First published on KAFILA
Two explanations before I begin.
First – I write this in my personal capacity. In this article I represent none of the other signatories to the statement that appealed for the crowd-sourced list of sexual offenders to be withdrawn, and for complaints to be followed through institutional mechanisms (henceforward referred to as Statement). I might still use the pronoun ‘we’ sometimes, please consider that a slippage; that collective identity is something developed over three decades in a movement, and I hope I never lose that habit. But this is my individually written post. Similarly, after the Statement, Kavita Krishnan has written on Scroll, Ayesha Kidwai on Facebook and Nandini Rao on her blog, each expanding on some aspect or the other of our brief statement.
Second – the Statement was not and is not a ‘Kafila’ statement, it was simply posted on Kafila. Just as a statement posted on Wire is not a Wire statement or a statement on Scroll a Scroll statement, unless explicitly declared to be. Kafila is a collectively run blog with about 20 members, of which I am one of the founder members. Any member of the collective can post directly on Kafila without checking back with other members of the collective. We have often had robust debates among collective members taking opposing sides on a situation, and these debates have played out on Kafila in the past. Only one Kafila member is a signatory to the Statement, myself. I posted it on Kafila because it is a site which is my first site of preference, whether I am attacking the Hindu right or writing on feminist issues. I asked the other signatories if I could post it here, since I have to ask nobody nor approach anybody to post on Kafila.
Lawrence Liang is also a member of the Kafila collective. He does not ‘run’ Kafila (as has been alleged by many), no individual does. But it seems that in this new era of ‘radical’ politics, individual control and leadership of campaigns is assumed. Further, Mahmood Farooqui too was a Kafila collective member. When a specific complaint of sexual abuse and rape was brought against him by a complainant anonymous to us, the Kafila collective suspended him immediately from Kafila publicly, pending investigation of the complaint. That was the only collective statement Kafila has issued in its ten years of functioning as a voluntary, non-funded blog.
About Lawrence Liang, we have only so far seen his name on a list on Facebook and on a spread sheet that is blank in the column ‘description of complaint’ against his name. We have been alert to the situation, and await further developments.
This refers to two things. There is a list compiled by Raya Sarkar on her Facebook page, which has to date, 69 names and institutional affiliations, with no other details of the nature of the abuse:
Then there is a spreadsheet, which has 79 names to date, but the Facebook post has two additional names that the spreadsheet does not have:
In this spreadsheet, apart from columns for names and institutions of the accused, and number of victims, there are 2 columns for ‘description of the complaint’ and ‘resolution’. Of the 79 names on the list, against 15 names the description of the complaint has been listed, 2 of these state ‘sexual harassment’ in the description column; others state molestation, rape, groping, physical advances etc.
Of these 15, 4 have listed the resolution – all 4 have been punished by institutional mechanisms.
In 1 of the 12, the description of the complaint says that the complainant, an ex faculty member, asked for their name to be taken off after being bullied.
In 1 case, in the resolution column, it states that a complaint has been lodged, but there has been no progress.
In addition, I know, although the spreadsheet leaves the relevant columns blank, that 2 more (Bidyut Chakrabarty and BN Ray), have been found guilty through institutional mechanisms and punished.
Apart from these 14 names, the remaining leave the ‘description of complaint’ and ‘resolution’ columns blank.
Both the list and the spreadsheet started circulating with rapidity on social media.
Why did this list and spreadsheet (henceforward List) trouble some of us who are in daily contact with each other either due to institutional proximity and continuing political work for a decade or more, around issues of sexual violence? The reasons were varied, but let me state my own reasons.
It troubled me not because there were names I knew on the list, but because apart from the 15 I have noted above, the rest were simply listed with no description of the offensive behavior, or act or acts of sexual harassment they are supposed to have committed. In an atmosphere in which Indian courts are increasingly referring to ‘false’ complaints of domestic violence, and ‘misuse’ of rape laws, it is incumbent upon feminists to establish to the extent possible, context and explanationaround our claims of sexual harassment. These were the exact words we used in our Statement. Had the List been a series of anonymous testimonies providing context and explanation (as Christine Fair did, for example, in the article that Huff Postshamefully, took down), I personally would have celebrated it, make no mistake. Even if the List had simply described the acts of sexual harassment against each name, I would have thought it possible to help the survivor bring the perpetrators to justice.
