Four years before a crowdsourced list of alleged sexual predators in Indian universities began circulating online in October, Sylvia Karpagam had toyed with the idea of making a “name and shame” Facebook page of her own. In the late 1990s, while studying for her Master’s degree in community medicine at Bangalore’s St John’s Medical College, Karpagam said she was deeply distressed by the behaviour of one her professors. He would make unnecessary references to sex and women’s bodies during professional conversations.

Once, said Karpagam, he described to her in detail how the shape of a scooter spells out the word “sex”. On another occasion, during a viva test, he pointedly asked her if the thread of a woman’s intra-uterine contraceptive device interfered with her sexual pleasure. “As a student sitting alone with him for a viva, how was I supposed to respond to that?” said Karpagam, who now practices as a public health doctor in Bangalore.

With no public discussions on sexual harassment and no internal complaints committees on campus, Karpagam had no way of challenging the professor during her student years. Once she passed out of college, she tried to bring attention to his sexual misconduct in alumni groups – only to be ignored or dismissed.

In the last week of October, when a crowdsourced list identifying 58 alleged sexual predators in academia began to circulate online, first on Facebook and then as a Google spreadsheet, it stirred years of growing frustration within Karpagam. On October 27, she wrote a public post about her experiences at St John’s Medical College. She also contacted Raya Sarkar, the law student who had compiled the list, and added the name of the professor, Dara Amar, who was the head of the college’s department of community medicine in the 1990s.

Sonal Kellogg, an independent writer and activist, did the same. In 1986, as a student of development communications in Gujarat University, Kellogg says she was sexually harassed by a professor, Dhiren Avashia. Thirty years later, when another former student, Parul Trivedi, spoke in an alumni group about similar experiences with the same professor, Kellogg decided to break her silence. Together, they filed a complaint against Avashia with the university in March 2016, but have not heard back from the authorities.

Like Karpagam, when Kellogg came across Sarkar’s list on social media, she and Trivedi decided to add Avashia’s name to it. “With this list, for the first time the onus is on the men to prove their innocence,” she said. “And we get some satisfaction that these men are being put to shame.”

The debate around Sarkar’s list has often seemed to fall into a generational divide: younger feminists who favour unconventional and radical methods of exposing predators pitted against older feminists advocating caution, verifiability and “due process”. But this binary might be reductive.

Cases like Karpagam’s and Kellogg’s show that the list has resonated even with older women who were harassed decades ago, by offering them a space for justice that they had not been able to find all these years. “We followed due process by filing a complaint, but nothing happened about it,” said Kellogg. revisited their stories, speaking to former classmates, faculty members and others to corroborate their allegations. also contacted both the former professors. Amar denied the allegations. “Where is the proof of these allegations? Why would I put my hands on students? This is baseless,” he said. Avashia disconnected the phone saying he had no comment to make. He did not respond to a follow up text message.

‘He tried to grab me’

In March 2016, Parul Trivedi noticed that her Gujarat University alumni group of mass communication graduates was discussing the plight of a young student whose PhD degree was held back because she made a sexual harassment complaint against her professor. As media professionals who graduated from the same university, the alumni group wanted to help the woman get justice.

The conversation triggered a surge of repressed anger and indignation within Trivedi, and she finally broke her 28-year silence about her experience with Avashia.

In the summer of 1989, Trivedi claims Avashia tried to assault her during a visit to his house to discuss job opportunities. “I was told that the reason to meet at home was to avoid others in a close-knit office environment from misunderstanding the guidance he is providing. In the same spirit I was asked not to let anyone know that I would be meeting him,” said Trivedi. At his house, Avashia allegedly insisted that she sit in his air-conditioned bedroom because of the heat. When Avashia started making sexual innuendos, Trivedi claims she decided to leave. “He tried to grab me, but I pushed him with my bag and ran.”

Sonal Kellogg had a similar experience in 1986, when Avashia allegedly tried to grab and kiss her. “He said things like, ‘I can’t have sex with my wife, why won’t you be nice to me, you are such a broadminded girl.’ I was able to fend him off, but I mostly kept quiet about it,” said Kellogg.

While Kellogg chose not to make any official complaint against Avashia, Trivedi did mention her experience to Ila Joshi, the department coordinator at the time. Joshi, who is now retired, claims that Avashia’s “fondness” for women was an open secret on campus, but she didn’t know “how far he could go” till Trivedi complained. “I would have supported her in taking the complaint forward, but at the time the student was not ready to have her name disclosed. And there was no way to keep her anonymous if we went to the university authorities,” said Joshi, who regrets that there were no mechanisms in place to deal with sexual harassment on campus in the 1980s.

Nearly 30 years later, Trivedi and Kellogg decided to take advantage of the redressal mechanisms in place today. In March 2016, they filed a joint complaint to Gujarat University’s registrar and to its chancellor, the Governor of Gujarat. The Governor’s office acknowledged the complaint and claimed it would be forwarded to the state’s secretary of higher education. A year-and-a-half down the line, the women have still not heard from them about the status of their complaint. Gujarat University did not respond to’s email queries about the complaint. When contacted, Avashia disconnected the phone, saying he had no comment to make.

While Trivedi and Kellogg’s belated complaint did received considerable media attention in Gujarat last year, they were flooded with one consistent question: why speak out now? “But my question is, why should we keep quiet?” said Kellogg. “We speak when we build the courage, and today I am more empowered than I was back then.”

