After Outlook’s interview with celebrated Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay (‘I am surprised and shocked by Taslima’s allegation,’ Sep 17) regarding fellow writer Taslima Nasreen’s explosive charge on Twitter that he sexually harassed her, the firebrand feminist wrote to us expressing her dismay that we, “like the other powerful patriarchal mainstream media”, had her “blacked out”. Subsequently, Dola Mitra spoke to her. Excerpts:
Why did you keep your allegation of a famous Bengali novelist sexually harassing you a secret all these years?
The sheer knowledge of what I was up against. I knew that the mainstream media and the powerful people with whom Sunil was associated, including Bengal’s biggest newspaper barons and the then state government, would not just black me out but also ensure I was harassed in every possible way.
My painful memories of being sexually exploited by Sunil rushed back when I heard he was criticising the ban on Musalmander Koronio, a book by police officer Nazrul Islam (which slams the Bengal government for its tell-tale appeasement of Muslims). I never gave in to him, so he turned against me completely. He was instrumental in having my book Dwikhandita banned in 2003. Who is he to talk about freedom of speech? That’s why I tweeted about it at this stage.
It is said that you shared a consensual relationship with him and that you used him in order to gain entry into the literary circles of Calcutta.
I was well acquainted with the Calcutta literary circle since I was 17, when I lived in Bangladesh and published and edited a little magazine called Sejuti, for which young poets from both Bengals wrote. If you look at my life, there is no question of using anyone for anything. I have only got banned, blacklisted and banished.
As for a relationship, there was nothing between us, consensual or otherwise. Sunil is an elderly man, my father’s age. I respected him. But he betrayed my trust and made sexual advances towards me.... After I tweeted about being sexually harassed by Sunil, I received a deluge of e-mails in which others made similar complaints. In one, a father wrote about how his daughter was grabbed and kissed by him when she visited him. I know many girls who in order to have their poems and stories published put up with him but stay silent because they know their voices will be choked.
But in the interview to Outlook Sunil said you used to go to his house and you’d share meals together and he has photos of you sitting at his feet.
How many women, no matter how courageous, can say they cut off all relations with a man who made sexual advances towards her? I tried to forgive and forget. But he wanted to completely crush me. He tried to stifle my freedom of expression by having my book banned, using his connections in the state government and finally bundle me out of Calcutta.
Why would he want to do that to you? Because you shunned him?
I’ve been told Sunil is jealous of me. A publisher at the Calcutta Book Fair noticed I got 20 times more readers coming to me for autographs than him. I get invited to Western countries by governments, universities and organisations to deliver lectures on important issues like human rights and to attend different literary programmes as well as to receive prestigious awards. Sunil goes abroad primarily on invitations by immigrant Bengali communities, mainly Bangladeshis. He always resented my popularity. He was the only judge in the 10-judge Ananda Puroshkar committee who opposed my getting the prize twice, in 1992 and 2000. But despite this, I got the award twice. There are hundreds of documents about Sunil’s desperation to ban my book in 2003. In 2007, he secretly called me and told me to leave Calcutta.
It is said that your writing is derogatory towards Islam and deliberately inflammatory....
I write from my personal experience of being abused and exploited by a misogynist and patriarchal religious structure, which obviously does not suit the fundamentalist fanatics. It is unfair to label me anti-Islam. I am an atheist and a secular humanist.
Finally, it has been alleged that your tweets were politically motivated. That you are trying to curry favour with the Bengal government (Sunil has criticised the state government) so that you can return to Calcutta.
Don’t you think that I know that the TMC government will never risk the Muslim vote by bringing me back to Calcutta? I am a perpetual pariah as far as politicians are concerned because I speak the politically incorrect truth. Politicians only use me as a scapegoat to capture the Muslim vote.
In her interview (‘Sunil is jealous of me, my popularity’, Oct 15), Taslima Nasreen alleges that the eminent Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhyay ‘sexually harassed’ her. I am writing to report that I had an experience not dissimilar to incidents noted by her when I went to meet Sri Sunil Gangopadhyay, president of the Sahitya Akademi, at the IIC one evening in 2008, in connection with an international literary conference I was organising. This was an ‘official’ meeting to seek support for our conference and, ideally, to include Sri Gangopadhyay, whom I had never met before, as a key speaker. After conversing for about 20 minutes, during which it was my impression that he appreciated our venture, I got up to leave. It was then that Sri Gangopadhyay suddenly grabbed and kissed me. I must admit I found this behaviour extremely shocking as I had given him no reason whatsoever to believe that I was ‘available.’ Shaken, I extricated myself and hastily left.