(Since the publication of the List, three men named have responded. One of them, Benjamin Zachariah, has been challenged by Uditi Shane with three specific instances of harassment or attempt to harass, which she spells out in detail. These, as she clarifies, are not incidents between a teacher and student, but her testimony certainly highlights behavior that may well be in evidence in his role as teacher. )
The sole administrator of the List, Raya Sarkar, has now said to the media that she has full documentation of each case, but even the nature of the offence is not reflected in the spreadsheet.
Climates of sexual harassment in the workplace
The Statement did not arise from the denial of rampant climates of sexual harassment, misogyny and patriarchal privilege (apart from other forms of privilege) in academic spaces, a situation that the signatories have spent all of their professional lives battling, from the time they were ‘young feminists’ themselves. We have all paid the price in various ways for refusing to stay silent or remain complicit with these structures; each of us has a combative history in our institution, organization or profession, and known what it is to face the wrath of powerful patriarchal establishments. Vrinda Grover for example, is currently in court battling a punitive criminal defamation case lodged against her by Pachauriwhom she is prosecuting as the lawyer of the women who have charged him with sexual harassment.
The signatories to the Statement have in different spaces, struggled to establish transparent procedures for addressing this situation, procedures that give justice and security to the complainant, while ensuring due process for the accused.
Can the term ‘due process’ be conflated with the law? Not at all, and the Statement does not mention the law at all.
Due process refers to transparent processes of adjudication that can be established at institutional levels; it refers to a course of formal proceedings (of which recourse to the law is only one manifestation), carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles set up in any institutional context.
Following the Vishakha judgement guidelines (1997), many universities worked to produce policies on sexual harassment and set up committees to investigate complaints, and five universities, as far as I know, did so. The two policies that I am most familiar with – Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi – arose from existing democratic politics in the university community. The Supreme Court guidelines acted as a catalyst to focus the energies of progressive political groupings on campuses as well as of individual teachers and students, on the formulation of appropriate codes and implementation mechanisms. The codes that were put in place resulted from long processes of mobilization and discussion at several levels, co-ordinated by people thrown up by the campaigns, often in the teeth of opposition from university authorities, but installed within university policy eventually due to the strength of the struggles. These kinds of movements are characteristic of university campuses in India, bringing together a range of political groupings over specific issues. They are anarchistic to the extent that the broad fronts that form are leaderless, they are an expression of direct democracy, and the very real differences in political perspectives among the constituents are set aside in the coming together over that specific issue. Such mobilizations are necessarily time-bound, and dissipate after some sort of resolution is reached.
The policies of Delhi University (DU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are reasonably flexible and take into account local specificities and requirements. For instance, the DU Policy introduced a mix of elected and nominated members on committees so as to balance out the requirements of democracy with the fact that since sexual harassment arises from a context of widely prevalent misogyny and patriarchal attitudes, elections may well return candidates who reflect that value system.
I have elsewhere discussed at length the problems that arise, for a feminist ethics, from the codification of behaviour that is inevitable in the formulation of such policies, particularly given the ambiguity of what constitutes sexual harassment in different contexts, as well as the general atmosphere of sexual policing in India. Here however, I would like to point to the relative flexibility offered by rules and regulations (as opposed to Law) produced by specific ‘face-to-face communities’ of this sort. The definition of sexual harassment and the constitution of committees are fine-tuned to the academic context; punishments carefully graded rather than vindictively punitive, since making sexual harassment visible is also meant to produce new norms of acceptable behaviour; and the implementing authority is the University, which is susceptible to pressure from its community. The composition of committees reflects and draws upon the university community, while incorporating an ‘outside’ element through nomination, as required by the Vishakha gudelines.
In addition, it has also become clear that the successful carrying through of a complaint from its first being lodged to due punishment being meted out, depends entirely on extra-institutional pressures exerted by political mobilization, for University authorities are notoriously resistant to recognizing sexual harassment as an issue. These pressures include large-scale lobbying at different levels with the administration, publicity in the media, and demonstrations and protests, depending on the degree of resistance from the authorities. This kind of extra-institutional pressure works quite often because the target is an authority composed of members of the community itself, directly recognizable by and in day-to-day communication with the members co-ordinating the movement.
