Guest post by NANDITA BADAMI
In the wake of the extreme disagreements we have witnessed in these past few days, there is perhaps no point (at least, not anymore) in staking a claim about whether or not the list should have been created or circulated to begin with. The list is here, and it will most likely stay. It has, as Rama Lakshmi has pointed out in an extremely insightful Facebook post, inaugurated a new moment in the Indian feminist movement. And despite their many concerns, I doubt that even the most vocal anti-listers will deny the cathartic role it has played for some women.
Perhaps the time has come then, to think seriously about how to engage with the list: not simply declare allegiance, or deny legitimacy, but to start thinking about how to work towards bettering what many (both pro- and anti-listers) find to be problematic with it. To at least try to create genuine feminist dialogue about what a crowdsourced list of sexual harassers could look like – starting not from the content, but from the form and format of the list itself.
What follows are tentative suggestions. A first (or maybe more accurately, a second) step. A thought experiment that invites annotations, reviewing, rewriting, deletions, edits, and comments, in order to take the concept of “crowdsourcing” seriously.
To my mind, it would be prudent to populate the list (this, or any other list that is started afresh) with some basic detail. Name and institutional affiliation are a given. Personally, I would also argue in favour of including the nature of the offense – without necessarily going into graphic detail. Phrases like “suggestive language”, “groping”, “propositioning”, “indecent exposure”, “assault” etc). Insofar as a list like this acts as a weapon of shaming, such detail only adds force to said purpose, while also allowing for an increased level of credibility to the charge. While many involved in this debate have found increased detail to be a problem, several others find themselves ambiguous about the list precisely because of its complete lack of detail. For my part, I think it is incumbent on us to figure out and develop a language and context in which the divulging of some basic detail is not experienced as unsafe, but empowering. A more robust list, with more women divulging details simultaneously in solidarity with each other, might accomplish this.
Apart from this, we might even consider allowing for the list to become more testimonial wherever it can, if the survivors are comfortable enough: for instance, a column for the place where the offense occurred (office, public spaces, parking lots, staircases, exam rooms). And, if the logic of the list is for it to be a progressive database, then perhaps we could also consider a column for details about responses from the accused if they are made in public or received by those running the list (for instance: “denied”, “apologised”, “willing to engage”, etc). I understand that not all of this would make sense for every case, and perhaps the list would have to be a mutating object.
Which brings me neatly to the question of the running of the list. In the place of a list run by a single individual or a couple of individuals, however credible their politics, we might consider a larger heterogenous group (cutting across caste and gender lines, institutional affiliations, as well as professional training) that can share the emotional and physical labour of compiling data, collecting testimonies, offering avenues for counseling, or institutional redressal if the option is available. Larger numbers and heterogeneity could serve both to provide checks and balances against personal vendettas and caste prejudices hijacking the list, while also fostering a sense of feminist community that lies in follow up or follow through. We could also contemplate including details on the nature of evidence collected (survivor testimonies, or corroboratory accounts by friends, screenshots), to make the ‘listing’ a more transparent process.
The broader vision
If we were to debate the long term vision of developing such procedures around the list, my contribution would be this: for me, such a list, however robust it gets, would not replace the function of GSCASH-like bodies, but rather bolster them where they exist. Where they do not, it could perhaps play an even more important role, a first port of call for women in institutions without access to GSCASH-like bodies (where shaming could possibly be the closest they get to justice, even if they do desire formal institutional reprimand). It is time we started debating how to go about doing this, again, keeping in mind not just those women who are disillusioned by bodies like GSCASH, but also those who do not have institutional redressal available to them as an option.
In order for this to be possible with the least amount of controversy, the list must be as democratic and crowdsourced as possible. The point would be to make its running, if not the contexts of its accusations – as transparent and as robust as possible, to the extent possible without compromising the safety of survivors who choose to disclose. Disclosures could take place through protracted engagement, and maybe not limited to emails. It could also mean divulging different kinds of details in each case, so that the “shaming” be modulated in accordance with the survivor’s wishes. It might also end up meaning something else entirely, depending on where this discussion goes, and what people feel is possible and acceptable after taking into account the nature of both male power in privileged spaces as well as the nature of Facebook as a platform.
While acknowledging the important role it has played in producing this rupture, it is time, I think, to revise or redraw the list, or least try to make it something that more people can less ambiguously get on board with. Just as – as many have pointed out – the GSCASH is not a perfect body, the list such as it is, isn’t either. And it may not be perfect even once we are through developing it as an idea, if we can manage it. But like the feminists who fought for the existence and robust functioning of bodies like the GSCASH before us, let us ‘millennial feminists’ do our bit to advance the cause of strong feminist solidarities even while we embrace the new ‘networked’ tools we have available to us. Let us build on, not decry, the feminist legacies that have paved the way for us. Let us concentrate on redressing the turmoil these men seem to both wittingly and unwittingly cause in their interactions with students.
Nandita Badami is currently a student at University of California, Irvine. She has previously attended Delhi University and JNU.