Speak-up: The phenomenon of powerful men, their charisma and sense of sexual entitlement.

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The statement that was put out two days ago regarding alleged sexual harassment by the Asian College of Journalism's adjunct faculty, Sadanand Menon has been read widely. In addition to the original 35 signatories at least 200 others have signed it, with many of them being ACJ alumni. 

ACJ has meanwhile responded by issuing a public statement defending its earlier stance - that it stayed with due procedure and cannot be faulted on this ground. However, this is precisely the point: how does one work due procedure? How might one bring a spirit of critical empathy to what complainants have to say? Further, if not on procedural grounds, at least on ethical grounds the institution could have engaged with what happened. So, in a sense, the issues we raised are far from being addressed. 

Yet we are glad to note that Sadanand Menon has announced he won't be teaching this upcoming year. Be that as it may, the issues raised against him have not gone away. We need to therefore think through the phenomenon of powerful men, their charisma and sense of sexual entitlement. 

With that in mind we continue our campaign for the following demands:

1. The Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, has a moral responsibility to assure students that it takes sexual harassment seriously, and will do all it can to make its premises safe, not only for students but all others associated with it, including staff at every level and those who visit the institution for various purposes. The ICC therefore must be an enabling instrument, and one sensitive to how power plays out in institutions in our context. Specific measures that need to be taken to improve the ICC are:

a. Allow third parties to file complaints.
b. Reach out to ex-students with the aim of uncovering cases of sexual harassment against currently employed faculty. Such a proactive position would reflect the college’s concern for the safety of students.
c. Have student representatives on the ICC to improve accessibility and transparency.
d. Adopt a gender neutral policy with regard to cases of sexual harassment, keeping in mind the safety of gender and sexual minorities on campus.
e. Institute at least one workshop on sexual harassment/gender sensitization for students and staff in keeping with the law.

2. We wish to note that Sadanand Menon is not only with ACJ, but also a trustee of Spaces, which, to all intentions and purposes, has served as a public arena, used by a range of Chennai-based artists, performers, students, political and civil society groups. Like all public arenas, Spaces, too, owes a measure of accountability to those that use it – and this is also a factor that needs to be addressed by those invested in sexual and gender justice.

3. Since Menon is associated with a number of other educational and cultural institutions it is incumbent on civil society as a whole to remind itself that powerful, charismatic men, charged with mentorship of the young can, and do, misuse the enormous goodwill and trust that young people repose in them; and that however progressive they might claim to be, they are not above treating young persons as sexual prey. In our social context, intellectual authority and allure are not as relentlessly interrogated or made accountable, as more visible and crass expressions of power. This grants intellectual mentors an impunity that urges them on to sexual and other forms of misconduct. The challenge is to call them out, without demonising them or rendering them martyrs and to make them subject not only to the rule of law, but of civility and respect.

All those who wish to keep these matters open for debate, and those who wish to bring up issues of sexual harassment in other contexts and institutions to understand how to engage with the latter are welcome to sign this petition and stay in touch.