It is now one week, since writer and journalist Sandhya Menon shared an anonymous post alleging sexual misconduct by lyricist Vairamuthu. It took Tamil language websites almost two full days to react, and the first story in the local press was from barely four days ago.
By default, the story on allegations of sexual misconduct against Vairamuthu became a Quint Exclusive. So why is Vairamuthu’s name the only one to have come up in TN’s Me Too movement? And why does it seem to have died down so soon?
Also, why is public sentiment (in the media) in favour of Vairamuthu, despite more than a dozen women alleging sexual misconduct by him?
There is No Cinema, Only Cine-Politics
The core idea of the Me Too campaign is to allow the survivor to speak up, and to listen. This requires a safe space to vent, where support will be unconditional. Sadly, such is not the case in the Tamil Twitterverse.
"All of Tamil media, including social media is divided into two sections; pro-BJP and anti-BJP. The majority of the media is anti-BJP. This is the trend. So anything said against Vairamuthu will not find much traction." - A senior journalist from a leading local daily
As is the case with news and social media, cinema too has never been apolitical in Tamil Nadu. Vairamuthu is seen not just as a lyricist, but as an ardent supporter of Dravidianism. Since the majority of the media itself is pro-Dravidian, a certain level of respect for Vairamuthu as well as fear of his obvious political affiliations (to the DMK) come into play. The late former CM M Karunanidhi himself was one of the guests at Vairamuthu’s son’s wedding. The two were often seen together, and Vairamuthu is seen by many as the torchbearer of Karunanidhi’s brand of Dravidianism, and of course, a worthy successor to his writing.
"Chinmayi’s tweet cannot be taken as verified. Was it really her who tweeted? Only upon Vairamuthu’s response, we reacted. That gives credibility." - Reporter, Tamil language cine-magazine
That Chinmayi’s tweets are not considered credible until Vairamuthu’s response gives them credence, is ironic, and a disturbing reflection of media in Tamil Nadu, and the film industry.
Stray Voices of Support
Samantha Akkineni, Varalaxmi Saratkumar and Siddharth. That’s about all of the celebrity voices from the Tamil film industry to come out in support of Chinmayi’s tweets against Vairamuthu.
Both Samantha and Siddharth are seen as outsiders in the Tamil film industry, since they both work extensively in Telugu cinema as well.
Dear @23_rahulr and @Chinmayi I know the both of you for ten years now . I don’t know two more brutally honest people .It is this attribute of yours that I value most in our friendship . I love you with all my heart and what you say is the TRUTH !! #istandwithchinmayi— Samantha Akkineni (@Samanthaprabhu2) October 10, 2018
It’s alarming to hear the number of #metoo stories.They say it’s better late than never.Thank you to all the women that r being so strong to come out with their stories I stood up last year #metoo I urge every woman affected to stand up,we need to fight for our rights #TimesUp pic.twitter.com/5EgWmTTCxL— varu sarathkumar (@varusarath) October 9, 2018
Of these, Siddharth alone named Vairamuthu in his tweet and asked for an investigation and action to be taken.
Multiple women are speaking out against Kavignar #Vairamuthu. Without judging anyone, they must be heard. When somebody of @Chinmayi's stature who has so much to lose, stands by the accusers, that's huge! There will be investigation. First step #ListenToTheAccuser #MeToo #Timesup— Siddharth (@Actor_Siddharth) October 9, 2018
It was only on Sunday, six days after Chinmayi’s tweet, that Vishal, who is now the head of the Film Producer’s Council, expressed his solidarity with the movement.
It's time, Women in our industry speak up & I wil stand by them. Wil form a committee to protect them— Vishal (@VishalKOfficial) October 14, 2018
I totally respect @Chinmayi #TanuShreDuta & others. Women should inform us as soon as such incidents happen. @Amala_ams informed 1 such incident & we helped her. #MeToo #TimesUp
It is interesting to note that veteran actor Radha Ravi and playback singer Karthik, who were also named for alleged sexual misconduct have received no further mention in the media, nor have they responded.
Deviation, and Dilution of the Movement
Neither is Vairamuthu politically neutral, nor is the media non-partisan. Everything that the lyricist says / does / is accused of, is therefore perceived through black or saffron coloured glasses.
The first reaction to Chinmayi’s tweets against Vairamuthu on social media, from both sides of the political spectrum was to link it to his speech on the Vaishnavite Saint Andal, in which he tried to prove that she was a ‘devadasi’, with no father. Those who opposed this view spoke of how he had it coming. And those who supported Vairamuthu called Chinmayi’s tweets a Brahmin vendetta. Sample this:
WHAT IF....— Mohamed Basith (@Mohamed82809988) October 8, 2018
THAT ACCOUNT IS A FAKE ID, WHO ANONYMOUSLY SEEKING REVENGE ON வைரமுத்து ON THE BASIS OF HIS AANDAAL ISSUE???#JustSaying
And then there’s the usual ‘why now’, ‘where are the facts’ debate that go on to dilute the movement. Again, Siddharth, above everyone else, came to the rescue:
https://t.co/TySxqMDDHy #Seeman says #BJP is behind #MeToo. Says #MeToo is a gimmick. Now I understand there are haters and small minds in every side of our politics. I strongly condemn the views of #Seeman. Hypocritical, disrespectful, misogynistic nonsense!— Siddharth (@Actor_Siddharth) October 13, 2018
"Vairamuthu has always been on very good terms with the media. Any news in support of him, we usually publish ASAP. But anything that slanders his reputation is taken with a pinch of salt, and we await his response before going ahead." - Reporter of a Tamil dailyCarnatic Scene
I am terribly ashamed of being a man in today's world. Despite being called out this issue is being debated and that's sick. I stand by @Chinmayi who has had the guts to speak up about this. I stand by #TanushreeDutta I am truly ashamed.— Anil Srinivasan (@anilsrinivasan) October 9, 2018
Pianist Anil Srinivasan, was probably the first musician to voice his support for Chinmayi. Through a series of tweets and an article in The Hindu, he made his support for her and to the movement, unequivocal. He was soon followed by activist and Carnatic vocalist T M Krishna, who responded to Chinmayi’s ‘offender’s list’ of Carnatic musicians through tweets and an interview to FirstPost.
1/3 For years we have heard stories about these issues within the Karnatik and Bharatanatyam world. I vividly remember that about 10 years ago a young girl came out on Facebook describing her horrid experiences and i am ashamed that we ignored her. https://t.co/Mr5FJcpo8i— T M Krishna (@tmkrishna) October 10, 2018
An Eerie Silence
Outside the Twitterverse, which in itself occupies a very tiny mindspace in Tamil Nadu, there is an almost eerie silence with regard to the Me Too movement. Is it because everyone is now busy with the festival season and have no time to engage in “gossip”? Is it the fallout of a movement that was born, raised and currently thrives only on one social media platform?
Or is it because those who can actually make a difference by speaking up, are either silent, or worse, ambiguous, on the issue?
"Only the person who has been accused (of misconduct) can talk about it...it is alright for the (alleged) victim to talk about the perpetrator, but it must be done in a just, legal manner." - Kamal Haasan, to the media, on Me Too and Chinmayi’s tweets on Vairamuthu
There are no tweets from Kamal Haasan on the issue.
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