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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sexual harassment claims: SFS expels member, issues ‘triggering’ statement

The committee Thursday released a statement "based on accounts of survivors only”.

Written by Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula |
Updated: April 16, 2021 5:14:59 pm
It was on April 6, that a joint statement alleging sexual harassment against a long time SFS member at the Panjab University had been put in public domain by two women.

After multiple women leveled allegations of sexual harassment against an active member of Students For Society (SFS), a left wing student organisation, the member was expelled from the organisation Thursday.

The statement released by SFS while expelling this member, however, has been termed as ‘triggering’, ‘regressive’ and ‘patriarchal’.

It was on April 6, that a joint statement alleging sexual harassment against a long time SFS member at the Panjab University had been put in public domain by two women. More people had then come forward reporting similar incidences, some publicly, others anonymously.

One of the women had also stated that in 2018, a sexual harassment complaint against the accused had been filed by her to the executive committee (EC) of SFS. The EC had probed the case and found him guilty. The complainant, assuming it to be a lone incident, had asked the accused to apologize while giving him a chance to rectify. But after several more such cases came to her knowledge, including that of her close friend, the two decided on making their experiences public.

The SFS EC took suo motu cognizance of these cases and suspended the abuser immediately while forming a committee to inquire into the allegations. All survivors, claims SFS, were contacted by the committee to collect necessary details pertaining to the sexual harassment cases. Accused was also approached to appear before committee but he chose not to appear.

The committee Thursday released a statement “based on accounts of survivors only”.

The statement by the committee read, “The committee found the accused guilty of sexual harassment in four cases…Such inappropriate behaviour is not expected from any person, especially from a member of our organization which is working for social transformation…These incidents result in overt objectification and commodification of women. It presents women as a consumable commodity. It consciously derails the process of women emancipation. In the name of “freedom”, imperialist culture introduces various trends like pre-marital sex, live-in relations, multiple relations et al, which ultimately results in the exploitation of women. We are of opinion that sexual harassment cases, like the present ones, does not emanate from vacuum but is definitely the product of the socio-economic political system…Therefore, such individual cases must not be seen in isolation from the larger malaise present in the society. Any solution or any social transformation can not necessarily be brought completely without smashing casteist, feudal, patriarchal and imperialist system which nurtures, promotes and maintains the structural base of women exploitation in the first place. By just punishing individuals, the structural basis of these anti-women trends cannot be eliminated from society. As individuals are products of social conditions, punishment must not be seen as an act of revenge. Rather pursuit should be to fight out its root causes.”

Expelling the accused, they said, “Expulsion is the punishment which we exercise as a last resort. We are using this extreme option for the first time in the history of SFS. We expel him from our basic membership. He should not be considered as representative of our organization in any form. Revival of his membership cannot be considered at least for a minimum period of two years. After that if he realises his wrongs, renders unconditional apology and shows exemplary change in his conduct, then only it could be considered.”

The statements made by the organisation have triggered the survivors.

One of the complainants talking to The Indian Express said, “Its not just about me. There are nine others of whom only four are being considered in the statement. Third party accounts have not been taken into consideration. The statements are regressive, they are patriarchal and they seem to be an apologising ground for the abuser even when the person was already given a chance to improve in January 2018. It is now April 2021 and cases have been reported increasingly. This statement has severely toned down our combined experiences.”

She added, “Harassment definitely also branches from socio-economic and political structures but the mentality where they have talked about live-in relationships, pre-marital sex in the name of ‘freedom’ is regressive. It is victim-blaming under a protectionist approach. I expected more from the organisation. We did not approach them to just get our sexual harassment experiences validated. This is triggering and other victims have too been triggered and registered their dissent with the organisation regarding the statement.”
“I want to register that even progressive spaces are no different and we have to fight inside as well. This should be no shame to the organisation or to their ideology. While I am still a part of the organisation, I am thinking it over after this statement,” she further said.

The other complainant questioned the expulsion of two years: “We did not expect anything from anyone when we put out the statement. The committee has not added to our justice in any way. I strongly condemn the two year expulsion as the incidents of harassment range from 2017 until very recently. So how do they expect a change within two years?”

Talking about the way ahead, she said, “I do not want to take a legal recourse against him. Its not in my capacity to do that. It is more triggering. I will work on ensuring that all educational, artistic and protest spaces in the city remain safe. We will not let serial abusers have a space of influence in our circle from where they can exercise their grooming and manipulative behavior to lure people into their traps. We would be working towards creating an environment where counselling, healing and reformative justice can be practiced.”

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