TM Krishna, Bombay Jayashree among artistes to sign open letter against sexual harassment in Carnatic music community

For over two weeks now, the #MeToo wave has swept India with women calling out sexual offenders from every walk of life — be it cinema, literature, advertising, journalism among others. On 9 October, singer Chinmayi Sripaada directed a tweet at Carnatic musicians who have been accused of sexual misconduct by women, including their students and members of the audience.

Soon, other accusers called out more offenders belonging to the Carnatic music community. Noted singer and social commentator TM Krishna also spoke about the immediate need to discuss the much-hushed prevalence of sexual harassment in the world of classical arts. Speaking to Firstpost, he said that the "halo around artists has given them licence to abuse".

Following Sripaada's move of calling out many revered luminaries, several youth Carnatic musicians in the United States and India have come together to write a public letter demanding civil society investigations of the allegations set forth and begin a process that holds music sabhas and organisers accountable for the safety of the artists as well as the appreciators of their art.

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To read the list of signatories, click here.

The letter went public on 13 October at 10 pm (IST), with 62 signatures, and in less than 12 hours it had 150 additional signatures, including highly reputable artists such as TM Krishna, Bombay Jayashree, Ranjani and Gayatri, Abhishek Raghuram, and Sikkil C Gurucharan, to name a few.

Upto ten young musicians were part of the working group that came together and conceptualised the idea of the letter. One of them, a female musician based out in the US and who chooses to remain anonymous at the moment, spoke to Firstpost in detail about what led to the conception of this move, what are the objectives and the way forward.

On how the #MeToo movement has impacted the music community and whether there is an acknowledgement of sexual harassment within the "pious and pristine" realm of classical arts, she says, "It has primarily empowered victims within our community to come forward and share their stories. It has allowed them to recognise that we, as a community, are finally here to listen and take action. In addition, it has forced the community to take a step back and separate the art and artist from the human being. We tend to deify our musicians as a community. This movement has not only educated many members of the community about the long-standing abuses that have existed but allowed us to reflect on how and why we have turned a blind eye to this for so long. A majority of the members have come forward and acknowledged the existence and prevalence of sexual harassment in the music community. While these discussions were often limited to private, and vague conversations in the past, this petition has forced many to confront what has been a long-standing issue."

This idea of open letter was a result of the congregation of like-minded young musicians and overlapping of their belief to stand in solidarity and a desire to create impactful change. "This group is truly unique because, for the first time, youth musicians from North America and India have come together to hold the community responsible for being complicit in their actions of these offenders and put forth an action plan to hold all involved parties accountable."

While currently, the music community holds a major share of the collective, the forum also plans to engage with other forms of classical arts. She informs, "We began with the Carnatic music community because most of the members of the collective that put this letter together are Carnatic musicians and many of the allegations that initially surfaced were within the music community. However, these abuses pervade all parts of the larger classical arts ecosystem, and we have had several Bharatanatyam dancers sign the letter as well. While no formal action plan has been set in place, we are certainly willing to partner with others in the classical arts who stand in solidarity with our cause!"

The collective aims to create an ecosystem where organisations/sabhas create an action plan to guarantee that there isn't any abuse of power and privilege. "Specifically we would like mechanisms set forth that allow complaints to be filed formally, and avenues for victims to be guaranteed a safe environment to come forward with their stories. Overall, our goal is a create a safe environment for musicians, rasikas and organisers, and thoroughly investigate previous and any future reported cases of sexual harassment," she concludes.

Anyone that would like to add their name to the list of signatories of this statement should email carnaticmetoo@gmail.com.

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Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.


Updated Date: Oct 15, 2018 17:34 PM

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