The teacher who lost her job for posting bikini photos on Instagram | World

A private university in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata has been embroiled in controversy in recent months.

A former assistant professor at the University of St. Xavier told the BBC that she was forced to quit her job for sharing pictures of her in a bikini on Instagram. The university denies that this was the reason for her dismissal.

The woman, who asked not to be named, accused university officials of “sexual harassment” and said she “was intimidated and subjected to moral surveillance.”

She also filed a complaint with the police and sent a legal notice to the institution, which responded by accusing her of defamation and demanding 990 million rupees (about R$12 million) in damages.

‘They took me to an interrogation room’

The assistant professor says that she joined the faculty on August 9, 2021 to teach English in undergraduate and graduate courses.

Two months later, she was called into the dean’s office for a meeting.

She was “taken into an interrogation room”, where she was interrogated by a committee made up of Vice Chancellor Felix Raj, a secretary and five women.

She was informed that there was a complaint filed against her by a father of a male first-year undergraduate student.

People on the committee asked if the teacher did not think that, as a woman, her photographs were questionable. — Photo: Getty Images via BBC

“The dean said this father found his son looking at my photos on Instagram where I was only in my underwear. He said the photos were sexually explicit and asked the university to preserve his son from such vulgarity.”

Board members circulated a paper with “five or six pictures” and asked her to confirm that they were indeed hers.

‘Did your parents see these pictures?’

The photos, in which she was actually wearing a bikini, were selfies taken in her bedroom, she says. She shared them as Instagram “stories”, meaning they disappeared after 24 hours.

The university board did not accept her explanation: the photos were published on June 13, 2021, almost two months before she joined the university and before accepting requests from her students to follow her account, which is private.

“I was shocked. When I saw the photos, I had a panic attack. It felt surreal that my personal photos were being shared without my consent,” said the teacher.

“I couldn’t bear to look at my own photos and the way they were presented to me. The conversation around them made me think they were vulgar. I realized I was gaslighting, I started to feel sabotaged.”

“They asked me why I did it. If, as a woman, I didn’t think that was questionable. If, as a teacher, I didn’t feel it was my duty to society to behave properly.”

The teacher says that she wrote an apology, but that she was bullied and ended up resigning. — Photo: Getty Images via BBC

“They told me I was bringing disrepute and shame to the university. They asked me if my parents were on Instagram and if they had seen those pictures. I felt nauseous and I was in shock.”

She was told to return the next day with a report on the matter.

The apology and the ‘forced resignation’

The professor returned to the dean’s office the next day and presented an apology “written on the advice of some faculty who included the director of the gender unit,” a former colleague and assistant professor who had also been on the committee.

“If my images were interpreted in a way that could tarnish the university’s reputation, then I’m sorry,” she wrote.

It was “a very unpleasant experience,” the teacher said.

She had hoped the matter would end there, but the dean said the board had “unanimously recommended her resignation.”

“He said that the photos had already gone viral, that most students had seen them, that they wouldn’t take me seriously and that the parents would complain. And that it would be better if I resigned voluntarily.”

Otherwise, the dean said she “would go to prison, because the father (of the student who saw the photo) wanted to file a complaint with the police.”

“I felt trapped and resigned,” she says.

“But I also got really angry and sought legal advice. They downloaded my photos, took screenshots and shared them without my consent. My lawyer suggested I file a sexual harassment complaint with the cyber crime police,” she said.

‘We don’t ask you to resign’

Father Felix Raj, the university’s vice chancellor, declined to comment on whether the committee had recommended his resignation, but denied all charges against him and the university.

“We are a sacred institution of learning and knowledge. As dean and director of the university, I told her she shouldn’t have exhibited these photos.”

The university students asked for clarification on the episode. — Photo: Getty Images via BBC

The vice chancellor says he didn’t force her to resign and that she left of her own volition.

“She delivered an apology letter on October 8, 2021. We accepted it. I thought it was a nice gesture. But then she resigned on October 25.”

She adds that “they don’t hold a grudge against her” and that at university they were “very nice to her”.

When asked about the professor’s claim that her photos were not available on her Instagram account after she joined the university and that a faculty member was sabotaging her, Father Feliz Raj said he was “no tech expert”.

‘A savage form of moral surveillance’

The action against the teacher was criticized by many students and alumni for being “backward”.

A petition on change.org, started by former university student Gaurav Banerjee and addressed to the Minister of Education of the State of West Bengal, received more than 25,000 signatures.

Banerjee told the BBC he wants the university to apologize to the professor and ask the government to take disciplinary action against the committee for its overbearing behavior.

“I’m glad that, like me, many people are horrified that the university could do something like this,” he said.

Recently, dozens of university students held a silent protest.

“We heard about this savage form of moral surveillance that one of our teachers was subjected to,” said one protester.

“It’s completely unacceptable. Why should anyone care what I’m doing in my private space? Our personal space must be inviolable,” he said. “It’s scary that the committee members, which included five women, didn’t think this was moral surveillance.”

The teacher said she was “touched by all the support and grateful”.

“After months of feeling bad, I feel like people see how ridiculous this was all.”

The right to privacy and self-expression, she argues, is inviolable and granted by the Indian Constitution, and this “surveillance” has extended beyond the workplace.

“My firm belief is that I didn’t do anything wrong. I may not win this case, but for me it’s an important fight,” she said.

– This text was published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-62713275

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