This is not to say that instances of sexual harassment no longer take place in universities that have enacted policies, that all such cases are promptly tackled, or that committees’ recommendations are always implemented. The point is that the possibility of justice is greater when a community of this sort works out acceptable norms of behaviour and punishment that are appropriate to it. More importantly, such a self-constituting community is more likely to be active and to be constituting itself anew constantly.
This situation was dramatically changed by the law on sexual harassment that was passed in 2013. As a result of deliberately distorted interpretations of this law, the sexual harassment committees of both universities have been scrapped and replaced with administration-nominated Internal Complaint Committees; in JNU recently, in DU earlier. JNU GSCASH is in court to overturn this decision taken illegally by the JNU administration, and a full- scale struggle is being conducted to restore GSCASH.
Why is due process necessary?
Why not just accept the word of the complainant? Because we all know there are complex motivations behind complaints of this nature, especially among students themselves. We are aware that sometimes such complaints, for instance, are the easy way out in rivalry among student organizations, or may be motivated by caste hierarchies or other considerations. Each instance must be investigated thoroughly through transparent procedures.
All the more so when the complaint is against a teacher, the generally hostile atmosphere is exacerbated if due process is not demonstrated to be followed. Even with all the safeguards in place in the sexual harassment policies of Delhi University and JNU, professors indicted by University procedures go to court challenging university verdicts, and in courts, if institutional procedures followed cannot be demonstrated to be fair to both accused and complainant, the university decision can be overturned.
Many of us (and not just those on the Statement) have followed these arduous processes for years, starting with the first visit of the complainant. Taking her through her options, asking if she would like to make a formal complaint, apprising her of what that process means, holding her hand through the whole thing, using the mechanisms that university communities of teachers and students have put together over the years. These efforts have resulted in indictments and punishment in many cases. Throughout this process large networks of feminists are involved, from lawyers who work pro bono to therapists who waive fees, to people who offer their homes as safe spaces. All of this is done anonymously, as any feminist knows. While of course women warn each other in whispers about predatory professors, women (and men) also know the names of people whom they can approach for help. The first call from an unknown number, the email from a stranger saying ‘I need to see you about something sensitive’ – all of us who call ourselves feminist know exactly what I am talking about. And in many many cases, we have had successful resolutions, where the accused has been indicted and punished, or if that is what the complainant wanted, confronted and shamed publicly.
Additionally, an important feature of university mechanisms that feminists have participated in setting up, is that Committees are also sensitive to the relative caste/class positions of complainant and accused, especially if both are students, and if, as is very often the case in our heterogeneous institutions, complainants come from urban/upper class/savarna social locations and accused from rural or small town backgrounds. So sometimes, the accused, even though found guilty of inappropriate behaviour towards the complainant/s, is not punished, but sensitized as to appropriate behavior in university spaces, and I have known of genuine friendships resulting between former complainant and accused.
Most feminists envisaged sexual harassment redressal mechanisms not just as punitive, but also as instruments for raising awareness, much required by the heterogeneous nature of our student bodies as they enter, from varied social locations, the space of churning that that the modern university is.
There is another phenomenon though, that is difficult to capture in the frame of sexual harassment, and this is consensual intimacy between professors and their current students. This phenomenon must be named, and some of us have tried unsuccessfully, to get this done in our institutions. We have tried to set up codes of conduct that declare such relationships to be inappropriate, and as contributing to a hostile work environment for other students, but never succeeded in being taken seriously. But please understand what a tight rope this is. We are in effect taking the position that in such a situation, the consent of the adult woman to intimacy of whatever kind with a man of her choice, is somehow tainted, that her consent is not to be taken seriously. We have tried therefore, in drafting these stillborn codes of conduct, to focus on the teacher. To state that the teacher is abusing his position of power in such relationships, and more importantly, that the existence of such relationships produces a hostile work environment for other students both male and female.
However, such instances cannot be simply termed as ‘sexual harassment’ per se, and if we did do that, we would be exactly what most feminists would decry – maternalistic, sexual conservatives.
Our statement, couched in polite terms, was an appeal to withdraw the list and to lodge formal complaints, in which process we pledged our support, but the large part of the brief statement emphasized our recognition of the difficulty of these processes as well as the need to make them more responsive and effective.
