ACJ Prof Sadanand Menon Faces Sexual Harassment Allegations Again
Asian College of Journalism reportedly turned down the resignation submitted by adjunct lecturer Sadanand Menon.
Asian College of Journalism reportedly turned down the resignation submitted by adjunct lecturer Sadanand Menon.(Photo: Harsh Sahani/The Quint).

ACJ Prof Sadanand Menon Faces Sexual Harassment Allegations Again

Amidst accounts of sexual misconduct on social media against various journalists and comedians, allegations have surfaced again against Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) professor Sadanand Menon by a former student.

The victim, who requested her name be concealed, had earlier in May alleged inappropriate behaviour by Menon. Now, in light of a fresh eruption of allegations against several prominent personalities, the victim took to Twitter to share her ordeal.

In a series of tweets, she claimed that Menon had behaved inappropriately, and after making insinuations, despite having apologised for his earlier misconduct.

Menon’s name had initially appeared in October 2017, when law student Raya Sarkar published a list, calling out alleged sexual predators in Indian universities.

Sadanand Menon Decided to Not Teach His Course This Year: ACJ

On 9 May, the premiere media institute issued a statement saying Menon had decided to "not teach his elective course for the coming academic year".

The statement added that Menon was considering legal action against media organisations that published “false and defamatory allegations against him.”

In October 2017, law student Raya Sarkar published a list of alleged sexual predators in Indian universities. She listed 58 academicians in as many as 29 institutions, research centres and universities across the country.

One of the names was Sadanand Menon, adjunct faculty at ACJ, one of India’s premier institutions. Menon is also an arts editor of national repute, photographer, and a popular teacher of culture at another prestigious institution – IIT Madras.

After Sarkar’s list, at least one alumnus, Preeti (name changed), lodged a formal sexual harassment complaint with ACJ’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) against Menon, in January 2018.

But Preeti said that ACJ refused to take any action against Menon, reportedly turning down his resignation letter. However, college Chairman Sashi Kumar denies even receiving a letter of resignation from Menon.

Four months after she filed her written complaint, a section of former students and Chennai-based activists – including Preeti, a student from ACJ’s 2008 batch – on Tuesday, 8 May, released a press statement revealing further details of the case and stating their demands.

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ACJ Ignored Complaint, Say Signees of the Statement

Preeti was reportedly told by ACJ that the "matter was time-barred since the said incident happened when she was no longer a student and at a location away from the college".

Speaking to The Quint, Sashi Kumar, said that ACJ did not have the “jurisdiction” to probe Menon as the alleged incident happened in 2012 at Spaces – an amphitheatre co-founded by the professor. He added that the former student should approach the court of law regarding the case.

The incident happened when Preeti was working with Sadanand Menon. We have no jurisdiction to probe into the matter. It is not about technicality or being time-bound. On what basis do we investigate this?
Sashi Kumar, ACJ Chairman

While he added that the college has not received a single complaint in writing from the students alleging harassment in the institution, speaking to News18, he said that ACJ was under attack for being a “liberal campus”.

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However, Preeti speaking to The Quint, said that the college had a “moral responsibility” to take action against the professor.

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.
Preeti

The press statement said that the fact that the alleged perpetrator continued to teach at the institute made “no difference” to the institute’s decision to close the file without inquiry.

Menon, who handles the arts and culture elective in the college, reportedly dedicated an entire session to convey why he thought he was on the list. According to students who were present during the session, Menon defended himself by stating that he “pecked” a student on her cheek, as a gesture of appreciation for her “good work” but that his intentions were “misinterpreted”.

Meanwhile, students of the 2018 batch of the institution got in touch with Preeti, raised a separate complaint with the ICC, and demanded an inquiry be initiated against this person since his name had appeared on the list. But ACJ reportedly "shut down" the students' complaint.

Despite knowing that the students were uncomfortable, Menon was invited to our graduation function in April. He was right there, sitting in the second row. Knowing of the allegations against him, I did not understand why the college gave him such an honour. My skin crawls thinking about it.
A 2018 Batch Student

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“Take No Pride in Graduating from ACJ”

A 23-year-old, who graduated last week, admitted that placements were one of the reasons that stopped students from speaking out, but that was not all.

“The students of the college were silent for a long time because of placements, but also because we were shocked at the way the allegations were handled by the management. In their eyes, it was like the allegations were never levelled against him. By the time I graduated, I often wonder if I should even take pride in graduating from the college,” the student said.

What would have been forgotten by many was brought to light again by Karthik Shankar, who wrote a blog on Medium, calling out Spaces for its hypocrisy in holding an anti-sexual harassment forum in Chennai when its co-founder stands accused of sexual harassment himself.

