Friday, March 24, 2023
HomeIndiaGovernanceRaya Sarkar’s 'list' forced difficult conversations, but due process got Lawrence Liang

Raya Sarkar’s ‘list’ forced difficult conversations, but due process got Lawrence Liang

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Raya Sarkar’s list began a conversation that must be continued. But the conversation must be on sexual harassment and not the lists.

Four months after a law student’s “crowd-sourced list of sexual harassers” made the rounds, there is now an answer to what it aimed to achieve. But wait, should we celebrate the ‘list’ so soon?

Lawrence Liang, dean of the law faculty at Ambedkar University Delhi whose name was on the list, has now been found guilty of sexual harassment by an internal complaints committee of the institution. The answer to what the list will achieve, except for naming, shaming and ruining a man’s reputation, may not be so ambiguous.

The verdict on Liang actually vindicates due process, not the crowd-sourced list.

The list was in many ways a cry for attention. It showed how pervasive and deep-rooted sexual harassment is.

Due process was followed after all. It may have helped that Liang was a part of a liberal arts institution that had the institutional mechanisms in place to start an inquiry and reach a verdict in reasonable time. But the verdict on Liang shows that strengthening due process is our best shot at taming the beast.

The fact that one man on the list was found guilty must not translate to targeting everyone else with renewed vigour. Raya Sarkar’s list began a conversation that must be continued. But the conversation must be on sexual harassment and not the list.

It has to start from demanding at every workplace institutional mechanisms like AUD had. Note that they inquired into complaints that did not involve AUD students and from a time when Liang did not work for AUD, and that they possibly undertook the inquiry on their own initiative after his name surfaced in the list.

The Sexual Harassment of Women At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a brave piece of legislation that needs to be tested more often. However, five years after the law was passed, there is still not enough awareness.

Apart from being a legal requirement for workplaces, an institutional mechanism to address harassment at the workplace is every woman’s right.

After fixing our own workplaces, the conversation must include accountability from the larger public, and the private establishment.

After his name appeared on the list, Infosys, in November, actually awarded Lawrence Liang the Infosys Prize for his “prodigious output in the fields of copyright law, digital technologies and media, and popular culture that consistently raises probing questions about the nature of freedom, rights, and social development.”

There was little or no outcry that Infosys did not bother to consider that he was accused of sexual harassment.

For all the probing questions he seemingly asked, Liang reportedly told the internal committee that there was some ambiguity in what constitutes sexual harassment in a small organisation.

Hollywood might have finally been pushed to co-opt MeToo and Time’s Up but that public accountability is yet to take shape in India. If the BCCI has indeed dropped pacer Mohammad Shami after his wife pressed charges of domestic violence against him, that is a welcome step. But no bouquets to the BCCI till it takes a stand and says so openly. The BCCI’s institutional weight behind the entire episode, and its stand clarifying what is at stake, might even speed up the due process.

Men need not be guillotined on the first charge of sexual harassment but there is every reason to demand greater standards for public figures, especially from institutions that can make a difference. Liang is still entitled to appeal against the verdict while he gets to keep his Infosys prize.

Finally, the conversation must be brought to friends. My friends, your friends, but, most importantly, friends of alleged sexual harassers. Take a step back and exercise neutrality. The open letter that Nivedita Menon signed is problematic in many ways. The fact that two of Menon’s ‘friends’, Liang and Mehmood Farooqui, who founded Kafila, were accused of serious offenses should matter.

Sarkar’s list forced us into many of these difficult conversations and there is no choice but to keep at it.

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  1. Now what happens to those 16 feminists who wrote an open letter against Sarkar? Will they have the courtesy to apologise?

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