Writer Nikesh Shukla on Monday pulled out of this year’s Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters in protest against the silence of the organisers about sexual harassment allegations against former director CP Surendran. Shukla was scheduled to be a panellist at the three-day literary event, which begins in Kerala on January 31.
Surendran, a writer and journalist, had stepped down as the director of the festival in November, weeks after several women accused him of making sexually coloured remarks and suggestive comments. Some women had said Surendran touched them inappropriately.
Shukla, a British writer of Indian origin, said he was disappointed by the “lack of an official statement” about the allegations. “So with a heavy heart, I will no longer be appearing at this festival,” he wrote on Twitter.
Another panellist, Kenyan poet and activist Shailja Patel, had said last week she will not attend the festival.
Patel had said she had accepted an invitation from Surendran in July 2018 to be on a panel at the festival. This was before the allegations against him were reported. She received an official invitation from Sabin Iqbal, a festival director, with information on travel logistics on November 27.
She said she wrote back that although Surendran had stepped down as a director, she had not seen a “statement from the festival in support of his victims and #MeToo India”. Patel claimed she did not receive a reply from Iqbal, despite a follow-up email on January 3.
“I believe all the women who have spoken out about CP Surendran assaulting them, and I stand in solidarity with them,” Patel claimed to have told Iqbal. “Before appearing at #MBIFL2019, I need to be sure that the festival does too, and has a policy in place to prevent further abuse of women. Please update me on #MBIFL2019’s position.”
Accusations against Surendran
Surendran’s accusers included his former colleagues from The Times of India, where he worked from 2003 to 2006 and again in 2010-’13, at Open magazine, where he worked from 2008 to 2009, at DNA newspaper, where he worked from 2013 to 2015, at Arré, where he was creative director in 2015, and at Harper Collins Publishers India, with whom he has published two novels and a book of poems.
Surendran had earlier responded to Scroll.in’s request for comment on the allegations: “I have never meant to give grief. I have not made obscene comments or gestures...This is the lynch mob at work.”
He was among several journalists, media professionals, actors, writers and corporate executives who were accused of sexual harassment in the #MeToo campaign in India last October.
“The festival organisers had a meeting in which the issue was discussed,” Mathrubhumi Managing Director Shreyams Kumar had said in November. “There, Surendran decided to step back from the festival. He had expressed that something like this [allegations of sexual harassment] is spreading. He said that it is just an allegation and there is no truth in it, but that it should not become a problem for conducting the festival.” The position of director was not an appointed one and was on a consulting basis, Kumar said.