Famous Indian music master accused of sexual assault

Gandeka Brothers

Three famous classical musicians, Gundechas, have been accused of sexual harassment

Her discomfort and tension are clearly visible throughout the zoom screen. Monica’s name has been changed to protect her identity because she fears retaliation. But she is keen to share her story.

She claims to have been raped by the late Ramakant Gundecha, a famous classical Indian musician, when she was a student at his school Dhrupad Sansthan in Madhya Pradesh, central India.

Gundecha died in November 2019, but he and his brothers Umakant and Akhilesh have since been accused of sexual harassment and assault by female students at a music school. During the three-month investigation, the BBC heard multiple allegations against all three Gundechas brothers. Umakant and Akhilesh have denied that claim.

Ramacant was once the famous index of Dhrupad, where Umacant is still one of the oldest genres of Hindustani music, and Achilles is a percussionist. In 2012, Ramakant and Umakant were awarded Padmashri, India’s fourth highest private sector award, for their contributions to music.

The prestigious school they founded and taught, Dhrupad Sansthan, has attracted hundreds of foreign and Indian students from all over the world. It claims to be accredited by the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Commission. However, UNESCO said the BBC had no ties to the school and would send a “cease and desist” notice requesting the withdrawal of such claims.

A music school run by the Gundeka brothers.

Dhrupad Sansthan has attracted students from all over the world

The allegations against the brothers shocked the world of classical music where they enjoyed their fame and status. The claim also spotlighted the ancient tradition of Guru Shisha Parapara. This is usually an informal contract where students are expected to give in to the teacher’s will altogether.

Allegations against the three brothers range from sharing frivolous and sexually suggestive messages to being molested during class and even being exposed to rape in the case of Ramacant.

Monica said she was in her first week at school when she started receiving inappropriate WhatsApp messages from Ramacant. She claimed that one night he took her to a dark parking lot and sexually abused her in the backseat of his car.

“He started kissing me. I pushed him away, but he kept trying,” she said. “He touched my body and tried to take me off. At that time I noticed that I wasn’t moving. I was like a stone. At some point he wasn’t reacting to me. I noticed. School? But I couldn’t even reply. “

Monica said she wanted to erase the memory of the incident. She didn’t quit school right away because she loved music and was keen on pursuing it further. She quit her job and invested all her money to study at school.

But three months later, she claimed that Ramacant had raped her. “”[He] Enter the room, take off your pants and have sex forcibly. And when he was done, he just left. I went to the door and bolted it. And for three days I didn’t eat. “She said.

Sarah, another student at the renamed school, told the BBC that she had been sexually abused by Achilles Gundecha.

“When I was there and hospitalized, I got sick,” she said. “Achilles came to bring me back to school. He sat next to me in the car and began to touch my hands. I pulled them apart. It felt very strange. It was. “

A total of five women told the BBC that they had witnessed abuse and harassment on the Dhrupad Sansthan campus. Some say he lost interest in teaching them when they refused to make sexual progress from Ramakanto Gundeka. They also claimed that she was often publicly humiliated in class when the student complained.

Rachael Fairbanks, an elementary school teacher currently living in Seattle, said the abuse began on the first day of school in March 2017. She claimed to have been cornered by a campus driver who came to unload her room. ..

“I thought he would hurt me, so I asked Ramacant to intervene,” she said.

But instead of helping, she insisted, he began to molested her. She accused him of trying to kiss her, repeatedly sending her text messages and professing his love. At one point, she claimed that he took her off campus to an abandoned field late at night, lowered her pants and touched her vagina.

“I pushed him away. He took me back to a small town just outside the school,” she said. “Then I had to go through towns and fields in the dark and back to school. Immediately after that happened I left school. I couldn’t even sit in front of Ramakanto anymore. did.”

Gundechas performing a concert.

Gundechas is a well-known index in the Dhrupad style

Rachel, who didn’t want to remain anonymous, said she found the power to speak now a few years after a similar allegation was revealed in a Facebook post shared by a group called Dhrupad Family Europe in September 2020. Told. ..

Through lawyers, Akhilesh and Umakant Gundecha have denied all of these claims and said that “vested interests” from outside the student community “are trying to further their agenda that they damage the art and reputation of Gundecha Brothers and Dhrupad Sansthan.” Said.

However, the accusation has also been investigated by an internal complaints committee over the past four months. Indian law requires all agencies to set up panels to deal with sexual harassment and assault complaints.

Students say that the Dhrupad Sansthan committee was established only after putting pressure on the school. A former student, who is part of a survivor support group, also claims to have been repeatedly threatened for speaking in support. Survivors are required by law not to disclose the results of the investigation.

This is the first time the #MeToo movement has come into contact with the world of Hindustani classical music, but many say the calculation was delayed.

Performance of Indian Karnataka classical music.

Many classical musicians say that teaching methods make women more vulnerable to abuse

Many classical musicians say that maintaining the rigor of teacher-student relationships is the basis for learning ancient forms, but some others say that it is an easy means for exploitation. I told the BBC that I needed to be aware of that.

“The guru (teacher) expects full obedience and full obedience from the students,” said 79-year-old vocalist Nila Bagwat. “Male students have less surrender. Female students have more surrender. I think this makes female students very vulnerable,” she said.

Bagwat said he often composes his own lyrics for the misogyny inherent in traditional composition.

TM Krishna, a well-known Carnatic classical musician, has come to the point of completely destroying the tradition of Guru Shisha.

“Like most relationships, the Guru-Shisha relationship is based on an imbalance of power, but here it is decisively celebrated.” He wrote in the indian newspaper After a recent allegation against Gundechas surfaced.

“There is no doubt that there is a claim that I am trying to destroy the ancients, but the famous past should never be a defense against criticism.”

Both Krishna and Bagwat argue that the Guru needs to be humanized and treated like an expert in his field, not a definite god.

“Have you considered contacting an agency to audit if a valid internal compliance committee has already been set up in response to the recent accusations? There should be hundreds in the country. Shuva Mudgar said he is a popular vocalist with a repertoire of classical and indie pop music.

Indian classical singer Shobha Mugdal will perform at Swaranjali 2007 in Nehru Center.

Mudgal is one of the few musicians to speak to help survivors

Bhagwat, Krishna and Mudgal are rare exceptions to fraternity, which is almost silent. Also, many are wondering how the allegations will affect the careers of the remaining two Gundecha brothers.

For example, Akhilesh Gundecha was invited to the famous Tansen Samaroh 2020 Festival before resigning in response to social media backlash.

Students interviewed by the BBC said the lack of confidence in India’s judicial ability to provide justice was the main reason they did not pursue a legal course. Their future course of action is unclear, especially since most are currently away from India.

Most women said they wanted a closure from the findings of the investigative commission, along with a public apology from Gundechas. But that hasn’t happened yet.

Rachel said the survey would be meaningless if the findings could not be published. She said her experience continued to hurt the end of her relationship with Dhrupad.

“I have a tumbler [an Indian musical instrument] “Now it’s going to be sold in the living room,” she said. “Unfortunately, I can’t sing without flashbacks,” he said.