#MeToo in Carnatic music: Madras Music Academy's N Murali on addressing sexual harassment allegations against artists
In an interview with Firstpost, N Murali, the Madras Music Academy’s president, spoke about the decision to drop seven musicians from the Margazhi line-up in the wake of #MeToo allegations
In a quick, proactive response to #Metoo allegations in the field of Carnatic music, the Madras Music Academy has debarred seven musicians from performing in the upcoming December (Margazhi) season in the wake of alleged sexual harassment charges against them. The musicians included the acclaimed Chitravina N Ravikiran (also the Sangeetha Kalanidhi awardee last year), vocalist OS Thyagarajan, violinist Nagai Sriram, mridhangam players Mannargudi A Easwaran, Srimushnam V Raja Rao, R Ramesh and Thiruvarur Vaidyanathan.
This is not the first time the Academy had positively responded to allegations of sexual misconduct. When Raya Sarkar's List of Sexual Harassers in Academia surfaced last year, Academy’s secretary Pappu Venugopala Rao — whose name had appeared on the list — stepped down. The Academy had also followed it up by setting up a Internal Committee.
In an interview with Firstpost, N Murali, the Academy’s president, spoke about the decision to drop the musicians and the likely repercussions. Murali also expressed hope that other institutions would follow suit. Edited excerpts:
The ripples of this ongoing #MeTooIndia movement have been felt in the world of Carnatic music as well. Is this the first time that allegations of this sort, against noted musicians, are being given a hearing in the community?
I think this is the first time that the #MeToo movement in India has given voice to the victims who have been unable to speak up all along over the years to articulate their trauma and suffering. It is virtually a #MeToo storm that is blowing across Carnatic music because many musicians have been called out on social media.
Overall, it is a good thing because at least these women have now been able to speak up. As an institution, Music Academy experienced some of it last year. When one of our secretaries was named in Rayar Sarkar's list, he was made to resign. After that the Academy had its own Prevention of Sexual Harassment Policy and Internal Committee. But it applies only to a workplace under the act. But we, as an institution, cannot be blind to what is happening around us. We also wanted to express our solidarity with the victims. We also wanted to uphold the credibility of Music Academy, a 90-year-old pre-eminent institution and a premier cultural institution in the city.
Could you please tell us a little about how this decision was taken? What were some of the considerations on the Academy's mind while the situation was being evaluated?
Merely naming was not sufficient for us. We broadly worked out some criteria. We looked into incidents of a serious nature and the descriptions given — normally more than one.
We also spoke to some people in the industry who were unbiased and then decided to drop the seven musicians from the December festival.
We applied the same yardstick to all the seven musicians dropped — even if they were big, eminent, well-known musicians. Chitravina N Ravikiran, for instance, was our Sangeetha Kalanidhi awardee last year. But by the same yardstick, he was dropped this year. We have taken a lead. Now other institutions have to follow. We also hope it will be a deterrent against such acts in future. The Music Academy has a right to feature a musician or not in the festival, so we exercise it. This is not a legal process. These are allegations and we are not judging them guilty.
Has the Academy been approached by any of the survivors who have made these allegations against the artists? Or was the Academy taking cognisance of news reports and the stories being shared on social media?
We took cognisance of the exposés. We took our own decisions and we are not part of any committees or any sabha. We took our independent decision which we thought in our view we thought is fair.
Did the individual artists who were dropped from the December season share any response with the Academy?
We communicated our decision officially with them. And some of them — not all — have not responded. Some have denied those allegations. They are expected to deny (these allegations).
Chitravina N Ravikiran, who was the Sangeetha Kalanidhi award recipient for 2017, was expected to be on stage this year — as per tradition — when the new Sangeetha Kalanidhi would be named... Do you foresee any issues arising from his name being dropped from the line-up?
It is not automatic that previous year's Sangeetha Kalanidhi is on stage when the new awardee is announced. On many occasions, some of them were not available on those days. What we have done is, his performance will not be there. I presume otherwise he may not want to come. So the issue doesn’t arise.
What is the way forward for the Carnatic music community? How do we ensure that the issues/problems highlighted in this wave of the #MeToo movement are acted upon, and rooted out?
See if actions such as what we have taken are taken by many others, hopefully that will be a deterrent for future behaviour of that kind. These women have been given a voice to speak up, they may do so in future. It is very difficult for anybody – an alleged harasser – to do what he has allegedly done and get away with it. It is no longer the situation.
Any redressal mechanism that you would suggest for the community?
No mechanism has been set up for grievances or complaints so far. But as far as the Madras Music Academy is concerned, if some musician is harassed within our premises, in our workplace, they can complain to us. At that time our mechanism will apply. But if something happens outside, under the law we can’t do anything. As far as we are concerned, all that we have is the power to do is whether or not to feature them in the Margazhi season. That is what we have done now.
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