IRC19 - Proposed Session - #ListsAsDatabase

Details of a session proposed by Ria De and Samata Biswas for the Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List.


Internet Researchers' Conference 2019 - #List - Call for Sessions

Session Plan

The internet-based List of Sexual Harassers in Academia (LoSHA), initiated by Dalit feminist and lawyer activist Raya Sarkar in 2017 anonymously crowd-sourced names of academics and activists who were accused of harassing women colleagues and students. While a large number of women in the academia rallied in support of the list and its motivations, it also unleashed anxieties about how the list was put together, and the kind of impact it was feared to have. Variously, it has been equated to Khap Panchayats, vigilantism, mob lynchings etc. Last month, the government of India launched an online National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO), which will contain the details—names, photographs, residential address, fingerprints, DNA samples, PAN and Aadhar numbers—of individuals convicted on charges of sexual offences against women and children. An associated portal, the Cyber Crime Prevention Against Women and Children (CCPWC) was also launched where citizens can enter complaints against child pornography and other sexually explicit material. Both are modes of digital enlisting through the use of new media technologies, one that is open access and therefore available for modification, co-option and critique, while the other is to be accessible only to law personnel. This two-member panel locates the list in the context of ongoing debates about the conversion of social justice and rights issues in to data repositories. We take in to account the debates on the Right to be Forgotten or the right to delist from the internet, as a specific concern raised in the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 submitted by the Justice B.N. Krishna Committee. The Bill recognises data principals (or the individuals to whom personal data belongs) as a central component of the legal framework, and subjects data fiduciaries (or agencies seeking to collect, use and process personal data) to the free, informed and explicit consent of the data principals. Right to be Forgotten has clearly emerged as a logical extension of the demands for one’s Right to Privacy. Given that a number of logics, that of ‘naming and shaming’ of offenders, a digital list (database) as a means of communication, dissemination of information and surveillance etc. underscore both the #LoSHA and the NDSO, how do we navigate the messy terrain of human rights concerns about the freedom of speech and expression on the one hand, and the rights to privacy on the other hand? We also think about this vis-a-vis the larger issues related to the data economy and those of data ownership. We refer to studies on state-generated data on crime in India and elsewhere to understand how such data artefacts can be monopolised and processed by private and non-governmental agencies, and how they co-opt contemporary feminist politics and articulations?

We, Samata Biswas and Ria De, will present a collaborative study, organised across two 30 minute long papers, plus a 15 minute discussion time for each totalling to the mandated 90 minute session. The first paper will study the form and scope of the list as a digital artefact through a detailed analysis of the #LoSHA and the NDSO. The second paper will configure the two lists in terms of their status within the data economy.

Session Team

Ria De is pursuing her PhD in Film Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Her doctoral research was about stardom and intermediality. She is interested in popular culture, network and media studies and gender. Currently, she is interested in the women’s movements in the Indian film industries.

Samata Biswas teaches English Literature at Bethune College, Kolkata, India. Her doctoral research was about body cultures in contemporary India, analysing fitness, weight loss, and diet discourses as present in popular media as well as through narratives of participants. She is interested in visual culture, gender studies, and literature and migration. At present, she is trying to map Kolkata as a sanitary city, focusing on access to clean sanitation or the lack thereof. She runs the blog ‘Refugee Watch Online’. Her latest publication is on “Haldia: Logistics and Its Other(s)” in Brett Neilson, Ned Rossiter, Ranabir Samaddar (Edited) Logistical Asia: The Labour of Making a World Region. (Palgrave Mcmillan, 2018)



Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the researchers@work programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.