February 20, 2020
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'It Has Ceased To Matter Whether He Accepts What I Say'

The woman who accused poet Sudeep Sen of sexual harassment in a Facebook post, talks about abuse of male power and the sexist power-play in the society...

'It Has Ceased To Matter Whether He Accepts What I Say'

A woman poet accuses a male poet of sexual harassment in an FB  post. In solidarity, around 15 poets pull out of an anthology he was editing. The accused, Sudeep Sen, vehemently denies the charges, and it veers around a key point. The occasion the complaint refers to is “two years old”, he tells Outlook . And “its timing with the ant­hology” makes it suspect. Her name had apparently not figured in it. The woman’s words, meanwhile, are redol­ent with accusations of textbook abuse of male power. Excerpts from an interview:

You referred to Sudeep Sen as “the Lord” in your FB post....

It’s the general familiarity with the figure (and the pattern of his behaviour) that led me to use the term. The post began as a resp­onse to a friend’s account of a tacit backlash he had to face regarding an unflattering review he had written for one of Sen’s books. Predatory behaviour, sexual and literary, is so deeply entrenched, it’s almost naturalised...the likes of Sen brazenly enjoy the space and power they abuse to various ends. Of course, I identified the perpetrator later. But I wasn’t at all surprised that so many immediately recognised who I was talking about (before that).

Have you considered legal action? He does not accept your version.

I’m not sure following “proper procedure” would encourage the likes of him to come clean, admit the various times they have abused their position or indulged in sexual misconduct...as though it were their privilege to do so. The context in which I located his abuse of power relates to a particular industry and its embedded sociology where exclusionary elitism and sexist power-play has been accepted either as a part of the system, or even the norm. Of course, Sen doesn’t accept what I said, and honestly, it has alre­ady ceased to matter whether he or anyone else accepts what I say. There’s no reason to seek further validity for a truth that was only waiting to be acknowledged and addressed.

Do you worry there will be a professional price to pay? Is this why you were silent for a long time?

Once it did concern me how speaking out could single me out. Now it really doesn’t matter whether there is a price to pay for speaking out. I personally do not believe in any literary professionalism that keeps a writer from speaking/acknowledging his/her truth.

You have shaken up a small, cosy world, no doubt. Yet the allegations remain just that—the denials remain too....

The Indian English poetry scene was already rifted along such lines; my post probably helped open a space where the reasons are ack­nowledged. As for his denial, I expect nothing to the contrary.

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