Breaking: Shamir Reuben & Pervs in Poetry

Follow our timeline for updates on the Shamir Reuben story, that we will follow up till the end. Lest we forget...

7th February

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* Sakina Bootwala writes a post (right) naming Shamir Reuben, one of the most recognised faces in the English-language performance poetry circuit, as a sexual harasser. As the day passes, more and more women share their stories with Sakina, causing her to realise that the problem wasn't just limited to her, but was an epidemic with shades of pedophilia and the modus operandi of a sexual perpetrator—the girls were between the ages of 14 to 16 when the inappropriate correspondences began, while he was 19; they continued well into his early 20s. Apart from being a well-known poet, Reuben was also a much-revered feminist who was vocal about women empowerment. 

* Shamir's (now former) best friend, Harnidh Kaur responds to the allegations after a few hours of being barraged for one, where she disavows her friendship with him and expresses disappointment and anger at the revelations. Although many alleged that she was in the know, including her own friends, she has maintained a silence on that front. 

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* Kommune, a performance platform in Mumbai that employed Reuben also releases a Facebook post (right) with the news that he has been suspended pending an internal enquiry. 

8th February

* By the time the second day rolls around, the number of allegations has increased to more than twenty, and Sakina has to start a new post.  

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* Shamir releases a response via Facebook (right), following the tradition of the worst sorry-not-sorry perpetrators. In it, he sweeps his actions—well documented in screenshots of many conversations with many underaged women, available in Sakina's post—under the carpet and avoids apologising completely.


* His response is not received favourably by those in the poetry community, and is panned by most in no uncertain terms (below).

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* Story Fest Chandigarh releases a Facebook post announcing Reuben has been dropped from the performer's list. 

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* Harnidh releases a Facebook post (right) stating her intention to collect and corroborate the stories of the victims, with the hope that a POCSO case could be filed against Reuben. This post is shared widely...

* Buzzfeed, which had just a few days prior named Reuben as one of "21 modern Indian poets who will make you fall in love with poetry", removes him from their listicle, and publishes an account of the Facebook name-and-shame.

9th February

* Mumbai Mirror releases a report which was thoroughly condemned by Sakina and others for being insensitive and unverified.

10th February


* A few feminists come together to create a list naming a few well-known poets and writers in India as abusers and sexual harassers. In light of the Reuben accusations, the list is a necessary response to protect women and femmes from violence in the poetry scene.


* However, one of the men named in the list, Ambikesh Sharma issues a public denial (top right) of the accusations, causing many to disavow the list. 

* The tide turns again when Nimisha Srivastava, the victim who had stayed anonymous previously, decided to come out with proof publicly (right). Ambikesh retracts his denial in the face of proof.



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Aziz Ansari & the Case of Ambiguous Consent

Still confused about what you feel about the Aziz Ansari-Grace incident? We asked five prominent Indian feminists—Saloni Choujar, Kiran Manral, Sheena Dabholkar, Sonam Mittal and Harnidh Kaur—to weigh in.

by Tara* Kaushal & Priyanka Sutaria

Sexual assault is built on a pyramid of building blocks which range in size and strength. From slut-shaming and "bro codes" to the social construct of virginity and conditioning males into feeling entitled to women's bodies—rape culture encompasses it all. In the post #MeToo world, the lack of nuanced debate (or the fact that there is a debate at all) around the allegations against Aziz Ansari has been the talk of the month. Pass the Mic curates the opinions of prominent feminists in order to understand how exactly we must face this issue head on.

Let it also be known that although we invited a number of prominent male feminists to contribute to this conversation, more so than women (you know who you are!), we were disappointed that they all declined to speak about this sensitive issue. Hence, this stays a "lady-oriented" set of opinions...



"Giving consent to sex does not mean you’ve given consent to anything that goes on in that bed, right? Women should be able to expect more than just not-rape sex. That shouldn’t be the bar. Which it is! I couldn’t possibly tell any friend hypothetically that a man forced me to give him head while we were having sex or that ‘he shoved his fingers down my throat’ and I was humiliated. They’d be like, ‘stop creating a scene and get over it. You were having sex!’

... that consent only goes as far as to get you in bed is scary. (The only thing we see seriously as without consent in bed is probably anal sex, and that’s only because we’re still orthodox about it.) Sex is a two-way thing; if you’re so engrossed that you’re not even aware when your sexual partner is saying ‘no’ then something isn’t right. Two people should have the respect and dignity they desire, even during sex. If you’re being treated in a way you don’t like, you should have the right to end it—be it a man or a woman.

