After “The List” what ?

I have one simple question to the proponents of “The List”, what are we going to do next after this? I am not talking about preparing other lists; let us focus on this one for now. Assuming people named on the ‘list’ are actual perpetrators of sexual harassment, they might have a change of heart and rectify themselves after this social media outrage. Or else, they will get back at the complainants very nastily. Given our experiences, the latter seems more probable. The list has not given justice to anyone, it has only named and shamed people, most of them are highly placed and powerful. Raya Sarkar informed us that some of the accused ostensibly had panicked and wrote to the complainants (most of them according to the list have only one complaint against them, so they know very well who that person is) and tried to manage them. Must be those older, technologically challenged ones, who are yet to grapple with phenomena like screenshots and call records! But not all of them are as stupid. They will let the heat and dust settle. They will wait till other hashtags and outrages blow us away. Till we all get engrossed in the upcoming Gujarat election, or even the 2019 General Election, they might wait longer. May be not. They might have already started the plotting. Deputing people from their network to gradually surround the complainant and wait for the right moment to pounce on her. That is called hounding. Often happens, in fact most of the times, probably in each and every case of sexual harassment by powerful people. Forget about justice, how are we going to ensure that the complainant is safe? How are we going to ensure that she is supported?

Let us see what Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) does. The office after accepting a complaint intimates the accused that there is a complaint against him/her and then they are put under restraint. The accused cannot contact the complainant, even through a third person. If required or solicited, the GSCASH can even put a physical restraint on the accused, and they cannot come within 50 metres periphery of the complainant. Both accused and complainant are bound by confidentiality clause to check rumour, gossiping, character assassination. Every time the restraint is violated, the complainant has to report to GSCASH and that will add to the offense of the accused. The quantum of punishment will multiply. The GSCASH, a quasi-legal body , can wield a control over the accused persons and stop them from intimidating witnesses or the complainant. Now does that happen so neatly in every case of Sexual harassment? Of course not. Especially when the GSCASH is weak, debilitated and not strengthened by a vibrant movement. Not when it is understaffed or infiltrated by nominated cronies of the administration and is not run by elected and committed representatives. But the point that I make is these provisions exist and being a quasi-legal body it has the power (once again on paper, but nonetheless) to exercise and implement them. If one actually do the arduous labour of running the institution smoothly and strongly, remain alert and build a political movement around it (Yeah yeah I am talking about all that we see in the pre-GSCASH election pamphlets year after year), then not only justice, but redressal, gender sensitisation and safety and security of the complainant can be ensured to a great extent. I am nowhere suggesting it has been achieved already, but it is achievable. The question however is, are we ready to say do hell with it? I am not sure.

My humble question is, what is in store on the other side? Forget about Justice, I don’t think the proponents of the list had justice in mind, nor did they make any tall claim that they are going to give justice by simply naming accused. I don’t think anyone peddled that illusion too. But I am curious to know now how we are going to support these 80 or more complainants? If even some of those 80 alleged perpetrators, who are also wounded and angry, lash back at the complainants, what is the mechanism of redressal? I am genuinely asking the people who are celebrating the list, who among them will take responsibility of these vulnerable complainants now? And how? Should she/he write on the social media every time the perpetrators or their cronies make an advance? Should he/she crowdsource it to a third party, who will keep updating about every advance/retribution? There are more than 80 complainants on the list so far, how many times will their stories be told and retold now, before people simply start finding them boring? When people start saying, ‘oh no, not again’, ’Enough of your sob stories’, ‘ab bass bhi kar yaar’ ‘I was too busy to read the post’ and finally ‘go get a life’.

The people who take responsibility of GSCASH do not have the luxury to move on with life with newer hashtags and fresh thrills. They work arduously, at times for hours, besides doing their own academic work. Have they done enough? No. Because we have not done enough. Beyond rhetoric and pamphlets, we as various university communities across campuses have not done enough to strengthen GSCASH and make it more functional, less bureaucratic and more vibrant. Are bodies like GSCASH a complete failure? Well if they were, the administration wouldn’t have closed them down in JNU. GSCASH was no gift from the administration too, remember? People fought, women, feminists, activists fought for years after the Vishakha judgment to get these bodies that are there in not more than five universities .

So I am asking the proponent of the ‘list’ is there any concrete planning taking place anywhere to create and build an accountable, viable, protracted and functional support system for these 80 complainants spread across the globe? If so let me know, if I can be of any help. Because I am genuinely concerned about them. I completely understand the hopelessness and frustration of not getting justice, of being sidestepped by those in power, of our institutions not being able to deliver, or of not having such institutions at all in most instances. But this entire process did not give them justice either. And frankly I do not see any thinking about supporting them in the days to come. After this outburst on social media, are they feeling better? Or are they more apprehensive? More scared? If even some of them are now regretting getting into this entire exercise, did we exacerbate their trauma? Just a month back, during the GSCASH election in JNU, each and every candidate was talking about having regular counsellors in GSCASH to address that very problem of trauma. It was in the imagination of the candidates and once we get GSCASH back (which we will, we must) this can be actually implemented. How do the people who believe in throwing ‘due process’ in the air and advocating social media trial plan to address this issue? Not for infinite number of women in the days to come…I am only talking about these 80 for now. Without having any system in place was it prudent to do it like this? Was it responsible? Ridiculing or even criminalizing ‘Due process’ seems to be the most glaring outcome of this entire debate and the condescending and patronizing tone of the Kafila post did not really help in the matter.

But the cardinal question is, whether this will ultimately expand the space for gender justice? I sincerely don’t think so and I have strong apprehensions. Because justice, gender justice in particular can never be populist. That ultimately will be in favour of the regressive, patriarchal, status quoist forces. Because what is populist is ultimately determined by the commonsense and the commonsense in our society is regressive, patriarchal and steeped in feudal/brahmanical morality. This is their terrain where they can mobilize an entire arsenal of morality at any point in time. Here once a name is taken, one does not need processes, one does not need institutions. Are we willing to take the same call? Are we willing to adopt the same means? Do we think this shall serve gender justice in the long, or even in short run? I am not sure. That ultimately will be in favour of the regressive, patriarchal status quo. The proposition that oppressed genders should not go through the gruelling of ‘due process’ seems seductive, but is illusory to say the least. I am sorry to be the spoilsport but I don’t see any other way than constantly building collective movements for gender justice which in turn will also strengthen and democratize the institutions and mechanisms for ensuring justice.

I for my part will henceforth put more energy and effort in building/ strengthening institutions like GSCASH, which can address the issue of gender justice and gender sensitisation more effectively. I admit I have not done that enough so far. I always outsourced that responsibility to more feminist friends while I channelized my energy elsewhere. It’s imperative to build and strengthen our collective struggles to ensure gender justice. Yes, the instances of sexual harassment are this rampant, this pervasive, and such is the extent of culpability too. But all of these only add to the list of tasks unfinished. Now, this list is really long, but there is no shortcut to struggle, there never was.


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Banojyotsna Lahiri Written by:

An independent researcher and lecturer in the Dept. of sociology in Lady Shri Ram College, DU

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