Mumbai's slam poetry scene has been deeply shaken up by allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of one of its leading stars — Shamir Reuben.
Reuben, who is also a highly visible member of the art/live performance collective Kommune, has been accused by multiple women of sending them sexually suggestive messages.
The first of these accounts was posted by poet Sakina Bootwala on Facebook. In a long post, Bootwala detailed her interactions with Reuben from a few years ago, when he repeatedly asked her for nude photos and made comments of a sexual nature — even after she made her disinterest clear. Bootwala says while she had maintained a friendly equation with Reuben and brushed off his inappropriate behaviour, she felt compelled to speak out after other women also narrated having had similar experiences with him.
This is the text of her Facebook post:
Several women responded to Bootwala's post with their own stories. Some of them — who initially made contact with Reuben over the popular anonymous QnA website ask.fm — said they were only 16-17 when Reuben engaged in what they described as "predatory" and "creepy" behaviour, over text messages after they had exchanged numbers. The women said they were especially taken aback by Reuben's behaviour since he has been a vocal supporter of women's rights and because they looked up to him as a poet and artist. One of the women said Reuben had forcibly kissed her when they met.
Even as the allegations against Reuben were widely discussed on social media, poet and feminist Harnidh Kaur briefly came under fire for initially supporting him. However, Kaur clarified that while it had been difficult to accept the accusations against a dear friend, she stood with the women who had stepped forward.
"I have loved Shamir as a friend for many years, but Shamir did these things. Those are are both truths I cannot refute. These are realisations that rankle, and I’m going to spend time unpacking them. I am immensely, vastly angry for the women who went through this. I refuse to disappoint you and let you down just because my biases make me weak. The sadness I feel is mine to deal with, but my courage and support is all yours," Kaur later wrote in a Facebook post. The full text of Kaur's statement is as below:
Firstpost reached out to Shamir Reuben for comment, but hadn't received a statement from him yet at the time of publishing this piece. He did later put up this message on his Facebook page:
"A lot has been said in the past day about me. If any of my messages or actions may have made Sakina or any other woman uncomfortable, I want to apologise profusely for any discomfort felt because of me. I genuinely do not believe my messages or actions would cause them hurt and I sincerely hope that I can be forgiven by all those that I may have inadvertently wronged.
Several things said are an incorrect portrayal of past events during 2013-2016, and the messages shared form part of longer conversations. The women to whom I sent messages were my friends, most of who I knew over months and even years, and messages between friends when read out of context often portray an incorrect picture of the true nature of events. These messages, when viewed today, are indeed inappropriate but were never intended to cause harm to any woman.
I wish Sakina, and all the women who have spoken-up, well and I respect them for raising this important issue. Violence of any form against women should not be tolerated. But, I have not and never intended to harm or harass them in any way."
Meanwhile, Kommune, the collective that Reuben heads social media and content for, released an official statement saying he had been suspended from the group while the allegations against him were investigated.
Kommune recognises that posts have been shared about Shamir Reuben’s past conduct with certain individuals. The allegations made are of serious concern to us. Pending enquiry into these allegations, Shamir’s role at Kommune will remain suspended. pic.twitter.com/kIz3PDebfg
— Kommune (@KOMMUNEity) February 7, 2018
Updated Date: Feb 11, 2018 15:35 PM