AWARE Singapore has issued a follow-up statement in relation to to the ongoing saga involving Sharul Channa (Sharul), a stand-up comedian and Kiran Kandade’s (Kiran), experiences of sexual harassment with Viswa Sadasivan (Viswa), who is a former Nominated Member of Parliament.
For those unaware, the controversy erupted when Sharul made a Facebook post about how Viswa, who is the host of the National University of Singapore Society’s (NUSS) Inconvenient Questions (IQ) web series made sexual innuendos directed at her during an interview.
As recounted by Sharul, Viswa had asked her why she was wearing a rose on her left collar, to which she replied, “I just put it on to distract from the pattern on my top and to which he responded “It would be more distracting if you were wearing only that rose.”
Since Sharul’s revelations on Facebook, Kiran has also stepped up to reveal her own experiences with Viswa, showing screenshots of when, among other things, he had asked for a kiss from her when she was trying to seek training/consultancy work from him.
At that point, AWARE had issued a statement commending the women for speaking out and expressing its disappointment at the “victim shaming” that both women had to endure as a result of speaking out. AWARE also called on Viswa to categorically call on such abuse to stop.
In the same statement, AWARE made clear that harassment should not be evaluated by the subject’s conscious intentions, but by its impact on the victim, going to say that it is not valid for a harasser to say, “I did not mean to cause hurt and distress, the victim misunderstood my intentions, so I am innocent.” In fact, to depict harassment as “an error in judgment”—i.e. a simple slip of the tongue that occurs for no reason and has no bearing on a person’s character—glosses over the misogyny at its roots.
While Viswa has issued an apology, his apology has been criticised as being conditional and “not unequivocal” by AWARE in its follow up statement. AWARE did, however, acknowledge that Viswa did call on the online abuse of the women to stop.
In addition, AWARE has made clear that they were not working with Viswa on this issue. While they were privately approached by Viswa with an offer to host a series of Inconvenient Questions forums on sexual harassment, AWARE later found that he has mentioned this proposal to others as well.
AWARE further stressed that it did not think that these incidents should be turned into content for Viswa’s programme and called on Viswa to make an unreserved apology to the women.
“Until Viswa takes full responsibility for his actions and makes an unreserved apology to the two women, it will be difficult to view any offer of collaboration in good faith.”
AWARE also called on Viswa to set a good example as a prominent figure by “taking full responsibility for his harassment.”