Those Who Should Be Named and the Feminist October Revolution
While some Feminists might stonewall the moment where young women are calling out their harassers, the compilation of the 'sexual predators' list is an important process in breaking the same fear as calling out Lord Voldemorts name did in Hogwarts
Within urban-scapes, protected by the architecture of the academies, high offices, and institutions, castes are being hammered out on new anvils and beaten into new shapes and forms. We are all ‘’savarna” here, men and women in public spaces, under the aegis of institutions. We are the rank and file of an elite, privileged group, yes, even those of us who are women, doubly marginalised by the circumstances of our birth and culture, where the detritus of want and the thin, brittle bones of deprivation have shaped our being.
We are survivors, some more than the others, and this is a place of privilege, for we are very lucky to be here, whatever the reasons for our presence, because, a glimpse or an unwillingly jogged memory will remind us about all those we have left behind, who are not likely to be part of our turf either in this generation or in the next.
So let us remember that those of us who speak , if at all, do so from a place of incredible privilege and advantage. Young men and women from different walks of life come to academia, to learn and grow, from a spectrum of contexts. For many the university is a catalyst, nurturing them with the ideas and exposure they need. For many others, it is a harbour from the cataclysms that have shaped and continued to shape social identities.
In the academies we hold our heads high, for our plan has been to pull out injustice and inequities by the roots. All we need is the right set of gardening implements and soon there will be an Eden, bereft of all the weeds that have been blighting humankind. Meanwhile, we admit young babes into our woods, innocents, forbidden at three years from talking to strangers. We tell them that this is their intellectual home and that we are their family. However, as an oversight we do not let them know that strange people live amidst us and that strange people within families can often be very dangerous.
Sexual predators abound in the social jungle that we inhabit, although numerous codes and laws are in place. Predators are not allowed to follow natural laws that feed their appetites, if the costs are to be incurred by other living beings. There are lists now, several lists that we maintain in our personal and official capacities, of people who have been victims. We provide first aid by listening to them and we have also hand held a traumatised few, whenever and wherever possible.
Despite our commitment, skills and administrations, we have been unable to oust the evil that lurks in our academies. All of us carry lists inside our heads and our hearts We carry encrusted blisters from encounters, that open up and drain out pus, and know of scars wherein memories stretch, burn and corrode. Predation or the claiming of prey, for the record, is not officially part of any due process, but whether the academies are in session or are not, it has always been the season of the hunt.
There are lists now, several lists that we maintain in our personal and official capacities, of people who have been victims. We provide first aid by listening to them and we have also hand held a traumatised few, whenever and wherever possible.
The onus of proving guilt rests with the victim and this is a slow, time-consuming process. We are aware that it is laborious and we had set up mechanisms such as Women’s Development Cells that were part of Delhi University’s flagship programs, hoping perhaps that organic, predation- resistant women could be developed through such ventures.
The more empowered and stringent GS CASH (Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment), please do not fault our intentions, which was incorporated in a later decade fell by the wayside, in different colleges across the University of Delhi, despite concerted effort. The last bastion at JNU crumbled, ove a month ago.
Sometimes, some of the victims confided in us fearfully about the depradations they had faced. We could do very little except follow due process, which we tried to set in motion, against great odds. We cannot take the law into our hands. We are obliged to wait for the legal process to sort things out for us.
We have relied instead upon systems of due process and these systems have failed us. In fact they continue to disappoint, because sections of the judiciary are venerating the peacock’s potential for sexual abstinence, dawdling over fast-track investigations of honour killings, providing leverage to minors over the issue of marital rape while ignoring the plight of adult women, advocating that rapists marry their victims and conducting decibel level tests to confirm the tonal quality at which women should pitch their ‘no’ in order to tell men that forced coitus does not have their consent.
Meanwhile, young university students whose reading lists and curriculum are now supplied en masse by the State fret and fume over the erasure of their identities and try to discover meaning in their lives in the midst of this hostile space.
Years of pent up anguish and bottled rage that has not been addressed, in spite of our best efforts, are now finding an outlet. This is a space where the predator can be named. Raya Sarkar, a young lawyer has provided a platform for redressal. She is putting together a growing hall of shame list wherein complaints about sexual predation are being registered based on evidence that corroborates the accusation. None of this is easy or pleasant. It requires grit and support in the short and long haul. The kafila feminists will have none of this and have come up with one knee jerk response after another.
The kafila feminists speak of the of damage to the long struggle undertaken by them “to make visible sexual harassment at the workplace” and express dismay that a list naming ‘he-who-must-not–be-named’ (with apologies to Rowling’s Voldemort) can only result in irrevocable havoc, having the potential to slander, the innocent. This is a particularly unfortunate position to take. Personal feminist histories do no insure that the mantle of control must fall around their shoulders every time.
