Why Kavita Krishnan doesn't agree with Raya Sarkar's #HimToo list naming alleged sexual predators

Kavita Krishnan talks about the dangers of a system that promotes naming and shaming while ignoring essential checks and balances

A list comprising names of members of academia who allegedly were sexually predatory or sexually harassed someone is doing the rounds on social media. Titled “Sexual Violence Hall of Shame”, the list contains 76 (as per the latest update) names from India’s top academic institutions like FTII, SRFTI, Jadavpur University, Delhi University, apart from professors from reputed universities in the US and UK.

The list compiled by California-based law student Raya Sarkar through crowd-sourcing, has led to an ethical debate on anonymous name-calling. Many have questioned the propriety of the way the list was compiled and released online, while others have hailed it as an effective tool against the culture of silence that pervades our society when it comes to speaking against sexually predatory behaviour of powerful men.

The list seems to be inspired from the work of C. Christine Fair, Distinguished Associate Professor, Georgetown University. She chronicled her experience and named a professor of Indian origin from the University of Chicago in an article in HuffPost, which was later taken down. Raya, who describes herself as “an attorney interested in prisoner’s rights, reproductive rights, and anti-caste jurisprudence” also begins her list with the same name.

In an article in The Print, talking about whether such an anonymous list is ethical or not, Fair says, “I think it is extremely important that we stop focusing upon the victims who have to defend their credibility. I’m tired of defending my credibility. It’s time to ask the perpetrators to defend their credibility”

However, prominent Indian feminists have flagged Raya’s list from anonymous victims and observers as a matter of serious concern. Nivedita Menon wrote a statement in the collaborative blog Kafila undersigned by other feminists like Kavita Krishnan and Vrinda Grover. She wrote:

“It worries us that anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability…We appeal to those who are behind this initiative to withdraw it, and if they wish to pursue complaints, to follow due process, and to be assured that they will be supported by the larger feminist community in their fight for justice.”

After the statement was released, Menon and co faced severe online backlash for appealing that the list be withdrawn. In an interview to inUth, Kavita Krishnan elaborates on why she thinks this list is dangerous and in fact counter-productive to the cause of victims of sexual violence.

Excerpts from the interview:

Why did you want the list taken down?

Let me make it very clear. None of us would ever ask a victim to withdraw anything she has written on social media, even anonymously. But we had a serious problem with the way this list was collated. It’s just one person acting as the sole process. It’s not there is some kind of internal committee or something. It’s just one person filtering all the information and putting it out. In this case the power to decide who makes it to the list and who doesn’t rest with just one person. Another problem is that it’s an undifferentiated list, no matter what the nature of the complaint is against that person, they will be looked at the same way.

But Raya has claimed that she has done her due diligence before putting the list out. (In an interview to Buzzfeed she said that she “has collected screenshots of chats, WhatsApp messages, emails, call recordings that corroborate” the victim’s version)

A WhatsApp message or screenshot doesn’t mean anything at all. The thing is that you (Raya) are inviting complaints from other observers of such predatory behaviour. Now, an observer can see things from their own moral prism. Christine Fair writing about people who sexually harassed her is perfectly all right, according to me. There is some accountability in that. But this process in which one individual wields this level of power without any transparency is problematic. Also, it could interfere with ongoing cases of sexual harassment, if they find a mention in the list.

After the statement was released, the whole episode is being made out to be a fight be between “savarna feminists” and Dalit feminists. (Raya is a Dalit activist). What do you have to say about that?

I dont’ want to go into these terms because I don’t believe in it. Raya Sarkar has attacked me previously also for supporting the complainant in the Mahmood Farooqui case. She later deleted those screenshots. I don’t understand such feminist politics. Vrinda, Ayesha, Nivedita and I have always stood with complainants against people whom we know, against people who have been our friends for decades and we have been abused for that. I was even abused by Raya Sarkar.

Do you think the list could be used as a source material for an investigation on suo moto basis?

I don’t think this list can be a source for any kind of investigation. Until and unless there is a specific complaint, there can be no investigation.