Over the past one year, I have been trying to make a college in Kerala – in a women’s college in Kerala– take some action against one of their faculty members who rained abuse on me publicly, including a public assertion about his possession of a penis, at a seminar in which I was an invited guest. This happened in November 2019.
The college principal did not formally apologise for the boorish behaviour of a staff member towards an invited guest. Even the department which organised the seminar seemed so petrified that they forgot to send a formal apology, though many members apologized personally. The college made some disciplinary noises, including a summons to me to appear before them, which reached me the day before the meeting was scheduled (I live in the southern-most district of Kerala, and this college is up north, and it takes a whole night’s travel to get there by the fastest train. I think the disciplinary committee thought that I must be punished first by making me run to them). They did not respond to my expressed willingness to appear before them online. Claims were made later that the offender had submitted a written apology to the Principal, but there seems to be no record of this; in any case, I was not informed.
The ICC was non-existent when I tried to complain. And the Principal realized that she had to set it up; the process appears to have been chaotic and unwilling. I suspect that there are too many there who think that neither the shameful breach of seminar etiquette nor the open insults hurled at a woman visitor are worthy of condemnation, leave alone punishment. The process lagged so long that people may have struggled to recall the exact sequence of events or the words.
In January 2020, after endless prodding and threats to report to the higher authorities and a bumbling and reluctant ICC investigation, I finally get a report from a hurriedly-set-up Internal Complaints Committee. No prizes for guessing what the findings are.
I intend to fight for justice no matter what cost it entails. Because this person’s anger was clearly against my status as a public intellectual. A confessed fan of the CPM-supported intellectual Sunil Elayidom and apparently of the dalit intellectual Sunny Kapikad, his ire was about my criticisms of the two. He believed that I was driven by hatred towards men — in his view there are two kinds of feminists, one group who hate men and the others who hate patriarchy (Oh, haven’t we heard this a thousand times?). He claimed that I am a ‘hybrid’ of the two and that I lean now towards man-hatred. I found the characterisation ‘hybrid’ insulting in the extreme, but given the levels of patriarchy even in the space of liberal education in Kerala, it is almost impossible to convince anyone. Indeed, even convincing most people that calling a feminist man-hater is actually hate-speech is an uphill task.
And by calling me this, the man dismisses my public voice as driven by harmful and irrational impulses — despite my response to him that there were excellent reasons I have given for being critical of these two men which have nothing to do with any like or dislike of men.
This happened in a women’s college in a seminar hall, in an audience in which young women students were a substantial presence, at a seminar organized by a faculty of mostly women. The shouting and gesticulating as well as the abuse would obviously affect them too. That too by a faculty member with high-level connections in a dominant left party.
And I am fighting this also for my younger female colleagues at Centre for Development Studies. CDS is not part of the university system and we do not have the protection of the unions. They too will visit colleges to present seminars. What if they are treated the same way by institutions in which thuggish behaviour against guests seems to be an object of adoration?
I cannot write about the ICC report though it pains me immensely not to, and indeed affects my ability to fight injustice. The confidentiality clause attached to the report is broken with impunity by the accused, usually, especially those who aim at injuring the complainant further. In this case, confidentiality feels like a terrible hurdle that protects the accused and those who covered up his injurious act.
And it is hard to heal without speaking out.
Worse, in battles like this one in which one realizes again, the hard way, how shallow the claims of the political left in Kerala are, one is usually drained of the energy to do anything positive. A state-level leader of the left party with which this man happens to be associated threw up his hands and said that since I chose to discuss the matter in public, the ‘damage’ to his party was already done and that he would now do nothing. It is harder to imagine a more loutish, uncaring, chillingly indifferent response, and it came from a senior left leader in the state.
I am however determined to persist, simply because the weaknesses made apparent by the MeToo movement is too fresh in my mind. The ICCs are still a necessity, I believe, and we need to fight to transform them into institutions of justice, even if at present they are vulnerable to capture by patriarchal interests. I am hoping to develop, in the following months, a website with the resources that people may need to set up ICCs in Kerala’s colleges as a way of turning this horrible experience into something worthwhile and useful in the long run – of turning this into a collective, not an individual, issue.
And I need to take on the discourse generated in and around this ‘inquiry’, though I cannot and will not discuss the report. Over the past year, the stories about what happened there, which emanated from that college, have enveloped me like a poisonous cloud. I need to breathe. To write about how vicious they are, but more importantly, the harm they do to the critical thinking that liberal education in a college is expected to foster. Maybe this exercise may even be useful to others. Below, I want to list out the logical fallacies which I myself have noticed in my brief interaction with the faculty members of this college, and which have been brought to my attention by friends who chanced to come across their gossip networks:
To begin with, on the day of the seminar, the abuse hurled was full of naked untruths — false premises and unwarranted inferences — besides fallacies. The claim that I am a ‘hybrid feminist’, and that at least part of my thinking was motivated by man-hatred was an untrue assertion of the worst sort, supported only by threatening body language and shouting. There seems to have been a minor campaign to spread untruths – for example, about the witness statements, that some of my friends there who were shocked at what happened, had testified against me. Among the many logical fallacies were prominently ad hominem — the implication that my criticisms of Sunil Elayidom and Sunny Kapikad came out of a personal dislike. To the teachers there who seem to have found no issue at all in this man’s violent disruption of an academic event, maybe logical fallacies would be just trivia — cheelu caseu, as we say in Thiruvananthapuram, merely a sliver.
