Over a fortnight ago, The Caravan carried an article featuring accounts of various women who had experienced sexual harassment at Only Much Louder, a company renowned for promoting the comedy and indie music scene in India. The article gave a detailed look at what appeared to be a systemic collapse in addressing harassment, with fingers pointed at founder and former CEO Vijay Nair for his alleged role in fostering the reprehensible culture through his own questionable behaviour.
In the two weeks that have passed since the article appeared, barring statements from OML, some regular concertgoers who have chosen to boycott the event, and artists Azadi Records and Disco Puppet pulling out of the upcoming NH7 Weekender festival (promoted by OML), there have been loud whispers about the industry’s radio silence on the matter.
In light of Azadi Records and Disco Puppet pulling out, I reached out to several musicians who are currently on the lineup for the festival that is to take place over 7, 8 and 9 December in Pune, to understand the artist’s thought process when confronted with a situation like this. Is pulling out of the festival a viable option? Should an artist take a social stand at all? Despite our best intentions to right a wrong, how do we go about doing so?
Acclaimed Hindustani classical singer and Padma Shri Shubha Mudgal is one of the biggest names to perform at the festival this year. When contacted, Ms Mudgal said that she would respond shortly.
Pasted below is her statement in entirety, as per her request:
In response to your questions regarding my participation at NH7 Weekender in Pune this year, I would like to place on record my comments with as much candour and honesty as is possible for me.
I have read the story in The Caravan and wish to begin by saying that I respect and admire the courage that Tanushree Singh has shown in sharing her story. I also respect the statements by other women who have chosen to remain anonymous.
I must also mention that I am not managed by OML nor are there any pressures on me to bat for OML as it were. In 2008 my husband Aneesh Pradhan and I had started a multi-genre music festival in Pune called Baajaa Gaajaa which we closed down in 2012 due to lack of adequate sponsorship. Vijay Nair who then headed OML had been one of several individuals and organisations who helped us with the festival by bringing indie bands he was working with to the festival despite the shoe-string amounts we could offer. Based on what I perceived as his flair for organising I also wrote a letter of recommendation for Vijay Nair for the Creative Entrepreneur Award instituted by the British Council. I believe he won the award.
Having said that I also wish to place on record a sense of confusion and indecision I experience while considering what stand I should take in this regard, both as a woman and as an independent music professional invited to perform at NH7. I have also expressed this in an interview I gave to an online magazine dedicated to classical music where I have mentioned that there are problems with the legal redressal system available to us, as well as with the naming and shaming option that the #MeToo movement provides.
With regard to the case of OML, as per the Caravan report, Gaurav Dewani is no longer with OML and is reported as having left the company in 2016. To the best of my knowledge, other individuals including Vijay Nair about whom there are reports of misconduct are also no longer part of the company. The invitation to perform at NH7 Pune Weekender therefore probably came to me from a company that did not include the individuals reported to have misbehaved, assaulted female employees, or engaged in inappropriate behaviour.
The Caravan report also says that to some extent OML tried to follow due process by setting up an ICC with the requisite number of women members. That Tanushree did not find the decisions reached by the ICC satisfactory is also obvious and suggests that the ICC failed her. And the question that comes to my mind then is whether there is any recourse left to a person if she is not satisfied with the decision of the ICC. Possibly the only solution then would be to name and shame, which is what Tanushree has done.
But would a closure of the company or companies like OML, or a complete closedown of events like NH7 Weekender be the solution to the almost all-pervasive problem of women being exploited in workplaces? I feel what is needed is a cleanup and not a closing down. For example, recently a senior editor of a major mainstream newspaper was named in the #MeToo campaign and had to leave the organisation. I cannot remember whether the accused resigned of his own accord or was fired by the management. But we did not ask for a closure of the company or stop reading publications by the same company. People continue to work for the publication and readers continue to read and subscribe to the newspaper.
As I said earlier, I am given to understand from the Caravan report that Dewani, Nair and Raj are no longer a part of the company. The Caravan report also states that OML set up an ICC and organised workshops to create awareness among its employees regarding proper and acceptable conduct in the workplace. That they need to do more is evident from the statement of women employees who have spoken to the Caravan. However, I find myself unable to sit in judgement and dissociate from the festival at this point. In the event that there is an organised investigation and OML is found to be guilty of having been negligent in their responsibilities, I would not hesitate to withdraw support.
I have tried to give as detailed a response as possible because I believe the problem itself is too complex and nuanced to make sweeping statements. I trust that my response will be published in its entirety and that misleading lines or headlines declaring that Shubha Mudgal gives clean chit to OML will not be used. For the record, I do not have the authority to either give a clean chit to OML or send them to the gallows. A proper, balanced investigation is required which will be a step towards ensuring that such incidents are avoided in the future.
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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2018 17:22:04 IST