Sherubtse College

10 Sherubtse students filed harassment complaint against Lecturer

College withholds promotion for three years for lecturer but students not satisfied with the outcome

In June this year 10 female students from the same class in the third year of Sherubtse College filed a harassment complaint against Assistant Lecturer Dorji Phuntsho.

The complaints ranged from body shaming to unprofessional conduct in class to asking his female students to come on car rides with him late at night.

One of the victims had suicidal thoughts due to the interaction, while another suffered from panic attacks.

The college management set up a committee which talked to both sides and punished the lecturer in July 2021 by withholding his promotion for a period of three years. The victims, however, are not satisfied with the action taken against him.

The Bhutanese talked to three of the affected third year students about the case but is withholding their identity and even the class they are in to protect their privacy.

Sherubtse, like other colleges had online classes from March to December in 2020, and face to face classes could only start from early 2021.

Panic attacks

The three girls talked about one more girl who was the first victim of the lecturer. This first girl is still not ready to talk directly so her friend and classmate who is also a victim and fellow complainant talked to the paper on her behalf.

The friend said that the lecturer contacted the first victim on WhatsApp and started chatting her up. It started innocently enough but soon it started crossing boundaries as the lecturer started messaging her late at night asked her to come on rides with him and engaged in other talk going beyond the confines of a teacher and student interaction.

Though she was already shocked with being approached by her lecturer in such a way, the harassment did not stop there as it would continue indirectly in class the next day according to the friend.

“The assistant lecturer would ask her and another classmate of ours whom he was also messaging late at night for car rides, to answer questions and talk up in class. There would be indirect remarks too,” said the friend.

One particular tactic of the lecturer was to make the first victim speak up loudly in class as she had a soft voice.

“He once even said in class that girls should not make boyfriends and if he sees the girls walking with their boyfriends he would be waiting with his car. My friend (first victim) felt this was aimed at her as he had been messaging her at night to go on rides with him at the time,” said the friend.

The friend said that the first victim was traumatized by all this to such an extent that she started suffering panic attacks and she even started missing many of the lecturer’s classes.

With the lecturer not being able to make any headway with the first victim who was traumatized with the interaction, he moved on to the second victim who agreed to talk to the paper directly about her experience.

Suicidal thoughts

The second victim said it started around April 2021 when the lecturer started chatting with her late at night. The victim initially obliged as firstly he was her lecturer and secondly he kept the talk neutral initially talking about family and advice

The lecturer in her chats with the second victim first kept saying that she is one of his favorite students and that he trusts and believes in her more than other students and sees her as an extremely bright student.

However, before long he asked her if she has a boyfriend and when she replied in the negative he said it is good. He then started in engaging in personal talk with her about other girls by name.

“He told me that one of the girls in college has slept with several guys in college and another time he told me about a girl who he said was a mother. He called some girls aunties. He also said he would have left his wife if she slept with others before him,” she said.

This unprofessional talk soon descended into the lecturer offering to take her for a ride with him.

Shocked and not knowing how to react she did not give an affirmative reply and said she is busy.  Next day in class she told her class mate and friend about the incident who told her that this is inappropriate and she must gather courage to turn him down.

That night he put forward the request again but she said no as she was worried about what others would think.

The lecturer offered to take her late at night when nobody would see her and that he would also bring her back unnoticed to her room.

Despite her refusals, he incessantly bombarded her with many late night messages to come with him on a car drive.

When he would just not stop, the second victim asked her class mates what to do about it. They gave her the idea to agree to the ride but with two more of her female friends as company.

When the lecturer again messaged late at night again asking her to come on a ride she mentioned she can come as long as she can bring two more friends. The lecturer turned down that idea and he said she should come alone with him and he would take her friends some other time.

Like in the case of the first victim the harassment did not end at night, but its indirect form continued into class the next day. He paid attention to her and made her answer more of the questions and speak up in class. The second victim was already undergoing trauma at that point and so she was not herself in class.

The lecturer messaged her at night saying that she no longer has her ‘smile’ and that she is giving him ‘dirty and furious looks’ and that he is a ‘sensitive person’ and so gets very disturbed when somebody ignores him. In one chat he said, “I try looking at you in the class but you stayed damnless to me in the class for few days.”

Another time he asks her, “How could you stay that moody in my class, …?”

The lecturer was relentless in his pursuit of the second victim and she showed the reporter a total of 67 screen shot chat slides all within April when this happened. He also shared her picture with her and said ‘very pretty, so beautiful.’

The chat is the lecturer trying to get close and personal to the student who in turn is trying her best to be polite and deflect.

In one chat he says ‘you guys should experience it once’ alluding to an intimate relationship ‘but not get used to it.’

He even queried her if she was dating a particular boy which she said was not true.

She said, “One of my classmates even told me that the lecturer had told some of the boys in the class with whom he drinks that they should wear a double condom and have sex with me.” She reported this too in her complaint.

The second victim said, “It was very disturbing and I did not want to go to his class. I felt very dirty about myself and I constantly felt like if my character was worth only this much. I suffered mentally and emotionally and I started to skip his classes. I could not even share things with my family and I had suicidal thoughts.”

The lecturer attempted to backtrack when he found that his attempts to take the victim for a ride was not going anywhere.