Responses to the Statement and my counter response
Apart from overwhelming support for the Statement, which I will not dwell on, there was equally overwhelming attack. The mildest criticism saw it as ‘condescending’, or as ‘lecturing’, but in fact the Statement was simply taking the feminists behind the List seriously and requesting a rethinking of their strategy. How can an ‘appeal’ be condescending? Perhaps the terseness of the Statement led to this kind of reading?
But the real attack was a barrage of violent abuse by people calling themselves feminist, on Kafila of course, but all over social media. With these abusers claiming that the signatories to the statement (‘aunties’, ‘mother-in-law’) were using their ‘power’ to silence ‘young feminists’; that they were protecting their ‘own men’; rapidly, within minutes, we were ‘savarna’ feminists, daring to advise Dalit Bahujan women how to conduct themselves. We were hiding the connections between men on the list and ourselves; we are so powerful that we got the Facebook page of Raya Sarkar closed down (as it was for some hours). That our statement discredited the voices of survivors.
Sample this diatribe as just one example, and it is certainly not the most abusive we faced:
Raya Sarkar has been blocked from posting editing anything on Facebook and using messenger. Facebook has never been the epitome of anything close to fairness, because if you take off the veil behind a corporation actions, you’ll see who’s managing the controls. Which will lead us to why Raya was blocked and how. So why was Raya blocked? Raya initiated a campaign to list sexual harassers in academia, no matter how big the individual. Names which have been discussed for ages came out in public. Survivors reached out to Raya. Tempers flared, these men started panicking, there was a flurry of activity in the brahmanical caste ghetto. Soon enough, the savior’s emerged. The ‘true feminists’. They displayed their ‘sexualharrassmentcombating’ credentials and said they knew better than Raya. Words like due processes, natural justice were thrown around. These true feminists couldn’t even take Rayas name. They trembled to refer to her, they’ve only been saying ‘the list’. Of course these true feminists knew about what goes on in the academic space when sexual harrassment is reported. They know of the careers lost, they know of these khaps. But still they chose thier side publicly…What does this tell? Kavita Krishnan, Nivedita Menon, Ayesha Kidwai, Vrinda Grover, whoeverthefuckelseisonthatlist, we CHOSE Rayas leadership because y’all are part and parcel of what is wrong with the system. Y’all are implicit in the existing brahmanism of these spaces, so please step the fuck out. BACK OFF. Don’t you get it? The fact that so many individuals came out and chose to respond to Raya is because all your ‘hey I did this I did that’ is ZILCH. You did nothing. Your leadership is redundant. A new leadership has emerged. Is the fact that it’s a Dalit woman leader unsettling for you? Or is it that the fingers are on your men who you’ve been protecting for so long? Guess what, the fingers are going to point at more of them. The fingers are going to point at you too, at your hypocrisy, at your lies, at your BULLSHIT. We’ll remove you from this space and Raya will lead. No matter whatever the fuck you do. #unblockRayaSarkar
(from Greeshma Aruna Rai)
Of course, the reason Raya Sarkar was not named in the Statement was because we thought the List was a collective enterprise. We did not know then what we do now, that Raya Sarkar is the sole person who controls that list, has sole access to accusations and evidence, and individually takes all decisions on which complaints to post on the List, and which to ignore.
Regarding the substance of some of these accusations against the signatories. First, there was no question of hiding our acquaintance with many of the men on the List – it is obvious that academic circles in India are small, and of course many of us have worked with, collaborated professionally, are in the same institution as, or are close to some of the men on the List. It was so blindingly obvious and such public knowledge that we did not think some sort of disclosure was necessary. Becauseour effort was not to protect the men, but to protect and strengthen the procedures that will help to bring about justice and change the sexist (casteist/English hegemonic/classist) atmosphere of the academy.
If we had been trying to protect the men, would the Statement have said explicitly, please bring formal complaints, and we will fully support you?
As for the supposed generational divide, this is an absolute myth. Apart from the sexism and demeaning ageism of terms like ‘aunty feminist’ and ‘mother-in-law’, in fact there are many, many young women who have written in the social media expressing precisely the position that our Statement articulated. Further, in a recent article by Nishita Jha, young women from several campuses expressed to her the preference for due process over calling out on the internet, and almost all of them wanted redressal on campus through bodies like GSCASH. But they were also very disappointed with the way these bodies have been functioning or defunct, several also mentioned that they are invariably co-opted by power. One woman mentioned that students from Delhi University, Banaras Hindu University and Jadavpur University would march to the University Grants Commission’s office in Delhi on October 27th to demand redressal committees like Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment.
‘We want one in every college in India,’ she said. ‘That’s how the abuse will end, not just for a select few, but for everyone.’
Here is Banajyotsna Lahiri, a ‘young feminist’ research scholar, writing, (who incidentally, found the Statement to be condescending and patronising):
I have one simple question to the proponents of ‘The List’, what are we going to do next after this? I am not talking about preparing other lists; let us focus on this one for now. Assuming people named on the ‘list’ are actual perpetrators of sexual harassment, they might have a change of heart and rectify themselves after this social media outrage. Or else, they will get back at the complainants very nastily. Given our experiences, the latter seems more probable. The list has not given justice to anyone, it has only named and shamed people, most of them are highly placed and powerful…Forget about justice, how are we going to ensure that the complainant is safe? How are we going to ensure that she is supported?
Let us see what GSCASH [of JNU]does. The office after accepting a complaint intimates the accused that there is a complaint against him/her and then they are put under restraint. The accused cannot contact the complainant, even through a third person. If required or solicited, the GSCASH can even put a physical restraint on the accused, and they cannot come within 50 metres periphery of the complainant. Both accused and complainant are bound by confidentiality clause to check rumour, gossiping, character assassination. Every time the restraint is violated, the complainant has to report to GSCASH and that will add to the offense of the accused. The quantum of punishment will multiply. The GSCASH, a quasi-legal body , can wield a control over the accused persons and stop them from intimidating witnesses or the complainant. Now does that happen so neatly in every case of Sexual harassment? Of course not. Especially when the GSCASH is weak, debilitated and not strengthened by a vibrant movement. Not when it is understaffed or infiltrated by nominated cronies of the administration and is not run by elected and committed representatives. But the point that I make is these provisions exist and being a quasi-legal body it has the power (once again on paper, but nonetheless) to exercise and implement them. If one actually do the arduous labour of running the institution smoothly and strongly, remain alert and build a political movement around it (Yeah yeah I am talking about all that we see in the pre-GSCASH election pamphlets year after year), then not only justice, but redressal, gender sensitisation and safety and security of the complainant can be ensured to a great extent. I am nowhere suggesting it has been achieved already, but it is achievable. The question however is, are we ready to say do hell with it? I am not sure….
The people who take responsibility for GSCASH do not have the luxury to move on with life with newer hashtags and fresh thrills. They work arduously, at times for hours, besides doing their own academic work. Have they done enough? No. Because we have not done enough. Beyond rhetoric and pamphlets, we as various university communities across campuses have not done enough to strengthen GSCASH and make it more functional, less bureaucratic and more vibrant. Are bodies like GSCASH a complete failure? Well if they were, the administration wouldn’t have closed them down in JNU. GSCASH was no gift from the administration too, remember? People fought, women, feminists, activists fought for years after the Vishakha judgment to get these bodies that are there in not more than five universities…
I for my part will henceforth put more energy and effort in building/ strengthening institutions like GSCASH, which can address the issue of gender justice and gender sensitisation more effectively. I admit I have not done that enough so far… But all of these only add to the list of tasks unfinished. Now, this list is really long, but there is no shortcut to struggle, there never was.
And on the other hand, many feminists of our generation (for example, Mary John, V Geetha) have supported the List, understanding the anger and frustration from which they believe it comes. So the generational divide is a misleading myth.
The easy term of abuse ‘savarna’ which precludes the need for any engagement at all, has predictably emerged as the overwhelming discourse now. Two of the signatories on our Statement are not savarna Hindus, but they are of course savarna by association, or can be termed as savarna Muslim and Christian. The point is this – how is our caste identity relevant in this instance? We have since learnt that the administrator and originator of the List, Raya Sarkar, is Dalit, but we did not know this when we wrote the Statement. Even if we did know, we would not have thought it relevant unless all the complainants in the 76/78 cases were known to be Dalit Bahujan. If this List was both run by a Dalit Bahujan woman and highlighting specifically complaints from Dalit Bahujan women, you can rest assured that we would not have said anything, recognizing that we had no locus standi here, as savarna feminists. We fully understand the politics of such a situation. But what we saw was a List that could presumably have been compiled by women from a range of caste and class positions, and the issue that stood out for us was male privilege and impunity in general and the best way to counter it. Not to mention the fact that we ourselves have pursued cases against savarna harassers all the way to the end.
Yesterday at an event to launch a new journal on Dalit entrepeneurship, I met a young Dalit scholar who teaches at Ambedkar University, Delhi. Dr Valentina told me that she fully supports the Statement and that she has written on Facebook why she considers ‘kangaroo court’ justice like the List to be dangerous. She has written in her posts that unless due process is followed, such lists with no accountability will soon be turned against men from marginalized communities. She has since been attacked as the signatories to the Statement have been. Evidently, being ‘young’ and ‘Dalit Bahujan’ does not save you from being pilloried by the self styled representatives leading the attack on critics of List-style politics. You have to toe the official line.
The signatories of the Statement are ‘powerful’ feminists? What exactly is our connection to power? Why are we ‘powerful’ feminists? Every signatory to the Statement has struggled to establish our legitimacy as scholars, fought powerful structures and male (and female) colleagues in our institutions, organizations and professions, and continue to be under tremendous attack from powerful men, institutional powers and the State. We are no more powerful than the women who started the List, really, not as feminists. We may have power over some younger women if they are our students or younger colleagues, but that is limited, and that is not the power that is being implied. Apparently we have the power to shut down a Facebook page, and despite our tremendous power, within hours, the page is restored? Do I have to state that we have no idea how and why the Facebook page of Raya Sarkar was shut down? Did they not expect that there would also be complaints from those affected? And is it not clear that the List too, has ‘powerful’ supporters who can also get it unblocked within hours? How loosely and meaninglessly can the term ‘power’ be used?
The Danger of List-style politics to feminist struggles
What then, is the danger of the List and this kind of politics, not to men, but to feminist struggles to name sexual harassment in the workplace and to attack cultures of impunity?
A mass, growing list that gradually draws in almost every left liberal academic/cultural practitioner (tellingly, there are very few, if any, right-wing names, even of those who have been convicted by JNU GSCASH), with no details of the harassment, or even descriptions of the acts, only confirms the general suspicion in academic spaces that women make irresponsible false complaints and that sexual harassment is actually a figment of the fervid feminist imagination.
In addition, in today’s political climate it enables the right wing to say that all anti-nationals are also sexual predators. See for example sites like opindia.com, mandir wahin banayenge, and so on, clearly Hindutvavaadi sites, that ‘profile’ the signatories who have all taken public positions at various points against the RSS and Hindutva politics. Such sites, as well as comments on Kafila, imply or claim that sexual harassment and anti-nationalism go hand in hand. For instance, a news report that stated that JNU has the highest number of reported sexual harassment cases is often cited by the Hindutvavaadis as proof of sexually degenerate left politics, when if anything it shows the high level of awareness of the issue in JNU due to sustained campaigns over the years.
Further the list includes men actually convicted of sexual harassment, placing them on the same plane as those accused without any specific charge. Already, as we suspected could happen, one of the convicted men (whose conviction the spreadsheet does not record), has reached out to one of the accused on the List, with no specific complaint listed against him, a colleague who was strong and visible in the campaign that convicted the former, saying ‘do you see how we are unfairly targeted, will you join me in a legal case?’ Of course the accused colleague has not responded, but what such a list does is to dilute the gravity of actual convictions, and give those convicted an easy alibi.
The support for the List comes from the understanding that it is the anger and frustration of survivors that has led them to this extreme measure. Yes, this is true in many cases, but Raya Sarkar confirms that not all the complaints are first person complaints. One of the key feminist interventions has been to insist on first person complaints except in extraordinary situations (say the woman is dead, or in confinement), precisely to respect the autonomy and agency of the survivor. If others can take on the mantle of complaining on someone else’s behalf, even if she herself does not want to pursue a complaint, I do not see the feminist ethics of this. The point is to strongly support the survivor to tell her own story, with all the hard work (sometimes over a couple of years) that this entails. And I need hardly remind ourselves how third party complaints can be misused especially in this political climate, and at any time against men of marginalized communities.
