October 18, 2018 - last updated on Nov 30, 2018
#MeToo - towards a 'new normal' by Kumudha BharathRam
In a collective voice, dancers flag aspects to be addressed.
MeToo activist Swarnamalya asked not to turn up at Sahitya Akademi event in TN by Sreedevi Jayarajan
Dancer Swarnamalya says she was approached in September to present a paper and perform at an event on Sadir Natyam, but she has suddenly been dropped from the event.
#MeToo: Now for the long-term measures by Kumudha BharathRam
The focus should be on increasing awareness, dialogue and accountability. Needed are policies to enable redressal procedures.
#MeToo in classical arts: Can arts dream of a fearless future? by Sammitha Sreevathsa
The music and arts world too has been stormed with stories of sexual harassment and abuse. Artistes share their anxieties about this deeply entrenched power game.
All senior artistes know, says Swarnamalya Ganesh on the #MeToo movement in Carnatic music by Deepa Ganesh
Popular dancer and actor Swarnamalya Ganesh, who has been leading the #MeToo movement in Carnatic music, shares her views on the shocking revelations that have rocked this hallowed space.
#MeToo in the world of arts: They are human too by Anil Srinivasan
The elevation of musicians as models of good behaviour and mini deities is misplaced.
Me Too impact: Carnatic sabhas in Chennai set up anti sexual harassment committee
Readers' comments: 'Lawsuits and intimidation should not deter the #MeToo movement'
A selection of readersí opinions.
As idols fall from pedestals, Carnatic musicians question guru shishya bond by Deepika Jayaram
In India, the guru-shishya tradition still holds a divine status in Carnatic music where every class begins with students touching their guruís feet and ends with them seeking the masterís blessings. Thatís what has also compounded the shock when the #MeToo movement raised allegations against renowned Carnatic musicians and artistesÖ.
#MeToo in Chennai: Campaigners come together in effort to take movement 'from internet to streets' by Kaaviya Umamaheshwaran
On 21 October, the #MeToo movement that has largely stemmed from Twitter hit the ground at Chennai, bringing many women together who not just shared their experiences but spoke about taking it forward in a constructive way.
#MeToo impact: Chennaiís Music Academy drops seven musicians from December cultural season
#MeToo: In world of Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam, women say harassment is an open secret by Archana Nathan
Since Saturday, more than 200 Carnatic musicians have signed a statement urging more women to tell their stories.
An open letter on MeToo: The arrival of a 'woke' collective conscience
- Radhika Ganesh
This collective conscience is one that is #woke to gender inequity - a space that does not allow for sexual harassment of women, men, or children to be normalised.
'Set up body to address sexual harassment cases in performing arts sector': Artistes
Popular dancer and actor Swarnamalya Ganesh initiated a public consultation process for the advocacy of redressal in the performing arts.
Music, dance fraternity backs movement
A petition signed by 200 musicians appeals to artists to speak up to create a safe environment.
#MeToo : Need of the hour - Establishing redressal mechanisms
- Ananda Shankar Jayant
The #MeToo reckoning
- Mukul Kesavan
Invocation of proof beyond reasonable doubt and due process may end up defending male impunity.
Artists pen open letter against sexual predators, silent complicity in Carnatic music
After a slew of #MeToo allegations have hit the Carnatic music industry, 231 members of the Carnatic music industry have signed a petition in an effort to "bring to light those who have misused their position and power".
An Indian minister accused of sexual abuse should have been sacked. Instead, he wants to punish women
- Barka Dutt
Indian politics has been roiled by a scandal of Trumpian proportions as a number of brave women face off against the country's powerful, institutionalized patriarchy.
Responses from artistes
As I follow the stories that are coming out, I respect the courage of those who are telling them, I am thrilled that it is finally time, and I am deeply distressed and devastated at the extent of this malady. How we have failed as a society! This is only the beginning though, and the stories must come out. We have to receive the stench emanating from the gutter so we can make a collective effort to clean it up. So it gives me hope. I stand in support of everyone who comes forward to tell their stories and this necessary avalanche of the #metoo movement. At the very least let there be fear in the minds of anyone who thinks of committing such acts and at the very best, perhaps a systemic cleansing of deep-rooted misogyny and gender inequality.