I think that an issue that deserved discussion turned into ‘there goes another feminist cry’ or ‘there’s a bit of a witch hunt’ instead of conversations about appropriate sexual activity and the bounds of consent. We need to talk more about these issues before some people start attacking and others start guarding themselves. And now both sides are busy speaking only to themselves."



"The brand new tunnel through the patriarchy blasted through by the #MeToo movement faced its first road bump. And it was put there by a young woman who went under the pseudonym Grace, and the young woman who wrote her story in Babe. On the face of it, it was an innocuous account of a really bad date where Grace went out with a young man, who persisted trying to get sexually intimate with her despite her telling him to the contrary that she wasn’t interested. The date ended badly, he called her an Uber and she went home in tears. The man was famous, Aziz Ansari.

The fallout of that piece split the feminist movement into splinters. But what I take away from it, this disregard for a woman’s consent is so rampant that we have normalised it. That this piece speaks about it is important. And that we as women need to constantly keep having these conversations not just with the men, but with each other about how we take agency over our bodies and renegotiating the boundaries we set around ourselves and what defines consent for us."



"The behaviour reflected in the Aziz Ansari incident is not uncommon, it’s prevalent. That’s why it’s  unsurprising that men are resisting acknowledging Aziz’s behaviour as problematic because it will  require them to reassess their own past behaviour which they’ve previously deemed acceptable.  Women, even the many who identify with ‘Grace’, would rather believe that too, so they don’t have  to recount and relive the similar situations they’ve been in, because it’s less painful than admitting to being violated. Victim blaming is rape culture. "Focus on the real issues" is rape culture. Stripping  her off her agency to tell her story by saying it does a disservice to the #MeToo movement is rape culture. As if people shouldn’t share their stories unless they live on the end of the violence spectrum.

Rape (and murder) sit at the top of the rape culture pyramid, coercion is lower down, with victim  blaming towards the bottom but they all contribute to the same systemic violence against women.  To end rape culture, we need to be able to address sexual violence at all levels of the spectrum.  Dismissing it in the lower levels excuses it as we go higher up."



"The mess that is the conversation about Aziz Ansari-Grace, reminds me of how the Internet was split because of a blue-black-white-gold dress. But consent is not a dress. Consent is a simple Yes or No in theory, rarely so in practice. While we debate about whether it was a date gone bad, or a witch hunt to ruin men's careers (as if), the reality is that many of us have been where Grace was with Aziz Ansari. Our lack of conversation and sense of shame around such topics turns a concept as simple, as black and white as consent, into a grey area. An obscure zone where men like Ansari, feminist or not, can take advantage of women and turn it into a he-said she-said situation.

I don't know what happened between Grace and Ansari that night, because I wasn't there. Though, I'm glad we are having this conversation now. Do you know how many women Grace has empowered? Do you know how many men are now better aware because of her? I only wish we could have had such conversation sooner, so that someone like Grace wouldn't have had the worst night of her life."



"The betrayal of Aziz Ansari will soon be forgotten, but the questions it has raised will not. This is a confirmation of some of the most rankling fears women everywhere wrestle with—if a man says he’s a feminist ally, can I trust him? Should I? It’s exhausting living in a world where everything is conspiring against you, and women have been pushed back into the same corner again and again. This also forces us to step back and question where #MeToo goes next. Do we scale? Do we consolidate? Do we simply struggle to survive?

There are no simple answers. There shouldn’t be any, either. It’s time to move beyond catchphrases and linearity, and wrangle with tougher, murkier realities beyond hashtags and trends. It’s not going to be easy to let go of heroes we create out of people who express basic human decency—and maybe that’s exactly what we need to do. Pull our heroes off their pedestals and demand better of them."

(Excerpt from the article Aziz Ansari is not the woke desi feminist we thought he was published by Quartz.)


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To Men

by Varun Gwalani

Even mental illness didn’t impact me as ferociously, viscerally as did the discovery of systemic gender and sexual violence. Ever since, I have been examining my privilege and cultivating compassion for those regarded as less by virtue of their gender. Here, I tell men exactly why we cannot turn a blind eye to this conversation, and why merely being a ‘nice guy’ isn’t enough. It’s simple: if you don’t call out sexism and actively work against it, you’re complicit in the system.

I have lived 23 years on this planet. Of those, I spent nearly a decade with a debilitating mental disorder that wrecked every relationship; every chance of happiness or true love. I lost my childhood and adolescence.

