It was in March 2018 that Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD) held lawyer and legal luminary Lawrence Liang guilty of sexually harassing a woman between 2015 and 2016. The woman, like Lawrence, was pursuing a doctorate from a university in Delhi when these incidents happened.
Earlier in November 2017, it was announced that Lawrence would be awarded the Infosys Prize for Social Sciences for that year. However, after Lawrence’s conviction by the Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment (CPSH) of AUD, a group of feminists including those associated with the Facebook page 'Fingertip Feminism', started an online petition. It demands that Infosys Science Foundation revoke the award given to a sexual offender.
The petition started by persons who wish to remain anonymous, is addressed to the following people:
- Narayana Murthy, Founder – Infosys
- Kaushik Basu, C Marks Professor of International Studies and Professor of Economics – Cornell University
- Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Vice-Chancellor – Ashoka University
- Amita Baviskar, Professor of Sociology – Institute of Economic Growth
- Arjun Appadurai, Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication – NYU Steinhardt
- Avinash Dixit, John JF Sherrerd ’52 University Professor of Economics Emeritus – Princeton University
It argues that Lawrence was granted the award just a month after his name first appeared on Raya Sarkar’s crowdsourced list of sexual harassers in academia. The petitioners say, “If it truly wishes to set higher ethical standards of research and academic practices, the Infosys Science Foundation must revoke the prize awarded to Lawrence Liang. By doing so, they will be taking the correct, honourable position to stand on the right side of history.”
The feminists who started the petition also condemn the impunity enjoyed by powerful men, who, despite being sexual offenders, are enabled by powerful institutions. “We refuse to see Lawrence Liang as a representative of Social Sciences. This discipline has contributed to much of the progressive discourse around equality and justice as we know them today,” the petition states.
It asks, ultimately, for the award given to Lawrence by the Infosys Science Foundation to be revoked.
The petition is available on Medium and people have been asked to endorse it by sending an email to email@example.com . The list of signatories is updated by the petitioners periodically. See the petition here.
Attempts to discredit the petition
The petitioners make some pertinent points, especially about how institutions enable sexual offenders to get away with their crimes because of their clout and professional achievements.
The original petition was started on a website, YouToo, whose objective was “to have a dedicated portal as a repository for statements and petitions related to feminist causes, especially rape and sexual harassment.”
The petitioners, who wish to remain anonymous, told TNM that when they had started the petition on YouToo, there was a concerted effort to discredit it, allegedly by Liang's supporters.
The miscreants apparently started adding the names of well-known personalities, including journalists and experts from various fields, as signatories to the list. When these people realised they had been impersonated (YouToo would send them an email thanking them for endorsing the petition), they posted on social media saying that they had not, in fact, signed any such petition.
The names that the impersonators added to the signatories included Ramchandra Guha, his son Keshava Guha, Scroll.in editor Naresh Fernandes, even some of the people the petition was addressed to in the first place, among others.
Horrified to receive this email from "YouToo" thanking me for signing a petition to revoke Lawrence Liang's Infosys Prize. I did no such thing. Who knows how many other fake signatures they've gathered? pic.twitter.com/mgEB96VD0E— Keshava Guha (@keshavaguha) April 23, 2018
I did not sign this petition; my name has been fraudulently added: https://t.co/mUpESGRiT7— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) April 23, 2018
didn't know about this, didn't sign it. wouldn't a legit service have an authentication mechanism? pic.twitter.com/IneVY20IAT— Rosie Roti (@supriyan) April 24, 2018
update from an email ID associated with the youtoo petition. pic.twitter.com/sgleYJiGT4— Rosie Roti (@supriyan) April 24, 2018
These responses caused people to distrust the petition and see it as an attempt to slander Lawrence Liang.
When the petitioners looked into the matter, they told TNM what they found: “We […] identified two IP addresses (located in Bengaluru and Mumbai) that were filling [the petition] with fake endorsements and impersonating people including one of the AUD ICC members on social media. AUD was duly notified. We also notified all those people whose names came from those IP addresses and ensured that their signatures wouldn't be included in the final list of signatories (which is now public).”
The petition was then withdrawn from YouToo until the site was made secure. It was also uploaded on Medium.
“What is curious is that a simple petition attracted the ire of so many people who were hell-bent on suppressing it,” the petitioners observe. “We have even had allies of Liang trying their best to make this seem like a smear campaign which is laughable considering the facts of this case are public knowledge.”
“The petition and its signatories were always going to be public, the idea of having unverified or fake endorsements is not only unethical but plain stupid. What the smear campaign against us did, though, was shift the focus from Liang's conviction to the authenticity of the petition,” the petitioners add.
Despite the attack on their credibility, the petitioners say they received support from feminists and allies, which shows how there is a frustration prevalent over men abusing their power to harass survivors and enable abusers.
“If anything, the fact that we were made to struggle in our sincere attempt to revoke a prize given to a sexual harasser (a sensible thing to do, most decent people would say) only vindicates our decision. As survivors, we refuse to be harassed again by men and their powerful enablers,” the petitioners state.