Feminist 

The third girl who talked to the paper did not have to suffer the advances of the lecturer, but she said that the lecturer did not behave professionally in class and he was partial. She is also witness to how her two friends were approached by the lecturer through chats to go for rides. They confided in her and she witnessed the panic attacks of one and also heard about the suicidal thoughts of another.

She said the lecturer made fun of her with other students by branding her as a feminist for voting for one of her friends in a class representative election. “He cooked up stories saying I was a feminist,” among other students.

The third girl alleged that the lecturer was not fair with the marks which was one of the main complaints of the girls.

“He would share doma in class and he had some boys in class with whom he was friends and he would drink with them and talk about the girls,” she said. She said that the boys he hung out with were not very good academically, but suddenly they would score well in his tests while others scored low which was suspicious.

“He passed comments that some girls looked like aunties,” she said.

She said she felt she was targeted for pointing out an inconsistent statement he made and she got low marks in July in the subject.

She said she heard that he also messages students from first year at odd hours but they are not willing to come forward.

One of the actions of the college was to bar him from teaching the third year class and so now he teaches only the first and second year students. She said she has heard from second year students that he tries to portray himself as a victim.

Body shaming

The fourth girl said that in her case the main issue was body shaming. She said that right from the first year the lecturer made fun of her size and made it a running joke in the class all the way to the third year.

“He frequently made comments and jokes on my size and while it was a joke for the other students I was left feeling low and uncomfortable,” she said.

In one class lesson about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of Indians by the British the lecturer pointed to her and another boy and said they would definitely not be able to escape the British as they would not fit through the gates.

She said as a result of this constant body shaming she even started skipping and missing his classes.

She said that she even protested about him body shaming her in class, but he not only continued doing it but she feels he also held it against her and targeted her. The fourth girl said he was very biased towards some of the boys in class with whom he would get drunk and talk about the girls and their looks saying that some look like aunties and others like mothers and that they were not good looking.

She remembers a long field excursion where she said he made a lot of fun of her for her size. She started avoiding his classes and there again there was more fun made behind her back on her inability to walk to class.

Such constant body shaming over the years took its toll.

“Despite my size, I used to be very confident in my mind and I even danced on stage before, but now, I have lost my confidence,” she said.

She said that in her experience, the lecturer was not even reliable during the online classes last year.

“During the online classes when we had doubts on our mind he asked us not to ask questions, as he said, he has family problems,” she said.

She pointed out that the lecturer even used emotional blackmail to sell the Preliminary Examination preparation book of his friend at Nu 350 each to students.

The girls in the class were fed up with the behavior of the lecturer both in the class and outside it and 10 of them got together to file a complaint to the college administration.

The second girl said, “We were not doing it only for ourselves, as we are about to graduate, but we were concerned that he would do this to other female students in the future, and they would be put through the same thing.”

However, the girls are not happy with the college’s decision to only hold his promotion by three years as they wanted him out, and so they feel that justice has not been done.

College President says action taken

The College President Tshering Wangdi said that when the complaint first came from the 10 girls first the Head of the Department looked into the case and then it was brought before a committee which included the President, the HoD and other Faculty members. He said that the committee talked to both the lecturer and the students.

However, the committee appears to not have taken the complaints of the girls seriously including the evidence presented to them.

Even the three year hold on promotion is after the third violation by the lecturer.

The President said the first was him going on a long leave without information, the second was on taking RCSC PE classes without permission and this harassment complaint from the girls was the third strike.

On the lecturer asking the girls about having a boyfriend or not, the President claimed the lecturer was advising them.

On the marks being different, he said they checked and found only minor differences, and in fact, the marking of the lecturer was more liberal compared to others.

On the body shaming part, the President said the lecturer was trying to encourage the student to lose weight, though he said the lecturer cannot try to make a class lively at the cost of making fun of a student.

 With reference to asking car rides to girls, the President said the lecturer had meant a group ride, and in one instance he had taken three boys and two girls on a ride.

However, contrary to the President’s interpretation, the message evidences show it clearly to be offers of a solo ride late at night.

One of the girls said that a cousin of hers called the President once to enquire about the case. She said he mistook the cousin for a journalist and said on the telephone that the blame is to be shared 50:50 between the lecturer and the students.

The President told this reporter that two other media houses had come to enquire about the case but they did not cover any story after he explained to them that there was no sexual harassment like touching or molesting or asking for sexual favour etc.

“If that had happened then we would have taken very strong action,” he said.

The President said that they had a workshop with RENEW and IMS on sexual harassment at the workplace and it was for both students and teachers.

He said the college student handbook forbids intimate relationship between students and faculty as it would give an unfair advantage to those students.

The lecturer worked on contract in the College of Language and Cultural Studies (ILCS) at Taktse and he joined Sherubtse as a lecturer in 2016. He is married.

The College President was transparent enough to share about the case and also the contact information of the students and the assistant lecturer.

Assistant Lecturer Responds

Assistant Lecturer Dorji Phuntsho said that he is not involved in any harassment case but was instead involved in a minor disciplinary issued related to academics. He said that whatever the College President has said is true.

On the car ride, he insisted that he meant a group ride on the weekend and he did not have any sexual intentions. On the body shaming aspect, he said he said the chairs in class  are small and he did not only tell the girl, but also another boy in class.

He also denied favoring some of the boys, and he denied drinking with them saying that he had stopped alcohol in the past.

On selling books, he said he did it, but he said that other lecturers also do the same.

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