#MeToo case at Gundecha Dhrupad Sansthan deepens as students allege mishandling of sexual harassment plaints

In a collective statement shared by some students of the Dhrupad Sansthan with Firstpost, several issues have been flagged with respect to the gurukul’s official response to the harassment allegations against Akhilesh and late Ramakant Gundecha.

Suryasarathi Bhattacharya September 11, 2020 12:16:59 IST
#MeToo case at Gundecha Dhrupad Sansthan deepens as students allege mishandling of sexual harassment plaints

The #MeToo allegations surrounding Bhopal’s Dhrupad Sansthan — the prestigious music academy founded by the Gundecha brothers Umakant, (late) Ramakant and Akhilesh — has deepened, with students alleging that the gurukul’s recent public statement in response to the complaints does not reflect its actual handling of the situation.

In a collective statement shared by some students of the Sansthan with Firstpost, several allegations have been detailed with respect to the gurukul’s management of the harassment plaints: namely that Akhilesh Gundecha did not step down voluntarily, as claimed in the Sansthan’s official response; that the students do not accept the composition of the internal committee constituted to look into the harassment charges; and that no one from the gurukul or the Gundecha family has issued an unconditional apology to the survivors for the harassment they were subjected to. The Sansthan management, in the meantime, has said that they are actively engaged in a dialogue with the students regarding these concerns.

Firstpost had reported on 4 September that the Dhrupad Sansthan was embroiled in sexual harassment allegations from former and current students. An Amsterdam-based yoga teacher, who had been a disciple at the Sansthan, shared a Facebook post in which sexual misconduct accusations were levelled against Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha by several students. The post further alleged that the traditions of the guru-shishya parampara were subverted to create a culture where the students lived in fear of reprisals unless they acceded to demands for sexual favours from Ramakant and Akhilesh. The misconduct is said to have occurred over a span of several years. (Firstpost is not naming the woman or quoting from her Facebook post as we do not have permission to do so.)

Responding to the allegations at the time, Umakant Gundecha had told Firstpost that Akhilesh had “voluntarily withdrawn from all activities of Dhrupad Sansthan” and that an internal committee had been constituted on 3 September to “look into the complaints brought into their notice and strive to deliver justice” to the students.

However, in the collective statement shared by the students, they allege that the nature of the Dhrupad Sansthan — which is “an NGO on paper, but in effect runs like a small, family-owned enterprise” — meant there was no external oversight with regards to the sexual harassment and other issues.

“Contrary to the official statement issued by the Sansthan, Akhilesh Gundecha did not step down voluntarily,” the students’ statement reads. “He was forced to leave the gurukul due to pressure from the students and the mounting evidence.” The statement notes that the allegations against Akhilesh Gundecha were aired in his presence, and that of other Gundecha family members, during a meeting on 2 September. Former students from around the world also shared accounts of harassment via Facebook and on a closed and anonymously created WhatsApp group. The students’ statement also observed that the Sansthan’s official response to the allegations contained no mention of the accusations against Ramakant Gundecha, who passed away in November 2019.

The students further demanded the dismissal of the current committee and the setting up of an unbiased new external and independent committee to look into their allegations. They observed: “All the members of the [current] committee were chosen entirely by the Gundecha family and are individuals who are connected to the family or the Dhrupad Sansthan. Requests for a completely independent committee were brushed aside citing the credentials of the members already chosen. The final list of committee members was not accepted by the survivors and other students but was still published in an official statement.”

The Dhrupad Sansthan management has now said that it is committed to ensuring the students’ concerns are fully addressed.

The secretary for Dhrupad Sansthan told Firstpost: “Pandit Umakant Gundecha has been talking to the students, reassuring them of Dhrupad Sansthan’s priorities. Pt Umakant Gundecha had no prior knowledge about the said allegations, however, when the allegations were brought to him, as a proactive measure, he had instituted an Internal Complaints Committee immediately in compliance with the legal provisions. We at Dhrupad Sansthan completely understand the students’ concerns and are actively working towards them. There is a constant dialogue between the institute and the students. We are also open to the idea of reconsidering the constitution of the committee and are working to make sure that mutually acceptable members are appointed to the committee.”

A complete copy of the students’ statement can be accessed here —

Dhrupad Sansthan Student Statement by Firstpost on Scribd

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