And yet, I can count the number of times I felt truly broken—like the world was ending, like there was something fundamentally wrong with the nature of the world—on my fingers

Number one happened at 16, when a person I was very close to called me to tell me about being sexually assaulted, just moments ago. I still remember every vivid detail, the image seared into my head. It was perhaps a measure of my privilege (and luck) that I had gone so many years without knowing how grave a problem this was.

Number two happened when I published 'Believe', a story that featured a sexual assault survivor as its heroine. A reader—a rape survivor—told me that the book had helped her. She added that she wished that a friend of hers, who was also a rape survivor, could have read it. "Maybe then she wouldn’t have committed suicide," she said. That was the second time I felt broken.

The most recent was when social media was flooded with the #MeToo hashtag. There it was, laid bare: The ‘secret’ that every woman knew but every man ignored, the consequence of a world we had created, in stark relief. Men with any sense of decency or empathy could not claim ignorance or a lack of complicity anymore. We were, and are, complicit.

So this is for you men who felt similarly broken, who feel unsure or confused about where to go from here. How do you fix what you don’t know? How do you suddenly adjust your perspective on everything you’ve known in life? How do you even know if what you’re doing is wrong or right?

First, let’s try to comprehend the sheer vastness of the problem. It’s global. Some have it better and some have it worse, but everybody has it. It’s no social media ‘trend’—it’s been going on for centuries. Aristotle (the philosopher who laid the basis for about a dozen sciences) wrote: "The relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and ruler to ruled." The long history of making women the ‘other’, classifying them as the ‘inferior’, had begun. Scientists did it too: remember Sigmund Freud casually theorising that an entire gender was irrational because they were jealous of men for having penises? The subjugation of women has been ingrained into the very systems we inhabit (take language, for instance) and men have had the luxury of ignoring it for centuries.

Still not convinced? Contemplate this: women are more likely to be killed before birth (ever wonder why there was no need for the term ‘male foeticide’?); they are routinely sexually abused as children; female children are more likely to suffer neglect and die as a result; the rate of female rape are shockingly high; and 79% of women will face some kind of sexual harassment or violence in public.

Still think men are the ‘real’ victims? The people, who, by virtue of a different set of genitals, are less likely to get murdered, harassed or die of neglect than another group of people who weren’t born with a penis? Next time you say equate female ‘privilege’ with a bus seat that’s reserved for women, think of this.

Oh sure, you’ll say you didn’t create the system. #NotAllMen, anyone? Newsflash: nobody is saying that you did. That doesn’t however, absolve you of the responsibility of actively countering systemic gender violence. It’s the only thing to do, if you want to call yourself a decent human being.  

What I am (and feminists) are saying is this: men are not the enemy. There is only one enemy: patriarchy. And it affects all genders. For instance, men are taught not be emotional. That emotion is somehow a ‘female’ thing. One key emotion, however, was not only allowed, it was encouraged and venerated: anger. And this, in turn, showed up as rape. As domestic abuse. As alcoholism. As self hate.

And this, I believe, is one of the key reasons the subjugation of women was allowed to continue; why misogyny grew deeper, longer roots.

You know what I would like to venerate? Empathy. Compassion. The truly radical thing to do today would be to care.

Recognise that everybody is, at first, a human being. That is what feminism is: the simple idea that we should treat people—all people—the same.

So, as men, what can we do? It’s easy: listen. Empathise. Believe. Let us stop putting the onus on victims to justify and defend their trauma. Women shouldn’t have to relive their horror and pain just to prove to us that they are suffering. Statistics show that a very low percentage of sexual violence complaints are lies which means, logically, we have to believe women.

When we, men, talk, let’s not talk over women. As a male ally—especially in the workplace—stop colleagues from cutting your female colleagues off. Amplify female and feminist ideas. Share and retweet female voices. Call your friends out on their shit. Say “That’s not cool, man.”

Let us create a safe space where people of all genders and orientations can express themselves freely. Men have let their unjustified anger and hate dominate the conversation for long enough. Let us pass the mic to the women and their justified anger.

This anger affects all of us. Before you say you’re a ‘nice guy’, know that you someone you know, love and care about, has or will be abused. You need to take a stand. You are complicit already. I am complicit already. We didn’t ask to be part of the system, but we can choose to fight it.

Let’s use our privilege for good.


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How I Became an Ally

by KC Vlaine

In this piece, I introspect about how and why Ia straight cis guyidentify as a feminist and became an ally: on the role played by my childhood, mother and other women in my life. Further, I describe the rewarding process of trying to apply my feminist ideals to my personal life and relationships.