Gujarat University's journalism and mass communication department. Photo:

‘Don’t touch me’

In Bangalore, Karpagam claims she was harassed by her professor Dara Amar on six or seven occasions, and also witnessed him misbehaving with other female students several times. She claims that Dara Amar’s predatory behaviour included “creeping up” on women students and putting his hands on any exposed part of their body – the neck, shoulders, arms or the waist.

“Once he crept up like that on a woman student who happened to be talking to his wife – another faculty member – on the landline,” claimed Karpagam. “The student immediately responded by saying, ‘Sir please don’t touch me’, and when he realised that it was his wife on the line, he got very scared.”

On his part, Amar, has denied all the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. He said he could not think of why any student would make such accusations about him. “Yes, I taught family planning in class, but I have never asked about a woman’s sexual pleasure in a viva. In fact, we were not even aware of pleasure points and things like that back in the 1990s.”

During her time at St John’s, Karpagam did make one attempt to complain about Amar to the dean. But she was merely told to be “careful”, because the professor was known to be “vindictive”. “There were no processes in place,” she said.

Last month, when Karpagam found out that St John’s Medical College now has an internal complaints committee to look into cases of sexual harassment, she made a final attempt to use “due process” and filed a complaint about her experiences from nearly 20 years ago. “I am still waiting for a response,” she said.

In response to questions from, the dean’s office at St John’s affirmed that the college’s Internal Complaints Committee had received Karpagam’s complaint. “However, the committee is not in a position to inquire into the incident as the professor retired in 2008 and is no longer under the jurisdiction of the committee or the institution,” said George D’Souza, the dean of St John’s.

D’Souza said that the institute’s committee was constituted in June 2014, has met 19 times in the past year to address complaints and, as per law, is required to look into complaints only if they have been made within three to six months of the alleged incident of harassment. However, he clarified that the St John’s committee would “definitely look into complaints filed by ex-students provided the person accused of sexual harassment is a current employee of the Institution”.

St John's Medical College in Bangalore. Photo:

‘They would not have been believed’

The absence of organised mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment complaints is not the only thing that failed women like Karpagam, Kellogg and Trivedi during their student years in the 1980s and 90s. They were also let down by the larger culture of ignoring or hushing up what was often common knowledge about a particular faculty member’s sexual misconduct.

This culture of silence permeated everything, including Karpagam’s own reactions to situations that bothered her. “I had seen women coming crying out of his office, but I never spoke to them back then – that was just the culture,” said Karpagam, who often discussed Amar’s behaviour with three other students who had also allegedly been targeted by him.

A former student of St John’s, who did not wish to be named, claimed that sexual harassment did not even figure in the public discourse of those days. “No student would have had the courage to make a complaint back then,” he said. “They simply would not have been believed.”

In Ahmedabad, Kellogg and Trivedi had the same reasons for not wanting to complain about Avashia, or talk about their experiences with others. Kellogg confided in just one friend and classmate, Madhusudhan Menon. “I used to look up to Dhiren Avashia as a teacher and a mentor, and this was the first time I had heard about any such behaviour by him,” said Menon, a media professional in Ahmedabad. Menon offered to support Kellogg if she wanted to lodge a complaint against the professor. At the time, however, Kellogg did not feel confident enough to make any kind of complaint, because she was sure no one would believe her. Three years later, when Trivedi was harassed, she too felt it would be pointless to complain. “It was unthinkable to even speak about these things in those days,” said Trivedi. “All young girls wanted to settle without such negative episodes in their lives, and nobody wanted to come out and say they were even pursued, forget molested.”

When Trivedi and Kellogg finally shared their stories on their alumni WhatsApp group 30 years later, they received support from Menon and other alumni and faculty, even as other alumni spoke out in defense of Avashia. In what Trivedi describes as her “salvation”, Avashia was eventually confronted and removed from the WhatsApp group.

Karpagam’s experience, however, was not as positive. Over the years, she claims she has raised concerns about Amar’s sexual misconduct on multiple St John’s alumni forums, but they were brushed aside. While some did offer her private words of support, most alumni and faculty rose in defense of the professor.

A former student at St John’s described Karpagam’s account as “reliable” but choose not to elaborate. A female staff member at St John’s, however, discredited her account. “I have never experienced or witnessed sexual harassment here,” she said. “I have heard stories about this particular professor but I don’t think touching and stuff could have taken place without the woman’s consent. He has a beautiful wife and family – I don’t think he would have the courage to harass anyone with that intention.”

Karpagam was also removed from an alumni WhatsApp group when she directly confronted Amar about his behaviour. has accessed screenshots of some of those Whatsapp conversations.

In the face of such challenges, law student Sarkar’s online list of alleged sexual abusers became a space for Karpagam to find catharsis. It offered Kellogg and Trivedi the satisfaction of seeing their alleged abuser being put to shame, however belatedly.

“When I came across the list I thought it was a bold initiative and I realised I am probably one of the few people willing to speak about this particular person at St John’s,” said Karpagam, who describes this kind of naming and shaming as “a kick in the butt” for men who have been harassing students with impunity.

Said Kellogg: “It is high time the shame shifts away from the victims to the abusers.”