By Minerwa Tahir
KARACHI: Sahar Ansari, an Urdu poet, says that his membership at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, has not been suspended and that he attends all the events at the council, presiding over many of the mushairas and other events.
In a recent press conference on women rights on November 8, Arts Council President Ahmed Shah said that Ansari’s membership at Arts Council has been suspended as he is facing an inquiry for sexual harassment. Answering another reporter’s question, Shah categorically said that Ansari’s governing body membership has also been suspended.
Speaking to Samaa, Ansari denied that his Arts Council membership has been suspended. “It’s out of my goodness of character that I have accepted their decision to remove me from the governing body,” he said. “I am not attending the governing body’s meetings and I’m not getting the minutes of the meetings either. I think it’s a very unfair decision on part of Arts Council to remove me from the governing body as the case of sexual harassment pertains to Karachi University (KU). It has nothing to do with Arts Council and their decision is unfair.”
Nonetheless, the poet added that he can’t be stopped from attending events at Arts Council as his membership still exists. “I sit there in the evenings and I attend all the events,” he told Samaa. “I even preside over many events, including mushairas and book launches.”
An Arts Council invite has been making the rounds on WhatsApp groups, stating that Ansari will preside over the launching of a book at Arts Council on November 26.
We will not let him preside over the event: Ahmed Shah
When contacted for his version, Ahmed Shah said that there are 17 committees at Arts Council that arrange various events. “It was not in my knowledge that one of the committees has invited him to preside over the event,” he said. “I will tell them now that he can’t preside over an event at Arts Council.”
Responding to Sahar Ansari’s remark that it was unfair to suspend him from the governing body as the case happened in KU, Ahmed Shah said that it is his responsibility to protect and uphold the name and image of the Arts Council and a person accused of sexual harassment cannot hold office at Arts Council. “The governing body makes all the decisions,” he said. “I was not alone in the decision of Sahar Ansari’s removal. It was with the consensus of all the 22 members that he was removed over the scandal.”
He added that Sahar Ansari has accepted the decision of the governing body as he is not attending the meetings and neither is he receiving the minutes of the meetings. “If he had any reservations over the decision, he could have written a formal complaint to Arts Council, which he hasn’t in the 11 months since the election.”
When asked why Sahar Ansari was allowed to contest the election amid the controversy, Ahmed Shah said that he was not aware of the harassment scandal at the time of nominations. “However, we told Sahar Ansari to not attend the oath-taking ceremony and he had to comply,” he said. “Then, in the first meeting of the governing body, I briefed all the members about the scandal and we decided with consensus to suspend him from the body.”
According to Ahmed Shah, justice should prevail. “No one should be wronged – neither Sahar nor the woman who has accused him of harassment. But his membership will remain suspended until we get a clear verdict.”
Story first published: 14th November 2017