Sexual harassment charges against Asian College of Journalism professor resurface with petition calling for his ouster

Chennai's journalist, academic, theatre and liberal arts community was shaken with the resurfacing of sexual harassment charges against well-known Indian arts editor and cultural journalism teacher Sadanand Menon. Menon's name was on the long-list of academicians accused of sexual abuse put out by 24-year-old law student Raya Sarkar in October 2017. And it was after this revelation that another complainant, who is an alumnus of the Asian College of Journalism where Menon is an adjunct faculty, approached the college authorities in January 2018.

 Sexual harassment charges against Asian College of Journalism professor resurface with petition calling for his ouster

File image of the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. Image courtesy: ACJ Facebook page

The latest complaint

According to her complaint — that was put before the independent Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as set up by ACJ, Menon had made sexual advances towards her while she was working for him as an intern on a special project. Menon, however, told Firstpost that he had nothing more to say on this as he had already narrated his account to his students and that at present, he was mulling legal options.

The complainant told The News Minute, "The others who have been harassed by the professor are not in a position to speak out. I hope that with this statement, more people have the courage and are emboldened enough to speak out".

The college position

Meanwhile, under rising media pressure, college authorities have taken cognisance of the matter. Sashi Kumar, chairman of the Media Development Foundation that runs ACJ, has said that after the issue was brought fore the ICC, "it felt that the matter was not in its jurisdiction since the alleged incident did not take place anywhere on the college campus or premises or in any curricular or extracurricular situation organised by the college. The matter was also time-barred, but the committee was, I believe, willing to consider it if it fell within its jurisdiction".

He also mentioned that no further complaint in this regard has been made so far but "if any complaint is made in writing to the committee it would definitely look into it and take necessary follow up action". But he also remarked that "I am surprised and dismayed by the tendentious reporting in a section of the press which seems motivated to damage to the reputation of ACJ".

Both Kumar and Nalini Rajan, the dean of the college, are not part of the two-member committee that has another adjunct professor, Geeta Ramaseshan, on board. When asked the reason for her exclusion from the committee, Rajan said, "They thought we might influence the proceedings of the committee. We agreed with the principle expressed, and therefore are not part of the ICC, even though our legal counsel and member of ICC (Ramaseshan) felt that there is nothing in the rules that prevent the dean, particularly if she is a woman, from being a member of the committee".

The new petition

A fresh petition has been filed with the institution, demanding the removal of Menon from the college board until he is absolved of all charges. The petition states that the students of the current batch had raised a separate complaint with the ICC and demanded an inquiry to be initiated against Menon but ACJ reportedly shunned the students' complaint.

As published in The News Minute, the petition which has been signed by 34 people included prominent lawyers, journalists, and students of the present batch says "(complainant's) account of the harassment she had endured was poignant and disturbing; even more troubling was the identity of the man who had harassed her. Those familiar with the original list of possible offenders, immediately recognised who she was referring to".

The petitioners have also put worth four demands before the college, one of them reads:

We would like ACJ to consider seriously the allegations against Sadanand Menon from the point of view of ethics and accountability and not cite procedural reasons for not wanting to do so. Prevention of sexual harassment is a mandate under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act whose underlying principle is that it is the employer/institution’s duty to ensure that the workplace (in this case the institution) is safe for students. This inquiry must not remain a formal procedure but actually lead to appropriate punitive action. This is particularly important in this instance, where the individual concerned, Sadanand Menon, enjoys undisputed cultural authority and social power.

The matter came to light again after a journalist named Karthik Shankar put out a Medium post demanding the shifting of venue of a sexual harassment forum meeting from Spaces, a cultural arena that was co-founded by Menon. Karthik wrote that "there have been several allegations of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour by Menon, the co-founder of Spaces. A friend of mine was among that list too. I was incensed". And that when he tried to persuade the organisers to shift the venue on these grounds, one of them asked him "if there were 'concrete cases' against the co-founder".

What's next?

The complainant had earlier narrated her ordeal in an article on The News Minute where she hadn't mentioned Menon's name but according to Nityanand Jayaraman, a fellow adjunct member of faculty at ACJ, "It is only those of us that know both (parties) who could make the connection."

Mentioning how the 'name and shame' revelation by Sarkar gave her the courage to speak up, the complainant had remarked in the self-written piece that "even though I had a strong feeling his name would appear on the list, when it did, I experienced a sense of relief. I could now deal with that internalised voice of patriarchy that keeps nagging us women saying, ‘Maybe you were asking for it in some way or the other'."

When contacted for a response, the current faculty members did not respond.

Update: Following the publication of this piece, ACJ released a formal statement in which the institution termed charges against Menon as "vague" and made with "scant regard for the facts and the law".

Updated Date: May 10, 2018 13:46:45 IST