For the past two weeks academics and civil society circles have been consumed by discussions around a list of alleged sexual harassers in powerful academic positions which is circulating on the internet. As a matter of fact, we the individuals who have come together to write this have different positions with respect to the list which cannot be summed up in a binary. Despite these differences we come together in recognising the deep and insidious ways in which sexual harassment works, even in spaces we would have liked to see as ‘safe’ or ‘our own’, to continue to marginalise, silence, intimidate and bully women. Even as we speak, women on different ends of spectrum are being further harassed and hounded for taking the positions they have taken, defeating the purpose of the initiative – to expose alleged perpetrators.
This list, like any other political moment of disruption, has resulted in some unintended consequences. In this context, the list is being used as yet another occasion to attack Dr. Soibam Haripriya for having written for a particular volume, where the guest editor is amongst those named in the list. The irony of being attacked for writing about patriarchy in the Meitei community of Manipur by people who see the list as a radical feminist act is not lost on us.
This attack comes from a history of cyberbullying, threats of rape and intimidation by individuals on social media who found her writings against Meitei patriarchy as challenging Meitei nationalism.
She took up this matter with the police and the person accused of threatening her with rape is out on anticipatory bail and continues to question Soibam Haripriya’s association with the issue of the journal in question. He continues to make slant threats to her which doesn’t necessarily, if seen in isolation, constitute gendered harassment, and successfully remains outside the legal ambit. His supporters constitute both male and female members of the community.
It is interesting to note that the names of the other contributors to that particular volume have not been questioned for their association with the guest editor but it is only Soibam Haripriya whose name is being brought up. The intimidation and hounding of her boils down to the fact that as long as she is criticising anything that is ‘Indian’ it is all very well and good, but the moment it is about her own community, she comes under attack in all possible language of abuse.
Feminists across the world have written how the scaffolding of nationalism is built on the policing, silencing and violence against women. Unfortunately, this does not change even for marginalised national identities where patriarchal nationalisms use the vocabulary of critical thinking to legitimize themselves. Soibam Haripriya’s case reveals how feminist spaces that build cultures of critical thinking about nation, race, gender and sexuality are under threat not only by a fascist state but even those who may fight it. It is important to point out that this isn’t a simple man versus women situation. Patriarchy is a complex system where women also accrue rewards and benefits in it by using the same nationalist language to police and silence other women.
Territorial nationalism has historically been a masculinist construct which thrives on ownership over women’s bodies and voices. In the present context of Soibam Haripriya’s cyberbullying we are witnessing a supposed reclamation of a racist slur to create an insider-outsider binary. Soibam Haripriya is being abused into accepting her status as a woman from “within the community” who the men can punish and lay claims over. Nationalism requires pious and submissive women to create a “pure” community. Women such as Soibam Haripriya through their work and politics exemplify the transgressive women which threaten to destabilise the nationalist aspirations of a community. Any such criticism puncturing the myth of Northeast exceptionalism of being an ‘egalitarian’ society immediately injures the patriarchal ego of the keepers of such myth and nationalisms.
Soibam Haripriya’s own work especially the article for which she is being hounded for speaks precisely about the intolerance against women that do not fit the aforementioned mould both by men and women who lay claim over cultures of resistance through a purist nationalist ideology. She is being made an example of the consequences of being an independent, critical, transgressive woman. Apart from being overtly misogynist, the tragedy lies in the fact that this does not end with just the targeting of a person but it also closes an integral conversation around politics and resistance.
The extent of the fear and intimidation which such misogynist bullying creates is also reflected in how long we took to draft this statement. We are aware and unfortunately expectant of responses which will violently obscure the complex issues that we have raised here. Our politics and identities might be scrutinized however, we believe this is the time to reclaim democratic feminist spaces and call out any forces which attempts to diminish it.
Amrapali Basumatary, Assistant Professor, Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi.
Apoorva Gautam, President, Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK).
Gertrude Lamare, Assistant Professor, Shivaji College, University of Delhi.
Dr. Ishita Dey, Assistant Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi.
Leki Thungon, Assistant Professor, Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi.
Dr. Vasundhara Jairath, Assistant Professor, IIT Guwahati.
Vikramaditya Sahai, Independent Researcher.
Dr. Nirmali Goswami, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Tezpur University, Assam.
Dr. Parvin Sultana, Assistant Professor, Pramathesh Baruah College, Dhubri, Assam.
Dr. Yengkhom Jilangamba, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati, Assam.
Dr. R.K. Debbarma, Assistant Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati.
Dr. Amit R. Baishya, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma.
Dr. Sanjay Barbora, Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Guwahati, Assam.
Dr. R.K. Brojen Singh, Associate Professor, School of Computational and Integrative Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Dr. Rochelle Pinto, Independent Researcher.
Dr. Dolly Kikon, Lecturer, University of Melbourne.
Dr. Kham Khan Suan Hausing, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad.
Ninglun Hanghal, Author and Founder of www.hertribe.in.
Angela Rangad, Activist at Thma U Ragli-Juki
Natha Wahlang, Linguist.
Dr. Shahana Bhattacharya, Kirorimal College, University of Delhi and Member of PUDR.
Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Senior Research Fellow, IIT Guwahati.
Dr. Papori Bora, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Vizokhole Lou, MPhil, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Thingnam Anjulika Samoa, Freelance Journalist, Manipur.
Dr. Sarah Hilaly, Professor, History Department, Rajiv Gandhi University.
Rakhee Kalita Moral, Associate Professor, Cotton College, Guwahati.
Ankur Tamuli Phukan, PhD Scholar, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.
Professor Virginius Xaxa, Professor of Eminences, Tezpur University.
Dr. Bindu K C, Associate Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi.