On 24 October, Raya Sarkar who describes herself as ‘an attorney interested in prisoner’s rights, reproductive rights and anti-caste jurisprudence’ made a Facebook post that has immediately caused a seismic wave in the feminist and/or academic world in India. The post said, “One sexual harasser is Dipesh Chakravarty, the other is Kanak Sarkar Prof. teaching political science at Jadavpur University. If any one knows of academics who have sexually harassed/were sexually predatory to them or have seen it first hand PM me and I’ll add them to the list.” The list names dozens and dozens of men from across Indian universities and educational institutions.
As one group of young academics in Delhi said yesterday, they knew they had a few hours to celebrate the outing of some of these well-known harassers before “the shit rained down or worse, didn’t rain down.”
Besides seeing the range of names of the list, the form of the list (which doesn’t give any additional information, doesn’t name accusers, doesn’t bother with proof and so on) has alarmed many people. One group of well-known feminist activists and academics, including Ayesha Kidwai, Kavita Krishnan, Nivedita Menon and Vrinda Grover issued a statement in Kafila that they are “dismayed by the initiative on Facebook, in which men are being listed and named as sexual harassers with no context or explanation. One or two names of men who have been already found guilty of sexual harassment by due process, are placed on par with unsubstantiated accusations. It worries us that anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability,” it reads.
The statement unfortunately doesn’t stop there. It goes on to ask “those who are behind this initiative to withdraw it, and if they wish to pursue complaints, to follow due process, and to be assured that they will be supported by the larger feminist community in their fight for justice.” This is a startling addition to a statement one could argue was unnecessary to begin with. The implications of the form of the list is messy but one could argue, so is the extremely skewed power dynamics in the academic world. It’s saying aloud, in writing on Facebook, some names that women for decades have cried, raged and sniggered about on university campuses. It isn’t an FIR. It’s not even a complaint to the anti-sexual harassment committees of university campuses. Neither of which document inspires faith in women who hope to have academic careers.
It’s also a particularly darkly funny moment for “due process of law” in the academic/activist world soon after the trial of historian-actor Farooqui’s case too, when the Delhi High Court decided to pronounce Farooqui as not guilty of rape, because a woman’s “feeble no may mean yes”.
A brief side tour. Recently Huffington Post ran a story by C Christine Fair, Associate Professor, Georgetown University, about the predatory men she has encountered and suffered in her career. The piece listed names such as Arthur Wayne Thomas, Brice Bosnich, Greg Hillhouse, Nobel Prize winner EJ Correy, and Dipesh Chakrabarty (who even asked Fair if she was looking for sexual pleasure) as sexual harassers. It was a powerful piece that ends in Fair recounting how much money she has spent on therapy because of the sexual harassment. HuffPo has since removed it. Now all you can see is this:
Your average timeline routinely features women’s posts and pictures of non People Like Us harassers. Cabbies and auto drivers are a favourite. They come and go. Shit has hit the fan in the case of Sarkar’s post because class, because caste, because god everything.
News of Sarkar’s post has hit the mainstream media and the Facebook post continues to create enormous quarrels online and it’s early days yet. The question with Sarkar’s post is this. Will it just come and go or can we hope that this moment of online sunlight will at least terrorise (disinfection is too mild) some of the sores and boils on the academic behind? More, will men and women look about their departments and think of processes, conventions and personalities taken for granted that need to be strongly re-examined? When will ‘oh he just has a drinking problem’ or ‘he is just not politically correct.’ go away as an excuse for bad behaviour for men we know? What can be done to prevent the continuous stream of young female academics into the lives of purana paapis year after year? And when will this old excuse go away, not just in academia but everywhere: he is brilliant, you know.