‘Believe the victims’: Singer Chinmayi Sripaada on her allegations against lyricist Vairamuthu
Since Monday, singer Chinmayi Sripaada has been attacked online for endorsing allegations of sexual harassment against Tamil poet-lyricist Vairamuthu and sharing accounts of the harassment she herself has allegedly faced at the hands of the veteran film lyricist and writer.
Sripaada, a popular playback singer who also works as a dubbing artiste in the Tamil film industry, alleged that Vairamuthu had harassed her on two separate occasions. In a series of tweets, the singer described an incident that allegedly occurred more than ten years ago when an organiser of a concert in Switzerland reportedly asked Sripaada to meet Vairamuthu at his hotel in Lucerne. “He [organiser] told me to cooperate,” Sripaada tweeted. When she refused and insisted that her mother and her be sent back to India, the organiser allegedly threatened her, saying she that would be the end of her career.
On Wednesday afternoon, Vairamuthu denied the allegations against him. “Spreading defamatory things about popular personalities is becoming a culture across the country,” he said. “I have been continuously insulted in recent times. This is also part of it. I will not bother about falsehood. Time will tell the truth.”
அறியப்பட்டவர்கள் மீது அவதூறு பரப்பும் அநாகரிகம் நாடெங்கும் இப்போது நாகரிகமாகி வருகிறது. அண்மைக்காலமாக நான் தொடர்ச்சியாக அவமானப்படுத்தப்பட்டு வருகிறேன்; அவற்றுள் இதுவும் ஒன்று. உண்மைக்குப் புறம்பான எதையும் நான் பொருட்படுத்துவதில்லை; உண்மையைக் காலம் சொல்லும்.— வைரமுத்து (@vairamuthu) October 10, 2018
On Wednesday morning, Sripaada had also shared a screenshot of a message she received from the organisers of the Switzerland concert. In his message, the person corroborated Sripaada’s alleged experience.
I just got from the organizers at Switzerland who KNEW of @Vairamuthu s behaviour.— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) October 10, 2018
I will be getting in touch with them. pic.twitter.com/NvDUlyUMJf
Sripaada also referred to another incident around four years ago, when Vairamuthu allegedly threatened her again, this time because she turned down his request to sing at his book launch. “I said I would be unable to,” Sripaada said. “He in turn responded ‘I’ll tell [a politician] you spoke ill of him on stage,’ yelled at me and kept the phone down.”
Sripaada has also been sharing screenshots of anonymous testimonies from other women who have accused Vairamuthu of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment. In a few of those tweets, she hinted that members of the Tamil film industry were well-aware of such incidents.
“This [allegations against Vairamuthu] was apparently a whisper,” Sripaada told Scroll.in. “Everyone I have spoken to in the past couple of days say, yes they have heard. Just not from anyone saying ‘It happened to me’ I guess.”
I stand by this.— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) October 9, 2018
More stories are coming from women terrified to say who they are. https://t.co/6nSB1q3yO9
Sripaada has also said on Twitter that speaking out against a person like Vairamuthu who enjoys a certain stature within the film industry could hurt her career. “The dubbing union bye laws prevent [me from] speaking to media or police,” she revealed to Scroll.in. “So yes, I will lose the [membership] card.”
However, that hasn’t stopped her from taking her allegation forward. On Wednesday, she announced that she is going to submit a complaint against Vairamuthu in writing to the National Commission for Women.
She said that she hoped that the Tamil film industry would stand by the survivors of such harassment, but she isn’t quite hopeful. In the past, whenever she has spoken about Vairamuthu to others, the general reaction she has received is ‘let’s not talk about it’, she said. “Also, we have a group of composers singers and lyricists on Whatsapp where I posted about this, questioned them on their silence and hypocrisy and exited,” Sripaada said. “The only two people who spoke up are Shakthisree [Gopalan] and an upcoming composer called Ashwin [Vinayagamoorthy]. Two names among a plethora of musicians. That’s all there is. No one will do the right thing.”
I have only love,respect & admiration for @Chinmayi -not just fr the brilliant artist she is, but also fr being fiercely honest and doing the right thing. It takes immense courage to come forward and expose predators who are in positions of power.#believewomen#istandwithchinmayi— Shakthisree Gopalan (@ShakthisreeG) October 9, 2018
One of the sweetest, selfless person I’ve come across in the industry. It takes so much strength and courage to come out, say it and still face such asinine backlash.— Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy (@AshwinVinayagam) October 9, 2018
More power to you @Chinmayi Akka. You’re amazing. I know for a fact you won’t let anything or anybody stop you!
Sripaada did not agree that the Tamil film industry is unsafe for women. “The industry is made of sane, decent people who haven’t joined to get into women’s pants,” she said. “Which is why I said that in 17 years, I haven’t had anyone misbehave or send me a lewd text. This is my experience and I will not paint the rest of the men in the industry with the brush Vairamuthu wields. That said, each woman’s experience is different and the point is to believe the victims.”
The immediate need of the hour is to set up mechanisms and forums for women in the industry to register their complaints, Sripaada added.
Ok for all who are asking me, @Chinmayi is at the absolute top of her game. A film she dubbed & sang every song for is being celebrated through out the land. She didn’t need to do this. She had to be absolutely selfless to what she did. Give her a break— C.S.Amudhan (@csamudhan) October 9, 2018
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
Arasan andrey kolvaan, deivam nindru kollum. Those who waited to speak up are neither royalty nor divinity just ordinary, scared human victims. May God grant all of them strength. @Chinmayi support the truth and nothing but the truth.— Mohan Raman (@actormohanraman) October 9, 2018
@Chinmayi I support you and stand by you. Whatever comes, we’re with you— Rohini Molleti (@Rohinimolleti) October 9, 2018
The MeToo movement, especially in the Tamil film industry, is beginning to gain momentum, Sripaada said.
Among other things, Sripaada believes that misogynistic portrayal of women on screen, including the lyrics and lines used to objectify women, also plays a role in determining the nature of the spaces in which they work and live. She feels that, at least in that respect, much has already begun to change. “A lot has changed with actors not saying [sexist] lines that were the norm earlier,” she said. “Lyrics are changing too. In due course and swiftly there will be a complete change.”