Let’s begin with the way I was raised. My mother is a deeply empathetic woman, who has always taught me to consider what other people think. Gender was never a factor in my upbringing—I never had to conform to a certain role. If I cried, she simply addressed my emotions, instead of telling me that boys don't cry. My father was pretty much absent, sitting in his room in front of a computer for much of our lives. The mainstream ideal of masculinity was mostly absent from my household, and I grew up a happy, skinny boy. Whenever I was exposed to the masculinity norm, it was via video games or cartoons, so gender was little more than a conceptual idea. My self-worth ended up grounded in my creative abilities, rather than how well I performed a role. 


My relatively neutral upbringing primed me for the next big influence—speaking to women around me about what they’ve been through. My mother—I realised as I got older—was in an emotionally and physically abusive marriage, and had shielded us from that reality. The way society—especially the police—reacted to the situation, which was with a resigned indifference—forced me to think about it as a large problem in society. Once my parents separated, my brother and I became friends to my mother, hearing her out. I don't think we really understood much at the age of 11 and 12, respectively, but we did learn how to really listen.

As I found female friends and romantic partners in life, I found I wanted more than just a superficial engagement—I wanted to really get to know them. I earned their trust over time and they began to tell me how they had encountered violence at the hands of men. I cannot share the stories, obviously, but it scared me that most of the women I became close to had experienced violence in their life, and had trauma hidden underneath their wonderful personas. Contrary to the common rhetoric that women these days are seeking attention by whining about these things, in my experience, I’ve found that most of the stories remain untold and don’t come up until I myself seek to understand the origins of a person’s tendencies, preferences, fears or issues. It is I who had to explore the person and find these reasons, which would probably have never come out had I not made the effort—so I don’t buy the ‘attention’ nonsense that goes around in men’s circles.

While I believe I am not a fully mobilised ally yet (I don't go out and march, nor am I involved in any grassroot activities), I do speak up online and I try to find ways to influence people around me positively, through poetry, attending LGBTQ events as an ally, writing and performing feminist poetry, etc. That said, I think most of my efforts have been quite personal and inward. If feminism includes the act of questioning a system by examining its impact on oneself, and working to undo its machinations, then I've been a feminist since before I knew the word. 


I often examine my toxic emotions such as jealousy, insecurity and rage. Sometimes I do this through poetry, at other times I put myself in situations that might trigger negative feelings, and search for the potential to turn those feelings around. For example, I’d discuss the possibility of opening a relationship up with a partner who was up for it, to see what thoughts would come up in my head. The goal wasn’t to actually open it up, but for me to access my vulnerability in small ways. It let me push my limits at a pace I was comfortable with, in situations I was still in control of. I can't say I've been very successful, but I've had flashes of clarity which I hold onto at times when I feel like a mean, patriarchal numbskull. In the example of talking about opening the relationship up, there were instances when the idea did seem beautiful and free of the usual negative feelings. Am I ready to be in an open relationship? No. But I realised I was really NOT ready for it despite being interested in the idea—and this is a tactic that helps me assess my state of mind without risking anything more than my mood for the day. You could say I treat my brain like a petri dish, putting things in it to see what grows and what festers—and the insights prove to be invaluable.    

The result of these personal experiments directly impact the way I treat women. I treat my subconscious as a separate entity from my conscious self, so when my mind reacts to a situation with a thought like 'yeah, sluts are like that' or 'women seem to have this tendency', I let the thought play out, keep it to the side, and try to minimise  its affect on my actions. I do this with entire emotions sometimes and it really helps my relationships with them. I am in no way free of these thoughts, but I am not controlled by them. I take it as a challenge to rise above them rather than deny their existence or bury them.

Furthermore, since I’m aware that I am only somewhat conscious of my own thoughts, I am humble when making assessments about other people’s psychology. A lot of men seem convinced that they understand women, or men, etc. I’m not, because I struggle to understand myself so I’m in no position to form assumptions about how someone else behaves, leave alone someone who has a very different experience of life from my own. All this helps to keep sexism at bay.

That said, this process is often very unpleasant, stressful, emotionally draining, and often shows me what's wrong without showing me how to 'fix' the issue. It is difficult to face one's conditioning, and undoing it is a long-drawn process that requires commitment. This realisation has shaped my views on the feminist movement itself, that seems to demand sudden, fundamental changes within people's minds. My instinctive reactions, however toxic, are tied deeply into my self worth and I have realised that logical arguments have very little bearing on how one’s mind reacts to things. It's tricky enough to try and change one's brain when one wants to, forget change someone else’s mind when they don't want to. We can't amputate a person’s conditioning overnight. For me, it’s been a process—and that’s something I consider in my own efforts to influence people positively, like when I’m trying to explain to a male friend how his thoughts might be sexist. Being aggressive just makes them avoid talking to me, while hearing them out and then explaining how my approach has made my life better, seems to work better.


