New Delhi: More than a week after #MeToo allegations have picked up tempo across industries in India, the Carnatic music industry hit the unmute button. On October 10, popular playback singer Chinmayee outed several names and alleged that they had assaulted their students.
She wrote, “B M Sundaram, Pappu Venugopal Rao, Sunil Kothari, Lokanatha Sarma, T N Seshagopalan, Sasikiran, Ravikiran, O S Thyagarajan. My inbox is crawling with stories from people. For you too the #TimesUP.”
South Indian Classical Dance and Music scene
B M Sundaram
Pappu Venugopal Rao
T N Seshagopalan
My inbox is crawling with stories from people.
For you too the #TimesUP
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) October 9, 2018
She also said, “Stop assaulting young girls. The stench from the Carnatic Classical scene is worse than I imagined it.”
Soon after, noted Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna to Facebook to describe a rampant culture of sexual misconduct. “For years we have heard stories about these issues within the Carnatic and Bharatanatyam world. I vividly remember that about 10 years ago, a young girl came out on Facebook describing her horrid experiences and I am ashamed that we ignored her. Male power structures, hierarchies and our own conservative fears resulted in the trivialising of her complaint. We have all been complicit by our silence,” Krishna wrote.
“These accusations must be investigated by independent members of civil society. I also request anyone else who may have had similar experiences to find ways of sharing your stories. Thank you Chinmayi,” he wrote.
Singer Sunitha Sarathy also shared her experience on Facebook of how she was sexually abused as a child. “Sexual abuse kills you in ways that only someone who goes through it can understand. If you have never been sexually abused – you will never know what it does to you,” reads her post.
She has also talked about how she still meets and shares a stage with people who she knows are “devils”.
“One Devil who makes sure I’m unrecommended from work because I said no to his advances – 1 of them is a very saintly , influential musician , who makes sure I don’t get work,” she wrote. “To my fellow singers – DO NOT PROTECT KNOWN PREDATORS, we have all spoken abt men who have been dirty to us to other singers. Give this #Metoo movement a chance.”
Even senior vocalist O.S. Thyagarajan was slammed by allegations by a student. “He pulled me into a hug kind of forcefully and then suddenly I felt that I was being groped from the front. And I noticed that we were in the living room of his flat and one of the bedrooms was behind him. I noticed being pulled into one direction, towards the room. So immediately, my fight or flight instinct kicked in and I knew I had to do something before it went to another level,” she said, narrating the story of her alleged molestation.
In an open letter, 231 members of the Carnatic music industry have said that they have signed a petition in an effort to “bring to light those who have misused their position and power to exploit those at risk”.
“Many such instances in the past have been brushed under the carpet, subsequently creating a culture of silent complicity. There continues to be a deafening silence that needs to be broken,” the open letter says.
The full text has been reproduced below.
From the Carnatic Music Community:
Over the past few days, we have all read many disturbing accounts of sexual harassment, abuse and assault, including from within the Carnatic music community. Many such instances in the past have been brushed under the carpet, subsequently creating a culture of silent complicity. There continues to be a deafening silence that needs to be broken. As artistes and students of music, we believe it is our responsibility to speak up and acknowledge that such unacceptable behaviour must be strongly condemned, in order to create a more equitable and safe environment for all people.
It is important to address this issue and bring to light those who have misused their position and power to exploit those at risk. We ask for due process through civil society investigations into these allegations to hold these individuals accountable, and whole-heartedly welcome those who want to come forward and share their stories. At this juncture, we also encourage and request sabhas and cultural organisations all over the world to recognise this issue and put forward proactive structural measures to address such claims and prevent future incidents. We believe that this will make the Carnatic community safer for all.
Yours in solidarity:
Abhay Anil Kumar
Aishwarya Vidya Raghunath
Anantha R. Krishnan
Anirudh Athreya V.
Aparna M. Sridhar
Arun Kumar V.K.
Bharath Krishna D.R.
Chandrasekara Sharma G.
Ghatam S. Karthick
K. Bharat Sundar
Meenakshi Sri Vempaty
Muthu Krishna M.
Mysore Sangeetha Dileep
Mytreyi Shastry Aravind
Parameswaran Amit Ranganathan
Ranjani and Gayatri
Ranjani Sivakumar Siddareddy
Ravindra Bharathy Sridharan
Roopa Shastry M.
Shomik S. Ati
Shruthi S. Bhat
Sikkil C. Gurucharan
Subu Narayanan (Bombay Sriram)
Thanjavur V. Muthuraman
Trivandrum V. Balaji
Vittal Rangan B.