I have seen Facebook posts that say ‘I confirm that I have heard that X (on the List) is a serial harasser.’ A second person says ‘I too confirm that I have heard that X is a serial harasser.’ Then someone else comes into say ‘That makes two people who corroborate the case against X’.
These attacks has now shifted decisively to the ‘powerful savarna’ feminists trying to ‘silence ‘young feminists.’ A Whatsapp message doing the rounds is an anonymous blog post that claims that Kavita Krishnan and I tried to ‘broker a deal’ between Tarun Tejpal and the complainant in the Tehelka case, trying to persuade her not to go to the police but to accept an apology letter from Tejpal instead. Interestingly, the authorial claims in the post are very circumspect – after saying Kavita and I did try to broker a deal, it then says it is not clear whether we did, actually. Then it produces fragments of emails purportedly from us, just random passages, that discuss an apology letter that the complainant could ask for. Anybody reading it should ask – are these genuine? Are they extracts from emails at all? If so, how did this anonymous blogger have access to them? How does what is purportedly said in the mails support the contention that we discouraged the complainant from going to the police when she wanted to?
Most sinister, what is the purpose of circulating this anonymous blog post now, when hearings on the Tejpal case are to be resumed soon, and what are our radical friends contributing to when they further circulate it?
Hindutva infiltration of the concerted attack on ‘savarna’ feminists
Kavita Krishnan’s older tweet stating that she intends to ‘name and shame’ and has no problems doing so is being widely circulated as evidence of her double standards. But that tweet was about calling out Hindutva trolls, the tweet actually ends with the hashtag # RSS Sanghis! She was talking about refusing to protect the anonymity of Hindutva trolls who have been handing out rape threats and sexist abuses. The avid participation of Hindutva trolls in ‘savarna feminist’ bashing should lead to some rethinking in the supposed feminists leading these attacks.
The most revealing indication that the RSS has infiltrated the campaign against the signatories to the Statement is in the article I referred to above, profiling the signatories to the Statement on a Hindu right-wing site. This links my role in a recent Selection Committee for faculty at JNU with my stand in this situation. Let me remind you that I was removed as Chairperson by the JNU VC for the principled stand I took in the Selection Committee against violation of norms and procedures in order to select a person the VC named as the best, despite his not initially being on the list of any of the three Experts.
A person called Abhinav Prakash of the ABVP who was not present in the Selection Committee, claims in my ‘profile’ that I ‘created huge drama, calling Dalit candidate ‘worthless, Sanghi goon’ & what not. ‘ How does he know what went on in the Selection Committee? What has the JNU administration fed him? I deny these allegations entirely.
This was a post reserved for SC, all the candidates were Dalit, and there were several excellent Dalit candidates who were listed at the bottom of the VC’s merit list through a procedure that was entirely opaque to all but him.
If my stand opposing these violations in the Selection Committee is being brought up by a prominent ABVP functionary in this context as an indication of my anti-Dalit politics, can there be any more doubt that the RSS via the JNU administration, has infiltrated the chorus of attacks against ‘savarna’ feminists?
The older ‘feminazi’ critique
Most mystifying is the complete reversal of Raya Sarkar and some others who took exactly the opposite position on the Mahmood Farooqui and Khurshid Alam rape cases. Some of the signatories to the Statement supported the complainants to go through due process in both cases, when they brought specific complaints of rape. Like Mahmood Farooqui, Khurshid Alam too was personally known to many of us. In both these cases, the feminists who supported the complainants were attacked from within left liberal feminist circles as feminazis who leap to attack men without proof. But our position precisely is that we do not demand ‘proof’ or ‘evidence’ before we support a complainant through the process of getting justice, but we do expect to know the nature of the abuse that is being claimed. We know in Khursheed’s case that Madhu Kishwar had made a video recording with the complainant, and the complainant and her friends were ready to share it with the media before a formal complaint had been lodged. But when these people contacted other feminists, they explained why that would not be productive, and tried to help her instead in following procedures. Khursheed tragically committed suicide and the case ended. The feminists who supported the complainants in these two instances were, accused of being feminazis and conducting ‘media trials’, which of course, were not at all in their control. Today, astonishingly, Raya Sarkar who joined in the chorus personally attacking Kavita Krishnan for being communal as well as feminazi at the time (and later, deleted those posts), now promotes naming of men as sexual harassers with no context or explanation. Other feminists who attacked us at the time too, are hastily ranging themselves on the ‘side’ of the List. Which ‘side’ has the power here, I wonder. And who is it that produced this attempt at dialogue, as two opposing ‘sides’?