When look inward though, I often examine my misogynistic reactions to events with surprise, and even disgust. For instance, paranoid, sexist thoughts that popped into my head about a partner when she would hang out with other men. I often wondered where these underlying insecurities and aggressive tendencies stem from, despite my generally high levels of self confidence. I’m still nowhere near free of these thoughts but I’ve found some methods to handle them. First and foremost, I have frank and honest talks with the partner, with an emphasis on the fact that these thoughts, while representative of certain forces within my mind, do not define my overall feelings for them, nor my opinions of them. I’ve found that helps us both treat it like a problem we can both solve together, and having a supportive partner helps immensely. In times when I don’t want to burden my partner (because it’s obviously quite unpleasant for them) I try to face it alone. I first burn off the aggression through other activities, and then deal with the issues through writing or talking about it with people who I know have worked through the same issues.

Sometimes I wonder if the solution to sexism lies not just in attacking patriarchy, but also replacing it with a better system. I have seen how my efforts have paid off in how they reward me with the kind of relationships and friendships that make life a wonderful experience no matter what is going on. And I know that once more men experience this, they might choose to abandon the sexist conjecture that ruins their chances at the deep, powerful relationships they so desperately need.  


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Allies in Action | Priyal Thakkar of Povera

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At United Against Sexual Violence, we introduce you to allies who use their privileged positions to help create a fair, free world. Priyal Thakkar, one of the founders of Povera, an Ahmedabad-based spoken word poetry collective, tells Priyanka Sutaria why she speaks up against gender violence.


Povera is not simply a collective for words and rhyme; it is a space which encourages open dialogue and is considered by many to be safe, as well as empowering. These three pillars—much like the three co-founders of the collective—uphold the spirit of what Priyal (20) feels is necessary in any healthy democratic society. Her powerful poetry, which she performs in a unique staccato manner, is packed with phrases such as “it’s okay” and “it isn’t a big deal”, which echo like self-imposed punishments, a repetitive poetic device which is woven through several poems. Along with writing about sexual violence, Priyal is invested in making a platform and a safe space for survivors of assault in Ahmedabad.

PS: What does Povera stand for, according to you?

PT: Povera is a space free from judgement that believes in talking through poetry, [what] people often find uncomfortable in conversations. Spoken word poetry in particular, is an instrument which can be used to both educate and empower, and since monsoon last year, Povera has tackled numerous contentious issues which deserve attention—abuse, sexual violence, mental health and menstrual hygiene, to name a few.

 Team Povera, L-R: Priyal Thakkar, Darshita Jain & Aditya Mankad

Team Povera, L-R: Priyal Thakkar, Darshita Jain & Aditya Mankad

PS: What drove you to create a space like Povera?

PT: I recall when my sister confided in me about being touched inappropriately by a man in an elevator. That day, I offered her empty words of reassurance, and this finds its way into quite a few of my poems. There is a sense of guilt which comes with staying quiet, of how I ended up silencing and invalidating my sister’s pain. By staying quiet and encouraging silence, aren't we all, similarly, becoming complicit in the crime ourselves? Isn't is alarming I feel lucky I haven't been sexually violated yet; that that is an exception and not the norm?

PS: You write extensively about sexual violence, as an ally. Where do you believe the poet stands as a voice against sexual violence? 

PT: I do not assume the identity of the victim, for I have not faced sexual assault, but instead I adopt the gaze of the ever-looming society that creates norms and conditions minds. My style of writing is geared towards making both readers and listeners uncomfortable with what they are experiencing, and and hopefully carry a piece of the poem back home within themselves.

Priyal performs 'The Good Man', her powerful poem about child sexual abuse.

PS: Appropriation of oppressed voices has become an important issue in the world of spoken word poetry. What are your thoughts on the issue?

PT: I believe that we must not at any cost, appropriate the voices of those who have survived sexual violence; instead I take on the guise of what I know I am already complicit in—a web of patriarchy which I am compelled to speak up about in order to try and make even the tiniest difference. So when a close friend and survivor told me that expecting victims to speak up for themselves was not always the best way to initiate dialogue, I was able to understand the position of incredible privilege one must occupy to ask the person to go through the pain by recounting the experience. Similarly, when another friend asked me to write about their experience, I realised that their wish to not tell their story did not equate to a lack of desire to have their story be told. I did end up writing that poem, and I perform it to date. Enabling survivors to tell their own stories remains the first step, but it is not the only one anymore.

