Sexual molestation, exploitation, intimidation to the 'god problem', the Indian Classical Music and Dance community has many issues that it needs to address and find solutions to. When any community starts to realise the problems that it needs to address, almost always, it looks at the seniors of that community to make some noise. Raise awareness. Talk about it. Write about it. The community feels that the 'ones in power' should lead the conversation. In the case of the Indian Classical Music and Dance community, the majority of our seniors, sit back, relax and wait for the issue to just pass by. Being a part of this community myself, I have observed something which is the crux of why we are the way we are. We Indian Classical Artists have come up with a 'formula for success', a type of personality that we think will do well in the circuit. An image game technique that allows us stay relevant, yet keep us out of any conversations or healthy debates on how to make this community a safer, more inclusive place of work.
On the 16th of December I received a forwarded WhatsApp message of the prestigious Tansen Samaroh 2020 artist list. I was shocked to see that Akhilesh Gundecha (Pakhavaj player and alleged sexual molester) had been included. After social media outrage by mainly young artists and a few senior artists such as noted rudra veena player Bahauddin Dagar and Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna, Tansen Samaroh have now removed Akhilesh Gundecha's name from the list. Gundecha was meant to perform with Dr Madhu Bhatt Tailang, Firstpost writes in their article "When this correspondent reached Dr Tailang for comment, she professed ignorance of the allegations against Akhilesh: "I am a disciple of music and I prefer to remain in that zone only. I am not aware of any such allegations or investigations."" What I want to draw your attention to is the first thing that Madhu Bhatt has said. The I don't care about anything else in the world other than my music statement. This is just one of the qualities we believe we need to have to be successful in this field. Cut yourself off from everything other than your music, don't have an opinion, don't have a stand. Even if you know the person to be involved in a molestation case, don't hesitate to associate yourself with them, because music is a zone where morals, ethics and humanity don't matter a lot. We have created a space in which music is now something to achieve and not to live, a world where the number of concerts, the relationships with other artists and organisers regardless of the kind of behaviour they have shown is what makes our music and not our principles and ideals. The definition of a 'perfect' artist has become someone who has made music and only music their life. Unfortunately, this also means they have disregarded social issues which have and continue to make machines rather than artists with a personality, an opinion and a voice.
Social media has allowed many artists to come out of their shells and share their musical vision with the community, spread their work and create professional relationships with fellow artists and organisers. That being said, the platform is also becoming a place that has built immense pressure in the minds of young artists to create a certain type of image. One can almost sense the pressure that the millennials face in order to be taken seriously and appear relevant. The pressure of having the entire community's eyes on all that they do, and thinking that posting something out of the ordinary, such as expressing personal views about a social/political topic can lead to harmful consequences for their careers. One might ask, why would a post expressing personal views, or sharing an article about sexual molestation in the Indian Classical community feel like a big step out of the ordinary for artists? The answer is steeped very deep into the power imbalance that exists between seniors and juniors, guru and shishya. The concept of never questioning those who are in a position of power has been injected into the minds of upcoming talents in this field. Those in power are also those who provide platforms for upcoming artists, and unfortunately no artist or organiser wants to be associated with a musician or dancer who has a lot to say about the power imbalance that exists because, they are the ones who are essentially creating this imbalance or are reliant on the seniors of the community to help their festivals successful. Even seniors are dependant on their contemporaries, gurus or organisers for concerts, and therefore are highly hesitant to speak up or stand up against issues such as molestation and exploitation. Social media has now only become a place to ensure your presence in the minds and in the lists of those who curate festivals or those who refer names to festivals.
When I think of an artist, I think of someone with a personality, a voice, a stand. A person who uses their talent and their years of dedication towards their art to somehow contribute towards what could be made better in our community. Ask yourselves these questions. What do we know about our artists? What do they stand for? Is it not important that we have those who are at the peak of their artistic careers speak out about the social issues that we face in this field? Will it really damage your reputation as an Indian Classical Artist if you open yourself up to your audience and give a message through your art? Do we as artists not have a responsibility to stand firmly against any abuse or exploitation happening to our contemporaries or students?
The image game is not just limited to what I have written about above. The image game starts when a prominent artist in an interview says "To be a great musician, you must first be a good human being. That is when you will be able to hit the right notes" and then they fall silent when news of multiple people being molested, abused and exploited comes to the surface. We have been taught to keep the art separate from the artist, but at the same time are told that music is a discipline which teaches us how to be better human beings. The image game is making seniors and juniors accept the power game, it is making them accept that molestation and exploitation are the norm and that they must stay out of these 'controversies' if they want work and want to remain in the good books of the powerful. The image game is making sure that those who are in power now, are so comfortable with it, that they disregard the problems that exist in fear of giving a voice to those who may threaten their position. The image game is making sure that artists like myself, who are trying to reach the peak of our abilities as artists are told "when you have the power, you can speak up all that you want, but till then, keep silent." To have power or success you have to please the powerful and successful, and in this process of becoming the 'perfect' artist, we are forgetting to have a point of view, a voice and an influence on those around us.
An artist has the power to change lives. An artist has the power to bring people together through their art to make a change. An artist has the voice of many. An artist has the power to not only create admirers of their art but also to inspire others with their point of view.
Disclaimer: This blog post is my opinion, and my observation of this community that I belong to. This post specifically has been written because I am angry at the lack of personality that artists have shown throughout the many cases of molestation and sexual abuse cases that have come to the front. I am especially disappointed by the dearth of comments made by some of the biggest names in our community.