Notes on a Feminist Crowdsourced List of Sexual Harassers: Nandita Badami

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.

Detail

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.

The list-makers

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.   

 

3 thoughts on “Notes on a Feminist Crowdsourced List of Sexual Harassers: Nandita Badami

  1. theoretical disagreement

    ** Note this is a theoretical and analogical engagement**

    I appreciate this post and this clarificatoin. However, my concerns are that in forming a committee, making and making this more formal, you are not strengthening institutional mechanisms. At the heart of your criticism of the previous system (assuming of course that this list has changed the system) supporters of the list highlighted: a) the failure of the system to protect survivors due to it’s internal inadequacies, rooted in the underlying sexism present in the system; b) The failure of the system to be egalitarian due to a power dynamic which invariably resulted in the unequal treatment of caste and gender-based difference. The remedy was to crowdsource a list. You now clarify that the crowdsourced list will be internally selected and will represent diversity (albeit with an ideological homogeneity – which is implied by the fact that it will all be people who ideologically agree with the project)

    I would like to combat this by making two specific points. One rooted in political theory and the second more pragmatic. Let’s begin with the second point. If such a list ought to succeed, it must tackle the question of how to make justice egalitarian (I will disregard the more theoretical question of whether this list reflects any real values of justice and just assume that it does). The list will now have a group of elite educated individuals debating and establishing the list their concept of justice. Unfortunately, this won’t be accessible to people outside the small click debating this topic. It is unfortunate but a ground reality that only so many people have access to this particular movement. Funds will be required to bring the message forth, often these funds are so vast that only nation-states have the depth of pockets as well as the mandate to do this. Which is why strengthening institutional mechanism and ensuring law enforcement is used is perhaps the better way.

    Second. By putting faith outside the state, we analogically reach a position where this can be applied to a host of different situations. Why ask for tax reforms – shame those who don’t give to the poor through a list. I normative agree with the position that justice must be distributive in nature and hope that states will implement it. However I disagree with making a list, it is not just to do so as it is arbitrary and makes an individual accountable in a method that only a government can be. Which is people are accountable to the government and not to other individuals. The point with positing protest against the state is that it’s accountability vest with everyone, while individuals do not have that accountability- individuals are accountable to the state. This is the reason why criminal cases are filed by the state. Unfortunately, if individuals were privately accountable to others it would open up the possibility of private punishment being legitimate. This is not the case, it can’t be the case because we would have utter chaos in the justice system. Moving away from the analogy, I agree that sexual harassment is awful and also believe that this fight is more than a list, it has the potential for a smart group of people to bring forth institutional reform by helping survivors report instances to the police. Sort of like a socio-political and legal aid cell. Unfortunately, ascertaining guilt and privately using shaming as a tactic to bring justice falls short of the standards that we would like to have. Reform and not a revision is critical.

    1. Nandita

      I should state at the outset that I am not an unambiguous supporter of the list(s). Mine was an attempt to occupy ambiguity – if the list mode is here, what could those of us who are empathetic to the emotion that propels it, but are ambiguous about its current form, demand from list-makers (both present and future) to make it feel less vigilantist and more – to use your term – egalitarian?

      I have not suggested that the list ought to replace the previous system – nor do I critique it. Yes, I do not think institutional mechanisms (especially as they stand currently under the new ordinance) are the gold standard of redressal, but I understand their importance, and the superiority of their methods. And I understand that their existence today in whatever form is the result of hard-fought battles that must not be lightly forgotten. Nowhere do I advocate that they should be replaced by lists. This is partly because I think the lack of detail in these lists is problematic, but also partly because I recognize that lists in themselves do not, beyond a point, deliver justice – either statist, or through individual accountability, however you chose to define that word.

      Despite the all of the obvious drawbacks, however I will continue to take the list-form seriously, because of the manner in which it has accrued weight and power through the sheer number of women wishing to add their experiences to it, all over the world. Even if not all of them are able to come forward with the details of their stories as a step 2, as we saw happen with three or four of the individuals who had contributed names to the original list.

  2. rituparna

    Thanks for this. It is very balanced. You said almost everything needed. The committee system and the list system can be together. List can get its own committee form. But no faculties or student body leaders with political links should be in that. There are genuine fears among students in this. Don’t know if you agree. There are complicated issues to explore more. Some were brought up by this https://www.dailyo.in/voices/harvey-weinstein-academics-sexual-harassment-rape-culture/story/1/20225.html
    And this is about learning from history
    http://www.firstpost.com/india/amid-changing-nature-of-sex-as-an-activity-debates-over-raya-sarkars-list-represent-post-colonial-binaries-4194227.html
    And Rama Lakshmi was also saying similar things.
    I hope you make another post with needed nuances.

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