PS: What does it mean to be an ally against gender-based violence?

PT: It means that you believe that others should have the same rights you enjoy or want for yourself; [it is] the patience and respect to listen, to educate oneself, and stand up against injustice. This is a lesson we believe deserves to be carried as we move towards creating an equitable society.


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Allies in Action | Rohan Joshi of All India Bakchod

At United Against Sexual Violence, we introduce you to allies who use their privileged positions to help create a fair, free world. Here Tara* Kaushal speaks to Rohan Joshi, one of the founders of AIB, about the feminist agenda of the comedy sketch group.


One weekend in Bengaluru, a few months ago, my bestie and I sat laughing at the many hilarious All India Bakchod videos that have populated the internet for a few years now. The cherry on top of the (very funny) cake is the straightforwardly feminist content—from the first viral video parody where Kalki Koechlin and Juhi Pande school women on how not to get raped, to Kangana Ranaut’s vagina anthem which took social media by storm earlier this year.

It's obvious they try. The refreshing candidness with which this comedy platform tackles socially relevant issues, especially in the all-influential Hindi film industry, is welcome and necessary. The world of comedy has long been mired in misogynistic attitudes (what with Bill Cosby and Louis CK leading the march of sexual offenders into hell), and only those who are members of this community can tackle this misogyny, from within.

In this volatile time, with gender politics at the forefront of global conversation, AIB has also been accused on not trying hard enough—that the content not labelled as 'feminist' seems exempt from feminist guidelines and can verge on the sexist; that women rarely feature in the content not labelled 'feminist'; that they focus only on women's problems.

That said, it is obvious they try. As Andrea Gibson says, "It is impossible to be routinely and actively engaged in the betterment of our hurting planet without at some point messing up.... So to be artists and activists right now requires our acceptance that we will likely at some point fail." I speak to Rohan (29) about the process of trying...

T*K: So, you’re feminists. What are the things that have informed your feminist sensibilities—as individuals and as a group?

RJ: I can’t speak for the group, but in my case, a lifetime of being raised by strong women who brooked no bullshit and called me out on all sorts of terrible, gendered behaviour definitely helped. And for the rest, there’s just the conversation right now, and the things you learn from shutting up and listening to people sometimes.

The Bollywood Dive Song will have you singing 'Coz I have vagina re' at the top of your voice...

T*K: AIB has been putting out a lot of feminism-positive content lately. What has the reaction been like?

RJ: From what we can tell, pretty positive. While you have the occasional #NotAllMen ranter show up, for the most part what we see in young people at least is an acknowledgement that certain gender biases and stereotypes need to change, an acknowledgment of a need for a conversation or a reckoning of some sort even.

T*K: What is the process of writing a feminist joke? How does one disassociate from one’s patriarchal conditioning when writing?

RJ: We never self censor while writing. The process is usually, a joke is pitched, no matter how offensive it may sound, following which it’s stress tested to see whether saying this harms the conversation or reinforces damaging stereotypes or cultures, and then it’s kept or dropped. Sometimes the process can be more nuanced. For example, what happens when we’re writing a character who’s *supposed* to be a sexist pig?

Sex Ed 101, courtesy AIB.

T*K: AIB is one of the most openly feminist creators of content. How does that translate into your workspace? How does feminist thought translate into feminist action?

RJ: We work hard to make our workplace inclusive and diverse, and more importantly then ensure that everyone is comfortable within that diverse open space, and nobody feels threatened.

T*K: As an artist and a performer, what is the need to account for one’s privilege? 

RJ: Massive. I think in 2017 there’s no excuse for not being aware of your privilege, and how it’s helped you in comparison. I’m not suggesting there’s a duty on artistes to go out and acknowledge it every single day in every single performance, but when working with material where that privilege can come into play, it’s massively important to be sensitive. Like, I’m always aware that I’m a Hindu Brahmin Cisgender Heterosexual Able-Bodied English Speaking Wealthy South Bombay Man. And that string of adjectives is terrifying when you think about it.

T*K: What does it mean to be an ally? Does it mean content must be created along the lines of the ideology of allyship?

In this parody infomercial, AIB introduces the types of harassment women face online.

RJ: I think what it means to be an ally is to support the conversation and participate at every turn, while being careful to not centre yourself in it, and being aware that you’re here for someone else, whatever that group may be, and sometimes that just means shutting up and listening. Occasionally, content must be created along the ideology of allyship also, but the thing we never tire of telling people is, we’re comedians first. So some jokes just… are. With no higher purpose, allyship, ideals, or goals.

