Posted by Meghana T
While global feminists will remember 2017 for the historic #MeToo and ‘Time’s Up’ movements against sexual harassers, Indian feminists will more likely remember it as the year we were suddenly divided into two teams: for and against LOSHA.
As I read the List of Sexual Harassment Accused (LOSHA), with every new name my heart sank further into my chest. The accused and their work was so deeply respected by me. I didn’t want to believe this List was accurate, but I chose to.
As personally hurtful as reading the names on the List, was the hasty statement that soon followed: prominent feminists stating that this was going to invalidate all the work they had done and instead, we should follow “due process”. Once again, I read name after name of the signatories and felt my heart sink. Here were feminists and scholars I deeply respected and I felt like they had rejected us in our time of need.
I was luckier than most and still felt constantly victimised because I chose to speak up.
Soon, more statements, think pieces, angry Facebook statuses poured out of our community. One mentioned they feared that the anger between the two factions might never heal. “We must make amends to each other!” Neither was ready to make the first step.
My own angry-Facebook status moment came in the form of a piece about what I like to call the “haan-ji sir-ji” culture in India. Through all my years at school and work, I’ve been repeatedly told not to cross my seniors. To question (let alone accuse of criminality) a senior was to lend yourself to scolding, mocking, ostracisation and punishment.
I’m a slow learner here and continued questioning teachers and bosses alike. This endeared me to some and made me thoroughly hated/bullied by most. I had never actually accused anyone of anything and I was still successful in other ways: a good student, conscientious worker and with evident class, caste, language privilege. This meant I was luckier than most and still felt constantly victimised because I chose to speak up.
In this context, it seems that the likes of Menon and Kidwai have forgotten the consequences of lodging a complaint. The “due process” of the intra-university/state mechanisms in no way protects an accuser’s identity.
That anonymity is maintained only such that a stranger across the world may not easily know who the accuser is, but within the institution, this is freely known. How many more stories of those (who have spoken up against powerful people) being bullied, abused further or what not must be heard before we can convince people that due process usually fails us?
it seems that the likes of Menon and Kidwai have forgotten the consequences of lodging a complaint.
The argument against due process includes the physical/emotional energy it demands. Merely the act of going over the details of the harassment, the hearings, statements, care over words that are part of the due process is too much for most people to handle, let alone the repercussions to follow.
The effect on one’s mental health, other work, personal relationships and sense of self are so great, that a personal decision to choose not to complain is one I can wholeheartedly support. To demand that the victim speaks up is in itself an act of aggression. Regardless of external support, the victim may receive (which may come from these same senior feminists), it is ultimately their burden to bear – one that was forced upon them.
The senior feminists really don’t like us
Until recently, I thought we were just at a point of solid anger. However, with the revelation that the Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment (CPSH) at Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD) had found Lawrence Liang guilty of sexual harassment, the dam broke all over again. Pro-LOSHA feminists felt vindicated since Liang was named on LOSHA and upset that all that he had lost was his administrative position. Anti-LOSHA activists felt vindicated too: due process works! they celebrated.
Nivedita Menon released a personal statement on Kafila, in response to this news. In her statement, I saw not only anger/hurt as before but something more: condescension, exasperation, name-calling, mocking. I imagined it something akin to her pronouncement of absolute disgust for pro-LOSHAers.
Her repeated use of the words “finger-tip activists” was the first offence. It seemed as though she was equating us with re-tweeters of OpIndia news. Does our decision to use new forms somehow make us less “authentic” as activists? A seemingly associated jab is at our supposed lack of “historical memory”, for not remembering the success of protests against rape-laws in 1983.
To demand that the victim speaks up is in itself an act of aggression.
Every generation chooses to create new means of protest. Our decision to use the internet is not one to be mocked, merely because (they believe) we have not come onto the streets. Through finger-tip activism, we have been able to create cross-border solidarities, access information at a greater pace and uncover new modes of digital protest.
Does the suggestion insinuate we do not leave our homes and are thus “comfortable” activists? Besides the fact that this would be factually incorrect (since we also do often protest on the streets), it is important to remember that we may simply no longer believe in traditional means of protest. I have seen many politically active individuals choosing to dissociate from rasta-rokos, etc.
Moreover, the accusation of weak “historical memory” is also unfair. Perhaps we know our history well, find that it leaves us dismayed and choose to forge new paths? Rather than reject our means outright, she could try to critique them, try to suggest improvements to our methods. Or is this a luxury only available to the due process of state machinery?