It happened to #metoo when I was 9, 10, 14, 17, in my 20s, in my 30s, in my 40s. Different men, but all men that I trusted. Every incident is etched in my memory as if it happened yesterday. Ranging from exposure, to lewd comments, to invitations, to verbal and physical abuse, each was ugly and sick. Some lasted a few seconds, others went on for years. These changed the trajectory of my life, but beyond that it took years, years for me to stop blaming myself, to fight the resentment, to confront it. I, similar to many others, simply did not have the support system to handle it. I mean we were not supposed to talk about such things right? I have since worked out most of these experiences through different sources of strength. Still I Rise was created from these collective experiences as I felt art was a much better listener than most human beings.
For those who say the victim always has a choice, or that she/he should've spoken earlier, or that he/she must have done something to provoke it, or she/he should take responsibility, or that there are worse problems, please stop generalizing and trivializing a complex situation as well as demoralizing those who have a turn and the courage to speak, finally. What works for one doesn't always work for another and this is determined by so many conditions in life. His or her choice only comes in when deciding when or how to speak up. Every story belongs to the individual and it is imperative that he/she has the freedom of choice on how to express it, especially and almost entirely because that choice was taken away in the first place as a victim.
I have tried to raise two strong women who know how to take care of themselves but it does not speak well of the world we live in, that I worry I might have missed something or that something may still happen even in their adult life. Our girls and boys should be raised to have mutually respectful, healthy relationships. Also, we've got to stop sweeping the dirt under the rug and pretending everything is okay, as is the habit. We've done it for long enough and look at the price we're paying after allowing this to fester and spread. We need a nurturing support system for youngsters to find their way out while keeping their health and sanity intact.
I live in solidarity of this powerful movement. Zero tolerance is needed.
- Vidhya Subramanian (On Facebook, Oct 19, 2018)
The recent surge of posts, made by supposedly cultured men and women, throwing vitriolic and hateful comments against those who have bravely and at considerable personal risk stepped forward to share their stories of abuse by well known personalities, sickens me.
How depraved, as a collective we have become that we so vociferously strive to normalise abusive behaviour, with some posts actually going as far as to say" it takes two hands to clap!" Honestly, do these people actually believe that women are deluded creatures who cry wolf in order to seek attention? Why would any sane woman deliberately throw herself in front of media headlights? Yes, a woman may consent, but why she chooses to do so surely bears some thinking about.
Do these people actually believe that women like to or even solicit being leered at or groped at? What kind of a savage society do we live in, where it is socially sanctioned for those in power to overstep lines of morals and ethics and prey on women? No relationship is sacrosanct and even children are not left untouched. It doesn't have to be rape to be called abuse. It is violation of a woman's personal space and also a violation of the trust that she has placed in a person of supposedly elevated intelligence and vidvatvam.
Art is believed to make men of beasts and Gods of men. Sadly, in the cloak of divinity these very vidwans stoop to bestiality. How many young women, especially those who find themselves in an abusive teacher-student relationship can actually get away with giving the abuser a "tight slap?" While our movies are filled with scenes of heroines giving the said "tight slap" to the male who irritates her with his pursuit, our reality is different. How many women on our buses and trains and other crowded spaces, who cringe but tolerate a prod here and a pinch there, could manage a "tight slap" without becoming the centre of a huge, even violent ruckus?
And what is worse is throwing a leftist political slant over the entire #MeToo movement. My being a woman is an identity that has absolutely nothing to do with my religious or spiritual beliefs. Why does the coming together of a community of people in support of women who have undergone so much trauma have to be a political act? Why is it ok in this age of civilizational advancements for women to have to feel vulnerable and afraid and to always have to assess any potential engagement with a male with fear and anxiety?
As a child I would walk home from my bus stop, open the door and stay alone till my mother returned from work. Today I wouldn't dream of letting my child out of my sight in any public or semi-public space. For the longest part of my life I have been a dancer and now in the last 17 years, a yoga therapist. Unfortunately none of these fields - music, dance or yoga- that are draped in a cloak of piety and divinity are safe spaces.
And it doesn't stop with just teachers abusing students, though that is the worst kind of violation. What about lecherous sabha presidents and secretaries and arts promoters who overtly or covertly objectify women?
