This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Achintya TCA. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

As A Man, How Do I Respond To Anonymous Accusations Of Sexual Harassment?

More from Achintya TCA

The current controversy over the viral and crowd-sourced Facebook post seeking to ‘name and shame’ academic persons accused of sexual harassment has brought to the fore some questions I’ve had about dealing with allegations of sexual harassment that I’ve grappled with, but have never been able to obtain clear answers to.

Before I outline this, a little context is necessary. Raya Sarkar’s list accusing various academic persons of being sexual predators is the major prompter behind this article. The list names individuals allegedly based on materials provided to Sarkar by individuals who say they have been sexually harassed or are friends with (and represent) someone who has. From what I have read online, Sarkar seems to have been inspired by C Christine Fair’s article (which originally appeared on HuffPost, but seems to have been taken down since) accusing noted historian Dipesh Chakrabarty of sexual harassment. She has also been inspired by the #MeToo movement on social media.

While I have nothing to comment about Christina’s article, the latter is a movement which I support wholeheartedly. Sarkar has said that she is maintaining a database of the accusations, the evidences and the people making the claims. However, it is worth noting that from a reader’s perspective, the list seems to be based on anonymous accusations. Sarkar may know who the accusers are and the context of their accusations – but those reading, commenting on and sharing her post (and her other interactions with the subject) do not.

My aim here isn’t to offer a defence for, or a corroboration of, the accusations against any of the individuals named in this list. First, I want to outline the issue of sexual harassment as I understand it, and then put across the questions I am hoping to receive answers to.

It is also necessary to enter into some important caveats here. The first is that as an upper middle-class male in India, I come from an extremely privileged background. I am not someone who has faced sexual harassment, largely due to these privileges of class and gender. Therefore, I cannot claim to understand what it is like to be a victim of sexual harassment. Nor is it my desire to tell others what actions specifically constitute (or do not constitute) sexual harassment, or explain what sort of ‘reaction’ is ‘appropriate’ to facing sexual harassment. The term, as I understand it, is ‘mansplaining’ – and I hope not to do it.

My understanding of sexual harassment is that the action or event of harassment comprises two elements. One is the intent to harass, and the second is the perception or feeling of being harassed. I believe that while the two elements are linked, it is possible for one to exist without the other. For example, person X may say or do something to person Y. It may be that X either intended to make Y feel harassed or did not. Similarly, Y may or may not feel harassed, regardless of whether X intended to do so (or not). I also understand that these issues are complicated by context. Thus, for instance, behaviour that is ‘appropriate’ between friends or equals can be ‘inappropriate’ if said interaction is between strangers, or between a subordinate and a superior.

In an accusation of sexual harassment, we can thus envisage three possible realities or situations:

Situation 1 – In this situation, there was an intent to harass by the accused.

Situation 2 – Here, there may have been no intent to harass – but the complainant nonetheless feels sexually harassed or exploited by the actions, statements or general behaviour of the accused.

Situation 3 – There is no sense that harassment took place, but the accusation is made nonetheless due to a malicious motivation.

The third situation can easily be described as a ‘false accusation’, just as the first is demonstrably a ‘true accusation’. The complication lies in characterising the second. The complainant in this case does feel harassed and regards their accusation to be true and valid. Whether the interaction is widely regarded as ‘sexual harassment’ or not is, to a large extent, immaterial and irrelevant. The point is that the harassed person genuinely believes that they have been victimised, which means that we cannot and should not assume malice on the complainant’s part in making the accusation of harassment.

It is important to note here that this issue becomes even more complicated in any professional setting or where a power dynamic exists. Once a belief of being harassed exists, it can be extremely difficult to determine whether or not future interactions are coloured by the act of sexual harassment.

