Around the time certain sections of Delhi's cognoscenti were going 'oh','ha', 'aahaa' at the much-publicised concert of TM Krishna at Garden of Five Senses last Saturday, his statemate, singer and dubbing artist Chinmayi Sripaada put out a tweet that she had been expelled from the South Indian Cine, Television Artistes and Dubbing Artistes Union (SICTADAU), the apex body in the field that decides who can get work in the industry and who can't.

So just as one voice got a much-publicised stage to sing, another had the mike snatched away.
Chinmayi, who is an alleged victim of sexual harassment at the hands of national award-winning lyricist Vairamuthu, has been at the forefront of outing the names of sexual predators in the film and Carnatic music worlds. And among others, one of the names that came up in her exposé was Radha Ravi, a veteran Tamil actor of some standing and also the president of the aforementioned dubbing union. He is the one who has paved the way for Chinmayi's exit. 

Also read— TM Krishna: Artiste with no respect for seniors?

Ravi is known to be an abrasive character and his unabashed sexist remarks on stage is something that the Tamil film industry has unfortunately been taking in its casual stride. Ravi, the son of MR Radhaa — the actor infamous for going to jail for trying to assassinate former chief minister MG Ramachandran — has been running the dubbing union as if it were his fief. It was clear that he had got back at Chinmayi for showing him up for what he is.      

Chinmayi's tweet read: "Sooo given to understand that I have been terminated from the dubbing union. Which means I can longer dub in Tamil films henceforth. The reason stated is that I haven’t paid ‘subscription fees’ for 2 years though this hasn’t stopped them from taking 10% off my dubbing income."

Her subsequent tweet explained what the whole thing entails: "According to Tamil Film Industry rules if you’re not a member of the dubbing union they wont allow you to work. Considering no written communication, message was sent to me on past dues and with the membership terminated I wonder if I'll dub for a film again in Tamil."

And this Friday, Chinmayi, in a YouTube video, clearly explained the dubiousness of her expulsion. While 95 others who had not paid the annual fee faced no action, she alone was singled out for punishment which was carried out without even serving her a prior showcause notice. At any rate, she had already paid the life-time membership a few years ago, and there was no need for this annual subscription fee, which to put things in perspective, is around Rs 180. Further, they have mandatorily deducted 10% of her dubbing earnings (and this runs to several lakhs of rupees.) To sum it up, they have expelled a dubbing artist who had been getting the union lakhs of rupees, for not paying less than Rs 200.

Also read— Carnatic singer TM Krishna questioned for scandalising Tamil culture, slandering Subbulakshmi; Delhi concert called off

Allegations against the dubbing union has been plenty, and in the film circles it is no secret that its books are not in order. It has also been taken to the court by another artist over the arbitrary 10% deduction from earnings. The union is also not known to give receipts for the money it takes, and not just Chinmayi, almost everyone who does dubbing work for Tamil films has complained how unprofessional the whole setup is.

Ravi has been getting away with his arbitrary and high-handed methods because he has his political connections — he is a former AIADMK MLA, but is currently in the DMK. "Also, it is one of the tragedies of Tamil Nadu that the media in the state is mostly kind to the likes of him," says R Jeyaraman, a retired librarian of Alagappa University. "Especially the Tamil press is always loath to call out such people. That is because the Tamil media itself is peopled mostly by sexist, casteist and hidebound individuals."

Jeyaraman has a point, which also explains why the allegations thrown up by the #MeToo movement have not found any echo in the Tamil media. If anything, the mainstream Tamil media and social media have practically tortured the sexual harassment victims. Chinmayi, in particular, has been at the receiving end of some of the most vicious and toxic trolling witnessed in India. Rape and murder threats are thrown at her almost on a daily basis. Expletive-filled posts or crass comments in the garb of sarcasm are casually thrown at her. One by Periyarist leader Suba Veerapandian was among the worst. The mainstream media also heartlessly grilled her at a press conference, while it has still not gone anywhere near her alleged harasser Vairamuthu.    

"But Chinmayi has been steadfastly facing the troubles with a conviction that is so rare to see," said Shailaja Pradeep, the digital operations head of a city-based startup. "One scroll of her (Twitter) timeline will tell you the sexism she faces is venomous. In my book, she is paying the price for being a young, popular singer with an independent mind of her own. If you allow me to indulge in a bit of pop psychology, the average Tamil man is envious of successful, smart women. The Tamil society tends to run down women like Chinmayi."
Okay, the media and the Tamil society has let Chinmayi down, but what about the liberal sections of the country that always rush to the aid of people like Krishna, even if he seems to court controversy for the sake of it? The name of Krishna is being brought up here not for effect or facile comparison, but because there is a genuine ground to believe that the liberals seem to follow two standards, and their choices seem more political and less moral. 

"Why is Chinmayi's problems getting no real amplification among the liberals who went out of their way to play up Krishna's case when his concert was cancelled?" asks K Revathy, Carnatic music teacher in Chennai's Anna Nagar. "Krishna being given a stage to perform in Delhi was the most right thing. The overflowing words of sympathy for his cause was also nice to see then. But when the same is not happening for Chinmayi, we sure have to ask questions of the intentions of liberal elites," she adds. "Their motivations will look dubious if they continue to remain silent on what is happening to Chinmayi."  

Krishna and Chinmayi both belong to the upper caste. Chinmayi is articulate, and at her level, she has also been vocal on various social issues. Yet, she has not received any support from the Left liberals. "For me, Krishna is vociferously and viscerally opposed to the ruling government at the Centre. That is what is getting him the support of the Left-liberals and some political parties and not their avowed claim that they were standing up for arts, artists and freedom of expression. If that had truly been the case, Chinmayi would be the one trending today," says Sudhakar Vijayaraghavan, a social media manager in a tech firm in Chennai.

Sudhakar's point had an echo in the views of Priyadarshini Govind, a frontline classical dancer. Priyadarshini's programme was among the performances that were cancelled along with Krishna's. But while Krishna was given an alternate stage, Priyadarshini and others were left adrift. And she didn't mince words on what she felt. In a post on her Facebook page, she said: "I am glad that TMK is performing in Delhi, as originally planned. But let’s be clear — AAP is not providing a platform to art or aggrieved artists, but to politics. If their stated intent was to ensure that the artists who were denied an opportunity to perform were provided a platform, they would have assumed responsibility to conduct the two-day festival that was cancelled and not cherry-picked one artist."

Chinmayi's predicament only serves to prove Priyadarshini's trenchant point.