New Delhi: Just a couple of weeks after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against poet and translator Sudeep Sen, who is presently editing an anthology of poems for Sahitya Akademi, the government-funded organisation that focuses on Indian literature, 12 poets that were to have their work featured in the book have threatened to pull out of the project if Sen is not replaced.
The anthology, titled Modern English Poetry by Younger Indians, had been slated to include the works of the 12 poets who no longer wish to be associated with the book as long as Sen is the editor. They include Minal Hajratwala, Shikha Saklani Malaviya of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, Semeen Ali, Mihir Vatsa, Sumana Roy , Ellen Kombiyil, Smita Sahay, Kanishka Gupta, Damini Kane, Nabina Das, Aditya Mani Jha and Shelly Bhoil.
The letter, addressed to Sahitya Akademi secretary Sreenivasa Rao, states that “due to irreconcilable differences with Sen, we the undersigned no longer wish to be associated with him”.
According to Scroll.in, “while the letter to Sahitya Akademi does not spell out the irreconcilable differences the poets have with Sen, several signatories to the letter said that they have chosen to withdraw from the anthology because of allegations of sexual misconduct made by a fellow poet against Sen”.
The poet who has made the allegations, Scroll.in reported, wrote in a Facebook post two weeks ago about how she rejected a proposal for a relationship from Sen during a public event where she had just finished reading out her poetry. After she turned down his advances, later in the evening at a party where she bumped into him again, she alleged that he grabbed her for a hug. Later, she also found that he had uploaded photograph to Facebook of her from the event without notifying her.
“She wrote a comment to say it was in poor taste and blocked him. Recounting her experience, the poet said she felt violated by the incident. Her Facebook post elicited wide support,” writes Scroll.in.
Meanwhile, Sen, an award-winning poet and editor of art journal Atlas, has denied the allegations. “I have learnt from various people that [the poet] has made these allegations against me – the allegations are completely false,” he told Scroll.in.
Scroll.in also accessed letters Sen penned to various poets in the wake of the controversy. In his letter to the poet who made the allegations, he denied proposing any “relationship”. “Clearly there are misunderstandings that need to be sorted out,” he wrote.
In another letter to another poet, he called the whole episode a “smear campaign”.
The Wire attempted to reach out to Sahitya Akademi over the matter, but has not got a response yet.
Just recently in February, poetry circles across India were shocked after poet Sakina Bootwala shared screenshots of multiple conversations about slam poet Shamir Reuben’s past record as an alleged sexual predator on Facebook. Since then, more women have come forward to share their stories about various episodes of alleged misconduct by the head of content at the Kommune (an online community of storytellers, poets and musicians).
Worse, many of the allegations came from women who said they were minors when Rueben harassed them. Just hours after the first post on social media, over 30 women backed the claim and shared their own stories.
In 2015, allegations against Manik Katyal, photographer and editor of Emaho magazine blew up when over 30 women came forward about how he had sexually harassed them online in various interactions. Katyal refuted the allegations and eventually slammed a civil defamation suit against 36 people and intermediaries (including Facebook and WordPress) who had brought up allegations of sexual harassment. In July 2016, the Supreme Court issued a notice to Katyal asking him to explain why he he had used the law in such a manner.