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Sexual harassment
Calling SPACES an 'oxygen tank', the artists have asked for more 'balance' in social media discussions.

After the Raya Sarkar list of alleged sexual harassers in the academia surfaced on social media, a complainant approached the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, alleging that Sadanand Menon, one of the names on the list, had sexually harassed her at SPACES, a popular venue for artists and intellectuals in Chennai.

Sadanand Menon, a well-known cultural critic, has subsequently stated that he will not be teaching his course at the ACJ in the forthcoming academic year. The announcement came after students objected to the ACJ's handling of the issue, which they saw as stonewalling their concerns about a professor accused of sexual harassment continuing to teach on campus.

While the ACJ has been saying that the ICC cannot decide on the matter since the alleged incident neither took place on its campus and nor was it when the complainant was a student, prominent voices have urged the institution to take action on moral grounds. 

Meanwhile, questions have also been raised about SPACES, a trust started by dancer Chandralekha which is currently headed by Sadanand Menon. Recently, there were objections when theatre artists in Chennai decided to meet at SPACES to discuss the setting up of a redressal mechanism for sexual harassment in the community after allegations were made against a member on social media. Questions were asked as to how the meeting could take place at SPACES when Sadanand Menon faced accusations of sexual harassment himself.  Several artists have now come together to defend SPACES in the discussions on social media that have been taking place.

While stressing that "sexual harassment is unacceptable", the statement issued by the artists says that the charges should be addressed without "taking recourse to kangaroo courts".

Calling SPACES an "oxygen tank" in Chennai, the artists have asked that the social media discussions on the issue do not end up undermining the "outstanding work" done there. They've also claimed that there is an "incendiary attempt" to pass off "vague rumours and hearsay" as "proven facts". 

The ACJ's Chairperson Sashi Kumar had previously said that the institution was being attacked because it was a "liberal" space.

Read the full statement below:

It is with some dismay that we've been reading about the charge of alleged sexual harassment brought against Sadanand Menon. 

What's most troubling is that while the original charge has not yet been examined, there's been an incendiary attempt to conflate various vague rumours and hearsay and formulate and spread new allegations as though they were proven facts.

This amounts to malice and defamation. 

We want sexual harassment charges to be taken seriously and addressed. We believe this can be done without taking recourse to kangaroo courts. 

The statement below is signed and released to state that as much as we are part of the attempt to seek justice, we deplore the means being adopted here. 

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Sexual harassment is unacceptable. For a sustained and effective opposition to sexual harassment, it is important that general and vague allegations be viewed with deeper scrutiny than what appears to have been done by a bewildering array of persons to the sudden spurt of allegations against well-known cultural critic, Sadanand Menon.

Our main concern here is about the inevitable banalising of such a serious matter as sexual harassment, unless campaigns are tempered with responsibility. A long delay in complaining is understandable in sexual harassment cases, given the unsupportive societal ethos. But it does introduce additional complexity and a greater need for caution in arriving at conclusions.

It is no disservice to feminism to say that human memory, motivations, and interpretations are infinitely more varied and complicated than are attributable to gender alone. The complaint against Sadanand Menon to ACJ by a former student met with an initial institutional response.

To further queries and demands, ACJ has responded on its website. There can be different views on the institution’s stand, but there is no doubt that both sides of the complaint are entitled to fair process and justice. Given the context of the complaint, and the jurisdictional and time-barred issues for the institution, it might be necessary to look at other ways of resolving this. It is our hope that the parties involved and those engaged with the issue would work towards a fair and just resolution. 

A particular reported incident must be investigated but we are dismayed by the way rumour and hearsay are being freely used to give unsubstantiated allegations the status of proven fact.

SPACES, a trust started by Chandralekha and now headed by Sadanand, is an “oxygen tank” in Chennai for rehearsals and performance of non-traditional, experimental, low budget artistic and cultural works. The vibrancy and integrity of that space have been brought into question with innuendo and character assassination.

We request that discussion in the social media be more balanced. We request that the outstanding work done by SPACES as a liberal, accessible and inclusive space in the cause of artistic and cultural expressions and exchanges not be undermined.

One must not forget that the community that had enjoyed, made use of and supported SPACES, rallied around two years ago after cyclone Vardah to help resurrect a space that many continue to see as a generous, nurturing place.

LIST OF SIGNATORIES TO THE STATEMENT

Kamala Ganesh, Sociologist, Mumbai

Syeda Hameed, Writer and Activist

Geeta Kapur, Art critic, Delhi

Indira Chandrasekhar, Publisher, Tulika Books

Sujata Patel, National Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies

Geeta Menon, Secretary, Stree Jagruti  Samiti, Bengaluru

Yashodhara Dalmia

Neela Bhagwat, Hindustani classical musician, Mumbai 

Indra Munshi, former Professor and Head, Dept. of Sociology, Mumbai University

Nilima Sheikh, Artist

Vibha Surana, Professor and Head, Dept. of German, Mumbai University

Devika Daulet-Singh, Director, PHOTOINK

Navina Sundaram, Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker

Amarendra Dhaneshwar, Classical singer/Writer/Cultural activist

Ketaki Sheth

Pria Devi, Writer, Delhi

Pushpamala, N   

Sheba Chhachhi, Artist

Padmini Chettur, Dancer/Choreographer, Chennai 

Natasha Ginwala, Writer and Curator 

Dayanita Singh Chetan Shah, Filmmaker

Kaveri Bharath, Artist, Chennai

Archana Pidithala

Deepa Chakravarthy, Mohiniattam dancer, Teacher

Sowmya Nandakumar, Asian College of Journalism, batch of 2004

Gita Jayaraj, Chennai

Hem Mahesh, Teacher 

Kalairaani, Actor, Chennai 

Sunita Chowdhurie, Kolkata

Pravin Kannanur, Artist, Theatre director, Magic Lantern

Krishna Devanandan, former dancer with Chandralekha Group  

Vaishna Roy, Chennai 

Trustee Magic Lantern Trust 

Kristine Michael, Artist, Delhi

Milind Brahme, Academic, Chennai  

Meera Krishnamurti, Dancer/Actor/ Teacher

Geetha Sridhar, former dancer with Chandralekha Group

C. Lakshmanan, Academic, Chennai

Rizio, Writer 

Sandhya Kathavate, Hindustani classical musician/Teacher, Pune

Keval Arora

Sandhya Rao, Journalist and writer

Shereen Saifudeen, Consultant, Dubai 

Vandana Menon, Chennai

Chandrika Grover Ralleigh 

Brinda Vasudevan,  Journalist, Chennai

Ritika Roy

Chitra Padmanabhan, Journalist, Delhi