Power and Relationships in Academia

http://epw.yodasoft.com/content/sakti-burman-home-world

An avalanche of voices accusing powerful men of sexual harassment has forced us to rethink the spaces we inhabit. The outpour has reiterated two characteristics of harassment at the workplace: its pervasiveness and its invisibility. In the Indian context, a Facebook post listing prominent academicians as alleged sexual harassers prompted a heated debate about the ethics of reporting harassment, amidst the inadequacy of institutional redressal mechanisms. 

 

Harassment of any kind in academic spaces cannot be addressed without unpacking the structures which construct authority, including ideas of academic excellence and reputation. Patriarchy may not always manifest itself as visible harassment, but may often be intertwined with everyday friendship, mentorship, networking, and political camaraderie.  

 

With this feature, EPW Engage aims to encourage conversations on the structure of power and relationships in academia. This is an ongoing project and this page will be updated to include new submissions. We look forward to your contributions.  

 

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The following set of five articles has been put together at an important crossroads—one at which there is a clear articulation of feminist politics beyond the law.

 

It is not for the first time that either experiences of sexual harassment, or the need to talk about it outside of the legal framework, have been discussed. What is distinct, however, is the use of the medium through which the silence around sexual harassment, and more importantly, deepseated misogyny in academia, has been broken.

 

A Facebook post by Raya Sarkar on 24 October 2017 led to debates and exchange of abuses regarding the method of talking about sexual harassment. The method of reporting became a contentious issue because the Facebook post (popularly known as “the list”) named male faculty in different institutions of higher learning as alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment, and cautioned students about the same, without citing specific evidence of where, when, and with whom this alleged harassment had taken place. Twelve Delhi based feminists published a statement expressing dismay at the use of social media to “name and shame,” and reiterated that there can be no substitute to the due process of law in order to get justice in cases of sexual harassment.

 

These articles, written by women sociologists, make a reflexive encounter with modes of articulation, the precarity and possibilities of virtual worlds and social media, and the importance and limitations of due process of formal complaints of sexual harassment.

 

How can we create non-hostile enabling spaces within academic institutions for people from marginalised gender locations? Rather than looking at the list and the statement as binary positions, all the papers emphasise the need to assess the reasons for students’ lack of confidence in the complaints committees in their colleges and universities. At the same time, they propose the urgent need for multilayered conversations and the creation of ethics of care and support networks to provide succour to those who experience (sexual) transgressions.         

 

EPW would like to thank Gita Chadha and Rukmini Sen for putting together the following set of articles.

This is an ongoing project and this page will be updated to include new submissions. We look forward to your contributions.   To read more on Engage, visit www.epw.in/engage

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