All this is happening at Indian universities and not at Hogwarts, but the shock and awe generated by this list has assumed mythic dimensions. Fortunately, most fears that have been voiced appear to inhabit the realms of the imaginary. In real life, insinuations, slander, fear and slut-shaming are some of the mine-fields that women continue to negotiate. Possibly the list should level the playing field for men or serve as a deterrent.
“How can all predators be from the liberal arts,” one shocked respondent demanded. The list is only the tip of the iceberg. Victims from the humanities have spoken, not at the site, but long afterward, elsewhere. Perhaps the ideas we espoused channelled young students to think for themselves. We need to clamour for greater inclusion of the humanities in our Science streams, so that tech-savvy technocrats can become more thinking social beings.
The kafila feminists speak of the of damage to the long struggle undertaken by them “to make visible sexual harassment at the workplace” and express dismay that a list naming ‘he-who-must-not–be-named’ (with apologies to Rowling’s Voldemort) can only result in irrevocable havoc
Instead we are hyperventilating that “The state will use this as an excuse to shut down institutions of liberal arts.” We need to read the fine print on the wall carefully. A clamp-down on the liberal arts worldwide has been in place for some time.
Social media is suspect and all of us are guilty of allowing it to whet, feed and fan a million personal narcissisms. Yet, it stirred the groundswell for an Arab Spring and in this instance provides a window with a help icon, for women who have been victimised. The lawyer processing all this data may not be “A Daniel to the Judgement,” in an ideal world, but we need to hear her out because by giving the voiceless a hearing she has empowered them to speak, and hope for redressal and for change. We need a list, because we need things to change at the ground level. We must have names in order to make any sort of identification.
Let us recall that the world is a stage and a number of activities are being globally staged on social media. On infinite occasions, such as “Not in My Name’ and “Me too,” we have been part of participations that have gone viral, so it is a little late in the day to treat this medium as the original sin.
We cannot shoot down the message. Nor must we become stonewalling Kafila feminists demanding that the List be taken down “in order to facilitate a dialogue whereafter the self same feminists will reconjure the enabling mechanisms of ‘due process.’ As I see it, the list is already a very important game-changer.
When predators are identified, or put them on a list, we do so on the basis of their dangerous nature. Whether they are extinct, no longer in the field, caged or sedated or not recently sighted, has never been the criteria for selection
The naming and shaming this list will generate cannot be equated with the workings of a kangaroo court. This is not a ‘trial by mob.” We are still free to take the high ground, and ask for due process, to be followed by the institutions that have been named. The perpetrators will continue to remain innocent until indicted by due legal processes, if and when. They will however, no longer be faceless.
When predators are identified, or put them on a list, we do so on the basis of their dangerous nature. Whether they are extinct, no longer in the field, caged or sedated or not recently sighted, has never been the criteria for selection. It is possible that predators trapped by the system will roar or laugh, at others who have merely been tagged or singed. Such displays do not really concern us. Let us accept that whenever our lambs were silenced, they lacked the strength to whimper. Their grievances need to be addressed. The lists will also serve to equip the lambs of the future in the manner of instructive road maps. Let us enable and empower and extend solidarity unequivocally,. We must not allow everything real and vital to continue to atrophy into a ‘dead end.’ Post script
Late last night I came across a post by someone who introduced himself as a name on the list. I don’t remember his name and this piece was never intended as a voyage into prurience. He said that he recognised the flawed nature of due process and that he was not traumatised by being called out, and that although he was not aware of the harassment that he was being called out on, he would be willing to cooperate with due process. He had initiated a dialogue with his students and he emphasised the need for introspection on the part of each one of us about the way we function in positions of power. For me, this was an instance of grace under pressure, There was no bluster, no denial, or outrage, but an attempt to understand, accept , offer himself up to due process and correction, underlined by the readiness to contribute to the healing process.
Very few interventions inpublic view that have followed ‘due process’ have managed to elicit a response of this nature. What we have witnessed repeatedly is mauled and brutalised humans, victims who have not found restitution and the hounding of the wrongfully accused, who have been driven to take their own lives. Juxtaposed against the regular miscarriage of justice, due to kangaroo courts, mob violence and the attrition created by due process, this post was stellar. Perhaps, naming , unlike vigilante justice, provides opportunities for soul-searching and introspection, and reaffirms that it is possible to bring out the best in every human being. Only then can healing or amelioration happen. We might be able to salvage some intrinsic human value, after all, out of this sordid , unhappy place we currently inhabit.