Since Monday, singer Chinmayi Sripaada has been attacked online for endorsing allegations of sexual harassment against Tamil poet-lyricist Vairamuthu and sharing accounts of the harassment she herself has allegedly faced at the hands of the veteran film lyricist and writer.
Sripaada, a popular playback singer who also works as a dubbing artiste in the Tamil film industry, alleged that Vairamuthu had harassed her on two separate occasions. In a series of tweets, the singer described an incident that allegedly occurred more than ten years ago when an organiser of a concert in Switzerland reportedly asked Sripaada to meet Vairamuthu at his hotel in Lucerne. “He [organiser] told me to cooperate,” Sripaada tweeted. When she refused and insisted that her mother and her be sent back to India, the organiser allegedly threatened her, saying she that would be the end of her career.
On Wednesday afternoon, Vairamuthu denied the allegations against him. “Spreading defamatory things about popular personalities is becoming a culture across the country,” he said. “I have been continuously insulted in recent times. This is also part of it. I will not bother about falsehood. Time will tell the truth.”
On Wednesday morning, Sripaada had also shared a screenshot of a message she received from the organisers of the Switzerland concert. In his message, the person corroborated Sripaada’s alleged experience.
Sripaada also referred to another incident around four years ago, when Vairamuthu allegedly threatened her again, this time because she turned down his request to sing at his book launch. “I said I would be unable to,” Sripaada said. “He in turn responded ‘I’ll tell [a politician] you spoke ill of him on stage,’ yelled at me and kept the phone down.”
Sripaada has also been sharing screenshots of anonymous testimonies from other women who have accused Vairamuthu of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment. In a few of those tweets, she hinted that members of the Tamil film industry were well-aware of such incidents.
“This [allegations against Vairamuthu] was apparently a whisper,” Sripaada told Scroll.in. “Everyone I have spoken to in the past couple of days say, yes they have heard. Just not from anyone saying, ‘It happened to me’ I guess.”
Sripaada has also said on Twitter that speaking out against a person like Vairamuthu who enjoys a certain stature within the film industry could hurt her career. “The dubbing union bye laws prevent [me from] speaking to media or police,” she revealed to Scroll.in. “So yes, I will lose the [membership] card.”
However, that hasn’t stopped her from taking her allegation forward. On Wednesday, she announced that she is going to submit a complaint against Vairamuthu in writing to the National Commission for Women.
She said that she hoped that the Tamil film industry would stand by the survivors of such harassment, but she isn’t quite hopeful. In the past, whenever she has spoken about Vairamuthu to others, the general reaction she has received is ‘let’s not talk about it’, she said. “Also, we have a group of composers singers and lyricists on Whatsapp where I posted about this, questioned them on their silence and hypocrisy and exited,” Sripaada said. “The only two people who spoke up are Shakthisree [Gopalan] and an upcoming composer called Ashwin [Vinayagamoorthy]. Two names among a plethora of musicians. That’s all there is. No one will do the right thing.”
Sripaada did not agree that the Tamil film industry is unsafe for women. “The industry is made of sane, decent people who haven’t joined to get into women’s pants,” she said. “Which is why I said that in 17 years, I haven’t had anyone misbehave or send me a lewd text. This is my experience and I will not paint the rest of the men in the industry with the brush Vairamuthu wields. That said, each woman’s experience is different and the point is to believe the victims.”
The immediate need of the hour is to set up mechanisms and forums for women in the industry to register their complaints, Sripaada added.
The MeToo movement, especially in the Tamil film industry, is beginning to gain momentum, Sripaada said.
Among other things, Sripaada believes that misogynistic portrayal of women on screen, including the lyrics and lines used to objectify women, also plays a role in determining the nature of the spaces in which they work and live. She feels that, at least in that respect, much has already begun to change. “A lot has changed with actors not saying [sexist] lines that were the norm earlier,” she said. “Lyrics are changing too. In due course and swiftly there will be a complete change.”