I myself was made extremely uncomfortable by the "old man stroking a child's back in appreciation of her talent" attempts to cop a feel by a very well known and respected secretary of one of the older Sabhas in suburban Tamilnadu. This man actually had the temerity to come to our home when I was alone. I saw him come and went inside the bathroom. He actually came around the house peering through every window. I remember vividly how frightened I was. I hid beneath the bed and used our landline to call my teacher who lived opposite us. Akka immediately came out and called this man and told him no one was home and pointedly asked him what he was doing prowling around our flat. I was in my late teens then. Looking back I wonder if as a "strong woman" I could have invited him in and then treated him to a tight slap? I was very fortunate to have my parents and my teacher who stood up for me when I said I didn't want to perform in that sabha anymore. But knowing firsthand the sweat, blood and tears that goes into the making of an artiste, especially a dancer, I know fully well that to reject advances of these men in power is to be black listed and prevented from getting opportunities to perform. And to perform on stage is the lifetime dream of any aspiring artiste. I stand with every one of you who has been forced into such distress, self-doubt and anguish.
And while the Brahmin community may have played a major role in enabling these abusers, other communities or castes are not exactly devoid of lecherous behaviour. What exactly does one's caste have to do with having a skewed moral compass?
It's more than time that we raised our voices to reclaim a dignity that is rightfully ours and a space that allows us to blossom, a space that sets us free to follow our dreams...as artistes, as women and as children of the earth mother.
- Nrithya Jagannathan (On Facebook, Oct 18, 2018)
I have been incredibly distressed this past week seeing the stories of the young women and children who have been sexually harassed and abused by powerful men in the Carnatic music scene and beyond. It's high time #MeToo reached our corner of the music world. We as a community have accorded these musicians some "divine" authority and moral compass that they usually do not even vaguely possess, rather than seeing them as regular human beings with a potential for character flaws. Having witnessed and survived much of this sexual abuse firsthand, I am grateful to the many people and organizations, who have spoken out and stood in solidarity. But I am also frankly disappointed and disgusted at the amount of defensiveness and ambivalence I've seen in private emails and on social media.
This morning, my name was used by a powerful impresario in our community, Veeravanallur V Sundaram of the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, in an incredibly defensive public post. He argues that, because he supported women musicians (this is where he includes my name), he does not deserve to be approached about the recent allegations through a formal letter, which is what a group of young musicians bravely did to address the cause and hold the festival accountable. By citing his past hospitality to these young musicians, he intentionally guilt trips those crying #metoo for speaking out and wields his traditional Brahmin male elder privilege to maintain the status quo. Just because you ousted sexual predators in the past, it doesn't nullify the cries of those who are still calling out the names of musicians who are still invited to perform at and work with young children at your festival.
I must respond by stating unequivocally that I do not condone his words and actions and the ways he is using his power to defend and protect known sexual predators. I have also, for the record, never truly felt supported by or safe at the Aradhana because of these reasons and more, and hence I have refused to attend the festival for nearly a decade now.
To those parents who are in any way confused on how to take a stance between the cries of their children and the "divine" authority they have given trusted elders in the community - please know that now is the time to make a societal and cultural shift: start listening to the cries, even if it means sacrificing or potentially creating a dent in years-long relationships with the elders. I have witnessed firsthand how choosing the side of power and elder privilege and thus silencing the voices of the abused creates an incredible amount of physical and psychological trauma in an entire generation of youth. For those of you who are calling all of this "maya" (illusion), or a distraction, you have NO clue what it means to be sexually harassed or abused by a trusted elder and live every subsequent day with the repercussions and the hauntings. And to all of you in the community - please, please, please put your anxieties about "saving Carnatic music" or saving the reputation of the festival or maintaining social standing with famous artists aside for a hot second and LISTEN to the survivors.
- Rajna Swaminathan (On Facebook, Oct 17, 2018)
The #metoo movement as it is playing out in the Carnatic music world gives tangible hope of change to this horrible disease of misogyny, sexism, and abuse of power on many levels. Especially given the backwards direction it feels like we are traveling in the US, this gives hope of forward movement.
What I am learning, especially by the attitude of people who think #metoo is a joke or an over-reaction, is that a zero- tolerance policy is needed in order to wipe out this disease.
It happened to #metoo when I was 15, by someone whom I respected and trusted. I confronted the person and what ensued was emotional blackmail, threats of suicide if I didn't read his multiple letters of apology, and a reverse victimization claiming that his actions were a result of black magic.
Over time I let it go, thinking I had addressed the situation appropriately. In fact, until now, I thought of my attitude as one of "forgiveness." I thought of the incident as his idiotic mistake, not as an abuse of power, which is what it was. Eventually I continued a working relationship with that person. In doing this, I compartmentalized his artistry from his sexual offense. I "normalized" it thinking "it happens all the time, I just have to be vigilant." I never believed it would happen again. Until it did. To someone else.
