The struggle to establish and reaffirm talent has been difficult, sometimes insurmountable and very often unfair.
The cultural scene all over the world has always been trying and testing for artistes. The struggle to establish and reaffirm talent has been difficult, sometimes insurmountable and very often unfair. For various reasons. What was and is obvious, are the difficulties of getting into the right forum even if one is incredibly talented. In India, and Chennai particularly, it has been lack of connections, money or a spokesperson to vouch for real talent. This has been going on for years and the frothing , simmering issues of favours being done to those who were ‘accommodating’ has invariably been spoken of in hushed tones, in veiled conversations and sometimes even in open accusations - but to no avail because what could anyone actually do?
What has changed overnight, literally? It is the still snowballing, #metoo juggernaut that is going to change equations, the way things are done, how artistes respond and the so far powerful authorities who make decisions think twice about what they are about to do! Names, predatory behaviours and actions are being strewn about to the shock and surprise of many. And these were those you thought were respectable, honest and serious patrons of art. The questioning and shock are likely to continue as more stories and accounts of misdeeds are going to surface. However, one does have to keep in mind that this has affected men too. The abuse has actually been crossing genders. One knew things happened - mostly kept quiet for fear of ridicule, defamation and ostracization. No more one thinks. It is time to bring it out in the open, have it out and ensure that the art does not suffer because of predatory behaviours.
So, in that sense, the timing could not have been better. The Margazhi music and dance season is going to be different this yearend, thanks to the gender reforms that are rolling out. What could also be taken into account is the way artistes are chosen for slots and programmes. This is highly likely. For starters, there are going to be questions about how average and not so competent artistes get slots, while a more talented one does not?
As the #MeToo movement moves into the world of classical Carnatic music, top names have been struck off the Music Academy’s list of performers for this year’s season. Whatever be the accusations, such steps are widely welcomed. This is a stepping stone to a more gender sensitive world of arts. And that also brings focus on the guru-sishya system, where the will and preferences of the guru had to be adhered to. Or else, face discrimination and lack of opportunities and abuse, subtle or otherwise.
For the average person this is probably a swift and powerful purge — those secretly hated and feared are being exposed to the world at large and is literally holding the powers that be publicly responsible to change the soiled and corrupt system.
Multiple accounts of those affected by a manipulating system and men primarily, is cutting across all genres of the art world. From a Jatin Das to MJ Akbar to Ravikiran to a V Ramnarayan, started with the anguish of anonymous victims who have nothing to gain, but have too much to lose if they did not expose the predators who once violated them. Never mind if it was years ago. The trauma and the pain leaves residual scars that don’t heal with ease.
The abuse is not confined to women alone as some accounts would reveal. Young boys and men, have been violated too. And then there is always collateral damage in terms of women trying to manipulate the situation and act against those they hate or want to put down. But abusers who aren’t held accountable by a larger public gaze, would in all probability still have the freedom to misbehave with their victims and harass them in ways that can be debilitating.
Social stigma keeps the abused from seeking parental support and expensive treatments keep victims from accessing therapy - therefore a friend circle support is the only respite during acute mental duress caused by contact with an abuser.
According to Ruchita Chandrashekar, a trauma therapist ,”When survivors come out with their stories, dormant memories start becoming active and can also cause mental distress by transforming into triggers. Thus, an affirming offline community is a compulsion. The feeling of safety is one of the first things that is snatched when someone who becomes a prey to sexual trauma. An affirming community can reinstate some amount of safety when a survivor becomes vulnerable at the hands of the same abuser again.”
Even as the #MeToo movement has permeated into almost all fields, the Carnatic music fraternity hangs its head with women naming at least 12 male musicians and Bharatanatyam dancers and accusing several other Sabha secretaries of sexual harassment. The accusations were initially muted, subdued, not directly naming the perpetrators, but all hell broke loose with singer Chinmayi Sripada’s accusations against Vairamuthu. Then came the setting up of a forum by Swanamalya Ganesh and Anita Ratnam who also held a public hearing of the complaints.
Prominent names in the Chennai cultural arena are now seriously charged with groping, demanding sexual favours, sending inappropriate messages. There are accusations of patriarchy and caste too - that “upper caste men ruling the Sabhas got away with apparent abuses of power and harassment”. Vocalists TM Krishna and Sudha Raghunathan have not only expressed shock, but also deep regret to what has been transpiring. Singers like Ranjani and Gayatri, Sriram Parthasarathy and Bombay Jayashri have extended their support to the efforts being made towards this end.
Under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, any professional organisation with more than 10 employees is required to establish an internal complaints committee to hear complaints of sexual harassment. And with all that has been happeninga federation of sabhas (music organisers/venues) in Chennai has constituted an Internal Complaints Committee.
In a statement, the Federation said, “The Federation notes with a deep sense of anguish, the recent complaints of sexual harassment from the field of performing arts. Such acts of harassment are shameful and condemnable. The Federation and its members will maintain absolutely ZERO tolerance for any form of harassment in the art field. All allegations will be treated seriously and promptly investigated. The Federation is also prepared to take appropriate disciplinary action as necessary.”
The member-sabhas of the Federation are: Brahma Gana Sabha, Hamswadwani, Karthik Fine Arts, Narada Gana Sabha, Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha and Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha.Complaints can be forwarded to the Executive Officer at: email@example.com
The time is ripe for a change. Let art be pure and unsullied by such overtones and be the healing regeneration that it actually is!
M. Harita is a seasoned music and dance critic who has written on the fine arts for more than three decades