Away from the media glare, which has mostly focused on cases of sexual harassment from people in the fields of cinema and journalism, a silent yet strong MeToo movement is brewing in the conservative arena of Carnatic music in South India.
Singer Chinmayi Sripaada, speaking out against legendary writer Vairamuthu, has opened a can of worms where cases of women who have silently endured humiliation, assault for years have started speaking up.
Names of very senior music maestros from the Carnatic field started tumbling out and it has created an upheaval where questions are being raised about how to address and curtail rapacious behavior especially in fields where the textbook demarcation of ‘workplace’ is not well defined.
As a first step, 200 artists have circulated a letter of support to women including young students who have been prey to predatory tendencies in the classical art fraternity.
"As artists 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," read the letter below which had the names of the signatories.
It began when Chinmayi tweeted names of offenders from South Indian Classical Dance and Music scene including B M Sundaram, Pappu Venugopal Rao, Sunil Kothari, Lokanatha Sarma, T N Seshagopalan, Sasikiran, and Ravikiran, after which many young students too came out with their own versions of harassment.
And as the names of sexual deviants started lengthening, noted artists like TM Krishna, Bombay Jayashri and Sudha Raghunathan too openly condemned the culture of abuse and are now seeking reforms in an otherwise conservative art field. Many, who are now being vocal, also admit to how for years they turned a deaf ear to murmurs of preying by fellow artists.
Strides have been made to attempt to break the pattern of patriarchy in Carnatic sphere for years and to some extent, many have succeeded. But the fact that it still prides on being conservative, both in form and culture cannot be denied by anyone. And with that comes the freedom for the likes to abuse their power as gurus and molest young women and furthermore, even threaten them into silence for years after.
The whispers of victims who shared their tales of horror were often subdued, ignored and sometimes even denied. The comfort of anonymity that social media has provided has enabled some women to start speaking a tad boldly about what the harassment and humiliation they were subjected to.
In a field where practitioners of the art are expected to dress, behave and think in manners that have been predetermined to them, in order to be accepted, speaking out and questioning, defying the fear of a taboo is a giant step. Here's hoping many more find the power in their voice to narrate their trauma and demand reforms.
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