Posted by Srilata Sircar
This post is not strictly meant to be a response to the statement on Kafila, although it will touch upon issues raised in there. This post is more of a moral defense of this list compiled by Raya Sarkar in particular and the strategy of naming and shaming in general.
The most vociferous objection to this list so far has been on the grounds that it bypasses legal due process and institutionalized mechanisms. Some have taken issue with the very act of compiling such a list while others have objected to its publication on social media. Yet others are okay with the list in itself, as well as its presence on social media, but are upset by the complete absence of any accompanying narrative that can count as evidence. I will take up each of these objections by turn.
First, the compilation of this list is not in itself a novel strategy. As many have pointed out on posts and comments, there has been a long history of using lists of various kinds to strategize on everyday action. There is a crowd-sourced list of feminist/progressive gynecologists for instance.
Similarly, students and colleagues, (especially but not exclusively women) have been for very long discussing such lists in informal chats, whisper circles, and what can easily be labelled ‘gossip’. Essentially these are all social mechanisms for warning each other and building community through solidarity. The only difference is that it is now being done in a structured way through a google document.
This brings us to the second objection, about publishing such a list on social media. This is where the aspect of naming and shaming crawls in. The very first thing to bear in mind is that the primary purpose of the list is not to invite investigation into the allegations. The primary purpose of the list is to prevent further incidents of harassment by cautioning potential victims in vulnerable positions.
The second purpose is to indicate to fellow survivors that they are not alone. The naming and shaming is an inevitable consequence of this. This is where the notion of calculated risks comes in. Is there a moral hazard in public naming and shaming? Absolutely. It is certainly a theoretical possibility that some names get publicly shamed without having been involved in any real wrongdoing.
The primary purpose of the list is to prevent further incidents of harassment by cautioning potential victims in vulnerable positions.
But what is the pitfall of not carrying out this naming and shaming? It is the moral risk of staying silent and not believing the survivor’s account. To me, this is a greater moral hazard in the current day and age, and therefore the public naming and shaming is a risk worth taking.
Feminist scholarship (from Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade among others) has taught us that almost any action taken by women in the current setting is a result of undertaking calculated risks. In this case, those who have come forward with their allegations have risked being outed by the compiler(s) of the list under pressure. Those who have shared and circulated the list have risked being marked and alienated in their professional settings and/or personal alliances.
At the same time, all those who are involved in the production of this list, have also collectively risked being complicit in implicating innocent people. But again, this is a risk that is less morally burdensome than the risk of staying silent and therefore complicit. Especially in the current context, where the law of the land has a terrible track-record of failing the survivors of sexual violence, and where misogynistic paranoia about “false cases” is rampant.
This is however not a scenario specific to the publication of this list. This is a paradox built-into any allegation of sexual violence as of today. The tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” simply does not comply with the feminist call to believe the survivor when they come forth with their allegation.
I am not at all implying that we should abandon the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty in legal matters, but I am pointing out that when it comes to our own personal-moral decision-making about where to place our solidarities, it is a principle that is in direct opposition to what feminists have been wanting all along – for our stories to be believed. This is a paradox we have to live with. This living-with entails taking risks. That is what has happened in the case of the publication of the list.
This brings us to the third objection around the lack of specific details and accompanying narratives that can make the list believable. It is true that these are not published alongside the list, but they do exist. It is not, as some have implied, an ad-hoc list put together by an angry woman academic. There are first-hand accounts, screenshots, even audio recordings reportedly. The list is simply a compiled statement of allegations.
The tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” simply does not comply with the feminist call to believe the survivor.
It is not a verdict, simply because those involved in its production have no power or authority to pass any verdicts. This is also why fears of a “witch-hunt”, “lynching”, “mob justice”, “kangaroo court” or anything along those lines are also entirely misplaced. Those who carry out these forms of actions are always in positions of power over those who are subjected to it.
In this case that power relation is inverted. Those compiling and circulating the list have far less power and influence within the institution of academia, compared to those whose names are on it. Yes, it is a less-than-ideal, morally problematic, somewhat disorganized way of tackling a problem of gigantic proportions. But what have we gained by staying legally stringent and morally astute so far? We are still in a place where the inbox of a friendly stranger is a safer place to air allegations, than the institutionalized bodies of the academy or the law.
I want to end by referring to some calls for seizing this moment as an opportunity to break new ground in feminist scholarship and movement-building. This is of course a welcome gesture. But what does it mean to build new knowledge and solidarities when the power to do so is unequivocally skewed in favor of one group?
We must remember that in this polarization of stances, one position is held by tenured academics, established lawyers, and celebrated activists whose feminist credentials are hyper-visible. The other position is overwhelmingly represented by a small group of students and precariously employed early-career academics. How does one ensure democratic building of bridges across such power differentials?
In light of the judgment legitimizing sexual assault in case of “a feeble no”, I had called for a riot through a Facebook post. I absolutely meant it and stand by it. This is the social media version of that riot. Obviously it is going to flout some laws and outrage some sensibilities. That is the price we must be ready to pay.
Srilata Sircar is a postdoctoral resarcher in Geography at Lund University, Sweden with a focus on urbanization and agrarian change in South Asia. She places her politics within the matrix of decoloniality and intersectional feminism.
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