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India’s culture of silence around sexual harassment on campus

Mar 14, 2018 by

Most in academic circles refuse to acknowledge sexual harassment, making it difficult for victims to come forward

By Saikat Datta –

The indictment of a prominent academic for sexual harassment in one of India’s premier universities has revealed a disturbing culture of silence around alleged habitual predators, an Asia Times inquiry has found.

Professor Lawrence Liang, dean of the School of Law, Governance and Citizenship at Ambedkar University Delhi was found “guilty” of sexual harassment in late February by an Inquiry Committee set up by the university.

However, the charges against Liang, and a whispering campaign about him, are not new. He was named in a crowd-sourced list put together last October by several women in India. They, in turn, were inspired by Professor Christine Fair’s scathing piece on the silence she encountered on sexual harassment over decades in academia.

The Liang case could be a turning point. It has lifted the veil on a disturbing issue that few speak of, let alone complain about. But interviews with various academics, feminists and lawyers by Asia Times have revealed that there was a culture that enabled Liang’s transgressions.

Conspiracy of silence

In March 2000, Liang co-founded the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), a collective of “progressive” lawyers based in Bangalore (Bengaluru) who worked on issues of human rights, free speech and provided legal services to marginalized groups. It ticked all the right causes and was seen as a key body fighting for liberal causes and individual rights.

However, the Ambedkar Inquiry Committee’s report reveals hints about Liang’s past behavior at ALF. Paragraph 3.3.3 of the report details two incidents with legal interns that reflects his behavior with the complainant in the current case. The report records “unwelcome kisses” for interns constitutes “sexual harassment”. In his defense, Liang responded to a specific question about the “unwelcome kisses”, saying that “in a strict reading of the term…it would absolutely constitute”  sexual harassment. However, he tried to make a case that if the sexual harassment law was not read in the “strictest terms” he could interpret it as a “complex” interaction with the interns. The Inquiry Committee said it “disagrees” with his interpretation. In its view, Liang was guilty of harassment.

But a few members, past and present, at the Alternative Law Forum who Asia Times spoke to noted that the atmosphere and culture of the organization prevented them from speaking up. “We were told that if we were to continue with the organization, then the Board would not allow these issues to be raised,” one member said on the strict condition of anonymity. As a result, several testimonies remained buried with the apparent support of ALF’s leaders.

A third case was referred to in the Inquiry Committee report. A witness told the committee that she asked “her colleagues at (Alternative Law Forum) about (Liang); her colleagues said that (Liang) had a reputation of behaving similarly”. In fact, the witness also referred to a personal encounter as a part of her deposition, when Liang made an “inappropriate comment”.

continue: India’s culture of silence around sexual harassment on campus | Asia Times

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