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Vol. XXXII No. 24, April 1-15, 2023

Trouble at the Temple of Arts, and In The Arts

-- by The Dy. Editor

The Temple of the Arts, the historic school founded by the legendary Rukmini Devi, and for many years an institution of national importance, finds itself in the news now for the wrong reasons. This is not the first time this has happened – Kalakshetra has earlier been in the limelight over problems of succession, financial misdemeanours and rampant infighting among staff and interference from seniors who simply refused to fade away. All that was some years ago and it appeared that the institution was getting on with what it was mandated to do. But the latest is of a much more serious nature for it throws open questions not of an administrative nature but good human values. A member of the staff has been accused of predatory behaviour and it would seem that the ­institution has not chosen to deal with it to the satisfaction of the affected parties. The question also throws open a larger issue that faces the world of arts in India. What scope of redress do victims have?

It was in 2018 that the #MeToo movement surfaced in South Indian performing arts, and by that we mean ­cinema, theatre, music and dance. Social media became the platform through which victims expressed their distress. Several alleged perpetrators were named, tarred, feathered on social media. One institution, namely the Music Academy, barred seven artistes from its list of performers. Other bodies in the classical arts got together and founded an Internal Complaints Committee to look into the accusations. Several years later, with not a single complaint being received, most of the accused have returned to positions of power in almost all institutions barring the Music Academy. Some are concert organisers, others are performers, some are both with enough clout to make or break aspiring careers. The record is even worse when it comes to cinema and theatre. There was just no action. The question is, why do the victims remain silent?

The answer lies firstly in the porosity of the system. It cannot be denied that it takes enormous resilience and a sense of having suffered enough for a victim to come out in the open to make such an accusation. Of course, a few may use it as an opportunity to embark on a witch hunt, but such instances will be rare. But the bigger challenge is of the fear to come out in the open. This is often at the risk of ending a promising career. Most often such a complaint rebounds on the complainant as has been seen at least in one prominent instance in cinema. The accused has got away while the accuser has been rendered jobless.

The second issue is on onus of proof. Where are victims going to get credible proof when many of these instances happened in isolation or at remote locations or several years earlier? The victim has to perforce furnish proof, and this is not likely to exist unless it is in written form which is highly improbable. The serial predator is a very clever animal. As a consequence, even in Kalakshetra, after an internal enquiry, the complaint was declared closed. That the National Commission for Women is now interesting itself in the matter is small consolation for even that body is likely to be stymied by want of proof. Lastly, most victims are asked as to why they delayed the filing of a complaint. Those who field such a question need to first ponder over how difficult it is for an affected party to come out in the open. It may take years, or worse, never happen.

Ultimately, it boils down to integrity. Can organisations get by on the comfort of lack of proof and other such quibbles? Would it not be far better to take punitive action so that at least future predators know that the cost of such misdemeanours can be high? The answer lies with the so-called custodians of the arts. What if it were to happen to them or their family members?

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