Rs 1.2 Lakh Fine, Gymkhana Awards Withheld: How IIT-Bombay Punished Students For Staging 'Derogatory' Ramayana Play

Swati Goel Sharma

Jun 19, 2024, 06:11 PM | Updated Jun 22, 2024, 09:53 AM IST

The play titled 'Raahovan' was staged at IIT-Bombay on 31st March.
The play titled 'Raahovan' was staged at IIT-Bombay on 31st March.

After two months of inquiry into complaints over a play staged at the campus, the management of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Bombay) has levied penalties on students involved, which include a fine of Rs 1.2 lakh in some cases, this publication has learnt.

The controversy

The play, performed on 31 March during the premier engineering institute’s Performing Arts Festival, was titled ‘Raahovan’ and touted as an adaptation of the Ramayana.

It sparked a storm of controversy and numerous complaints over the ‘derogatory’ portrayal of Lord Ram and his younger brother Lakshman, with double-meaning dialogues attributed to Sita.

Videos of the play went viral on social media, triggering outrage, especially over indecent conversations and sexual innuendoes between key characters.

In one scene, Sita said ‘khol’ (open), eliciting hoots and camps from the audience. Lakshman was shown approaching Sita inappropriately, causing her to dodge him in fear.

In terms of the broader theme, Lord Ram was portrayed as a weak figure who abandoned his wife over baseless accusations of infidelity, complaints said. Lord Ram was also shown physically assaulting Sita, who was then shown expressing regret over her rescue from Raavan's captivity.

In Raavan’s captivity, she was shown celebrating and calling Raavan a ‘real man’ as opposed to her husband.

You can watch the videos here.

The characters’ names were changed from Ram, Sita and Raavan to Raaha, Bhoomi and Aghora respectively, which seemed an attempt to sidestep controversy and avoid direct insult to the revered characters. 

Multiple complaints were filed against those involved in the play, by IIT-Bombay students as well as outsiders.

Inquiry into the complaints completed

Swarajya has accessed a notice to an undergraduate engineering student issued two weeks ago by the institute’s registrar detailing the penalty on him. 

With the subject as ‘Penalty,’ the notice says, “A Disciplinary Action Committee meeting was held on 08/05/2024 to look into the complaint regarding the play ‘Raahovan’ performed during Performing Arts Festival (PAF) on 31/03/2024. Mr (name withheld by Swarajya) Roll number (number withheld by Swarajya) was involved directly in executing the play.”

The notice asked the student to pay Rs 1.2 lakh as fine by 30 July. He has been barred from any recognition from any of the ‘Gymkhana awards’.

These awards are given at the institute to students in academic, sports and cultural fields.

The notice has been marked to the student’s parents as well as the Dean and Head of the Mathematics Department. 

A PhD student at IIT-Bombay, who was one of the complainants, told Swarajya that a total of eight students involved in the play were issued penalty notices. “I have been able to access one of these notices,” he said while voicing his concern over the institute's lack of transparency regarding the matter.

“Complainants like me made rounds of the registrar’s office several times but were provided no information. Then finally, the registrar's office shared just this one notice as the concerned student is graduating next month.”

He said that the registrar's office informed the complainants that the penalty levied on four students graduating next month is higher than on those still continuing their engineering course. 

While such students have been asked to pay Rs 1.2 lakh each, those who are not in their final year have been asked to pay a fine of Rs 40,000 each. They have also been asked to vacate their hostels.

The PhD student said that complainants are not satisfied with the action taken as those involved in the play have not been asked to issue an apology. He said that in absence of an apology, some of the complaints are planning to write to Air India, which has recruited the person who wrote the script and directed the play.

Attempts by Swarajya to get a statement from the institute’s registrar went in vain.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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