T*K: People in India have very strong opinions about women’s bodily autonomy and sexual freedom. What are your thoughts about these opinions?

RJ: A person’s body is theirs, their choices are theirs, their life is theirs. Anyone who wants to traffic in restrictions and conservatism in this regard can go fuck themselves.


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taking up a job researching rape culture: ten observations and then some

by Priyanka Sutaria

my boss is
interviewing me for the job
I will eventually take up,
and she asks me if I have ever
experienced sexual violence.

I say no.

it is my first day
at work and my boss is
still wondering how I have
made it through life without
experiencing sexual violence,
and I tell her that I have
never been assaulted, but
I ignore the daily reminders
that I am not safe
in this world
as a woman.

my boyfriend and his friends
argue about whether he should
drop me home. when I ask
why they are contemplating this
so seriously, they eye
my short dress

I am walking back to
my college hostel, a man
follows me on his motorcycle
asking me to fuck him
the whole way back.
it is the main road,
in broad daylight.

the boys in my college
are friends with all my girlfriends,
but whenever the girls are drunk,
the boys hit on them
in the hopes of
getting lucky.

a drunk man in a car
propositions my flatmate and me
outside a bar, and after we
reject him thrice, he tells us
we're bitches and
that we should
fuck off.

men take aim and fire leers
and whistles and catcalls at me
everyday, and the people
around me swab my hands
for gunshot residue.

I am shocked back to the present.

sexual violence exists.
you know this of course,
but now you have to
confront it. You have
enjoyed your privilege
and life with a few good people.
you have not been abused
or assaulted and people
call you lucky.

you probably are.

there is no good rapist;
once a person rapes
they are a bad person.
you may not know they
have raped, but they are still
a bad person.

if you know they have raped
but you continue to
associate yourself with them,
for personal or social reasons,
you are also a bad person.

you will find out
that people don’t care for the
manner in which men occupy space
while women measure their every action,
unless the space that the man occupies
is a woman’s body and her entrails
are pouring out of her gut
on the side of the highway,
and the country measures
the moments until she dies.
when she dies,
they draw up a binary
of how rape occurs - between
nothing and nirbhaya - and call it
a scale as though it can possibly
contain the multitudes of rape culture
within itself.

you will learn
that men do not like being told
they are complicit in this culture
of gendered violence.

a year and a half ago,
I gently told a man that
what he is doing may be
contributing to rape culture;
now he goes around telling people
I accused him of being
a rapist.

this entire world
is a metaphorical locker room,
and most women are walking
at a swift uncomfortable pace
from one to another, locker keys
sticking out awkwardly
between two fingers, a test
for anyone who tries to reach out
and grab them, use them
as towels for their bodily fluids.

this entire world is a
metaphorical locker room,
and most of the times the hands
which reach out to grab
aren't even real - they slither out
from movie screens
and whatsapp jokes
and facebook comment sections.
you can hear the
of the fingers
as they leave behind
pieces of crumpled fear
in your other inbox.

if you call your project
Why Indian Men Rape,
like my boss did, people will
only see the linguistic connotations
they wish to; they will want to know
why you are assuming
that only Indian men rape
and why only men rape
and why women rapists are
being ignored and how 98%
of all rape reports are false,
you fucking feminazi.

if you call your project
Why Indian Men Rape,
like my boss did, men will
immediately tell you some random
fact about rape they heard
“that one time”
because obviously they have two
paisa to give to you in exchange
for your emotional labor;
they probably earn more than you.

besides, even if you have shattered
the glass ceiling, you will be forced
to walk over the shards of glass
to the other side. violence arrives
at your body in so many forms
when you are a woman.

if you call your project
Why Indian Men Rape,
like my boss did, the survivors
will find you, seek you, tell you
their stories. you will learn empathy.
and relearn it. and relearn it,
until you realize that there is no
universal empathy manifesting itself
through you; there is just you
redefining it in a flux of existence.
the survivors will teach you about living
in that flux, moment by moment
by moment of awareness,
a lesson more powerful
than you will ever receive from
anywhere else.

this is the final number
on this list, because there aren't
enough fingers on my hands
to count the number of things I am
learning about this culture
which is so deeply, painfully,
terrifyingly rooted in a singular,
objective notion of body as un-being,
enough to be treated
as not even non-being should.

