Sexual Harassment Survivors Speak Out, Take Social Media By Storm: Read Their Joint Statement
On the 23rd of July 2016, an undergraduate student of Jadavpur University, Ekalavya Chaudhuri, was exposed via Facebook for alleged sexual harassment of over a dozen women, some of them minors, over a three-year period, via texts, online messages and molestation. Once one of the survivors decided to break the cycle of silence that pervades rape culture, dozens of victims came forward to reveal the abuse they had suffered over years, sharing screenshots and verbal reports of the abuse. Accounts ranged from sexually explicit messages that continued despite repeated demands to stop, to physical assault. At least two of the victims were underage, being fifteen years old at the time of their horrific experience. Students from other undergraduate batches had been victims as well.
A hallmark of this case was the sheer number of survivors who were afraid to speak up, fearing not only disbelief but the systematic online harassment that one of the survivors had to go through. A friend of the accused from Presidency University, Janhabi Mukherjee, was also accused, with substantial proof, of spearheading an online and offline smearing campaign against the survivor who first spoke up.
Over the course of the weekend which witnessed the outpouring of solidarity messages as more complainants came forward, several of the survivors alleged that their Facebook accounts had been “hacked into” and chat threads and Public posts that contained evidence of the harassment, erased. The original statement made by the survivor who publicly spoke up initially was deleted as well for not fitting in with Facebook’s ‘Community Guidelines’, indicating that it had been reported.
It is important to note that action had already been taken against the accused on the complaint of a survivor last year, when Jadavpur University held a General Body Meeting, where he was asked to receive counselling or face sterner measures. Clearly, the resolution had no effect.
By last night though, over 40,000 people were talking about this, as all the posts had gone viral.
On of the minors, whose post had gone viral, received calls last night from unknown numbers, warning and threatening her saying, worse things than molestation were going to happen to her if she continued to be so vocal.
Lack of evidence as well as anticipation of reprisal in various ways among the professional and cultural circuit of Kolkata were among the most common fears the survivors expressed, the perpetrators being well-known members of the poetry slammers’ community and elite academic circles in the city. The two founded an initiative called Performance Poetry, Kolkata that as recently as last month was hiring interns.
Two of the survivors have filed formal complaints against him today, pending action. The rest are seeking legal counselling now, on how to proceed. An unofficial boycott was suggested by some students in his class, where many of his survivors study, but this was later found to be difficult to implement. Furthermore, a General Body Meeting has been called tomorrow to pass a resolution to formally initiate proceedings for complaints to the University’s sexual harassment cell. A Change.org petition has been put up demanding action from the authorities of the institution.
Later this evening, the complainants released a joint statement about the incident:
“We are a group of (up till now,13 <sic>) women and girls who have been harassed, both online and in person, by Ekalavya Chaudhuri, who is a student of Jadavpur University, Department of English.
We have been touched without our consent.
We have been objectified filthily.
We have been made to feel like pieces of meat by a man who is utterly despicable.
He believes that his actions will not yield any consequences. In many cases, he has been aided and abetted by his acquaintance, Janhabi Mukherjee of Presidency University, Department of English. She has harassed and intimidated us both in virtual spaces and in person.
Jointly, they have both used their privilege to try and keep us silent.
Jointly, they have violated our bodies and our minds.
Jointly, they have attempted to erase our own agency over our lives. Not anymore.
Today, we speak out as survivors of these vile, poisonous human beings. Today, we take a stand against crimes against women, patriarchy, elitism, entitlement, privilege, and bullying. We take this stand to retake our agency, to re-establish the narratives that were taken from us.
Ekalavya Chaudhuri, you are a molester. A sex offender. A sexual predator. Janhabi Mukherjee, you aided and abetted in his crimes, and are no less guilty.
We hope that our stand will encourage others to come forward with their own experiences which they have kept silent about for whatever reasons. It’s time we all spoke up, it’s time we ripped all their masks off.
Thank you for your support.”
Update: One of the complainants has alleged that she is being harassed by a journalist from a certain national newspaper, asking for information she is not legally allowed to disclose. When asked for confirmation on withholding of the complainant’s name in the report, they have refused to respond, and the complainants are alleging that they are not sure if their names will be disclosed (which is protected by law under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)) Act, 2013.