to school because they were wearing hijab and a court ruled that wearing hijab inside a classroom violated the school uniform policy. Recently, a court in the southern Kerala state also sparked anger by observing in a bail order that a complaint pertaining to sexual harassment will not prima facie stand against an accused as the woman complainant was wearing a “sexually provocative” dress.

Mr Raj of St Xavier’s University denied that the institution forced any of its teachers to resign and said that the teacher apologised, acknowledging she “erred” in “inviting students to her Instagram account”, reported The Telegraph.

The professor said her professional career was an “idyllic pedagogical journey” after joining the college following her return from Europe on completion of her PhD before it turned into a “bizarre nightmare”.

Recalling her alleged termination, she said she was summoned by the vice-chancellor on 7 October last year on pretext of a meeting which turned out to be a “modern re-enactment of a witch trial”.

“I was interrogated and subsequently slut-shamed over my private Instagram pictures,” she said.

“These pictures — of which a cleverly curated selection had been printed out — were allegedly the basis of a complaint sent to the university by the father of a first-year male undergraduate student.”

She said that the complaint bemoaned her “lack of propriety and the ostensibly sexually incendiary nature of my images”.

It “denigrated my right to bodily autonomy and reduced my personhood to a mere sexual receptacle upon which the voyeuristic calumny of heteropatriarchal morality was liberally poured”, she said.

The professor said that what was more insulting and traumatising was that “five women enthusiastically participated” in the witch hunt.

“I was told that my failure to voluntarily resign would be punished by the lodging of a criminal case against me for putting up “objectionable” photographs,” she added.

The professor sent a legal notice to the administration after the controversy but she was reportedly slapped with a counter notice by the university seeking Rs990mn (£10.4mn) in damages.

“Shame, horror, revulsion — I felt every emotion with agonising intensity,” she said.

The professor said she not only suffered mentally but her health was “battered”.

She said the incident impacted her parents as well, especially her father who started to have fainting fits. His ailments worsened, and subsequently he developed severe heart failure, she said.

“I write these things not to elicit sympathy. I write them to illustrate that arbitrary decisions taken by authorities leave behind very real and irreversible human casualties in their wake,” she said.

Though the “infamous swimsuit pictures” hijacked the incident, she said wearing a swimsuit or a traditional attire should not matter.

“Clothes do not come with moral tags attached to them and say nothing about the worth of the person wearing them. Above all, I am fighting to reclaim my bodily and feminist agency and to ensure that what happened to me never happens to anyone else,” she concluded.