It would be naive on my part to imagine that there are no #MeToo stories in the field of Indian Classical Music – Shubha Mudgal

November 20, 2018
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Classicalclaps is honoured that renowned vocalist, Shubha Mudgal agreed to talk about #MeToo. While the whole gamut remains a very sensitive one, the diva spoke her mind about #MeToo from a very pragmatic and compassionate standpoint with total clarity and conviction. We are very touched by her gesture – she responded within 3 hours of our sending her this long questionnaire, respecting the urgency and sensitivity of the issue.

Q. Do you think the Indian Classical Music and Dance community needs a #MeToo movement right now? Kindly give us your views on the same.

A. I think the #MeToo movement marks a very significant step that women across the world have taken with great courage, to call out, and in many cases, name and shame men who have assaulted and exploited them. However I cannot really make a broad sweeping statement saying that there is a need for the  #MeToo movement in the sphere of Indian Classical Music and Dance. That would depend entirely on women in the fields of Indian music and dance who feel empowered and wish to share their experiences of having been victimised and assaulted. Just because there have been #MeToo testimonies from artistes in let’s say the fields of popular music and Carnatic music, we cannot insist on getting testimonies from the field of Hindustani music. These testimonies cannot and must not be manufactured. They must be made voluntarily and without any coercion.

Q. Nine women were fired by AIR after they complained of sexual harassment (Ref: Report by thewire). Do you think a #MeToo movement is viable at all in the wake of such an attitude by Prasar Bharati?

A. There are several women who continue to stand by their #MeToo testimonies despite pressures from several quarters. But it is a matter of deep concern that the nine ladies in the Prasar Bharati case are reported to have been fired after they complained against an assistant director in their organisation. It has taken decades and years for women to come out in the open and share their unbelievably traumatic experiences with the public. It will be nothing short of tragic if victims are penalised instead of being supported.

Q. As a veteran in this field, do you think the severely unorganized realm of Indian Classical Music has a Pandora’s box of #MeToo stories? Do you have any experience you have heard or seen or have known that you can share? We are absolutely supportive if you would want to maintain anonymity of people here.

A. It would be naive on my part to imagine that there are no #MeToo stories in the field of Indian Classical Music. And yes, I have heard rumours and whispers of several incidents. But until the victims themselves feel confident about sharing their experiences it would be irresponsible on my part to spread rumours or encourage discussion on the matter merely on the basis of rumour and conjecture.

Q. In a tradition where students are conditioned to put Gurus on the same pedestal as God or a parent, what kind of consequences and reactions/repercussions do you expect, should a #MeToo movement sweep the Indian Classical Music and Dance community?

A. Once again, your question is in the realm of conjecture. But should the #MeToo movement open a can of worms in the field of Indian Classical Music, skeletons will tumble out of cupboards and those might not be only of Gurus. Worse, I fear that the survivors who choose to call out the men who assaulted them will be made to feel guilty and almost as if they have let down a mighty tradition.

Q. Do you think the Indian Classical Music field is patriarchal in nature? Kindly elaborate your views. If you have an anecdote to share, it would be great….

A. Indian society is by and large patriarchal, so how can the field of Indian Classical Music be otherwise. And yet, women musicians have made their mark in this field, rising to earn great acclaim and respect, by sheer dint of their skill and mastery and genius. Having said that, I must also point out that if we speak of patriarchy, we cannot ignore the imbalance of power which leads to exploitation of other kinds as well. For example, are accompanying artistes treated on par with the main artistes?

Q. What kind of measures do you think can and should be taken on an official level to prevent sexual misconduct from happening in the Indian Classical Music community on an organizer – artist level?

A. The laws of the land, such as they are, apply to Indian musicians as well. But there is no one single musicians’ collective or union or body that really has the authority to lay down rules.

However, perhaps in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it is time that music schools, colleges, institutions, and event organising companies examine if they are following Vishakha Guidelines, and perhaps share on their websites the measures that they have put in place by setting up Internal Complaint Committees with the requisite number of female members.

For example, does the Sangeet Natak Akademi have an ICC in place? Or does the Sangeet Research Academy have one? And by naming these two institutions, I have no intention of implying that they are defaulting. I merely mention them to illustrate my point.

Q. It is often very difficult to make a name in Indian Classical Music without a Godfather and that has often paved the path for sexual misconduct and predatory.  As someone who herself never had a Godfather, what is your advice to the current generation of musicians and dancers with respect to their interactions with co-artists, Gurus, organizers and key government officials?

A. I do not feel qualified to give advice and hold forth on the subject. However, I try and warn my students on the dangers they could be exposed to, and suggest to them that they should remain alert at all times. I hope that being fore-warned might keep them safe, and also make them feel that I am there for them should they feel the need to discuss any issues in this regard with me.

Q. What kind of mental conditioning do you think kids need nowadays to stand up against sexual misconduct if they face it from their Gurus or other musicians/artists?

A. I think the support of a loving family and of friends gives great strength and confidence to an artiste. I have always benefited from the support of my family and friends, and have therefore felt confident about taking on challenges. However, I feel that artistes seldom speak to each other about their experiences.

Perhaps it is time that women musicians started bonding with each other to create a group that can offer suggestions, advice, to younger women artistes, and maybe just be there for them to share their insecurities and traumas with.

Q. Let us address the other side of #MeToo. This movement, as per the view of many, has also turned into a personal vendetta and mud-slinging that is apparently leading to the victimisation of many innocent men. What are your views on this?

A. These are very complex matters and situations, open to interpretation and also open to misuse. Therefore it is imperative that great care be taken before condemning either the survivor who is making an accusation, or the person against whom the accusation is made.

On the one hand, we have a judicial system and a penal code which prescribes the process and punishment for sexual assault, but that system has failed us largely because of the time it takes to get justice, if at all one gets it. It has also been known to have been manipulated on many occasions by people in positions of wealth and power.

On the other hand we have the #MeToo movement which is naming and shaming men on the basis of testimonies of women who by their own telling have undergone the trauma of sexual assault. But no investigation is being done to verify the accusations in many cases.

Furthermore, we have people in Parliament who have been accused of similar crimes and worse crimes, and they continue to be lawmakers and in positions of authority. We are now in a situation where we have a formal system of justice which has not proved to be effective for a variety of reasons, and an informal or extra legal system of justice in the form of the #MeToo movement which also has its problems, and policymakers in Government who are accused of the very crimes against women that the #MeToo movement addresses. Can we really expect support for the rights of women from our policymakers? This situation has led to a lot of confusion which needs to be sorted out to find a solution to a very complex issue.

Also read: Is #Metoo a Bomb Waiting to Explode in the Hindustani Classical Music and Dance Community?

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