Thus, in the light of Raya Sarkar’s or Christine Fair’s post, once a student is harassed by an academic supervisor, or believes they are, it can be almost impossible to determine whether subsequent actions by that academic person are further actions as part of a campaign to exploit and victimise, or merely the ‘interactions’ between teacher and student. This is basically when the interactions tend to be ‘negative’, which is not infrequent (as I understand it), since a person is unlikely to have a positive and fruitful relationship with a superior or colleague whom they believe had  harassed them. This can be regardless of whether the accused ‘intended’ to harass or not. The reason I point out this difficulty is because it cannot be denied that people who have been sexually harassed are often further victimised and attacked by their persecutors and the power and institutional structure they inhabit.

It is in the context of these three potential situations that my question arises. And my question is simply this – how am I, as a man, expected to act if I am accused anonymously of having sexually harassed someone? At a broader level, the question stands true, irrespective of whether one knows the accuser or not. In my case, if I knew the person making the accusation, I would certainly apologise for any inadvertent action which may have caused someone to feel harassed.

The problem lies in engaging with an anonymous accusation. How should I respond to such a claim? In the case of an anonymous accusation, I have no way of knowing whether the accusation belongs to the second or third situation outlined above. Since I cannot know who the person making the accusation is, I have no way of knowing which actions of mine stand indicted, and whether or not the person genuinely feels harassed. This is especially true if the accusation is made on social media, where it can easily go viral and ruin my personal and professional reputation and standing in the community I have to survive in.

There is a reason for these fears of mine. While I have never fallen prey to sexual harassment and haven’t been accused of it either, I have been a victim of a generally false accusation. As part of a team effort in preparing for a major multi-stage competitive event, I was accused, after the preliminary qualifiers, of not pulling my weight in the team effort. Though I believed that I had contributed extensively to the team and even tried to say so, I was removed from the team. While many in the surrounding community had rallied around me, and had given me enormous support, the feelings of betrayal, anger and despair due to these false accusations lingered with me for a long while.  In fact, these feelings still colour my interactions with friends and colleagues in some ways, though many years have passed ever since.

And it is these memories that motivate the questions I have. How do I engage with an anonymous accusation? I am mindful of the problems with hitting back at the accuser, or advocating that people be stopped from making accusations unless they can prove them and then be punished if they are unable to do so. These actions will make it harder for people to come forward with their narratives of being harassed – and will therefore make it far easier for a person in authority to suppress and even destroy the survivors, both professionally and perhaps even personally.

Given then that my hands are tied, how am I supposed to react? If I were a teacher or an academic person employed in an institution (which I could easily be at this moment, as I have finished my Masters), and my name were to somehow figure in this sort of controversy – how could or should I respond to the accusation? I would hesitate to call out or attack the accuser, since I would not know whether they genuinely feel harassed or whether their actions are malicious. On the other hand, if others came out in my support, it would likely be construed as proof of a process of ‘victim shaming’ or attempted ‘silencing of the accusation’.

What actions or options are available to the person accused which would allow them to show that they are innocent? I hold no brief for an individual who falls into the first situation I had outlined, since any person who intended to harass someone deserves all the legal penalties and social opprobrium due to them. However, if a person doesn’t believe that they have harassed someone, how are they to respond, without seeking to further victimise someone who may genuinely believe that they have been harassed? How do they tell if an accusation is true or not, especially if the general institutions which would judge such matters don’t come into play – given the anonymous and possibly viral nature of an accusation in public or on social media, and the general systematic and institutional apathy that exists in properly investigating or punishing those accused of harassment?


I do not pose these questions as an exercise in rhetoric. I am genuinely keen to know how a person should respond to an anonymous accusation of sexual harassment if they believe in their innocence. I can be reached on Facebook if someone wishes to help me answer this, or respond to my article.


_

Featured image used for representative purposes only.

You must be to comment.
  1. Kavita Bhabhi

    Both men and women should have equal rights and equal laws protecting them

More from Achintya TCA

Similar Posts

By Prerana

By Utthan Survivors Leaders Council

By Anugraha Venugopal

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below