Among the many kinds of defenses these colleagues of the culprit offered (in their whisper campaign), the most interesting one I heard is the claim that the poor man was referring to ‘gender’, and not ‘sex’ when he kept referring to his lingam, and how he could not keep quite when he possessed it. Ah, the gender between men’s legs! What a discovery, ye feminists! Lingam would be a sexually abusive term, according to these poor sods, only if it referred to a sexual organ, you see, but not if it was gender, that social construct. But the problem is that it is hard to see how anyone could possess a social construct, or how it could be located precisely in the space between a man’s legs!! In fact, overlying a poor, innocent, limp little thing which God or Nature put there, unfairly implicating it in this mess! I could go on and on in the vein, but let me get back to the logic lesson: this is perhaps an excellent illustration of the ambiguity fallacy, by which one deliberately misreads: like the wise guy who tried to evade a parking fine by claiming that the meaning of a sign in front of a fire-station which said ‘Fine for parking here’ to mean that it was fine to park there.
Of all the plaints against me that some have been making, the most frequent one was about their lack of understanding of the whole business — apparently, a whole lot of them (male and female) can’t figure out what gender abuse is, how women can feel offended at all by a man shouting at them and claiming the gender-between-the-legs privilege, how women scholars can lay a claim to respect over and above the privileges (rightfully) enjoyed by paavam purushanmaar, how something like the ICC can be even imagined, leave alone permitted — even how men are expected to get their wives’ consent before sex (really, I kid you not — this was apparently voiced by one of this man’s supporters in a private discussion!). Because they just feel so challenged by the whole process, and unable to understand the persistence of the aggrieved to secure justice, they declare that he is innocent! This is of course the fallacy of personal incredulity — they can’t understand what the fuck’s going on, so it must be all cooked up. And a subset of this group seem to be driven by the slippery-slope fallacy too : they agree that the man behaved atrociously, but if he is punished for that, the sky will collapse on top of the college.
Another of the most frequently-wielded defense-instrument is the ‘No-True-Scotsman’ fallacy. This is an appeal to purity by which you won’t allow your view to be falsified no matter how numerous and compelling the evidence is, because it does not fit your idea of a ‘true example’. In this case, many of our hero’s friends, especially those armed — no, legged — with ‘gender’ — have been claiming that he never uttered the word purushavirodham in his tirade. Now, that is a gross untruth — he did indeed utter it. But more than that, he kept elaborating it in different ways, avoiding the word but claiming frequently the same in other terms — for instance, accusing me of ‘shaming all men alike’ (aanungale ingane adachaakshepikkumbol…) To these men who probably think with the ‘gender’ between their legs, unless the word purushavirodham is uttered, there is no reason to feel offended!! This fallacy appears a second time in another argument about that word, lingam. They do admit that many people who attended the seminar did hear it being uttered, but since they all heard it in sentences that differ slightly in their construction, they are all probably lying. Of course, the fact that all of this is being discussed a full year after the incident — after the ICC process was stalled under various pretexts — does not matter to the peddlers of this fallacy! Indeed, it is not surprising that ad hominem and the genetic fallacy are all over the place providing shelter for the cowardly and the foolish (thanks to FaceBook etc.) but the preponderance of the No True Scotsman fallacy needs greater scrutiny and may be of interest to sociological research. However, for the time being, I shall attribute it to the swollen egos that have taken refuge in witless heads, which would collapse at the first attempt at falsification.
Then there are the loaded questions which shade into ad hominem and other fallacies, and again, it is a sociological curiosity that these seem to be mostly from the women who are committed to saving a man and hoping to gain some petty recognition. Why didn’t she mention the sexual charge in her first email to the Principal, they ask, and has she indeed heard the word ‘purushavirodham’ uttered? Does she have a reputation of being quarrelsome? What do her male colleagues think of her? Is she, umm, married … or a divorcee? There is a certain cunning in the way these women operate. Their brains are probably more invested in the cunning they need for survival than in either critical thinking or moral uprightness.
In all this talk, a pervasive fallacy is that of cherry-picking — of selecting facts to suit the wrongdoer. So a certain lady teacher from KMMGCW apparently told someone I know that I withdrew from the conciliation process after agreeing to let the committee initiate it. Of course, concealing the fact that I withdrew after the accused sent me a legal notice that made baseless allegations about a Facebook post of mine!
This is of course an incomplete list but sufficient enough to make me ask the authorities who control college education in Kerala, as a taxpayer : leave alone their support of blatant untruths with the intention of protecting the culprit, why are we paying these people when they clearly seem to lack the ability to even think logically? What are students going to gain from them? Except a clear depletion of their intellectual abilities? What will the students of a college gain from teachers and college authorities who apparently don’t care a fig for decent behaviour in a seminar and much less for gender justice? What are they going to learn from a college principal who had not even heard of the Internal Complaints Committee until I pressed for it — and seemed quite cool that the institution was in violation of the law of the land not having it?