I am learning how to
gather my fear into bouquets of anger;
I distribute them wherever I go.
each bouquet is studded with those
who have feared, those who have risen,
those have feared and then risen -
there is not a voice or an opinion
that can alter this rage at knowing
that I am growing
into a world like this.

this so you know
that the end of this poem
is not the end of our fight -
this will not be our graveyard.
you will not bury us here.
the holes you have dug as traps
for our bodies will be the ones
you fall into as you chase us
as dusk settles on the horizon.

in the morning,
we will engrave your tombstones
with the words you hurled at us.
whether you are rapist
or bystander, your bones will
rattle in your graves,
a warning
to all those
who ever


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Everyday Inspiration | My Rickshaw Driver

by Alice Kaushal. As told to Priyanka Sutaria.

 Representational Image

Representational Image

It was a winter morning in New Delhi in the 1980s, the fog yet settled on the streets. I was 17 and in college, and was taking an auto rickshaw to my guardians’ home. It was an ordinary ride across town, meant to take a half hour, until the vehicle stopped at a traffic signal. In the few minutes it took for the signal to turn from red to green, I noticed a man in a Fiat who kept accelerating his car in its place. Trying to catch my attention, he was staring at me and making lewd gestures with his hands.

I was worried that he would follow the rickshaw to my guardians’ house, which was in a lonely lane off the road. My fears were realised when his car trailed behind the rickshaw after the signal turned green. Yet, I kept hoping it was a coincidence and that he simply happened to be taking the same road. As we turned into the lonely street and he continued to follow them, I mustered up the courage to tell the driver of the rickshaw, who until then had no idea this was happening. The moment I alerted him, the rickshaw driver stopped the vehicle and stepped out.

My first thought was that he too was in league with the man in the Fiat, and I was terrified. But what happened next stunned me... The rickshaw driver—a young, skinny Sikh man—whipped out his kirpan, and rushed towards the man in the car, brandishing the weapon and yelling the choicest words of abuse! I watched in wonder and amusement as the driver of the Fiat panicked, reversing his car is great hurry, even banging it against a wall, as he tried to get out of the small lane. He made a quick exit, and the Sardar man returned to the rickshaw. In chaste Punjabi, he told me, “Nobody hurts our girls; if they do, we kill them.”

All these years later, I can never forget the look of determination on the face of that rickshaw driver, willing to fight for a girl he did not know to protect her from an act of sexual violence.


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Everyday Inspiration | Virender Kundu

One of the more positive outcomes of the Varnika Kundu stalking case has been her amazing father, Virender Kundu's immediate and persistent support for his daughter. Like an absolute boss, he has refused to back down in the face of pressure from Haryana's BJP chief, Subhash Barala, whose son is one of the accused in the case. Not only has Kundu refused to withdraw the case, he has shut down every insinuation that his daughter was at fault for the incident that took place.

 Virender Kundu, father of Chandigarh stalking victim Varnika Picture courtesy Indian Express

Virender Kundu, father of Chandigarh stalking victim Varnika
Picture courtesy Indian Express

Here are five quotes by him that prove he is an awesome Everyday Inspiration for fathers in India, and around the world.

If you're a parent reading this, here's our message for you. This, right here, is what fatherhood is about. Be like Virender.


1. "After 70 years of independence, we should be able to expect that the police, prosecution and judiciary will do the right thing. I am testing the system to see if it can deliver justice."

(Indian Express, August 2017)

2. "There is a saying in Haryanvi that beti sabki saanjhi hoti hai (taking care of daughters is everyone's responsibility). But if [Subhash Barala] feels like he is her father, he ought to behave like her father as well."

(Indian Express, August 2017)

3. "I saw they were covering their faces, and here's my daughter who is without a cover on national television. This is the spirit, and this is the reversal."

(NDTV, August 2017)

4. "In a cut and dried case like this, where there is nothing hazy or unclear in terms of actions or identities, if the system fails to deliver justice, then there is something deeply rotten in our society, our government and our country."

(NDTV, August 2017)

5. "The shame sought to be heaped upon a lone woman got reflected back, magnified, on to her offenders."

(In a Facebook status, August 2017)

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United Against Sexual Violence

At United Against Sexual Violence, we introduce you to those who are allied against gender-based violence, in big and small ways.

You don’t need to have encountered or experienced it to stand with its victims and against the patriarchy that perpetuates it. Feminism, like all movements fighting systemic, structural oppression, needs allies who use their privileged positions to help create a fair, free world.

Hear our superstars—whose empathy for the cause leads them to actively champion and work against gender violence—share their understanding of allyship. Meet some not-so-ordinary individuals who have stood up to the patriarchy, one small act at a time.

Because we need better heroes.

Know an ally working actively to make a difference? Witness to a heroic act that deserves recognition? Send us a lead at

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.