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In a shocking development affecting the acclaimed musicians of the carnatic tradition, it has come to light that artistes like T M Krishna, O S Arun and Nithyasree Mahadevan have been harangued by some fringe groups in India and the US for performing songs on Christian or supposedly non-Hindu themes.

It has been reported that many musicians have received threats by right wing Hindu organisations, for bringing people and religions together on a musical platform. Some of them have been bullied into making apologies and cancelling concerts. O. S. Arun was invited by T. Samuel Joseph, a long time student and teacher of Carnatic music to render Carnatic compositions on Christ. Arun was attacked online and pressure was put on him to cancel. Within days, WhatsApp and social media clippings of Nithyasree Mahadevan rendering a Christian song also began circulating with comments to establish disapproval. Reportedly, the SSVT Temple in Washington DC which had invited T.M.Krishna to sing, cancelled the invitation at the behest of self-appointed Hindu gatekeepers.

A statement condemning these attacks and asserting the freedom of speech, expression and religion of all these musicians (and the aficionados of their music) signed by about 200 eminent citizens has been released today. The statement initiated by Ashok Vajpeyi and Aruna Roy has been signed by former judges Justice A P Shah and Justice K Chandru and several senior personalities from the arts and culture fraternity. Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Anand Patwardhan, Leela Samson, Shubha Mudgal, Malavika Sarukkai, Mallika Sarabhai, and Tripurari Sharma also figure among the signatories.

The statement endorsed by Romila Thapar, Amit Bhaduri, Rajmohan Gandhi, Ashish Nandy, Ramachandra Guha, Shiv Visvanathan, Mukul Kesavan, Syeda Hameed, Abha Sur, Prabhat Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh and several former diplomats, senior bureaucrats and lawyers like Indira Jaising and Prashant Bhushan says, “We, the undersigned, register our strong protest and condemn this continual harassment, intimidation and the use of other undemocratic methods to silence voices. These are expressions of creativity, unity, humanity which are helping shape the building of a modern syncretic tradition in Indian classical music.”

It is worth noting that the Tamil writer who was harassed by cultural fundamentalists for his novel Madhurobhagan (One Part Woman) and whose verses have been sung by T M Krishna has also signed the statement that says – “We cannot allow the intimidation and threat of violence by a (small) group which arrogates to itself, the role of being the keeper of culture, tradition and heritage.”

Musician T. M. Krishna defying all these attempts to coerce him, said: “Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah.”

The statement ends with an appeal to all Indians to join hands and stand up against this cultural dictatorship that is being attempted to be established. It says, “We reassert the universal truth that music is not and cannot be denominational, and an exclusive domain of any one religion. All music is open to participation to people of all communities, and musical heritage belongs to humanity. We condemn the nascent attempts to limit and stifle free expression and invite you to join in voicing your protest.”

Reclaiming our Heritage: ​Statement condemning the attack on classical musical expression in south India

In a recent occurrence in South India, eminent classical musicians have been intimidated, their concert engagements cancelled, due to pressure from intolerant forces that claim to speak on behalf of Hindus; thereby seeking to dictate the content and nature of cultural performances and music. We, the undersigned, register our strong protest and condemn this continual harassment, intimidation and the use of other undemocratic methods to silence voices. These are expressions of creativity, unity, humanity which are helping shape the building of a modern syncretic tradition in Indian classical music.

In the climate of social policing and restrictions on writers, thinkers and artists, the ecent attacks on Carnatic musicians of repute, has again raised the sceptre of fear. This reflects the failure of the rule of law and constitutional guarantees. It is alarming that neither independent institutions such as the courts nor the governments whose duty it is to protect democratic space and freedom of expression, have stepped in to take decisive steps to end this menace.

It therefore falls upon artists, civil society groups and citizens to come forward and protect the democratic and constitutional right to creative expression. We cannot allow the intimidation and threat of violence by a (small) group which arrogates to itself, the role of being the keeper of culture, tradition and heritage. This has largely gone unchallenged by the rest of civil society, except by some musicians themselves.

Music is an expression of the universal truth of harmony of existence and connects people through its appreciation. It has the capacity to be understood and bring together people across boundaries. It underscores the cross-cutting links amongst religions, blending the plurality into the oneness of sound and its appeal to all human beings and has reinforced beliefs in plurality and tolerance. While the content and the lyrics bring in the varied perceptions and understanding of people and communities, music establishes the universality of a multi-cultural society.

Carnatic music is a system of classical music which over the centuries has absorbed the cultural milieu of contemporary times and while the compositions were composed in the classical style, they celebrated differing perceptions of divinity. While the majority religion and its composers have predominantly occupied musical space, there have been composers whose lyrics have been in praise of different religious denominations. That is how it should be.

Many musicians have received threats by right wing Hindu organisations, for bringing people and religions together on a musical platform. Some of them have been bullied into making apologies and cancelling concerts. O. S. Arun was invited by T. Samuel Joseph a long time student and teacher of Carnatic music to render Carnatic compositions on Christ. H​e was attacked online and pressure was put on him to cancel. He cancelled citing personal reasons. Within days, WhatsApp and social media clippings of Nithyasree Mahadevan rendering a Christian song began circulating with comments to establish disapproval. The SSVT Temple in Washington DC which had invited T.M.Krishna to sing, cancelled the invitation at the behest of self-appointed Hindu gatekeepers.

T. M. Krishna in a statement said:​”​Considering the vile comments and threats issued by many on social media regarding Carnatic compositions on Jesus, I announce here that I will be releasing one Carnatic song every month on Jesus or Allah”.

