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.

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