This is the age of choices. We all want to live a life on our terms and it is unproblematic if we abide by the law yet there are a few elements in our society that often find issues with what does not fit their worldview. In a recent incident,this phenomenon was highlighted, where there was a blurred line between the privacy of a person and societal perceptions of what is normal and acceptable. This highlighted the deep extent to which moral policing is engraved in our society and how it is pervasive enough to not just affects the morale of the person but also go to the extent where it hampers their livelihood.


“Recently a former assistant professor of English at St. Xavier’s University (SXU), Kolkata, has alleged that the university authorities forced her to quit on the charges of posting ‘objectionable’ and ‘inappropriate’ photos of herself on Instagram – which they allegedly said had ‘besmirched the reputation of the university’”.[1]

To put it in perspective, an adult woman who teaches at a highly prestigious institution chooses to post her pictures in a two-piece(swimsuit) on her Instagram account which is by far her account hence no relation to her job whatsoever gets policed and bullied to a point she is forced to resign. [2]

This started when a parent wrote the following to the university’s authority, “Recently, I was appalled to find my son looking at some pictures of Professor (the woman) where she has posed in a sexually explicit way causing deliberate public exposure. To look at a teacher dressed in her undergarments uploading pictures on social media is utterly shameful for me as a parent, since I have tried to shield my son from this kind of gross indecency and objectification of the female body…It is obscene, vulgar, and improper for an 18-year-old student to see his professor dressed in scanty clothes exhibiting her body on a public platform.” Now this statement itself is very problematic on so many levels. Firstly, the words deliberate public exposure is inappropriate and highlights the conservative undertones still prevalent in society. Secondly, about shielding the kid from gross indecency, it wasn’t the professor who directly shared any kind of media. It was the guy who looked at illegally shared personal photographs. Another point to be noted is the fact that the professor’s account was a “private” Instagram account in essence, only a select number of people can have access to it. Moreover, the pictures were posted as a “story” which implies that it only stayed online for 24 hours and it was the “screenshots” which were being circulated that points out to serious invasion of privacy instead of putting an end to this rumour, the university instead decides to set up a committee and shame the professor even more. [3]

Well, the problem isn’t new, it has existed since times immemorial but what is disturbing is the fact that it doesn’t seem to come to an end. Whether it is in the form of stopping a ladies’ night out party in a licensed hotel because it is against the town’s culture[4] or a government official telling a woman that her clothes are not appropriate for a government office.[5] But for the professor in the above incident, it cost something far more. Despite being the victim of the violation of privacy which is a fundamental right [6], it reiterates the age-old victim-blaming narrative, and when the real cause is not addressed it becomes a deterrent for people like the professor who went through this ordeal.


THREAT TO PERSONAL FREEDOM: As Kerala High Court said in the case of State of Kerala v Civic Chandran, “Every person has the freedom to wear what they want; right to wear any dress extension of personal freedom”[7]It is discriminatory to expect an adult woman to wear the clothes that fit your idea of decency in her personal life.

The professor didn’t break the dress code of her workplace hence, her clothes are not a matter of discussion by her workplace superiors.

THE LEGAL PERSPECTIVE:  ‘Harassment’ is a form of discrimination. It includes any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you, as workplace harassment can be classified as below:

  • Harassment based on the grounds of age.
  • Harassment on the grounds of disability.
  • Defamation- To demean and libel is to damage the reputation or image of an individual.
  • Discrimination on the grounds of caste.
  • Harassment on the grounds of Sexual Orientation and Marital Status.
  • Harassment on the grounds of Race, Sex, Religion, and National Origin.[8]

In the incident discussed above after intense scrutiny by the committee, the professor wastold that the board had unanimously recommended her dismissal and that her photographs have gone viral and most students have seen them and they will not take her seriously and parents would complain. She was told that it would be better if she resigned voluntarily.[9]This clearly comes under the ground of defamation and further under harassment due to sex.

.UNRESPONSIVENESS OF POLICE: “After seeing that no action was taken on the complaint she lodged at the Purba Jadavpur police station, NG (NG refers to the professor) wrote to all senior officials of Kolkata police, describing her ordeal in early November. None of those she wrote to responded to the letters. NG then twice visited the cybercrime cell of the Kolkata police. Initially, she was assured that the police would write to Instagram to find out how the photos were accessed and by whom. “The second time, an officer point blank told me I was responsible for what happened to those pictures since I had put them out in the world,”[10](NG refers to the professor)This clearly points out the grave inefficiency in the state machinery that despite of repeated complaints, the police did not fire an FIR and no proper response was delivered. Moreover, the cybercrime officials echoed what the college authorities said instead of focusing on the grave issue of invasion of privacy and harassment due to the same. This kind of lack of response prevents a large number of people to bring their complaints and lets the perpetrators of heinous crimes get away with the same.


This piece highlights various dimensions that this single incident brought forward and points out the dire need of drawing a clear line between the employee’s privacy and the extent,to which an employer can have access and unsolicited opinions on the same. It is justified if an employee’s social media adversely affects her institution or workplace life but otherwise, we live in a country that grants us freedom to live life as we choose. Moreover, the unresponsive and ambiguous nature of the police needs to be kept in check. When there is a legal battle between a large organization with resources and an individual whose rights have been infringed, special attention is a must to bring them to justice since a single action prevents a lot of individuals from going through the same.

Author’s Name: Tanishi Ahuja

[1] Indradeep Bhattacharyya,’Kolkata’s St Xavier’s University Allegedly Forced Assistant Professor to Quit Over Instagram Photos’(The Wire, 08 August 2022) <> accessed 17 May 2023

[2]Mekhla Saran, ‘Moral Policing’ Kolkata Professor: Why It Is Wrong & What Her Legal Options Are, (The Quint, 12 August 2022)

<> accessed 5 June 2023

[3]Indradeep Bhattacharyya,’Kolkata’s St Xavier’s University Allegedly Forced Assistant Professor to Quit Over Instagram Photos’(The Wire, 08 August 2022) <> accessed 17 May 2023

[4]Ladies Night Out Party Abandoned over moral policing fears (The Times of India, 19 March 2023) <> accessed 5 June 2023

[5]Woman alleges moral policing by BBMP official, (The Hindu, 29 October 2021)

<> accessed 5 June 2023

[6]<> accessed 5 June 2023

[7]Sara Susan Jiji, ‘Every person has freedom to wear what they want; right to wear any dress extension of personal freedom: Kerala High Court’ (Bar and Bench,14 Oct 2022)

<> accessed 19 May 2023

[8] Dr Farhat Khan, ‘Mental Harassment Laws in India’ (2022) 7(8)IJSDR <> accessed 26 May 2023

[9]Geeta Pandey, Kolkata St Xavier’s teacher: ‘I was forced to resign over bikini photos’ (BBC, 23 August 2022) <> accessed 18 May 2023

[10] Indradeep Bhattacharyya (n 1)

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to know the latest updates

Whoops, you're not connected to Mailchimp. You need to enter a valid Mailchimp API key.