“This is lynch-mob mentality”: ACJ Chairperson Sashi Kumar on the sexual-harassment allegations against Sadanand Menon

24 May 2018
''I find it very implausible that all these are very vulnerable and naïve people who will not speak,'' Sashi Kumar said.
Ashwin Manikandan
''I find it very implausible that all these are very vulnerable and naïve people who will not speak,'' Sashi Kumar said.
Ashwin Manikandan

Earlier this month, 35 writers, activists, journalists and other members of civil society wrote a public letter to the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) in Chennai, urging it to conduct a probe into an allegation of sexual harassment against the culture critic Sadanand Menon, who is a member ofas p the ACJ’s adjunct faculty. The signatories published the letter after the college’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) refused to institute an inquiry into a complaint that a former student of the institute had filed in January 2018. In the complaint, the former student alleged that Menon had sexually harassed her at SPACES, a prominent cultural venue in Chennai of which Menon is the managing trustee. The student also described her ordeal in an account published on the website the News Minute earlier that month.

In the public letter—which was widely shared and subsequently signed by 150 others—the signatories confirmed that the complainant was referring to Menon in her News Minute piece. They wrote that they had become aware of several other alleged cases of sexual harassment by Menon, including those involving members of the LGBTQI community, and a minor. On 9 May, the ACJ released a statement announcing that Menon had decided to not teach his elective course in the coming academic year, and that he was “considering legal actionagainst those who have published false and defamatory allegations against him.”

The Caravan contacted various persons involved with the issue, and is publishing their responses as a series. Surabhi Kanga, an editor at The Caravan,spoke to Sashi Kumar, the chairperson of the ACJ. Kumar discussed the ACJ’s decision to not conduct an inquiry into the complaint against Menon and the conversations that took hold of the college after the complaint was filed. He also responds to allegations raised in another public letter written by students from the 2017–18 graduating class of the ACJ, in which they condemn the ICC’s decision and detail the difficulties they faced when interacting with the administration on the subject.

Surabhi Kanga: In late 2017, Sadanand Menon was named in a crowd-sourced list prepared by the lawyer Raya Sarkar, of men in academia who had allegedly sexually harassed women. The list was widely shared. Was the ACJ aware of the list, and was there a discussion regarding it within the institute and its administration?

Sashi Kumar: There was no discussion about Raya’s list in the institute or the administration. We, as a principle, don’t take on board anonymous complaints made about somebody pertaining to the college.

Surabhi Kanga is the web editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: Chennai Vishaka Guidelines sexual harassment internal complaints committee Asian College of Journalism SPACES Sadanand Menon Sexual harassment allegations against Sadanand Menon
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