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Lawrence Liang files Delhi HC writ vs Ambedkar U sex harass panel, while hidden battles rage online

As legal process continues, parallel internet proceedings against Liang ran into hurdles
As legal process continues, parallel internet proceedings against Liang ran into hurdles

Well-known academic, Alternative Law Forum (ALF) founder and NLSIU Bangalore alumnus Lawrence Liang has appealed in the Delhi high court against Ambedkar University Delhi’s sexual harassment committee finding of March that he had harassed a female PhD student of another Delhi university, suspending him from administrative duties.

Liang has instructed senior advocate Akhil Sibal and advocates Jawahar Raja, Chinmay Kanojia and Aditi Pathak in his writ petition against the university, where he is a professor of law, and against the anonymous complainant.

The matter is before Justice Rajiv Shakdher, who in an order dated 9 April, ordered service of the petition on the university and the complainant.

According to an order dated 9 May, Shakdher also said the the University’s Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment should be included as a party, with which the parties agreed.

Advocate Sakshi Banga with advocate Anans Tanwar are appearing for the second respondent, who is the unnamed original complainant. The University is represented by senior advocate Arvind K Nigam, with advocates Abhimanyu Shreshtha, Nikhil Sharda and Mehtaab Singh Sandhu.

The next date of hearing is fixed for 23 August 2018, according to the Delhi high court case status.

We have reached out to Liang for comment, who had told us at the time of our initial story in March that the Ambedkar Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment (CPSH) process leaked to the media was “only one part of the process provided by the CPSH rules. Those rules provide that both/either party can appeal the recommendations. [...] I can, and must, however, say this – I dispute the report in its entirety, its findings and recommendations included. Some persons have initiated selective leaks. These persons know that I have signed confidentiality rules and cannot respond.”

“Selective leaks demonize, cause a media trial, and proclaim guilt in advance. I am passionately committed to AUD, and have worked hard to build the school that I am a part of, and I intend to exhaust every channel open to me to clear my name,” he had added.

Parallel internet processes continue

While Liang’s legal and institutional appeals processes are ongoing, on the internet a parallel process has continued.

The Wikipedia page of Liang, as it currently stands, does not include any mention of the findings of the committee against him, despite having been widely reported in mainstream media. However, the “talk” section of the article - a kind of behind-the-scenes of how each Wikipedia article sausage is made - has erupted in discussion between those who would like to see the allegations mentioned and several Wikipedia editors, who have asserted that under the site’s rules, biographies of living persons (known as BLPs in Wikipedia’s acronym-heavy lingo) enjoy special protection in the online encyclopedia.

Liang’s article had seen so many rounds of edits that in turn added and reversed mentions of the sexual harassment allegations against Liang, that Wikipedia’s so-called ArbCom has ‘protected’ the article until October 2018. On Wikipedia, which famously styles itself as the free encyclopedia that “anyone can edit”, this de facto closes an article for edits to all users but the most hardcore with at least 500 edits under their belt.

One seasoned Wikipedia editor on the talk page wrote (links to translations of newbie-unfriendly Wikipedia-speak such as ‘sock puppetry’ added by us):

Unfortunately, that part was willfully left out of the content that the multiple SPAs/socks have tried to insert, which I suspect is why Nick [another Wikipedia editor who reverted some edits] does not show that much good faith. This is a pretty straightforward BLP issue and the discretionary sanctions for BLPs exist for specifically this reason. No one is actually trying to argue that the content shouldn’t or can’t be included, but the initial attempts to do so were rejected because they failed to comply with BLP—in other words, the wording requires some tact due to the still-uncertain legal status of the allegations, and it needed to be tweaked.

The implication is that people who had added the sections to Liang’s Wikipedia article were not neutral and had an axe to grind, beyond just the allegations. Some edits certainly bear out this concern, such as one that falsely claimed that Liang “was found guilty of sexual harassment and is currently seving [sic] a sentence after the due process”, though others were more balanced and corroborated.

Another discussion on the Wikipedia talk page currently also continues about whether Liang is high-profile enough for the allegations to be mentioned in any case, even if the legal process has not yet concluded.

While it does seem that in light of other Wikipedia articles including similar allegations, Liang’s article too should include a balanced account of what has been widely reported, it does also seem that Liang’s position as a well-known liberal has encouraged edits and attentions that are not necessarily neutral or related to the #metoo movement.

An online anti-Liang petition runs into other issues

Separately (or perhaps not), someone went through the effort to create a bespoke, fairly-slick petition campaign website, which models the well-known online petition website change.org in its layout, but seems to have been a custom-design job and only features a single petition: “Infosys, revoke the prize given to Lawrence Liang!” (referencing the prize he was awarded in November 2017 “in recognition of his creative scholarship on law and society”).

On 25 April, that petition had made it into the mainstream media, though not for its self-claimed 237 supporters per se: the Mirror reported that:

Many people, with many followers on social media, found a mail in their inbox on April 23, saying, “Thank you for signing, (name of the signatory). You have signed to back this campaign ‘Infosys, revoke the prize given to Lawrence Liang!’ Before you go, tell your friends and family about it.” The mail then went on to give the links to the petition.

However, several journalists and Twitter users with major followings went public public stating that they had never signed it (nor, presumably, heard of this petition), and according to the Mirror:

The admin of the group running the youtoo petition responded with the clarification that the names which were added from two IP locations – [...] and [...], were removed. “Someone has been working overtime since last night to malign and actively sabotage the website. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused. We are not making up names and adding them to the petition.”

The fake petition’s link, with the names of alleged signatories, is no longer available online.

That domain youtoopetitions.com was registered only on 12 April 2018 and now claims that its petition “has reached its goal”, but the website lists no details about who is behind its creation. We have reached out to an administrative contact provided in the domain registration last month, as well as last week, with the following queries, but have received no response:

  • what was your reason for starting a new website, rather than using change.org or a similar platform that presumably have more advanced features to stop abuse?
  • who is behind this website? Why there are no contact or other details or information on the site about who created it, which would lend it greater credibility?

That is not to say that legitimate signatories to petitions against Liang do not exist. For instance, there was one Facebook post in 2017, when Liang had first been mentioned in the crowd-sourced Raya Sarkar list of alleged sexual harassers, before the committee finding against Liang, which was making a statement rejecting recognition of the Infosys for Liang. That post, where signatories seem to be more verified, had received support from around 58, in addition to the support of six groups (Dalit Camera, KrantiKali, The Nalsar Subaltern Diversity Organization, Zehen, Queer Feminist India Caucus, and Being Feminist).

But, as ever in such cases, it does raise interesting questions about the inter-relation of online processes versus the legal process.

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