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Visva Bharati case: Northeasterners march in Kolkata, UGC team visits varsity

Kolkata: Hundreds of students from the northeastern states Saturday took out a rally here, while a three-member UGC delegation visited the Visva Bharati University over the alleged sexual harassment of a woman student by three university students.

A first-year fine arts student (of the university's Kala Bhavan) was allegedly sexually assaulted by three students in August. They allegedly recorded the assault on video and blackmailed her.

According to sources, the high-powered delegation from the University Grants Commission met vice chancellor Sushanta Dattagupta, chairperson of the university's internal complaints committee Mausumi Bhattacharyya and S. Sahana, a faculty of the Kala Bhavan.

In Kolkata, over 500 students from the northeast walked here in a show of support and solidarity for the female student from Sikkim.

Holding aloft posters saying 'Respect Women' and 'Where is Government, Where is Justice', participants braved the rain and rallied for more than three hours from College Square in the north to Esplanade in central Kolkata under the banner of the North-east Forum Kolkata.

"It is a peaceful march to show solidarity with the student. We also want to highlight the lack of women's safety in general and also the discriminatory attitude of people towards students from the northeast," Jason Lepcha, general secretary of the Sikkim Students' Association of Kolkata (SSAK), told IANS.

A Bengal court last week sent the three accused to three days' police custody. They were arrested Aug 30 and booked for criminal intimidation and outraging the modesty of a woman. The accused have claimed innocence.

Organised by the SSAK, the rally also witnessed the participation of local students.

A few members of the association visited the student and her parents at Visva Bharati earlier this week.

According to members of the SSAK, one of the primary demands include "confiscation of the gadgets/electronic devices owned by the three accused and sending for a forensic evaluation".

In addition, they want a separate inquiry committee to be formed to "determine the lapses on part of the varsity authority".

"The committee should submit its report directly to the human resource development ministry, president of India and the prime minister," a member said.

"This can happen to any woman, not just somebody from the northeast and we want to highlight the necessity of safety measures in educational establishments," SSAK member Rinchen Bhutia told IANS.

The university, founded by Asia's first Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Bolpur town of Birbhum district, suspended the three and lodged a police complaint following an internal probe.

The female student's father, however, accused a university official of offering him money to hush up the matter and not to approach police.

Bhattacharyya rubbished the allegations of "offering clothes and money" to the student to hush up the issue.

She also denied allegations levelled against her by West Bengal Commission for Women chairperson Sunanda Mukherjee that she "deliberately ignored" requests to provide information about recent complaints of harassment of women at the central university.

The women's commission has already taken cognizance of the incident and said it will seek the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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