What this #metoo movement has made me realize is that normalization is NOT OK. That attitude of ACCEPTANCE is precisely what has made this so rampant. The toxicity lies in the COMPARTMENTALIZING. Compartmentalization on all fronts. On my part. And on the part of the man who did it, who is a father! I remember asking him - what would you do to a man who did this to YOUR daughter??
What is so essential about this #metoo movement is ZERO tolerance. Starting with the whistling and disrespectful attention. That's where the objectification and abuse starts. And then the extent to which it goes is horrific....unimaginable....
This movement has woken me up to the gravity of the situation, which is truly a disease that plagues our society world over and at a deeply engrained level. I think this movement will embolden all of us to first recognize abuse as abuse, and NOT tolerate it on any level. I hope I never have to be worried about my daughter sleeping in the back of my own car being fondled by someone she trusts.
Thank you to all those who have been brave enough to come forward. It's complex and not easy at all. But together we WILL make the change.
- Mythili Prakash (on Facebook, Oct 16, 2018)
The #Metoo stories coming out in the world of dance and music have been horrific!! It is amazing to see how many women have come forward to share their stories and I firmly believe that their courageous actions will not be in vain!! This will CHANGE THE SOCIETY WE LIVE IN - IF WE EMPOWER THE NEXT GENERATION. Please please please teach your children/students/peers how to identify perpetrators and how to stand up to them!! I run CSA (Child Sex Abuse) and Gender Based Violence (GBV) sessions tailored for different age groups (5 years on till adults). If you want sessions please contact me, I will be happy to run them for your organisation, students, collectives, schools, corporate spaces ... Whatever. It is meant for ALL genders, not just for women. These sessions are proactive and positive, using loads of dance, games and theatre - teaching kids and adults to stand up for themselves AND others from a space of DIGNITY AND RESPECT. No shaming and fear-mongering!!!
I am currently working in a refugee camp in France with girls and women who have crossed continents, hearing horrifying stories of sexual abuse ... But it's seriously killing me, reading equally horrifying stories from women back home who are supposedly in safe spaces, practising a supposedly sacred art form. If I can help your organisation or students in any way please do let me know. If ABHAI or any umbrella organisation would like to organise these proactive measures for younger dancers, I am happy to help. If we stand together now, we CAN change things.
-Sangeeta Isvaran (On Facebook, Oct 13, 2018)
It's disturbing to read about the sexual misconduct the last few days. Being in the industry for this long such allegations don't come as a surprise to me. It is not easy to speak out and share one's trauma; however it is easy to shame those who spoke with courage. We should not allow such acts of violence to continue. Let's support truth and avoid questioning or dishonoring women and men who once faced sexual mistreatment.
LET EACH OF THE VICTIM'S VOICES BE HEARD.
- Ramya Ramnarayan (On Facebook, Oct 12, 2018)
The #metoo revelations have had a severe impact on me and I am so proud of the survivors who bravely and fiercely are outing predators, pedophiles and serial offenders. Also Saskia Kersenboom's post "Devadasis were never the problem" have been doing the rounds. And I absolutely subscribe to it.
What was and is a problem is the PATRIACHY, the common notion that we don't need MEN to be ACCOUNTABLE. Sadly though, we as a society at different points in time disapproved and did away with - sringaram and eroticism - we in this generation don't know sringaram, we don't know consent and the beauty of long drawn conversations and love.
Devadasis who were predominantly artists and their culture, Padams and javalis, so many compositions went out of vogue, out of memories and subsequently done away with. But apparently abuse, paedophilia, harassment, sexual offenses and male predators looming around groping and destroying the morale of numerous children and youngsters is still fine? This isn't spoken even as much as the Christian songs controversy?
Where are you cultural mafia, the ones who fight for Hindu Carnatic music, the ones who fight against anti establishment rebel artists and the upholders /defenders claiming ownership of all things Indian classical? Why the deafening silence on this issue? Are you guys okay with pedophiles and sexual offenders singing chaste Thyagaraja krithis and later sending dirty messages and groping their prey?
There is no uproar from the fraternity barring few of us trying to get attention. On the contrary we have people trying to push things underneath the carpet to go on with their lives, some of the establishment is even behaving like mafia, supporting predators and assuring them of their greatness.
Absolutely saddened and disappointed with the reactions or the lack of it.
I don't think the #metoomovementagainstcarnaticcreeps gained even as much attention as the blue lungi costume that TM Krishna wore for a concert.
- Nrithya Pillai (On Facebook, Oct 12, 2018)
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