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Understanding why an anonymous list of sexual predators exists

Behind an outsourced list of sexual predators is the story of a law that often doesn’t work in favour of the women it is supposed to protect

columns Updated: Nov 03, 2017 17:14 IST
In January this year, the Indian National Bar Association published one of the largest surveys of some 6,000 people across India, 78% of whom were women. It found that 68% of victims avoided reporting workplace sexual harassment
In January this year, the Indian National Bar Association published one of the largest surveys of some 6,000 people across India, 78% of whom were women. It found that 68% of victims avoided reporting workplace sexual harassment(HT photo/Arijit Sen)

I don’t like anonymous lists, that is lists that purport to name sexual predators compiled by one person on the say-so of other unnamed persons. I don’t like them because I subscribe to old school journalism (attribute, get-the-other-side, verify). I don’t like them because they legitimise all sorts of lists from ‘shameless women’ to ‘dog haters’. But mainly I don’t like them because I believe that women are better and must be better.

Having said that, I get it. I get why such a list exists. I get the rage, frustration, need to let off steam and just need to get even with the s-o-b.

And don’t even get me started on ‘due process’.

Here’s what happens to ‘due process’, and I am saying this after covering workplace sexual harassment even before the law was brought in 2013.

The woman complains that her boss has itchy fingers. If she’s lucky, her place of work is compliant with the law and has an internal committee (IC) that regularly undergoes training and includes one external member. If she’s part of the 90% that works in the unorganised sector that is supposed to be protected by the law, at least on paper, then her tale of woe ends right here.

The IC will summon the woman, as it must. Here’s what some have been asked in the very recent past – these are real questions, I am not making them up – do you drink, do you have a boyfriend, do you go to the Press Club?

In January this year, the Indian National Bar Association published one of the largest surveys of some 6,000 people across India, 78% of whom were women. It found that 68% of victims avoided reporting workplace sexual harassment.

It’s easy to see why. India’s test cases from TERI to Greenpeace India are a broken trail of twisted justice and disillusionment.

In almost every case that I am personally aware of, it is the woman who ends up quitting her job. Since she has stuck her neck out by filing a case, she’s tagged a ‘trouble-maker’ and can be almost certain that she will not get another job within the same profession.

Amongst many companies – though MNCs are better off – there is blithe ignorance about what constitutes sexual harassment at work (sorry boys, you may not pester a woman colleague for drinks after she says no to you even once). A 2015 EY survey jointly with FICCI found that 46% of companies surveyed did not have online training modules for new employees.

On a TV show recently, a male lawyer told me that there was no shortage of laws that protect women. Fine, I said, could he tell me how many convictions there had been with regard to the specific law against workplace sexual harassment? There was no response. Instead, he grumbled about how the law was being ‘misused’ by unscrupulous women employees. If only he had bothered to read it, he might have been aware of the provisions and punishments it contains for precisely this misuse.

When Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and child development, suggested that companies be required to disclose in their annual reports whether they were compliant with the sexual harassment law or not, her own cabinet colleagues told her that it would ‘require too much disclosure’.

And then they wonder why women are angry.

In the West, women are standing up and proclaiming, ‘J’accuse’ against powerful entertainment and media moghuls. In India, women who speak up are instantly labelled and hounded out of jobs. I know of two who tried to kill themselves.

Still wonder what makes us angry?

When powerful men accused of sexual harassment by multiple women file defamation suits to the tune of Rs one crore against one of the accusers and her lawyer, there is a chilling effect (as there is with defamation suits routinely filed by outed politicians).

Still wonder why we are furious?

When multiple surveys point out that women do not report sexual harassment out of fear of victimisation and lack of confidence in redressal mechanisms and companies do nothing to change the toxic masculinity that infects their places of work, do you wonder at all why we are mad?

There’s a list of 58 alleged academic predators out there. I’m sad it’s there. I disapprove of it. But I am not one bit surprised that it exists.

Namita Bhandare writes on social issues and gender. She tweets @namitabhandare

The views expressed are personal