Sushmita Sen's entry segment in the film Main Hoon Na is one of Bollywood's most memorable scenes. Clad in a flowy, bright-red saree, with her hair dancing in the breeze, Ms. Chandni's ethereal beauty literally brought Shah Rukh Khan's character, Ram, to his knees. But looking beyond the fictional lens, a student performing dramatised romantic gestures for their teacher is not just unprofessional, but also creepy.
This kind of sexual harassment has unfortunately transcended the fictional realm for many teachers in the digital era, as students pass lewd comments and intrude on classes, all while seated safely behind a screen. The inability to reprimand students for misbehaviour in digital classrooms has made the noble profession uncomfortable for many teachers.
A 23-year-old MBBS student who conducts online biology classes recently took to Instagram to share her experience with online sexual harassment from her students. Rakshita Singh Bangar posted a video where she was addressing an inappropriate comment made by one of her students during a class on plant physiology. She captioned the video with her disheartening story of online teaching over the last four years.
"If me being a 23 [year] old can manage so many things in life with maturity, I feel voh 17..18 saal k baache ko atleast ye itna toh hona chaiye ki kisi female teacher k baare mai aisa kuch na bole," she said. (I feel 17-18 year olds should at the very least not make such comments about female teachers). Bangar further mentioned how a lot of students make videos like "Best looking female teachers of the country," about online lecturers, adding that beauty standards have even made their way to this profession.
Another teacher addressed the matter of beauty standards imposed on women of her profession. Lawyer-turned-teacher Divya Tripathi, who was associated with the ed-tech company, Unacademy, has addressed this and many other unprofessional comments made by students during class.
Some of the comments she received were on her clothing, "excessive" use of makeup, and relationship status, among other personal and irrelevant matters. Tripathi also shuts down many of these comments right during the classes, which she again receives flak for, as other students comment that she is getting distracted from the subject.
While Bangar and Tripathi tackled the students' misbehaviour right then, many teachers chose not to let the comments disrupt their work. But this in turn proves bitter for them, as students continue misusing the discretion of online classes to harass them.
Not a safe space for teachers
A Physics Wallah Chemistry teacher, Anushka Choudhary became the butt of ridicule last year after she had a slip of the tongue and said the word "baby" during class. She later appeared in a Josh Talks video and explained that a student kept commenting on the word during her live class, which she had noticed and subconsciously read out loud.
Choudhary called the "baby incident" a turning point in her life. She bravely shared her experience of wading through sexism and classism in her small town to become a teacher with a leading ed-tech company, which she was humiliated about after the incident became viral on social media.
When online classes first gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers came forward with their experience of harassment and mockery coming from students while navigating the "new normal." Hiding under the guise of a turned-off camera, many young students including minors bullied their teachers with no fear of consequences. While student-teacher relationships are considered one of the most sacred connections of a person's educational journey, online classes are slowly turning into a horrifying workplace for teachers.
Views expressed are the author's own.