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Palash Sen controversy: What really happened at IIT-B!

Last updated on: December 24, 2013 22:01 IST

Palash Sen controversy: What really happened at IIT-B!


Abhishek Mande Bhot

Palash Sen is the frontman of Euphoria, a band that is popular in the college festival circuit.

At his last concert held at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai on December 21, Sen managed to tick off a section of people who took offence to some of the things he said.

In the days that followed his alleged remarks, Sen has found himself at the receiving end of a lot of ire, the beginning of which was first expressed in a blog by research student Arpita Phukan Biswas. (Read that blog here)

With no official recording of the concert, the waters have been muddied by voices from both sides.'s Abhishek Mande Bhot reports

Sometime before his boss went on stage, singer Palash Sen's manager Alok Parande did his customary survey of the crowd at IIT Bombay's Mood Indigo.

He looked around and seemed pleased.

"Janta is on," Parande said to Sen. Which meant it was going to be a great show.

The singer Angaraag Mahanta, better known in the music circuit as Papon, had just completed his gig. Sen and his band were to follow.

Forty-eight-year-old Palash Sen is the frontman for Euphoria, a popular Hindi rock band. A product of the booming Indian pop scene of the nineties, Sen and his band have since gained considerable popularity.

The band may not necessarily enjoy the kind of hysteric following of the early noughties, but Euphoria is admittedly a name to reckon with.

Delhi-based Palash Sen is also a practising orthopaedic surgeon. It is something he likes to mention whenever he can; the website for his rock band has 'Dr Palash Sen' mentioned prominently.

On Saturday, December 21, Sen began his concert with an invocation to Lord Ganesh as he usually does off the stage and then made his grand entry, with a song from his 2008 album ReDhoom.

He followed it up with yet another number from the same album and then sang Dhoom Pichak Dhoom, the number that catapulted him and his band to fame way back in 1998.

Versions of what followed after this are hazy at best. But the concert ended with Sen apologising to the women in the audience who felt they had been insulted.

And that was that!

Or so he thought.

Both Parande and Sen would spend most of Tuesday taking calls from journalists, making appearances on national television in the hope of putting out their version of what may or may not have happened that evening.

Image: Palash Sen performing at Mood Indigo
Photographs: Courtesy Mood Indigo's Facebook page


Palash Sen controversy: What really happened at IIT-B!

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By the morning of Tuesday, December 24, Palash Sen had been trending on Twitter for perhaps the first time in his 15-year-long career. And it wasn't for the right reasons.

Over the weekend, a young member of the audience had written a scathing blog post that accused Sen of being sexist. (Read the post here)

It panned Sen who had apparently asked the audience if there were any 'good-looking girls in IIT-B'.

The post written by Arpita Phukan Biswas, a PhD student with the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at IIT-Bombay went viral.

According to her, Sen is believed to have reassured the male members in the crowd that they'd find the best-looking women after they left the campus 'aur woh tumhaare liye roti belengi (They'll even make rotis for you)'.

The IITs are the most prestigious institutes in the country and the skewed gender ratio is a well-known and well-mocked fact, not just within its campuses but also at college-level JAM sessions and stand-up comedy acts.

As Biswas' post went viral, everyone began baying for Sen's blood.

The very next day, organisers put up this three-sentence note on Facebook that condemned Sen, apologised on behalf of his band and promised further action:

'We strongly condemn the remarks of Palash Sen at the concert yesterday. We apologise on our part for the band's remarks. The organizing committee is in the process of deciding further action in the matter.'

By Monday, reports began trickling in that Euphoria had been banned from IIT-B.

Even though Rashmi Uday Kumar, the institute's public relations officer, rubbished these rumours, she did admit that they were indeed considering the ban.

"I hadn't attended the concert," Kumar said over the phone. "There has been no formal complaint so far but the dean of student affairs has been made aware of the situation.

"He is travelling. When he returns, he will meet the cultural council.

"We are still (looking for) various versions of the story (but) we feel it was inappropriate (and) are contemplating imposing a ban (on Euphoria)."

What exactly happened at the show remains a matter of debate.

To make matters worse, IIT hadn't sought permission to record the concert.

Euphoria itself doesn't record its performances largely to avoid getting entangled in the web of copyrights and lawsuits of music companies.

There exists no official record of the concert.

Image: Euphoria band member performs at Mood Indigo
Photographs: Courtesy Mood Indigo's Facebook page

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Palash Sen controversy: What really happened at IIT-B!

