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InTheirWords: Gender Justice, Lists and Khap, The Raya Sarkar Chronicles

A week ago, 24-years-old law student Raya Sarkar put out, on her Facebook, a list of academics whom she claimed were sexual predators. And set the academic world in a spin, and possibly divided feminists groups in polar camps. It’s inspired copycat lists.

The list is similar to Christine Fair’s Shitty Media Men, started after the #metoo campaign gained traction. However, unlike the latter, Sarkar’s list view-only and it’s not anonymous.

It is empowering to call out sexual predators — but to do so without any proof at the heart of it could defeat the purpose. And by proof we don’t mean spy cams catching the accused redhanded, but even circumstantial proof, a form that India progressively accepts if common sense and events align with the accusations. Sarkar’s list is, simply, a list. She has not confronted nor sought reply from the accused on these allegations. So, it’s unclear where one stands on this issue: to support blindly, or to exercise common and legal acumen.

In later clarifications, including a week long takeover of Twitter account Genderlog India, Sarkar answered many questions regarding her list. Her takeover was summarised by this line: How to fight the liar till proven guilty culture.

The media world is divided as can be. Kafila released a statement condemning the Name and Shame policy that fuels the list. Yet, earlier this week, The Hoot wrote on how the list was not vigilantism. Later, The Wire  published an opinion on How To Make Sense of the Raya Sarkar list. While Hoot pointed out the importance of speaking out against harassment, the Wire noted, “The list, which currently names 60 men, is not a detailed one and contains the names of male professors and the institutions where they are employed. No further details – such as dates, places, etc – are provided, unlike Fair’s article, which gave a wrenching account of all the times she had been targeted.”

Raya also spoke on on Buzzfeed. She said the list “was not prepared with institutional action in mind, but as a cautionary list for students. reception by feminists didn’t surprise her because t’s not surprising that the list was not well received; even by feminists who hold powerful positions “even Donna Karan (the American fashion designer), who is a self-proclaimed feminist, blamed victims for the clothes they wear in order to defend her friend, Harvey Weinstein.”

 

 

A stretch perhaps? DK did actually apologise for her remarks at a later stage. The academics fighting against Raya’s list have given concrete reasons, including legal jurisprudence.

A journalist for over 20 years, Revati Laul weighs in on this controversy:

We are all fighting in the dark against an opaque and impossible patriarchy. And we have been struggling with it for long and in so many different ways. But we have always fought the darkness with light, unreason with reason.

Feudal male oppression with the rule of law. At the heart of the previous sentence is the notion I cannot let go. Why Raya Sarka’s List of academics against whom there are complaints of abuse or rape poses a big problem for me.

We have come such a long way as feminists, asking for every organisation to set up a Vishakha mandated committee to look into allegations of sexual misconduct. Asking for fast-track courts to speed up trials and protect women who come out against their oppressors. All of these measures underline one thing – REASON.

The fact that all claims be verified and looked into. Not just taken at face value, with no relevant questions asked. Raya’s list and the fact that she has so much support for it astonishes me because it abandons Vishakha. It strikes down the need for a court. It removes reason and puts all our work in the same space as a hap Panchayat.

What is a Khap Panchayat?

It is a group of influential feudal men who say – we decide how things are, who is guilty and who is not because we say so. What has the feminist critique of the Khap been? That abandons the rule of law. It prevents a social contract based society the orderly routes of redressal and abandons reason.

What does Raya’s list do?

The same!

It says – we a group of people have looked at the complaints, we have assessed them and we have decided they are valid. So we are putting them out there – like a post-modern, online equivalent of the gallows. If you want to remove yourself from the public flogging, do so by all means and until you can do that, you will continue to be publicly shamed. What disturbs me most about the list is that well-reasoned journalists, feminists who argue for a reason all the time seem to have abandoned it this one time.

And some have even countered criticism with “you are against the list because you are upper caste or sarvana!” Or “you are a reverse-racist!” This is a new low, and I would like to see it as an aberration. Not part of the feminist movement. Not the movement that pushes for reason. For the rule of law. For Vishakha. For reason.

And I am standing up to say; this will not happen in my name.

I refuse to acknowledge the list as part of anything even remotely feminist or reasonable.

I stand vehemently in support of women who suffer oppression and abuse, and I have suffered those myself. As have most women and quite a few men and boys I know.

I argue for people to set up Vishakha mandated committees with bonafide in place. Boards that are open to argument, debate and questioning. And I end with a chilling reminder of what happens when we abandon that in favour of a Raya Sarkar like Khap-list.

We end up with an innocent man like Khurshid Anwar killing himself when the oppressive and false charges of abuse were around his neck like a noose. Propped up by rivals. And he died over it. That is not feminism. It is a Khap at work.

 

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