Shankar told The Quint, “Spaces is today a Chennai mainstay. It has been considered a liberal space and Menon is considered a ‘liberal ally’. That is why it’s difficult for people to come to terms with him being a sexual predator.” A section of alumni are also questioning the way “liberal” ACJ handled the allegations against Menon.

“We live in a world where we have to question liberal institutions, whether they will take action against cases of sexual harassment. This is basic decency. This is something we come to expect from a decent human being, from a decent institution. But ACJ has lost that basic decency,” said an alumnus of the institution who is working with a leading media house.

Another alumnus, who graduated more than three years ago, called for the institution to form specific rules.

If ACJ has a written policy on how they will handle cases of sexual harassment, they are either ignoring it or not going by it. Let there be a rule – that irrespective of who the person is, a committee including students be formed to probe into the matter. For a journalism school which teaches students about the power of probing and the power of truth, this is shameful.
Alumnus

The Quint has reached out to Sadanand Menon for a response, this story will be updated if and when it is received.

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The Demands of the Signees of the Statement

1. 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.

2. Further, ACJ also has a moral responsibility to assure students that it receives each year, that it takes sexual harassment seriously, and will do all it can to make its premises safe, not only for students but all others associated with it, including staff at every level and those who visit the institution for various purposes. The ICC therefore must be an enabling instrument, and one sensitive to how power plays out in institutions in our context.

3. We wish to note that Sadanand Menon is not only with ACJ, but also a trustee of Spaces, which, to all intentions and purposes, has served as a public arena, used by a range of Chennai-based artists, performers, students, political and civil society groups. Like all public arenas, Spaces, too, owes a measure of accountability to those that use it – and this is also a factor that needs to be addressed by those invested in sexual and gender justice.

4. Since Menon is associated with a number of other educational and cultural institutions it is incumbent on civil society as a whole to remind itself that powerful, charismatic men, charged with mentorship of the young can, and do, misuse the enormous goodwill and trust that young people repose in them; and that however progressive they might claim to be, they are not above treating young persons as sexual prey. In our social context, intellectual authority and allure are not as relentlessly interrogated or made accountable, as more visible and crass expressions of power. This grants intellectual mentors an impunity that urges them on to sexual and other forms of misconduct. The challenge is to call them out, without demonising them or rendering them martyrs and to make them subject not only to the rule of law, but of civility and respect.

The questions we raise go beyond the legal, though the legal arena is where we translate civility into law. To balance legal as well as civic claims to justice and equality is a challenge and we trust and hope that our institutions and civil society meets this challenge in a creative and productive way.

ACJ’s Response to the Allegations Made Against Sadanand Menon

The Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) notes with concern that ill-informed and vague allegations and assertions, most of them made anonymously and with scant regard for the facts and the law, have been published in a section of the online news media about how it handled a complaint of alleged sexual harassment made against Sadanand Menon, a well-known journalist and writer who has been teaching an elective at the College as an adjunct professor. The matter has also been commented on in the social media, mostly without regard to the facts and the law.

The ACJ wishes to reiterate that the alleged incident in 2011 at Spaces, a cultural centre in Chennai, had no connection with the College. The person who preferred the complaint in January 2018 to the Internal Complaints Committee, which had been duly constituted as per law and included a well-known woman lawyer, was not a student of the College at the time of the alleged incident and her work at Spaces had no connection with the College.

The Internal Complaints Committee rightly decided that as per law it had no jurisdiction in the matter and communicated its decision in writing to the complainant in clear terms. However, the issue has re-surfaced after the ACJ Convocation of 3 May 2018, with the publication of assertions made by some ex-students and others to the effect that the security of students was the issue here and that a moral rather than a procedural or legal approach to the matter should be taken by the College. The ACJ wishes to make it clear that on matters such as this, when unproven allegations that are not within its jurisdiction to investigate or enquire into, are made involving its faculty, whether full-time or adjunct, staff, and students, it has to stand firm on the ground laid down in the law of the land. It cannot make any subjective judgments based on speculation or rumour.

Meanwhile, Sadanand Menon has informed us that after taking into account the overall circumstances and in order to avoid any damage to the reputation of the ACJ, he has decided not to teach his elective course at the College for the coming academic year, and also that he is considering taking legal action against those who have published false and defamatory allegations against him.

The ACJ wishes to make it clear that it has a policy of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment within its jurisdiction, that this policy is backed by appropriate internal institutional safeguards and arrangements as per law to hear and decide on complaints, and that as India’s, and the South Asian region’s, leading journalism school, it provides a secure and world class learning and teaching environment to all who come under its jurisdiction.

(This story was first published on 8 May, and has been updated with the reports about fresh allegations against Menon on 5 October 2018.)

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