Posted in Feminism

The Ethics of Shaming

The Name and Shame campaign on Facebook was started by Raya Sarkar, an Indian law student studying in the U.S.  This campaign lead to feminists doubting their ideals; several veteran feminists drew flak from younger women for not supporting the campaign and on the whole shook up the ‘Who is a Feminist’ debate all over again. The campaign circulated lists of professors in the Indian academia who were purportedly sexual harassers, while the accusers remained anonymous. The names were collected by Sarkar and her friends from Indian students who sent her texts on Whatsapp and Email naming the professors who had abused them. Feminists in India have been divided on the issue and for more information on the debate, I have included some links at the end of the post.

This campaign came after the #metoo campaign which received an overwhelming response from women who have been sexually harassed. While the #metoo campaign was about showing solidarity with women who had been sexually harassed, the Name and Shame campaign gets into unchartered territory by accusing people of harassment without any proof whatsoever.  When an individual is named and shamed publicly, it becomes a transgression of his rights. Guilty until proven innocent is clearly against the spirit of any constitution.  Raya Sarkar says that this list was prepared in order to warn women against these dangerous professors. However, women have been warning each other of predatory men for centuries in whispers. This list, which in Sarkar’s words is ‘not aimed at institutional action’ just encourages the tendency to keep quiet and whisper among themselves in the face of sexual harassment.  In my opinion, this list is a huge distraction from the debate surrounding sexual harassment and impunity of the assailants. And it led to feminists justifying why they are still feminists.

The reason for such a list or a measure, if one can call it that, emerged because of the difficulties women face while reporting a harassment case in an academic institution. There are several factors which make it terribly hard if not impossible for a girl to report sexual harassment – many a time the authorities don’t take the victim or her complaint seriously. Most universities have an ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) which tries to hush up the case and protect the academician, and then there is always the trauma and taboo associated with going public about a sexual harassment case. Lack of proof in such cases also leads to the dismissal of these cases.

Having explained the reason why such a campaign might be initiated, it does not justify the campaign itself. The list merely sidetracks the national debate on sexual harassment into a debate on the rationale and ethical consequences behind a list of professors accused of sexual harassment by anonymous people. And I am a young feminist who thinks ‘due process’ must be followed.

It is not that online campaigns and petitions are not effective; it is just that this particular campaigner who happens to be a law student couldn’t care less about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Also, like I said earlier, women have always warned other women of dangerous men; however this confidence is based on trust which this campaign is in dire need of.

For more information:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/karthikshankar/why-i-published-a-list-of-sexual-predators-in-academia?utm_term=.it2qkx8q7#.dg5ELYPEK

https://kafila.online/2017/10/24/statement-by-feminists-on-facebook-campaign-to-name-and-shame/

 

 

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