In the week-long siege battle between Raya Sarkar, a law student in America, and about 60 Indian academic dons targeted by her on Facebook with unsubstantiated allegation of being sexual predators, the first cogent reply has been shot by Partha Chatterjee, a political scientist and author of considerable national and international repute.
Earlier, Chatterjee’s request, made to Sarkar through TheWire.in for “the allegation against me (to) be made known to me so that I could make a specific response to it”, appeared somewhat anaemic to some of his admirers who’d have liked him to take legal recourse. It emboldened those behind the “list”, with Sarkar pronouncing magisterially, “the list will stay for students to be wary”. But instead of calling up his lawyer, Chatterjee has, in a new response, deftly pushed the ball in Sarkar’s court. “As far as I understand it, Raya Sarkar’s post in response to my statement suggests that no further information will be made available on the allegation against me... It is justified to conclude that the alleged complaint against me has no substance”.
In an earlier article in DailyO, I have narrated women students’ problems in being identified as complainants against influential professors as long as they hold the key to the students’ career development. The alleged victims cannot be named as their predators would then block their “road to Oxford”. Chatterjee, in his polite rebuff, has reminded the so-called student activists of two sides of the bargain. Either spell out the charges, or admit you have no case. That is where Raya Sarkar’s campaign differs from the #MeToo disclosures against Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein and other film celebrities. Implicit in the hashtag is the "Me" word, with the concomitant accountability.
Anonymous complaints often form the basis for investigation of alleged tax swindles et al, but that also calls for some whereabouts of the offence, which Sarkar and her followers are refusing to part with, assuming of course that they are privy to them.
More disconcerting is Sarkar’s repeated assertion that opposition to her action originates from the “savarna” (non-Dalit Hindu) class and her taunt at the older and left-wing feminists (Nivedita Menon, Kavita Krishnan, et al) who are apprehensive about her methods is that they probably would sing a different tune if the academics on her list were pro-BJP ideologically. In other words, she wants all to know that she is holding the fort for the Dalit feminist cause within the student community against an "exploitative Left establishment". In today’s student politics, JNU and Jadavpur University have been successful, in varying degrees, to arrest the saffron tide.
It is quite a curious happenstance that yet another list of names of academics and activists who are alleged sexual harassers has surfaced, under the name of Malati Kumari. This list, again, is similarly tilted against JNU, with about half the names drawn from its faculty and student unions. Malati Kumari’s list includes renowned sociologist Dipankar Gupta, not under JNU with which he had long association but under Shiv Nadar University, allegedly for "verbal and emotional harassment” in 2013. This list is a shade more comprehensive than Sarkar’s as it generally mentions the nature of offence under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, and the concerned year. Still, it will be left to the accused person to decide if he’d like to respond, if at all, to the charges in the digital space, or before the institution’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), or the court of law as final recourse.
However, Malati Kumar’s exercise too has an obvious political subtext. “We”, she writes, “who have compiled the list are Dalit-Bahujan and, like us, many of the survivors like us have come from small towns/villages/marginalised communities to these big university and urban spaces with a lot of hopes”. Significantly, prominently placed in Malati Kumar’s list is Professor Kancha Ilaiah, director of Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at Maulana Azad National University in Hyderabad. The offence is not stated, only the year, 2012, is mentioned. In the Dalit intellectual spectrum, Ilaiah is among the brightest and most uncompromising in his opposition to the politics of Hindutva.
Assuming that his alleged victim never appears on the scene, his name being on the list alone can put a permanent question mark on his acceptability in the Dalit community.
Many of those arguably slandered by Raya Sarkar and Malati Devi — Partha Chatterjee, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty (on Sarkar’s list), Dipankar Gupta — are towering figures in their respective fields of study. Ilaiah has brought a rich intellectual content to India’s Dalit movement.
They should certainly be made accountable if charges against them of harassment of their students, or colleagues, are made to stand in the ICC or any other forum.
But if it is a onslaught for "saffron" forces to capture some "difficult" academic enclaves, those who feel they have been wrongfully smeared should approach the court without delay.