A list of sexual 'predators' raises debate in India

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 27, 2017 18:05 hrs
Sexual harassment

The #MeToo campaign on social media has led to a Facebook list compiled by lawyer and anti-caste activist Raya Sarkar to name sexual harassers in academia.

Prior to this list, a Huffington Post piece by Christine Fair, an Associate professor at Georgetown University, was taken down without an explanation being given. In her column, later published in Buzzfeed, she calls out a professor Dipesh Chakrabarty and others for abuse and harassment she was subject to.

The list by Raya Sarkar consists of academics that have sexually harassed and were sexually predatory. It has been crowd sourced from students who have chosen to remain anonymous and contains about 60 names from reputed institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Film and Television Institute of India among others. In a Facebook post, Raya writes, “If anyone knows of academics who have sexually harassed/were sexually predatory to them or have seen it firsthand PM me and I'll add them to the list”.

This move has been championed by some; it has also garnered criticism for whether crowd sourcing a list from anonymous people online is fair, whether the sources are credible considering it’s the internet and if it goes against due process; in essence the methodology is being questioned, not necessarily the intentions.

Some of the academics on the list have spoken out forcefully denying the allegations. One person who is listed says in part, “All I can say is that I have never heard of a complaint of sexual harassment made against me, neither official, nor informal”.

One of the men on the list, Ashley Tellis, in a column writes on the “vigilante feminism” that he refers to of the list and how it trivializes sexual harassment –

The hit list of alleged sexual harassers doing the rounds in the hollow, self-echoing chambers of social media is a sad and sorry symptom of our times. Where are these cyber warriors when cases of sexual harassment are registered in universities on a regular basis? Why is there no day-to-day coverage of them on the social media by these self-appointed feminists?

It is much easier to have lists on Facebook. The hard work of feminism on the ground actually fights abuses in concrete locations. Indeed, the list borrows names from some of these struggles to give itself credibility with no accounts of those struggles”. 

The Hindustan Times editorial states that naming and shaming harassers isn’t necessarily a substitute for proper legal mechanisms –

A certain level of desperation could well have pushed many women to narrate their experiences to Raya Sarkar (a master’s student of law at University of California) who put up a post which has now gone viral on a social media site documenting sexual harassment by prominent men in Indian academia”.

This method of calling out sexual harassers is problematic and could well be used to settle scores. While no one doubts that it takes a lot for a woman in India to come out and name her harasser, this somewhat unorthodox method could actually, as many prominent women academics put it, delegitimize the long struggle by women against sexual harassment and create a backlash against them in the workplace”.

The argument being made now is a step such as compiling the list, given the possibility of some erroneous information in terms of names being added, is done because the institutional norms and barriers are so tough and high and stacked against the person being harassed, that such a step is undertaken and might attract attention.

In March 2017, the ministry of women and child development published a training module to heighten awareness through classroom sessions. However, most employers covered by this chose to do this through online training which was found to be simplistic and generalized and not conducive to understanding the complex nuances of harassment”.

In a column for the Indian Express, Chirashree Dasgupta, an Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University writes on the use of social media in this particular instance of #MeToo; but wants a further push than just social media campaigns –

Perhaps the protests in India’s urban university spaces like Jadavpur University and Banaras Hindu University as well as the ‘Pinjra Tod’ movement show that significantly more students are rejecting both silence and silencing to create collectivities against sexual harassment”.

The biggest challenge, of course, is the social impunity of patriarchy that privileges class and social location to its perpetrators. The difficulty of fighting each case also depends upon the class, social and institutional location of survivors and complainants”.

The particular method in question here, Chirashree writes it may not serve its purpose –

As for a recent “list of accused” doing the rounds on Facebook and supposedly calling out academics that are alleged to have sexually harassed women, such “naming” hardly leads to either shaming or makes a difference to the cause of just redressal. So what is the counting for “?

The methodology adopted here has caused great concern among many. It’s a balancing act as there are multiple points to consider; believe the people coming forward who provide these names under great risk, crowd sourcing on the internet can have its pitfalls, lack of sue process and judgment passed in the court of public opinion.

Members of the popular blog Kafila have come out against this methodology of crowd sourcing the names of alleged harassers. In a post, they outline why this is not the way sexual harassment and abuse should be handled –

As feminists, we have been part of a long struggle to make visible sexual harassment at the workplace, and have worked with the movement to put in place systems of transparent and just procedures of accountability. We are dismayed by the initiative on Facebook, in which men are being listed and named as sexual harassers with no context or explanation”.

We too know the process is harsh and often tilted against the complainant. We remain committed to strengthening these processes. At the same time, abiding by the principles of natural justice, we remain committed to due process, which is fair and just”.

While some have outlined legitimate criticisms of this methodology, the flip side however could be in a patriarchal society, especially in India, this might be a ‘last resort’ as the current mechanisms in place and the tedious and often dead end road to justice result in people looking at other avenues.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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