WOMEN'S MOVEMENT

List naming and shaming alleged sexual harassers in Indian universities sparks a debate

Some feminists worry that these anonymous accusations lack context and ‘answerability’.

A statement released by a group of 12 feminists on Tuesday set off a furious debate through the night by asking for the withdrawal of an online campaign to name and shame teachers at Indian universities who are alleged to have sexually harassed or assaulted students.

“It worries us that anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability,” the statement said. “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.”

The statement urges survivors to use institutional procedures to complain against sexual harassment, even as it acknowledges that this process is “tilted against the complainant”.

There are 35 names so far on a Google Document and 60 names on a Facebook list started at the urging of a user named Raya Sarkar. While the Facebook lists just the names and locations of the alleged perpetrators, the Google Document also has alleged details in some cases of the nature and year of assault. Many of these alleged incidents took place in the last five years.

“This list is to make people wary of these predators, especially vulnerable people who may be their next victims,” said the woman who started the list on her Facebook post. “This list is not for their colleagues chai biscuit gossip or some kind of crusade to get them kicked out of their Universities because if that were actually possible they would be long gone.”

#MeToo campaign

This list comes soon after a social media campaign called #MeToo that saw several individuals speaking about their experiences of being sexually harassed and assaulted over the years. This later evolved into the #HimToo campaign in the English-speaking world and #BalanceTonPorc in France, where women began to name those who had assaulted them. Over the weekend, Huffington Post took down a post by researcher C Christine Fair on her blog with the website after she named a long list of men who had allegedly sexually harassed or assaulted her.

A heated debate has now erupted on social media in response to the lists and later the statement by the Indian feminists.

One Facebook user said she was not surprised at the names on the list, many of whom were her friends and colleagues who should not be beyond questioning, and empathised with the frustration and humiliation that those who had named them must have faced over the years. But she also asked for people to think of the use of power in making such lists.

“There is power in making and circulating such a list. Naming and shaming is a game played by patriarchy over ages. Do we adopt the same strategies? If that is true then all we are doing is shifting power from one set of hands to the other without building any new narratives around it, without reimagining how power must build solidarities among the oppressed and bring the oppressors to justice, without creating any possibilities of collective futures.”  

One of the men whose name is on the list had this to say:

 “It has been brought to my attention that there is a list in circulation of persons denounced anonymously for unknown misdeeds, and that I am on it,and that furthermore the method of anonymous denunciations was solicited by someone for some purpose. Should there be a charge to answer, would it not make sense to name the charge? This will make it far from easy to distinguish between genuine charges and random denunciations.” 

Yet others strongly criticised the feminist statement on the Kafila website for not holding the same standards they applied to other cases of sexual assault and rape. Critics also pointed out that it was precisely because institutional mechanisms of complaint were broken and weighted against the complainants that this list was created in the first place.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.