Journalist writer Nikhila Henry wrote about Umar Khalid's exclusion from the upcoming fest for a session that she and musician Sumeet Samos were supposed to attend with him.

Student leader Umar Khalid excluded from Mathrubhumi Lit FestUmar Khalid; courtesy: Facebook.com
news Lit Fest Friday, December 07, 2018 - 19:35

'Writing this to express my disappointment at this decision', wrote journalist and author Nikhila Henry on Facebook, making clear her apprehensions that student leader Umar Khalid had been excluded from the Mathrubhumi Lit Fest that's happening in 2019. Umar, Nikhila and musician Sumeet Samos were supposed to talk on the topic 'Youth Unrest in India'. Nikhila had only just written her book 'The Ferment: Youth Unrest in India' based mainly on Rohit Vemula. 

She wrote on Facebook that it was in October that Mathrubhumi Lit Fest finalised the panel comprising all three of them, and a formal invitation was sent to Umar, like to the others. This was done at the time writer CP Surendran was still in charge, before he had stepped down following several women coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against him during the recent Me Too wave in India.

"Now that we are nearing the dates, it has come to my notice that Mr. Khalid is excluded from the festival. Writing this to express my disappointment at this decision. That in a matter of one month, an invite was reversed and that this was not formally communicated to the person who was excluded, has come as a surprise. That the reasons for this exclusion are still not clear, in spite of my formal emails to the organising committee, is even more bothersome," Nikhila writes.

Umar, when called, said that that's true, he had not learnt of the exclusion till Nikhila told him about it. He only got the invitation, nothing after.

Sabin Iqbal, journalist of many years and festival director, says that the list has not been finalised yet.

After the initial invitations in October, new invitations were sent in November to Nikhila and Sumeet, but not Umar. After repeated reminders from Nikhila to the organisers, there has been no response for a while. Till a mail came, saying, "I'm afraid we have to focus on your book rather than bringing Mr Umar Khalid."

An excerpt from her book posted on The Wire narrates an episode where Umar was questioned by the Delhi police after he and others organised a poetry reading session on Kashmir, in February 2016, ‘with an intent to deplore Afzal Guru’s hanging’.

On hearing the festival director’s response, Nikhila says, “I am not sure, then, what the mail to me meant. I should inform that, I did respond saying "I am not sure what this means". And I asked in the reply, why Mathrubhumi decided to exclude Umar. No response to that mail too.”

She adds, “In the light of all these events, if MBLit fest decides to include Umar now--then, I am or anyone else is free to deduce that it is because the Litfest team is rethinking again, its stand on Umar's participation. I hope they decide to include him.”

It looks like the organisers are still healing from the backlash of publishing S Hareesh's constroversial book Meesha, that seems to have upset the right wing in Kerala. The novel, publicised in the Mathrubhumi weekly, had to be withdrawn soon, and the writer said he wanted his family to be safe. Right-wing activists had taken offense to a conversation between two characters in the novel, where they suggest that women dressing up to go to the temples are subconsciously making a declaration that they are ready for a sexual relationship. Following the withdrawal of the novel, magazine editor Kamalram resigned from his post, with a note saying, "Long live secular India".

Also read: Hanan Hamid is back selling fish, and cheekily names her venture ‘Viral’

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