Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), one of the most prestigious media institutions in the country, is mired in a controversy over the sexual harassment allegations against adjunct faculty member Sadanand Menon. While students weren’t satisfied with the approach taken by ACJ concerning the matter, a fresh statement has condemned the students’ protest, defending SPACES — a cultural venue run by Menon, where the alleged incident took place— from “character assassination”.
Former Registrar, ACJ, Gita Jayaraj, in the statement, deemed the students’ actions amounting to “malice and defamation” as the allegations are yet to be proven. “While the original charge has not yet been examined, there has been an incendiary attempt to conflate various vague rumours and hearsay and formulate and spread new allegations as though they were proven facts,” she wrote on Facebook.
Incidentally, Menon’s name had been mentioned in Raya Sarkar’s List of Sexual Harassers in Academia (LoSHA), which went viral back in October 2017. After the release of the list, former ACJ student Neerja Dasani wrote about her own sexual harassment in The News Minute in January, also complaining to the institution’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) against Menon. A few other students also accused Menon of sexual harassment following Dasani’s account. However, the institution is yet to establish the facts of the case through an investigation.
The ICC refused to lodge Dasani’s complaint on the grounds that she was neither on the ACJ campus nor a student of the institution, at the time of the incident. The failure to register a complaint drove students of the batch 2017-18 to protest against the dismissal and demand a more “robust” policy against sexual harassment. However, ACJ has maintained that the charges against Menon are of “defamatory” intent and are nothing more than “speculation or rumour”.
Mirroring the same expression, the recent statement—signed by 48 activists, writers, artists, and others—reads, “For a sustained and effective opposition to sexual harassment, it is important that general and vague allegations be viewed with deeper scrutiny than what appears to have been done by a bewildering array of persons to the sudden spurt of allegations against well-known cultural critic, Sadanand Menon.”
“Our main concern here is about the inevitable banalising of such a serious matter as sexual harassment, unless campaigns are tempered with responsibility,” the statement adds. “It is no disservice to feminism to say that human memory, motivations, and interpretations are infinitely more varied and complicated than are attributable to gender alone.”
Asserting that both Menon and the accusers are “entitled to fair process and justice”, the statement urged to shift focus to “other ways” of resolution. “A particular reported incident must be investigated but we are dismayed by the way rumour and hearsay are being freely used to give unsubstantiated allegations the status of proven fact,” it reads.
Referring to SPACES as an “oxygen tank” for artistic and cultural activities, the statement read that the matter has brought its “vibrancy and integrity” into question with “innuendo and character assassination.”
“We request that the outstanding work done by SPACES as a liberal, accessible and inclusive space in the cause of artistic and cultural expressions and exchanges not be undermined,” the statement reads.
Here is the entire statement with the list of signatories: