Shamir Rueban, a noted slam poet recently was accused of sexual harassment by many women. He is suspended from Kommune, a poetry collective till the allegations are cleared. Just as the discussions surrounding this were heating up, another case of sexual misconduct has come to light from another Mumbai based poetry collective after Aranya Johar narrated her account in a Facebook post. The content of the post is below.
Trigger warning: Abuse.
Early last year from January to May I was in a relationship with Atharva Purandare. We ended this due another reason entirely. Atharva was the first boy I had been physically intimate with. We did not indulge in intercourse or oral sex but were intimate nonetheless. Having been the first relationship I was physically intimate in, it took me time to really feel comfortable. Post our break up a close friend confided and informed me that on the first day of my relationship with Atharva, he inappropriately touched her. I wasn’t aware of this during the relationship. Once she got into details I realized there were numerous incidents in our relationship where he did things without my consent or heard my no- clear and still did it. He then either blamed it on alcohol or half-assed an apologized. To name a few of the incidents, he has bruised me due to his actions. A couple of times he even dragged my hand towards his crotch without asking me if I was comfortable with it- which I wasn’t. Once I realized this happened I spoke to Atharva. I told him about the incident with our mutual friend who informed me and the numerous times my consent or no was disregarded. He then apologized.
It took me 3 months to really process and come to terms with what happened and what really helped me was writing about it. Post which, I asked Open Sky Slam, Shivani Lalan specifically if I could perform for them. She was very supportive of it. I then informed her about the incident with Atharva and told her my piece was about him without having any mention or indication of who it was. Shivani is very good friends with Atharva, city head of Mumbai Open Sky Slam- an organization that recruited Atharva. Post which Shivani told me it wouldn’t be fitting of me to use their platform to perform the piece. She indirectly implied I wouldn’t be welcomed to Open Sky Slam and haven’t gone since. December of 2017 I found out that Unerase was hosting Poetry Confluence where Shivani was to be on the Curator’s panel and asked her to make a statement about the incident with Atharva as OSS did not make a statement about the two incidents that have taken place with Atharva and asked her how she could assure safety of young poets. She on stage says she doesn’t know how much truth is behind the story and shrugged it off. I approached her to talk post the panel about the incident, although it is her responsibility to find out and act accordingly especially considering the young age group that attends Open Sky Slam. Asking to talk with Shivani about this amounted to nothing. Open Sky Slam also claims to be a ‘safe space’ and have most of their features perform about women empowerment and sexual assault, yet there is NO statement from their side even though the whole team KNOWS of these incidents. Shivani Lallan and Gargi Ranade, both work with Open Sky Slam expressed their concern during the #MeToo movement but invalidated my incident and victim blamed me to a lot of our mutual friends.
I have also found out that post Atharva’s apology, he still harassed another woman. I do not know many details but the incident has been confirmed to a mutual friend who then informed me of this.
Here’s to showing– an apology is not enough. An apology must be followed by correction of behavior. Atharva’s apology did not stop him from doing it again.
And in terms of the poetry scene- We all represent and talk about these issues but turn our backs when it’s someone we know. I no longer feel safe at Open Sky Slam and am truly appalled by how lightly they took two, and now three different incidents of harassment an employee of theirs has been associated with. I tried to approach them thrice but by their actions, it clearly tells that they do not care about these incidents enough. I worry about every young boy and girl that attends Open Sky Slam as OSS does not have strict security or methods to assure safety.
I would like Open Sky Slam to assure others and me that it is still safe, and to take action accordingly.
This is an allegation yet to be verified under ‘due process’ by ‘Open sky slam’.