Raya’s FB post yesterday and the annihilation of mutual trust
The most intriguing development is Raya Sarkar’s Facebook post yesterday:
If you are victim of sexual harassment go file an FIR (police report). No internal committee nonsense. Go straight to court. I will send you a list of lawyers and dear friends who have agreed to take cases pro bono (for free). Also go to savarna feminist lawyers/Action groups and see if they help you. If they come with rape apologia or sexual harassment apologia come report to me. Take voice recordings ( there are many apps on Android and iPhone). Dont tell them I advised you to do so. Take recordings of your perps too. Evidence/+testimony is key. Remember, Weinstein got kicked on his butt harder cause of voice recordings. Take a video recording. Even better. I Believe You. I Believe You. I Believe You.
Apart from the repeated invocation of the first person singular pronoun, this post is remarkable for two reasons.
One is the sudden leap from simply listing names, to urging going to the police and the law, the precise machinery that has failed us, from the point of not registering FIRs onwards. It is the police and the law that has failed us much more so than institutional mechanisms that have tried to set up new practices of ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’ in sexual harassment cases. The current ICCs are deeply problematic, as I have argued above, but the struggle should be to restore GSCASH type mechanisms, surely, not to push sexual harassment survivors into the tender mercies of the notoriously sexist and misogynist police and legal system? Of course, often we do have to go to the law as well, especially if the description of the sexual abuse fits the description of rape in the new Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013; in the latter case we have no choice in the matter. But what does this clarion call to go to the police and avoid institutional mechanisms actually signify? And how was this step backward taken from simply naming and shaming to the law?
Second, what is remarkable is how with a few sentences, Raya Sarkar has destroyed all trust within feminist politics for a long time to come.
Go to savarna feminists and lawyers, she says, then
If they come with rape apologia or sexual harassment apologia come report to me. Take voice recordings ( there are many apps on Android and iPhone). Dont tell them I advised you to do so.
Record their ‘rape apologia’, then ‘report them to me’.
Raya Sarkar as the sole arbiter of who sexual harassers, are as well as who savarna rape apologists are. Is this the brave new world of feminist politics?
What will be taken to be ‘rape apologia’? The Statement we know has already been termed as such. But above I have also described the process of working with sexual abuse survivors – these involve long, slowly unfolding conversations at the survivor’s pace. In the beginning, and at various points in the process, it involves taking the survivor seriously regarding what constitutes closure for her. She may begin by saying I just want him to be publicly confronted, then later say I want institutional or legal action against him.
The opposite can also happen, she may begin by demanding legal/institutional action, then change her mind and want some other kind of closure. She may ask, what is involved in my going to the police? We would answer as honestly and as supportively as possible – that it will be gruelling, arduous, often humiliating, can trigger many feelings of inadequacy and shame, but that we will stand by you through it all.
Which parts of such recorded conversations will be selectively circulated as rape apologia? How will we ever again trust a young person who comes to us for help?
We have had debates and sharp disagreements before in the movement – criticisms of feminist politics from the point of view of the occlusion of minority women’s voices, Dalit Bahujan women’s voices, from queer and trans politics, between Dalit feminists and sex workers’ movements – but to date, these have resulted in shifts in position on both sides, genuine conversations; not this kind of unprecedented destructive polarization that the politics of the List has generated.
If indeed, conversations are to happen within and among feminists, it has to be from positions of mutual respect. If the first response to an appeal to reconsider a strategy, is denunciation and violent abuse that reproduces the language of patriarchy and misogyny, then to expect dialogue after that is somewhat disingenuous.
Yes, procedures and institutions have often failed us, but a feminist politics demands that we continue the struggle to make these processes more robust. Let me reiterate that I believe that testimonies are certainly a strong feminist strategy, but not the simple naming of people with no context or explanation. There is no easy fix. The building of feminist cultures requires taking responsibility for lengthy struggles, building of solidarities, rethinking of strategies from time to time, engaging in dialogue with mutual trust.
I am not very hopeful that the trust that has been so wantonly destroyed can be rebuilt very easily.