Why did I not speak up earlier and why am I doing so now? This is the same question that the Outlook reporter posed to Taslima Nasreen. (As a matter of fact, I did talk about the matter to friends, family and even to an office-bearer of the Sahitya Akademi; however, I did not do so publicly). Given my deep respect for Sri Gangopadhyay as a writer, I persuaded myself that this was just a petty foible in a man who had produced great insights into the life and times in which he lived. I also reasoned that far worse crimes were committed against women every day. Further, I had no cause to believe then that this may be part of a pattern of behaviour. Taslima Nasreen’s interview now suggests otherwise. Moreover, in my case, Sri Gangopadhyay’s actions amounted to an abuse of office. Other women who are younger, innocent and eager to be published could be even more vulnerable in this respect.
I may emphasise that, in the final analysis, the issue I have raised is not about an individual. It is about the insidious manner in which power causes even the best amongst us to act in ways that go unrecognised as unjust. Thus, my stance is neither ‘pro-Taslima’ nor ‘anti-Sunil’. I count myself a feminist but there are positions Taslima Nasreen takes with which I entirely disagree. I also think of myself as staunchly left-of-centre and my admiration for Sunil Gangopadhyay as a writer remains boundless. Nevertheless, I now feel compelled to tell my cautionary tale not only in the interest of forewarning other writers but also, more generally, of “speaking truth to power” at times when it really becomes necessary.
Prof Rukmini Bhaya Nair, IIT Delhi
I think that, as a novelist, Sunil Gangopadhyay was never really in the big league. But he indeed wrote good poetry for two decades. After that, his hold on the literary circle of West Bengal became symptomatic of the Left Front rule. Power corrupts and leads to abuse. If anyone has read his recent fiction in Bengali magazines (particularly festive issues of Desh), they would probably agree that it is serious trash. Somehow, I am not surprised by Taslima’s allegations. Whatever the quality of her writing, she was rather unfairly shown the door out of Calcutta and India. She has the right to write her mind. It seems atheists and humanists have no place in Indian society. Salman Rushdie, Taslima, Rohinton Mistry...the list continues. Somehow one has to be the ideal ‘liberal’ like Sunil Gangopadhyay to survive.
Arpan Banerjee, Durgapur
I have read Lajja, Taslima’s book on the mass murder and rape of Hindus in Bangladesh, and I don’t think she’s lying. Why do books that criticise or question Islam get banned in our country?
Vijay, Arlington, US
Anyone who has read her books would know that Taslima is an average writer who deserves no awards. An ambitious woman would go to any length to get what she wants, and Taslima is one of them. It is a fashion these days to sleep with men and then accuse them of taking advantage.
Nasar Ahmed, Karaikudi
This interview only goes to show how murky all this writing business is!
B.V.G. Rao, Hyderabad
Male Unblocked >> let us remember a statement which is the truth, recently from a Haryana minister - 90% of rapes are consensual
Here is another truth for you to digest - 100%, I MEAN HUNDRED PERCENT OF CONGRESS SUPPORTERS AND APOLOGISTS ARE LIARS AND CHEATS.
Arpan Banerjee >> We expect grown-up behaviors from the "leaders" while not being the same ourselves
Instead of setting expectations from leaders or from ourselves, why dont we instead set expectations from those who govern, to enforce the RULE OF THE LAND?
So let us not get into pointless debate on whether the RAJA(King) is the evil or the PRAJA (Citizen) is the evil. Law is common to all and should apply to all equally...
A ordinary citizen accused of corruption(maybe very rarest of rare cases it happens) will see his job terminated and him become a outcaste. But see what happens to likes of Raja or Kanimozhi, they are made members of parliamentary committees...
Now do you blame the man or woman on the street , i mean the MANGO MAN for this?
Before we go on 'agreeing' about rapes, let us remember a statement which is the truth, recently from a Haryana minister - 90% of rapes are consensual ( and 75% are released by the courts after a long trial )
Thank God both Sunil and Thaslima are humen.
The world will be better place if all aspirants of
'Great people' became humen. I mean earthy feelings.
I read her book about mass murder and rape of Hindus in Bangladesh. I don't think she was lying in that book.
Why do we ban books in India which criticize or question Islam? I have seen many anti-Hindu books reviewed in Outllook. Why the double standards?
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