The Madras Music Academy has decided to drop seven musicians against whom allegations of sexual harassment have been made from the list of performers in the December music season. The musicians who have been dropped are N Ravikiran, OS Thyagarajan, Mannargudi A Easwaran, Srimushnam V Raja Rao, Nagai Sriram, R Ramesh and Thiruvarur Vaidyanathan.
This is a significant announcement considering that the world of classical music and dance in South India is generally considered to be insular and stays silent on many social issues.
The Music Academy is the premier institution engaged in the promotion, training and performance of Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam in Chennai. The annual winter music and dance festival in Chennai, also known as the Margazhi festival, is attended by thousands of connoisseurs of classical music and dance.
N Murali, the President of the Academy, told Scroll.in that the decision was made to express solidarity with the survivors of sexual harassment and the ongoing #MeToo movement in the country. “We want to extend our sensitivity and sympathy to the survivors who have been unable to raise their voice or articulate the trauma that they have gone through all these years,” he said. “We want to show our solidarity to them. We also felt we must take this stand to uphold the credibility of our institution. We cannot turn a blind eye to the #MeToo storm.”
Some of the musicians have already denied the allegations made against them. Among them is renowned chitravina player Ravikiran, who in 2017 had been conferred the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title by the Academy in recognition of his contribution to the field of classical music. “I have never sexually harassed anyone and am completely against such acts,” he had said on Facebook.
Vocalist OS Thyagarajan had told The News Minute, “This is a false allegation. I’m a very orthodox man. I don’t indulge in such acts.”
This article will be updated if the other musicians make statements.
Murali said that the Academy took the decision after “independently talking to unbiased members in the music world”.
“These are allegations and we are not holding anyone guilty,” he said. “But we have taken cognisance of some of the allegations where the alleged abuse and harassment has been described in detail. We have a right to decide whether a musician features or not in the festival. We have exercised that right.”
Since the #MeToo movement gained momentum in India earlier this month, there has been intense debate in the Carnatic music world about sexual harassment. Two weeks ago, more than 200 Carnatic musicians signed a statement condemning sexual harassment and encouraging more women to come forward with their stories.
On October 21, a cultural organisation called Ek Potlee Ret Ki organised a “public hearing and consultation” on the #MeToo movement in Chennai to discuss sexual harassment.