On 8th October, journalist Sandhya Menon tweeted an anonymous account of a young woman (just 18 at the time) who had been sexually harassed by renowned lyricist Vairamuthu. Following this, singer and dubbing artist Chinmayi Sripaada also came out against him and talked about how he had made her uncomfortable on at least two occasions. What followed was a storm of allegations against the Padma Bhushan awardee and several other prominent names in the Tamil film and Carnatic music circuits.

Allegations Against Vairamuthu

There is a common thread in the accusations against Vairamuthu – the victims were young, looking to build a career in music, a lot of them were staying at the ladies’ hostel run by him, and they were all afraid of his political connections and name in the industry. The saddest part is that a significant number of these women discontinued their career in music post the traumatic event they underwent at the hands of Vairamuthu.

Vairamuthu’s response to the allegations has been, to say the least, insensitive. He reels in the ‘ulterior motive‘ narrative again, even though there have been countless allegations against him, all of them having the aforementioned common thread too. This is not to say whether or not he is indeed guilty (although there is basically no evidence in his defence). But there is a healthy way to respond to allegations such that it does not harm the movement. Men, being the privileged group in a patriarchal society, owe it to women to at least not hurt the movement, if they are not actively helping it.

Also read: Utsav Chakraborty and the Performative ‘Woke Men’ of the Comedy Circuit

Let’s take the case of lyricist and screenwriter of ‘Sacred Games’ fame, Varun Grover. He had been anonymously accused of sexual assault by one woman. His response included a detailed explanation and evidence as to how the allegation could not possibly be true. He does this while maintaining that this one untrue allegation should not be allowed to discredit the countless other women who have come out with their stories. Vairamuthu, on the other hand, said “shaming innocent people has become a fashion these days”.

Public Response and Media’s Reluctance to Report on Vairamuthu

It took two whole days for Tamil media houses to even address the allegations against Vairamuthu. Local newspapers took even longer to report on the issue. A handful of reporters admitted to not taking up the matter because of Vairamuthu’s strong political connections. They also talked about how they could not report on it because Chinmayi’s words would not have credibility in the public eye unless Vairamuthu himself addresses the allegations. Regrettably, they weren’t wrong, because most of the public did, in fact, attack Chinmayi and acted favourably towards Vairamuthu.

But I would be remiss to imply that it was only fear that made reporters not take the issue seriously and report responsibly. In a press meet held a few days ago by the South Indian Film Women’s Association, journalists displayed blatant misogyny by asking survivors to relive, yet again, their assault. They clamoured to attack the women about not coming out with their stories earlier, about how it was only an attempt to defame men since they cannot produce any evidence.

From the Tamil film industry, only three people lent their support right from the beginning – Samantha Akkineni, Siddharth, and Varalaxmi Saratkumar.

It took actor Vishal, the head of the Film Producers’ Council, six days to express solidarity.

Some other people who spoke up for the women are composer Ghibran, actor Sarathkumar and singer Shaktishree Gopalan.

Recently, A. R. Reihanna, composer Rahman’s sister, also talked about how Vairamuthu’s predatory behaviour was an open secret in the industry, and how several women had told her about their experiences with him as well.

Other Accused Men

Some of the other men from the Tamil film industry named in the storm of allegations that followed are – T. M. Karthik, Radha Ravi, John Vijay, Susi Ganesan, and singer Karthik. While T.M. Karthik has acknowledged the trauma he has caused and issued an unconditional apology, the rest do not seem to care.

The stories about the men in the Tamil film industry are disturbing enough, but the Carnatic music circuits are the true pestilence. Countless supposed ‘vidwans’ have been accused of sexually assaulting their pupils – girls who were not even 18 at the time. Men like O. S. Thyagarajan, Mannargudi Easwaran, ‘Mandolin’ Rajesh, Trichy J. Venkatraman, Sashikiran, Ravikiran, and several others enjoy God-like status and are revered. It is abhorrent how they take their eminence to be a free pass to behave however they like with unassuming students.

Following are just a few accounts of the sort of treatment they have meted out to young girls who came to them to learn music.

Ramesh Prabha, an important member of the Sun TV/Kalaignar TV networks and N. Narayanan, the president of the Tamil Nadu Brahmins Association also have been accused of sexual assault.

The Way Forward

The lack of support for the #MeToo movement in Tamil Nadu has been sordid. But all’s not lost – we can learn to do better. It is imperative that we start listening to and providing safe spaces for women who come out with their stories. As a community, we need to educate ourselves on handling these issues sensitively and responsibly.

But perhaps the most important thing that needs to be internalised is that this is not a movement against men, aimed at destroying their reputations and careers. It is a movement meant to dismantle oppressive power structures.

Also read: #MeToo Exposes the Dark and Ugly Side of Powerful Men in the Film Industry


Update: Due to the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, the Madras Music Academy has removed seven musicians from their list of performers for the upcoming Margazhi season (in December) namely Mannargudi Easwaran, O. S. Thyagarajan, Nagai Sriram, Ravikiran, Srimushnam V. Raja Rao, R Ramesh, and Thiruvarur Vaidyanathan.

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