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I was in ​Kanak Sarkar's Everyday Sexism Classes, and We did Nothing to Stop Him

I was in ​Kanak Sarkar's Everyday Sexism Classes, and We did Nothing to Stop Him

Sexist remarks in class were common, but we mostly laughed it off

Before my first paper presentation in Kanak Sarkar's class, all seniors had one advice - "Dress well".

Way before the 60-odd people in my class met the professor, the rumours had already reached us-- He was creepy and lecherous. I joined the Bachelors in Political Science Course in Jadavpur University in 2014. Fresh out of school, our class first encountered Sarkar in the second semester. He was to take the paper on Western Political Thought. And that is when we knew the rumours weren't baseless.

Sarkar was a middle-aged man with streaks of white hair and a protruding belly. He rarely made eye contact. Sexist remarks in class were common, but we mostly laughed it off. "All you girls taking part in protests and all, what's the need? Should have stayed safely at home," he's once said. We often thought his classes were entertaining because of the atrocious things he'd say. His statement about male members of the animal kingdom being better looking than their female counterparts became one of the most popular jokes for the next couple of years.

As part of his course, he would make the students present a paper. Thanks to seniors' advice, all of us put in effort and dressed up on those mornings. Women were asked one or two questions after their presentations. They easily scored a seven or eight out of ten. Men, on the other hand, were thoroughly grilled. They would somehow manage a six out of ten.

Of course we didn't think that was sexism and just blessed our stars.

But it went on, in different ways. He once asked a senior to accompany him to Aquatica, a water theme park. A friend had once received an awkward compliment about her body. Another senior was asked to ditch her salwar kameez, and switch to skirts like the other girls in the class.

Years after Sarkar got away for his casual and often outrageous sexism, Jadavpur University has fired him. What he said and did in class didn't matter-- it was because of a Facebook status that he wrote comparing virginity of girls with plastic bottles. That was what spread outrage.

But even when it comes to sexist Facebook messages, Sarkar is a winner. And he is clearly obsessed about women's virginity. He once wrote a Facebook status where he had compared virginity to honesty and morality. He said that women lose their virginity due to "general ignorance about social values and wrong knowledge about modernity." In another instance, he said that Japanese men only married virgin girls. Of course, he didn't back up these bizarre claims with any study whatsoever.

In 2017, when Raya Sarkar's controversial list of sexual predators came out, he was there too.

But Sarkar was always a creep, a lecherous man and sexism was his second nature. We all knew about it. Our seniors did, so did our juniors. And so did the other professors at Jadavpur University. It was an open secret. Yet, we waited for a Facebook post before all the outrage happened.

Why didn't we speak up?

Well, many of us were afraid of the consequences. When the batch of 2015 had gone to the then HOD and asked for a remedy, they were given some assurances that were soon forgotten about. And the rest of us couldn't even grasp the situation. We assumed all of it to be harmless, or amusing even, and simply let it pass.

I once met him in December 2017 when I went back to campus and he had, in a very lecherous manner, said, "Don't forget about me, okay?" I shrugged it off, knowing very well that's who he has always been.

After the recent Facebook status came into the spotlight, multiple juniors came out with their stories of how they felt uncomfortable around Kanak Sarkar. Today, that's what I am ashamed of. The institute, the teachers and we did nothing to make the campus a safer place.