Have the online protests and campaigns reduced sexual harassment in Academia?

Have the online protests and campaigns reduced sexual harassment in Universities?

The recent #Metoo campaign urged women from all walks of life to reveal their sexual harassment incidents.  Harvey Weinstein scandal which shook the Hollywood with almost every actor revealing their horrifying encounter with actors and producers brought the predators of the glitzy industry to the light.

Many recent revelations by students and academicians reveal that Academia is not very different from other sectors. The most educated, civilized citizens who talk justice, morality and feminism are no different than molesters who wait in the dim-lit alleys to pounce on any women who pass.

In October 2017, a woman lawyer and student Raya Sarkar invited students and academicians who have suffered sexual harassment at the hands of professors and academicians and to communicate it to her.

The attempt was to give a separate platform for women to divulge the dirty secrets of Academia and to spotlight the magnitude of the issue. The post went viral on Social Media and Raya Sarkar’s Social Media accounts were flooded with anonymous messages accusing many renowned professors and Universities. In a few days, 58 professors were listed with their name and the institution they serve at.

While the initiative was lauded by many, several women activists voiced reservations about the authenticity of the initiative.

A statement titled ‘Statement by feminists on a Facebook campaign to Name and Shame’ was published by Nivedita Menon on Kafila.online. The statement was signed by many activists such as Ayesha Kidwai, Kavita Krishnan, Madhu Mehra and Nandini Rao among others.

The statement said- ‘As feminists, we have been part of a long struggle to make visible sexual harassment at the workplace, and have worked with the movement to put in place systems of transparent and just procedures of accountability. We are dismayed by the initiative on Facebook, in which men are being listed and named as sexual harassers with no context or explanation. 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. It worries us that anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability. Where there are genuine complaints, there are institutions and procedures, which we should utilize. We too know the process is harsh and often tilted against the complainant. We remain committed to strengthening these processes. At the same time, abiding by the principles of natural justice, we remain committed to due process, which is fair and just. This manner of naming can delegitimize the long struggle against sexual harassment, and make our task as feminists more difficult’.

The statement appealed to the initiators of the campaign to withdraw it. They also lend support to the victims of sexual attacks to pursue complaints, to follow due process, and to be assured that they get justice.

According to this group of feminists, the anonymity of these posts that gives a security for women to talk freely about the harassment is a sword with two edges, as it can be misused by many to vent out their anger at professors for other reasons. To give more power to the people who faced harassment and talk it about loudly, later the ‘Raya sarkar initiative’ started to adopted proton mail service to keep anonymity. As in every cause-related struggle, in this also some unwanted ego clash and accusations took place to fix some silly personal fights in the name of the campaign. Anyhow initiative stands tall till the date and gave away to people who have been silently sidelined by the academia harrasment.

The recent anonymous posts that surfaced on the Social says otherwise. A post that details an appalling incident where a PhD student was asked to do extend sexual favours to professors at a University appears genuine and is being shared by many Facebook users and pages.

“I would hereby like to inform you that I have attended interviews with a few of my professors here at Aix-Marseille University for research internships and I realized that they would provide me with an internship offer only if I would agree to provide them with sexual favours during the internship. They had threatened me that if I do not comply, my husband’s Ph.D. and our future would be finished and they would pack us back home.” – An excerpt from a Sexual Harassment Complaint, Dated 2017.

The victim was attending interviews for research internships where her husband pursued his Degree. The husband of the victim confirmed that Nicolas Gravel, a Canadian born Professor of Economics and Development at Center for Social Sciences and Humanities, Delhi made an attempt to stop his doctoral funding after his wife complained to the police regarding sexual harassment threats by professors in the same University.

“Moreover, he said ‘this is the way by which a female student shows respect to a male professor. In fact, Bruno deserves to hear a sorry from you’. ‘Bruno will help you until you reach a good position if you give him what he wants.

He told me that they provide research internships to international students expecting sexual favours from them. He said ‘This is how you approach professors for a Ph.D. and earn a Ph.D”, says the Facebook post.