Trigger warning: Sexual harassment, emotional abuse.
It has taken me three months to type this out. I don’t want to sugarcoat this or beat around the bush trying to mitigate the impact my statement will have in my close-knit circles, so I’ll just get straight to the point.
I was in a monogamous, consensual relationship with Aritra Sengupta (Creative Director, Mad About Drama) since September 2016. The relationship ended earlier this year, sometime at the end of February. What started out as a regular, loving relationship soon evolved into a cycle of emotional and psychological abuse, that I was subjected to. Our relationship ended because a truckload of things, unknown to me, came to light and left me traumatized by their details.
I was made aware, that the man I was dating, physically abuses women. I was made aware, that he had been doing this throughout the course of our relationship, to women, all younger than me. Some not even 18. Sleazy texts, molestation, gaslighting, emotional abuse and most of all, using his position in the creative circuit have been his norm since the inception of the theatre group he co-founded.
These are not allegations made out of thin air or malice. Aritra Sengupta has admitted to his problematic past and his pattern of abuse to me, after this whole ordeal. His pattern, like most of his kind, has been to target young and talented women (mostly from the youth-theatre circuit who look up to him and acknowledge his creative genius), send them unwarranted inappropriate texts, engage physically without consent, use his position and privilege to get away with such actions.
I am told that this has been a pattern with almost every female intern at his theatre group who are much younger and much more vulnerable. They who simply do not have the circumstances to speak out against it because of how well-regarded he is in social and professional circles.
It is no secret to his crew members and friends that he is a serial abuser. In fact, his abusive behaviour has been highlighted time and again during his university days, although no action had been taken by the same crew members.
I became aware of his emotional abuse towards me during the last six months of our romantic relationship. As a human being, I run my life according to a belief system, which does not mean I shun those of others.
It is no secret to his crew members and friends that he is a serial abuser.
However, in these last six months, I was vehemently and repeatedly coerced into turning our relationship into an open one, which according to him involves the presence of multiple sexual partners in both our lives. There came a point when Aritra made it clear to me that he would not engage in further sexual activity with me unless I was sexually involved with someone else.
I was constantly made to feel that unless I lead a certain lifestyle, I didn’t fit into his worldview of a perfect relationship. This caused immense stress in our relationship and a lot of emotional stress on my end because I was constantly made to feel like I wasn’t enough. I went into a state of clinical depression for six months due to this ongoing dilemma.
Soon, Aritra started pestering me to get professional help because I wasn’t happy in our forced open relationship (if such a thing can be forced). His concern did not seem to be my clinical depression. It seemed to me, he was more worried about the fact that I wasn’t open to the idea of multiple partners and that, according to him, required psychological help.
When I realized that I wasn’t able to handle this situation, I decided to end things with him. But whenever I tried to leave, I was gaslit and made to believe that I was on the wrong end of the conversation. I was pined for, convinced, reassured and pampered only to believe that I was insecure, possessive, distrustful and too immature to understand the healthy nature of an open relationship and the benefits of relying on multiple emotional and sexual partners.
As a woman who is aware of her agency, I was in a constant dilemma between taking charge of myself and saving a relationship that I’d invested so much of myself into. During the course of our relationship, I was constantly made to feel a certain power imbalance, which was honed well by him to make his ideologies and belief system triumph mine without any further conversation. There came a point where I could barely recognize myself in trying to conform to his mental image of a sexually-liberated woman.
But I decided to seek help. He was finally happier with one decision which matched his demands. But every time I would talk to him about my sessions, he would turn my treatment into a matter of mockery.
Thereafter, I got to know that Aritra has been telling people from the very beginning of our relationship that we have an open relationship when I didn’t even know that we were in such an arrangement. Which also made me aware of how I’ve been cheated on, multiple times with multiple women since the beginning of our relationship in 2016 and not all of them being consensual encounters.
I confronted him. He admitted to almost everything. After a day full of more explanations and even more gaslighting, he announced that he would stop working as a creative director at Mad About Drama and seek help.
During this time, I had put up a status update from my Facebook account in reaction to whatever was going on in my life. I didn’t name anyone, however, almost surprisingly, a bunch of women reached out to me and talked about the same person in the same light. It seemed that Mad About Drama, too, noticed the similarities.
The details I have heard from other survivors are far more harrowing than mine and I hope that this statement gives them some amount of comfort. If any of them wish to do something about this they will have my unwavering support, always, which I’ve conveyed to them personally. After knowing these incidents and women personally, I have started to feel like a hypocrite. That I have been unknowingly shielding an abusive man for so long.
Soumendra Bhattacharya (President, Mad About Drama) reached out to me almost instantly showing concern about the above-mentioned update. He not only inquired about the names of the women who reached out to me but also assured me that Aritra Sengupta has been removed from Mad About Drama.
To which, I asked him to give me proof of the same as a formal and public announcement of Aritra’s departure. The latter never happened. However, I let it go because till then I bore Mad About Drama no personal grudge as an organization that I have been professionally associated with and admired for the longest time.
Aritra started pestering me to get professional help because I wasn’t happy in our forced open relationship.
Now coming to why I’m writing this statement – because Mad About Drama has staged a new production that has been adapted by Aritra Sengupta. They’ve also used a song written by him. And this play has been written after his supposed departure. Very smartly, he hasn’t been credited anywhere for either of these creative contributions, which might threaten my accusation against Mad About Drama for not keeping their word.
Coming from a close-knit circle in Kolkata, I would take my chances on what I am told about the process, rather than be kept in the dark. If they did not work with him, good for them. It doesn’t negate the fact that there was no action taken on the public end of such an influential group.
Furthermore, I refuse to let another one bite the dust. I understand that art is above us all, as an artist myself. But is it really above dozens of women being abused by the same man who uses art as an excuse? I have nothing against Mad About Drama staging new productions and achieving greater horizons because my problem has never been with the organization.
My problem has always been with hypocrisy while ostracizing an abuser. Mad About Drama claims to be a safe space. And yet, it continuously uses the creative genius of a man who is, unsafe to be around. I’m writing this because Mad About Drama is aware of Aritra’s abusive past and have repeatedly chosen to stay quiet about it or have someone shut victims down at the ground level thereby putting more and more young, talented and hopeful women in danger over the years.
I feel severely betrayed by this breach of assurance from the organisation’s end. I’m sure they could have managed well without using art that has been created with oppression. In an age, where so many of us are trying to highlight abuse by men in positions of power, I feel disgusted that the organization has failed to do the same, even after being in full possession of the facts.
Some of the things that I’ve written here are deeply private and I’m fully aware of the potential backlash/criticism I’m about to receive. I can only wish that I do not have to engage in more conversation about this and prolong my trauma. Writing this has not been an easy task for me. I risk losing work, my career and risk my life being eclipsed by this unfortunate episode.
The purpose of this statement is to say that I am done with the hypocrisy.
Update: Mad About Drama released a statement declaring that Aritra Sengupta was removed from the group on 12th March 2018.
Featured Image Credit: Itv