Umakant Gundecha named in #MeToo allegation by former student; Dhrupad Sansthan founder denies misconduct

Last month, several anonymous accusations of sexual misconduct had surfaced against two other members of the Dhrupad Sansthan founding family — the late Ramakant Gundecha, and pakhawaj artiste Akhilesh Gundecha.

Suryasarathi Bhattacharya October 08, 2020 18:45:50 IST
Umakant Gundecha named in #MeToo allegation by former student; Dhrupad Sansthan founder denies misconduct

The Gundecha Brothers — (L-R) Ramakant, Umakant and Akhilesh. Image via Facebook/ Gundecha Brothers

In a recent development in the #MeToo case surrounding Bhopal’s Dhrupad Sansthan, an allegation of harassment has been levelled against its chairman Pt Umakant Gundecha. Last month, several anonymous accusations of sexual misconduct had surfaced against two other members of the family — the late Ramakant Gundecha and pakhawaj artiste Akhilesh Gundecha — as reported by Firstpost.

The most recent allegation has been made by an international student who has claimed that Umakant Gundecha harassed her while they were on tour in Germany in March/April 2016. In a reply made through his lawyers, Gundecha has denied any misconduct.

The woman’s statement was shared with Firstpost by the legal team representing a group of Dhrupad Sansthan students. According to this statement, the woman was a resident student at the Bhopal institute for a period of 12 months, around five years ago, and had also helped the Gundechas organise concerts and workshops in Germany (a common practice among the Sansthan’s international disciples).

In her testimony, as provided to the Sansthan’s students’ collective and paraphrased by the legal team, the woman says that during the Germany tour, Umakant Gundecha sent her inappropriate text messages, which she ignored. Later, over the course of a one-on-one session, her statement notes that Umakant Gundecha told her he loved her, and attempted to hug and kiss her. The woman said that she told Umakant she wasn’t interested and pushed him away, but he tried to hug her once again, following which she left the room.

The statement adds that that same afternoon, the woman agreed to go for a walk with Umakant, assuming he wished to apologise for his behaviour. However, she says that he tried once again to hold her, grabbing her by the arm when she reiterated her disinterest.

The woman has said that she discontinued her studies at the Dhrupad Sansthan as a consequence, visiting the Bhopal campus only to collect her belongings.

While she had previously spoken about the incident only in therapy or with close friends, the woman says she chose to share her statement “aghast at the fact that Umakant Gundecha could claim a moral high ground, continuing at the helm of Dhrupad Sansthan during the sexual harassment allegations against his brother”.

Firstpost’s request for comment from Umakant Gundecha and Dhrupad Sansthan was met with a rejoinder from their lawyer categorising the allegation as “false, frivolous and scandalous”. The response did not directly address this correspondent’s questions, but stated that the contents of the #MeToo accusation against Umakant were “generally and specifically denied”.

The rejoinder further outlined the steps taken by the Sansthan since the first #MeToo accusation had been aired against Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha in September, including the setting up of two ICs, and a declaration of Akhilesh’s voluntary dissociation from all Sansthan activities for the duration of the inquiry.

Students coming forward with #MeToo accounts against the Gundechas have previously expressed concerns about the fairness of any inquiries conducted by the Sansthan into their allegations.

As this new allegation came to light, four students have claimed they received messages of a threatening nature from Umakant Gundecha’s son, Nirant, seemingly for supporting and amplifying the #MeToo allegations against the Sansthan. Screenshots of these messages attributed to Nirant Gundcha, and accessed by this correspondent, could be construed as physical intimidation or threats. When asked about these messages, Nirant Gundecha told Firstpost that an “instant [sic] conversation…between friends, fellow students… is being given some other colour. This has no relation to the recent allegations against Dhrupad Sansthan”.

The Sansthan’s public statements regarding its handling of the #MeToo allegations have been countered by some students, as previously reported by Firstpost. The students have on two occasions raised issue with the constitution of the ICs as set up by the Dhrupad Sansthan to look into the accusations of sexual harassment.

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