A passage in her statement struck me as particularly contradictory – a recognition that LOSHA was a consequence of a larger movement of #MeToo and ‘Time’s Up’ (she doesn’t mention the article by Christine Fair here which I personally think was the tipping point), followed up by an accusation of “fetishization” of the List. My automatic response was just like it hurt fans of Aziz Ansari to learn of his inappropriate behaviour more than it hurt us to hear of, say Johnny Depp’s violence because we related to Aziz.
He looked like us, he spoke in our language of ‘woke-ness’ and he was a ‘good guy’. As a student of humanities, when I hear that Partha Chatterjee is accused of harassment, it hurts me more than the news about Ansari. I have studied his work, I am more engaged in his person, so the anger given a means of expression through the List was much more than the Ansari story, or the hundredth example of Salman Khan’s abuse. Rather than fetishization, importance is given to the List because the anger is personal.
Does our decision to use new forms somehow make us less “authentic” as activists?
Menon herself admits the failures of due process – most recently famously known in the case of Mahmood Farooqui. However, she cannot condemn those who accuse Liang/Partha Chatterjee while supporting those who accuse Farooqui, merely depending on the alleged perpetrator’s membership to her community of academics (soon after the complaint against Farooqui was registered, he was removed from the board of Kafila; Liang was
removed after the conviction by the committee at AUD).
Farooqui’s judgement and earlier judgements on Hadiya (until the one on March 8th) are the news that makes up the social consciousness of modern Indian feminists. They play no small part in our disbelief and disengagement with due process. The recommendation to protest on the ground (again, a hierarchy is created within forms of protests) and critique such judgements seems to invisibilize the fact that all this, in fact, accompanies actions such as the List.
The rift grows deeper
An accusation levelled on the feminists who signed the Kafila statement was that they had chosen to protect their friends and colleagues, rather than stand up for the more vulnerable accusers. It revealed a lack of trust in the accusers (complaining about personal vendetta) and an automatic trust in the accused (he is my friend/colleague – he wouldn’t do this).
Of course, I personally cannot stand as a character witness for any person involved in this situation. However, in the “innocent until proven guilty” argument, I vote to believe the accuser is innocent until proven guilty, merely because of the political consequences of ignoring/disrespecting an accuser.
However, in the wake of the response to LOSHA, I wonder whether a young student of Menon’s (or Kidwai’s, or any other of the signatories) would feel as comfortable opening up to her to reveal a case of sexual harassment, if they knew the sexual harasser to be a friend/colleagues of theirs. With this act, they have managed to alienate an entire generation of feminists, who until today, respected and looked up to them.
it is important to remember that we may simply no longer believe in traditional means of protest.
The hasty release of statements, seemingly typed out in anger, is no coincidence. It is the consequence of a culture of venting through writing and specifically writing online, to a community that can gather only online. Menon’s decision to publish her statement on Kafila is no different than our own finger-tip activism of Tweeting/Facebook status-writing.
Perhaps, we may not always be able to quote theory with ease or refer to past experiences of protest (successful or otherwise). However, this should not be held against us. This does not invalidate our anger, nor should this be thrown back in our faces for being less-worthy activism.
Rather than support a nascent movement by a new wave of feminists, the signatories to the original statement have somehow further validated the “haanji-sirji” view of the world that I see elsewhere in the world. To clarify: I do not assume that all senior feminists are automatically anti-LOSHA or anti-new methods. I have personally had teachers, local activists and friends who have listened and engaged, whether or not they agreed with us.
Those who have spoken out openly against us, are the ones who have also often responded the way Menon has in her recent statement. As this is a response to that statement, it might seem as though all my anger is towards Dr Menon – where she has simply become the face of this collective through her repeated statements online.
I cannot speak for all those who are pro-LOSHA, and I don’t intend to. As a young feminist (regardless of my views on the List), what I seek from a senior feminist is solidarity; an attempt to support, not demean. An attempt to engage, not reject. An effort to listen, rather than shout over us. An acceptance of changing times/methods, not a condescension towards those who have not had to face the struggles you have.
Rather than fetishization, importance is given to the List because the anger is personal.
I’m grateful to every feminist who has come before me. Their contribution has made it possible for my existence today to be as it is. However, my gratitude does not equal hero-worship. Our right to dissent doesn’t end at the state. It continues on to our lecturers, our social theorists, our fore-bearers.
My prayer for the feminist movement in India today: may we see a day (in the not so distant future), where we can begin on the premise of respect and an open mind. If Hadiya may be free, perhaps we may be too.
Also Read: To The Bhadralok Academia, With Love
Meghana is a theatre actor and production manager, whose work is aimed towards using the arts as a mode of change. She can be followed on Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: The Daily Star