Earlier this month, 35 writers, activists, journalists and other members of civil society wrote a public letter to the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) in Chennai, urging it to conduct a probe into an allegation of sexual harassment against the well-known culture critic Sadanand Menon, who is a member of ACJ’s adjunct faculty. The signatories published the letter after the college’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) refused to entertain a complaint that a former student of the institute had filed in January 2018. In the complaint, the former student alleged that Menon had sexually harassed her at SPACES, a prominent cultural venue in Chennai of which Menon is the managing trustee. The student also described her ordeal in an account published on the website the News Minute earlier that month.
In the public letter—which was widely shared and subsequently signed by 150 others—the signatories confirmed that the complainant was referring to Menon in her News Minute piece. They wrote that they had become aware of several other alleged cases of sexual harassment by Menon, including those involving members of the LGBTQI community, and a minor. On 9 May, the ACJ released a statement announcing that Menon had decided to not teach his elective course in the coming academic year, and that he was “considering legal action against those who have published false and defamatory allegations against him.”
The Caravan contacted various persons involved with the issue and is publishing their responses as a series. Below is a response from Sadanand Menon. The editors of The Caravan sent Menon a detailed questionnaire over email, regarding the allegations against him and his decision to not teach his elective course at ACJ in the coming year. He responded with a statement, which has been reproduced here in full. In it, Menon describes the allegations being raised against him as a “smear campaign.”
This public statement stems from a consideration to friends who have asked that I make one. However, I am loath to dignify the canards and smear campaign against me with a point counter-point response. These are not charges to be decided in or by, the online or social media.
There are established procedures to put allegations of sexual harassment to the test. Evading the rigorous scrutiny of the law, vague imputations, driven by hearsay and motivated disinformation, have been introduced into the public domain to “punish by publicity,” what any due process would have dismissed.
The ACJ was approached knowing full well that it had no brief in the matter, just as a peg for going public, without the responsibility of putting the case to any evidentiary test. Cowardice and dishonesty mark all smear campaigns—and the one against me is no exception.
Resort to slander—by the simple expedient of adding my name to “lists” or “statements” instead of having the need to subject such serious allegations to legal scrutiny—is a malicious tactic that deserves to be ignored. It is an assault on truth.
I am ready and willing to answer any charge levelled by someone with the willingness to have their case tested by an appropriate forum. Any process competent to enter into the matter is bound to vindicate me, for the allegations are untrue and can be comprehensively dispelled.
This statement has been published as part of a series by The Caravan, regarding allegations of sexual harassment against Menon. The other pieces in the series include an essay by the writer and publisher V Geetha on why she chose to sign a letter to ACJ asking for a probe into the allegations, and two interviews—with ACJ’s chairperson Sashi Kumar, and with two other signatories to the public letter asking ACJ to institute a probe into the allegations.