Bengaluru: The organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) have finally responded to an online petition asking them to take “a firm stand" against sexual harassment and support the ongoing #MeToo movement in India.
The petition, started by writer and editor Rajni George on Change.org on 16 October, asked the organisers to issue “a statement declaring zero tolerance of sexual harassment" in light of serious accusations levelled against several men on social media, including writers who have participated in the festival over the years.
“We ask that you ensure that those who have been credibly named are not invited to attend this year (if invited already, to rescind the invitation)," the petition had demanded, “(and) to provide a forum for redressal, should complaints arise within the space of the festival this year and in the future."
At the time of writing the story, over 1,000 people had signed it, including prominent names from the world of culture, such as Wendy Doniger, Gurcharan Das, Nilanjana S Roy, and Ranjit Hoskote.
On 23 October, a week after the petition was posted, Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork Arts (TWA), the company which produces JLF, wrote back saying, “The festival organisers have always worked and continue to work towards creating a safe, protected and conducive environment for all its attendees which includes women, the elderly and children."
This statement, though not sent out as an official press release, is more specific than an earlier reaction by the @ZeeJLF handle on Twitter on 17 October: “The ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival unequivocally stands by the women who have courageously spoken out for equity and dignity and is committed to supporting and amplifying their voices."
In his response, Roy assured that his company “has systems in place to check, hold accountable and punish acts of sexual harassment or misdemeanour if and when conducted and brought to its notice, within the company or on any of its festivals and properties." He also confirmed that no one named so far as a sexual offender has been invited to this year’s JLF.
Responding to questions from Mint, TWA’s human resources (HR) department said on email that every year the volunteers at JLF “undergo an extensive training session in which they are sensitised about the issue and the process to address a complaint if any".
TWA added that its Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), which was formed in 2014, has not received any complaint relating to sexual harassment at JLF so far. The company is producing JLF since 2008.
Responding to Roy’s reaction, George said, “In making their forum for redressal known, in making the procedures and information with which they can address complaints visible and accessible to the public on the spot, by assuring us that their speaker list will not feature those credibly named as part of MeToo, (JLF is) taking a firm stand."
The momentum the petition generated in a week so far is also remarkable.
“We hope it will act as a deterrent in the instance of sexual harassment at both festivals and the literary and arts spaces...as well as elsewhere," George added. “We urge other literary festivals across the country as well as publishers to follow their lead."