Earlier this month, 35 writers, activists, journalists and other members of civil society wrote a public letterto 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 of 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 action against 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. Below is an interview with two signatories to the letter—Sharadha Shankar, an entrepreneur based in Chennai; and Archanaa Seker, a writer and activist. Shankar and Seker were involved in drafting the letter and collecting endorsements for it. Surabhi Kanga, an editor with The Caravan, asked them about the events that took place after the News Minute article was published, and why the signatories decided to draft the letter. They also discussed the role of SPACES and the artists associated with it—some of whom issued a statement on 15 May, describing the venue as an “oxygen tank” for non-traditional art, and claiming that its “vibrancy and integrity ... have been brought into question with innuendo and character assassination.”
Surabhi Kanga: Could you describe the events that took place after the News Minute piece was published? What led to the letter being drafted?
Sharadha Shankar and Archanaa Seker: Though the complainant had not mentioned any names in her News Minute article, a few of us who knew her well could immediately understand that she was talking about Mr Menon. It was not vindictive; this happened to her a few years back and she now felt emboldened to speak about it. We reached out to her.