One of Mumbai’s most popular slam poetry artistes, Shamir Reuben, has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women. Reuben is also the creative head of Kommune, an art/live performance collective based out of Mumbai. He has been accused of sending unsolicited sexually explicit messages to multiple women, many of whom were minors.
The stories come on the heels of the worldwide #MeToo campaign that brought sexual harassment against women centrestage.
A poet from the same community, who was the first woman to break her silence on Reuben, wrote in a Facebook post that he tried to sext with her when she was very young.
"...an extremely well-known face of the community, who speaks about women’s empowerment, equality and pretty much all the other relevant social issues there are, is a closet predator who preys on young, naive girls, of whom a lot were minors when he sexted them, coerced them into sending him nude pictures, and in some cases even forced himself on them. " -
The poet feels that she was too ‘naive’ to understand what was going on. She distanced herself from him but the stories of his sexual misconduct kept surfacing.
Here is the complete Facebook post:
“The poetry community has been a safe space for everyone who is a part of it, including me. However, I've been wondering how much of a safe space it can really be when an extremely well-known face of the community, who speaks about women empowerment, equality and pretty much all the other relevant social issues there are, is a closet predator who preys on young, naive girls, of whom a lot were minors when he sexted them, coerced them into sending him nude pictures, and in some cases even forced himself on them. It's disgusting to have to watch someone like them snap their fingers when performers on stage speak about sexual assault and harassment, knowing that they're perpetuators of the same behaviour.
As someone who has been extremely vocal about my disdain for said person in my private circles, I've had to face people who defend this behaviour by saying that it was probably a misunderstanding, because someone as nice as them couldn't possibly indulge in the very sick habits that they speak against all the time. And you cannot blame them because this person is a manipulative genius who has figured out exactly how to portray themselves as an angelic idol of equality, compassion, empathy, etc.
This is precisely why I, and other women I know, haven't spoken about it before, and perhaps there are many more I do not know who haven't. It's scary to have to speak against someone at such a high social position, who is known for being the poster boy of humanity, with friends and supporters of equally high stature, and such a huge following.
But I'm absolutely done being scared, no justice ever came from fear.
I was hardly a couple months into junior college, and an extremely innocent, dumb kid from a sheltered school, when ask.fm was raging. It was through ask.fm that I came into contact with Shamir Reuben. He approached me with a simple, sweet message, and we exchanged numbers. This was someone that was looked up to by everyone on the site, including me. Which is why I was extremely confused when he attempted to initiate sexting. I was far too naive to realise what was going on, however I was extremely uncomfortable so I played it off and managed to dodge the conversation.
It seemed fairly harmless, I even thought I was just being awkward and misunderstanding things, maybe that's just how people of that age spoke and behaved, and I shouldn't be reading too much into things. So I let it go.
I continued to occasionally speak to him as though nothing had happened. I still thought of him as the person he portrayed himself to be. But I still felt weird every time I thought of that one conversation.
I then distanced myself from him.
However, I then spoke to a friend who confided in me about how he'd behaved inappropriately with her. That is when I realised that the incident with me wasn't an isolated one, and i was not over thinking it.
We were both minors at the time.
Over the years I've maintained diplomacy, I've cordially greeted him at events, indulged in small talk, and generally behaved "normal".
But I'm sick of pretending that I'm not furious with him and absolutely disgusted by his behaviour, we've all been conditioned to protect the identity of such people due to the consequences that they may have to face, but I think it's time he's made aware of the repercussions of his behaviour.
On grounds of full disclosure, I personally do not have any proof of his messages to me, because I was a kid at the time and couldn't be expected to have the presence of mind to save screenshots for evidence considering I didn't even know that what was going on was wrong until much later.
To conclude, the reason I'm putting this out now, is because I have come into contact with multiple people who have made me realize that this was not just a single incident and there may be more who shall be encouraged to speak out if I do so.
I think the poetry community ought to really be the safe space that we think it is.
If there are any more girls out there who have had similar experiences, I urge you to speak about them, you have my support.
Shamir can deny this if he wants, I'd like to see him try to explain it away.
However, I stand by what I said. Now, more than ever, considering the amount of scenarios that have come to light. If there are any of you who aren't convinced of the kind of filth he's capable of, I'm sorry about that, but I'm not going to beg you to believe me, I'll leave that up to your better judgment.”
The poet substantiated her post with the following messages from women who had a similar experience:
Some women got in touch with Reuben through the popular QnA website Ask.Fm. They claimed that they were impressed by his progressive thoughts on women’s empowerment. However, his behaviour towards them was the opposite of what he portrayed himself to be.
When The Quint contacted Shamir Reuben, he said:
"I would not like to comment on what is happening right now. I am still trying to understand what is happening around me. "
Presently, Shamir Reuben is the head of content at Kommune. This is what the community had to say about the incident:
Kommune recognises that posts have been shared about Shamir Reuben’s past conduct with certain individuals. We...Posted by Kommune on Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Priya Malik, another slam poetry artiste who has worked closely with Reuben, says:
"I’m glad that the girls have spoken. No crime must go unpunished and just because Shamir is a “nice guy “ or a “good poet” doesn’t absolve him of it. In fact, this puts a whole new perspective on predatory behavior."
A day after women starting speaking up against Reuben, he posted a statement on Facebook claiming that his past has been painted “incorrectly.”
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...Posted by Shamir Reuben on Thursday, February 8, 2018
(This is a developing story. The Quint is independently trying to get in touch with the women involved)
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