• Sudha Ragunathan Faces Social Media Storm over Daughter’s Engagement to African American Man

    Yogesh S

    June 25, 2019

    Image Courtesy:Governance Now

    Prominent Karnatik vocalist, Padmabhushan and Sangita Kalanidhi Sudha Ragunathan, is being trolled on social media by self-proclaimed “saviours of hinduism”. The reason for this current outrage is the engagement of her daughter, Maalavika to Michael Murphy an African American, who is assumed to be Christian. They attacked her on social media as soon as the wedding invitation was made public. Apart from demanding a ban on Kutcheris of Mrs. Raghunathan in Chennai especially during the Margazhi season in December, they  are also preaching to other Tamil Brahmins to raise their daughters in a “right way”. The fact that it is entirely personal to Maalavika to marry who ever she wants to and the Raghunathans’ acceptance of their daughter’s choice is to be noted. What this revolting saga brings out is the puritanical view of culture and art that the “saviours of Hinduism” nourish.

    These views declare Sudha Ragunathan "ineligible" for rendering Karnatik compositions, because her daughter is marrying a “Christian” black man. She is now not the right Brahmin to sing the ragas. This isn’t the first time that a Karnatik music artist has been attacked for not following the norms set by self-appointed protectors of culture.

    In August 2018, several Karnatik singers in Tamil Nadu were called out by the trolls for either dedicating songs to gods of other religions or for performing in non-hindu religious spaces.

    Music composer T Samuel Joseph, had organised an event in Chennai titled "Yesuvin Sangama Sangeetham" (musical communion in the name of Jesus) to take place on August 25, 2018. O S Arun, a well-known Karnatik singer was to perform at the event. Arun was attacked on social media for attempting to sing in praise of a non-hindu god and also for letting non-Hindu communities appropriate Karnatik music.

    Pressurised by these vicious attacks on him, Arun decided not to perform at the event. As The News Minute reported, even after the cancellation, Arun came under attack from S Ramanathan, the founder of Rashtriya Sanathana Seva Sangam (RSSS). The RSSS is an extremist Hindu-group functional in Tamil Nadu. In a leaked audio conversation with the head of this fringe group, Arun could be heard wondering why he was being singled out for the act while many other singers have also rendered non-Hindu devotional songs. He further pointed out that Karnatik singer TM Krishna had performed at a church. On hearing this, Ramanathan threatened other singers with bodily harm and said he will be addressing them soon.

    Soon after this, Aruna Sairam, Nityashree Mahadevan and TM Krishna were all trolled for “polluting” Hinduism by rendering Karnatik compositions in praise of non-Hindu gods. Speaking to News18 about these instances of trolling, Krishna had noted, “the entire atmosphere is so vitiated and the idea is to take ownership of Karnatik music to be some kind of an emblem of upper class Hinduism. I have no doubt that this comes from an RSS-BJP, very extreme right-wing kind of thought process.” Dismantling the puritanical idea that Karnatik music belongs to upper caste Hindus, Krishna had said, “the best way to deal with this is to come out and say this — music belongs to everybody; it belongs to Rama, it belongs to Jesus, to Allah and even to atheists.”

    So, it is nothing new that Karnatik artists are often policed. The attack on Sudha Ragunathan, however gives us a glimpse into the kind of control that these “protectors” want to have not only over the art, but also over artists and their personal lives. Because Raghunathan is a Brahmin woman who is also a Karnatik singer, she and her family are considered embodiments of what these communal forces believe are a “Brahmanical ideal.” Thus the marriage of her daughter to a “Christian” and a black person makes her polluted by association.

    People from the classical music communities across the country are standing in solidarity with the singer and her family. Speaking to The Indian Cultural Forum and Newsclick, renowned Hindustani singer and writer Vidya Rao said, “I am deeply distressed to learn of the harassment to which Vidushi Sudha Ragunathan and her family are being subjected, on account of the marriage of her daughter to an African American man. I express my solidarity with Sudha ji and her family as they deal with this trauma. I stand firm for a society where religion, caste, class, race and nationality do not determine a person's worth.  And I send my blessings and good wishes to the young couple for their happiness in their life together.”

    The Hindutva forces in the country, through their online army of trolls have been harassing artists who haven’t conformed to their norms. There have been voices of support and solidarity within the community of artists, condemning such harassment. What we are witnessing now is an outrageous attack by these forces on artists, their families and their freedom and choice.

    Read More:
    “There is nothing accidental about these threats, it is a pattern”: T.M.Krishna
    TM Krishna: “It is ironic that people who have built this large Hindu temple in a Christian country would take such a decision”


    Yogesh S

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