Freedom of Expression

Writers Condemn Online Harassment, Effigy Burning of Author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

An Adivasi group in Jharkhand is planning to burn the author’s effigy tomorrow over his ‘negative’ portrayal of Santhal culture.

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Credit: Facebook/Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Credit: Facebook/Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

New Delhi: Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, author of The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey and The Adivasi Will Not Danceand the recipient of a Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, has alleged that he has been facing continuous online harassment for a year and a half now from members of the Adivasi community who think his work portrays Santhal people in a bad light.

While the harassment has been on social media till now, groups in Pakur, Jharkhand, where Shekhar works as a medical practitioner, have organised a book and effigy burning at 11 am on Friday (August 4).

“This attack has been going on since November 2015, a month after my second book came out,” Shekhar told The Wire. “While some of the profiles abusing me are anonymous or fake profiles, some are also well known people from the community. They have said things like I am a porn writer, that I slept with my publishers to get published, they attacked my friends and so on. When it first started, neither I nor my friends responded – we thought it would just go away.”

But on the contrary, things got worse recently, Shekhar said, when an anonymous profile under the name ‘Pornocopeia’ started posting photos of him with his friends, including recognisable faces like publisher Urvashi Butalia. The profile is no longer active on Facebook, but Shekhar sent The Wire screenshots he had taken earlier in the day. “If you have a problem with me, deal with me,” Shekhar said. “This is really going too far, dragging other people into it.”

One of the critics of Shekhar’s writing is Adivasi activist Gladson Dungung, who has alleged some of his work is ‘pornographic’ in nature and so shouldn’t be awarded by the Sahitya Akademi, and the rest only talks of the negative aspects of Adivasi life while ignoring the positives. “Self respect and self image is big problem in the Adivasi community in general, why then push it further down?,” Dungung asked.

However, Dungdung said he condemned the abuse Shekhar received online and said he even told people to stop, as that is not the “right way to bring out your disagreement”. “Abuse and effigy burning won’t solve disagreements – I have never met him, but the better thing would be to try and engage in dialogue and not assume that he is unwilling to listen to our criticism,” he told The Wire.

A group of writers and artists, including Nayantara Sahgal, Anand Teltumbde, K. Satchidanandan, T.M. Krishna, Jerry Pinto, Githa Hariharan and others, has issued a statement about the increasing attacks on authors on social media, citing Shekhar’s example.

“Writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar has been attacked on Facebook over a period of time, with accusations that his work is “pornographic”, and that it makes use of Adivasis, in “English language writing”, for the writer’s gain. Shekar’s “critics” have set up a Facebook page called Pornocopeia to defame him as a writer of pornography, and posted pictures of others in the writing community as “friends of a pornographer”.  In addition to this defamation, and the loss of privacy of the writer and his friends, the critics who have been trolling Shekar have taken their persecution of the writer to the next level.”

And this isn’t the only case in which this is happening, the statement continues, and is not the right way to show disagreement with or even dislike for an author. Instead of name calling or burning books and effigies, they have asked that both writers and readers to ensure that the “public discourse remains rational and civil.”

“Criticism of writing cannot be a matter of hurt sentiment, taking offence, or hounding a writer. Indeed, this recalls the experience of Perumal Murugan, who was attacked by a community claiming he had offended their sensibilities. The Madras High Court subsequently reaffirmed Murugan’s right to write, quoting Voltaire: ‘I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death, your right to say it.'”