We want to express our support and appreciation for the very positive efforts of these musicians and register our protest against stigmatising them. We reassert the universal truth that music is not and cannot be denominational, and an exclusive domain of any one religion. All music is open to participation to people of all communities, and musical heritage belongs to humanity. We condemn the nascent attempts to limit and stifle free expression and invite you to join in voicing your protest.

1. Ashok Vajpeyi
2. Aruna Roy
3. Justice A P Shah
4. Justice K Chandru
5. Shyam Benegal
6. Girish Karnad
7. Adoor Gopalakrishnan
8. Anand Patwardhan
9. Rajmohan Gandhi
10.Devaki Jain
11. Romila Thapar
12. Mallika Sarabhai
13. Leela Samson
14. Shubha Mudgal
15. Kiran Seth
16. Jawahar Sircar
17. Tripurari Sharma
18.Ram Rahman
19. Malavika Sarukkai
20.Charul Bharwada
21. Vinay Mahajan
22.Prabhat Patnaik
23.Jayati Ghosh
24.Anand Teltumbde
25.Satish Deshpande
26.Abha Sur
27.Amit Bhaduri
28.Zoya Hasan
29.Ashish Nandy
30.Perumal Murugan
31. Ramachandra Guha
32.Shiv Visvanathan
33.Syeda Hameed
34.Indira Jaising
35.Prashant Bhushan
36.Shantha Sinha
37.N C Saxena
38.Wajahat Habibullah
39.Julio Ribeiro
40.John Dayal
41. Maj Gen S.G. Vombatkere
42.Badri Raina
43.Namita Gokhale
44.Abha Bhaiya
45.Mukul Kesavan
46.Babu Mathew
47.Somasundar Burra
48.Jagdeep Chhokar
49.Devasahayam MG
50.Shabnam Hashmi
51. Bezwada Wilson
52.Harsh Mander
53.Medha Patkar
54.Henri Tiphagne
55.Dunu Roy
56.A K Shivakumar
57.Shekhar Singh
58.Swami Agnivesh
59.Kamla Bhasin
60.Teesta Setalvad
61. Rudrangshu Mukherjee
62.P Sainath
63.Rosamma Thomas
64.Pamela Phillipose
65.Keshav Desiraju
66.S Parasuraman
67.Mary E John
68.Bela Bhatia
69.Irfan Engineer
70.Venugopal Kasba
71. Nityanand Jayaraman
72.Lakshmi Krishnamurthy
73.S. Anandalakshmy
74.Vasanth Kannabiran
75.Imrana Qadeer
76.Nareshwar Dayal
77.Ashok Kumar Sharma
78.Uma Pillai
79.Kamal Jaswal
80.Uzramma
81.Dipali Taneja
82.Anjana Mangalagiri
83.Brijesh Kumar
84.Anjali Banerji
85.Radha Gopalan
86.Ishrat Aziz
87.Nagal Samy
88.Niranjan Pant
89.Ashok Sharma
90.C Balakrishnan
91. Dr. M A Ibrahimi
92.S. Y. Quraishi
93.Fabian KP
94.Abhijit Sengupta
95.Deepak Sanan
96.Nilanjan Hajra
97.Vinoo Bhagat
98.Rajni Bakshi
99.Alok Perti
100. Bhanumathi Sharma
101. Arani Roy
102. Mamta Jaitly
103. Rekha Bezboruah
104. Nisha Malhotra
105. Jyothi Krishnan
106. D K Manavalan
107. P Bhattacharya
108. V Ramani
109. Salahuddin Ahmad
110. Hirak Ghosh
111. M B Pranesh
112. Lakshmi Pranesh
113. Shanti Kakar
114. Geetha Thoopal
115. Vibha Puri Das
116. Ardhendu Sen
117. Madhu Bhaduri
118. S P Ambrose
119. Maya Goburdhun
120. Arun Kumar
121. Sushil Tripathi
122. Ravi Budhiraja
123. Narendra Sisodia
124. Vineeta Rai
125. Anna Dani
126. Vappala Balachandran
127. Amitabha Pande
128. Lalit Mathur
129. Kalyani Chaudhuri
130. EAS Sarma
131. Aftab Seth
132. Nitin Desai
133. Deb Mukharji
134. K.R. Venugopal
135. Noor Mohammad
136. Subodh Lal
137. Shivshankar Menon
138. Trilochan Singh
139. Sanjivi Sundar
140. Pranab Mukhopadhyay
141. Gopalan Balagopal
142. Meenakshisundaram SS
143. Aditi Mehta
144. Meena Gupta
145. Sujatha Rao
146. Umrao Salodia
147. Dr. Raju Sharma
148. Ravi Vira Gupta
149. Anita Agnihotri
150. Vikram Vyas
151. Basant Hetamsaria
152. Arundhati Dhuru
153. Gabriele Dietrich
154. Krishnakant Chauhan
155. Kamayani Bali Mahabal
156. Poonam Muttreja
157. Paro Anand
158. Brij Tankha
159. M Y Rao
160. Ananya Vajpeyi
161. Hindal Tyabji
162. M N Roy
163. A. Selvaraj
164. Suhas Kolhekar
165. Ramesh Gangolli
166. Moyukh Chatterjee
167. Anand Murugesan
168. Devram Kanera
169. Dipak Roy
170. N K Raghupati
171. Samantha Agarwal
172. Ahona Palchoudhuri
173. Lekha Bhagat
174. Durgesh Solanki
175. Sidharth Rattan
176. Purnima Singh
177. Paras Banjara
178. Nachiket Udupa
179. Swarna Rajagopalan
180. Anant Nath
181. Sumita Mehta
182. Vinay Nagaraju
183. Janchetna Sansthan, Rajasthan
184. Noopur Sen
185. Preeti Sahai
186. Poornima Rajeshwar
187. Anushka Siddiqui
188. Vikram Srinivas

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