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The records that do exist are fragments of information drawn from versions of people present at the concert.

All of them spoke to on condition of anonymity.

One of them said she'd never thought of any part of the concert as being sexist.

"Yes, he did point out that there weren't a lot of girls at IIT, but that is a well-known fact.

"Then he said something about our future standing next to us and one of us cooking for the men.

"That was the joke that people took offence to."

The 28-year-old media professional who visited the concert with her friends confessed she didn't think of the comment as a big deal. "It was supposed to be in good humour, I guess."

She'd even have forgotten about it till someone told her about 'some problem about what Palash had said', this in spite of the fact that Sen had apologised at the end of the concert.

"I heard that there was some problem. I looked it up and I came across the blog post (by Arpita Biswas).

"It was only after that I began recollecting what he had said. And even then it didn't strike me as being sexist.

"These jokes are cracked at concerts. You aren't supposed to take it seriously.

"You are supposed to enjoy yourself at such places.

"It probably hurt her, but I don't really think it should have been blown out of proportion.

"People are reacting after reading the post. At the time it happened, no one made much of it."

Palash Sen himself remembers wondering what he'd done to agitate a young lady (not Biswas) who'd complained about what he said to Parande whilst the concert was still going on.

"I wasn't sure what I had said that was so offensive. But I went back on stage and asked the audience if there was something sexist I'd said and they said I hadn't. I apologised nonetheless because I don't want people from my concert going back feeling hurt," he told over the phone.

Yet another member of the audience said he had no clue about what was so offensive during the concert.

"What is the complaint about?" he asked us.

"You know I thought it may have been something else altogether. I didn't think those (remarks) were what were offensive," he said after hearing the explanation.


Meanwhile Arpita Biswas is sticking to her guns. "I am not the only one offended," she says "There are others too."

Biswas, along with few other female students have filed individual complaints with the institute's cultural officer and its women's cell.

Yet another IIT student who spoke to us admitted that some of the things he said were indeed offensive. "He asked if there were any beautiful women at IIT. Many of the students raised their hands and said 'NOOOO...'!

"People were engrossed and were responding to the mood.

"It was all fine until he said men are more intelligent and something about women making rotis.

"There were some cheers and jeers but nobody thought it would become the next topic of discussion.

"After the event, some of the senior professors also disapproved of his remarks.

"Personally, I feel what Palash Sen did was not right. A senior artiste of his stature should have been more responsible of what he says on stage," he said.

Image: Palash Sen at Mood Indigo
Photographs: Courtesy Euphoria

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Palash Sen controversy: What really happened at IIT-B!

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For his part, Sen insists he never said the bit of "beautiful girls of IIT".

Sen said: "I was told that there weren't a lot of women at IIT so when I went up on stage, I was surprised to see so many girls. I asked if there were a lot of girls at IIT and the audience said there weren't. They said 'Bahar se mangwai hai (We've got them from outside)."

According to Sen, he laughed out and said that one shouldn't say such things about women and that "Women were God's most beautiful creation and men were the most intelligent".

That comment received mixed reaction, he said, adding that it was all part of a build-up to the song he was to sing… about women.

Unaware that he was already on a slippery slope, he went on to suggest to women that it wouldn't be too long before they'd be cooking for the men.

He does however insist that the second part of the remark was never reported. "I said they'd be cooking for the men and the men would be pressing their feet."

More than 36 hours after all of this blew in his face Sen says he doesn't feel sorry. "I never meant to offend. Yet there will be people who will feel offended. I can't do anything about it."


Parth Loya, one of the members of the Mood Indigo organising committee echoed the statement they'd put out condemning Sen, but admitted that they were "neither actively supporting nor opposing" the complaints that had been filed.

"The festival is just over. We are yet to discuss the further course of action. We'll meet later tonight to decide what we must do next," he said.

Through most of Tuesday, the sentiment on the web swung from animosity towards Palash Sen towards questioning Biswas' version of events.

Several Facebook posts suggested that she probably may have misunderstood what happened. That she didn't stay till the end of the concert didn't make it any easier for her.

"It is not a question of misconstruing. I don't think the comments have been taken in the wrong sense.

"Particularities of what he said may vary. I mention it in my blog too that I do not remember what he said verbatim.

"But it just shows how easily sexist jokes come to people," Biswas points out.

Inputs: Divya Nair

Image: Palash Sen at Mood Indigo
Photographs: Courtesy Euphoria

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