Asian College Of Journalism Sexual Harassment Row

In October 2017, law student Raya Sarkar published a list of alleged sexual predators in Indian universities. She listed 58 academics in as many as 29 institutions, research centres and universities across the country.
One of the names was Sadanand Menon, adjunct faculty at Chennai’s Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), one of India’s premier institutions. Menon is also an arts editor of national repute, photographer, and a “popular” teacher of culture at another prestigious institution – IIT Madras.
After Sarkar’s list, at least one alumnus, Preeti (name changed), lodged a formal sexual harassment complaint with ACJ’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) against Menon, in January 2018.
In October 2017, law student Raya Sarkar published a list of alleged sexual predators in Indian universities. She listed 58 academics in as many as 29 institutions, research centres and universities across the country.
One of the names was Sadanand Menon, adjunct faculty at Chennai’s Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), one of India’s premier institutions. Menon is also an arts editor of national repute, photographer, and a “popular” teacher of culture at another prestigious institution – IIT Madras.
After Sarkar’s list, at least one alumnus, Preeti (name changed), lodged a formal sexual harassment complaint with ACJ’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) against Menon, in January 2018.
“The incident happened when Preeti was working with Sadanand Menon. We have no jurisdiction to probe into the matter. It is not about technicality or being time-bound. On what basis do we investigate this?”-
Sashi Kumar, ACJ Chairman.
Menon, who handles the arts and culture elective in the college, reportedly dedicated an entire session to convey why he thought he was on the list. According to students who were present during the session, Menon defended himself by stating that he “pecked” a student on her cheek, as a gesture of appreciation for her “good work” but that his intentions were “misinterpreted”.
“We live in a world where we have to question liberal institutions, whether they will take action against cases of sexual harassment. This is basic decency. This is something we come to expect from a decent human being, from a decent institution. But ACJ has lost that basic decency,” said an alumnus of the institution who is working with a leading media house.
The Demands of the Signees of the Statement
1. We would like ACJ to consider seriously the allegations against Sadanand Menon from the point of view of ethics and accountability and not cite procedural reasons for not wanting to do so. Prevention of sexual harassment is a mandate under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act whose underlying principle is that it is the employer/institution’s duty to ensure that the workplace (in this case the institution) is safe for students. This inquiry must not remain a formal procedure but actually lead to appropriate punitive action. This is particularly important in this instance, where the individual concerned, Sadanand Menon, enjoys undisputed cultural authority and social power.
2. Further, ACJ also has a moral responsibility to assure students that it receives each year, that it takes sexual harassment seriously, and will do all it can to make its premises safe, not only for students but all others associated with it, including staff at every level and those who visit the institution for various purposes. The ICC therefore must be an enabling instrument, and one sensitive to how power plays out in institutions in our context.
3. We wish to note that Sadanand Menon is not only with ACJ, but also a trustee of Spaces, which, to all intentions and purposes, has served as a public arena, used by a range of Chennai-based artists, performers, students, political and civil society groups. Like all public arenas, Spaces, too, owes a measure of accountability to those that use it – and this is also a factor that needs to be addressed by those invested in sexual and gender justice.
4. Since Menon is associated with a number of other educational and cultural institutions it is incumbent on civil society as a whole to remind itself that powerful, charismatic men, charged with mentorship of the young can, and do, misuse the enormous goodwill and trust that young people repose in them; and that however progressive they might claim to be, they are not above treating young persons as sexual prey. In our social context, intellectual authority and allure are not as relentlessly interrogated or made accountable, as more visible and crass expressions of power. This grants intellectual mentors an impunity that urges them on to sexual and other forms of misconduct. The challenge is to call them out, without demonising them or rendering them martyrs and to make them subject not only to the rule of law, but of civility and respect.
The questions we raise go beyond the legal, though the legal arena is where we translate civility into law. To balance legal as well as civic claims to justice and equality is a challenge and we trust and hope that our institutions and civil society meets this challenge in a creative and productive way.

debamitasamajdar

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