just another human, being
I wrote the following on Sept 3, 2020 and shared it on a closed “metooDhrupadSansthan” whatsapp group to share the shock, anger and despair many of us inside the institute were feeling with the global community of students outside who were not privy to the truth.
In the two weeks that have followed,
I see more deeply and painfully into the power structures that separate individuals from each other and from their own humanity.
I see that issues like sexual harassment and abuse rarely exist in isolation but rather in a complex fabric with other gross abuses of power that have gone unchecked for years.
I see more clearly why the world is as flawed as it is.
I see that illusions are built upon our collective desire to live at the easy superficial level.
I see that power structures absolutely must crumble for individuals to start claiming their own humanity.
I see well-intentioned people trying to help but without seeing through the illusions meant to deceive.
I see how desperately people cling to comfort—the comfort of a secure career, the comfort of a place one has invested in, the comfort of feeling like the special chosen one, the comfort of a particular circle of people, the comfort of a reputation one has built, the comfort of feeling things are being righted grounded in nothing but the illusion of words woven together expertly to pacify.
I see that most of us do not dare to look at the ugliness in ourselves or each other for it is just as hard to bear as the light in each one of us. So we live a mediocre, comfortable life that has never held the darkness or light in its full intensity.
My faith is in being heard and felt by you.
My faith is in the collective consciousness rising to crumble all the illusions upon which our society is disfunctioning.
My faith is in my breath leading my being continuously in the path of truth.
I am writing from inside the Gurukul. I have been living here full-time since December 2018. I left my pursuit of acting to come here because of the magic Gurujis have created in Dhrupad Sansthan and the inexplicable power of Dhrupad Music. From the beginning, although I was a terrible beginner, not only was I allowed to study, but Bade Guruji and Chotte Guruji taught me with patience and with complete impartiality. Chotte Guruji helped me see how a good teacher can make you be believe in yourself—something noother teacher had taught me. I was treated with respect and never sexually approached or harassed by any of the Gurujis. However, right from the beginning, I heard rumours about sexual harassment in the Gurukul by Chotte Guruji and Akhilesh Guruji that had been going on for many years. However, no one directly told me their story of sexual harassment. They were all rumors. The beauty of the music, the place and the teaching was too powerful and overshadowed the whispers of sexual harassement. I was overflowing with love for this place and for the first time in my life, felt content where I was and didn’t have any doubt of staying here indefinitely.
Things changed for everyone when Chotte Guruji passed away (after just a month of Babuji passing away). Chotte Guruji was the heart and soul of this place and his loss was immense. Nothing felt the same. Still, I was immensely moved by the way the entire family picked up the pieces quickly and moved on. Their strength in the face of such a calamity touched me immensely. We at the Gurukul also picked up the pieces and started moving on.
Then the Corona Virus came and lockdown started. That’s when things changed for me. Some women directly came to me with their stories of sexual harassement by Akhilesh Guruji. Their stories, although not very strong on their own, reflected the pattern of behaviour which I had heard rumours about, which has been going on for years. The women were uncomfortable and they reacted in different ways. It is not my place to divulge any more detail other than this because they are not my stories.
Holding the truth about sexual harassment in the place I love was heavy for me. I felt responsible to do something but there was nothing to be done as the women who approached me weren’t confident about coming out first and were afraid the others would back out and they would end up being the only one sharing. Akhilesh Guruji has always treated me with respect and kindness, so there was nothing for me to share personally. So I just held the truth of a culture of sexual harassement in the place I chose to call home. I thought about talking to Bade Guruji, Anant and Dhani who (along with everyone in the Gurukul) have become my family. However, I heard that it has happened many times in the past that when someone approached Bade Guruji, he dismissed the issue and silenced the victim. I wasn’t sure—they were only rumours. My direct experience was a feeling of immense warmth and love pouring out of his eyes. How could he possibly not care about such an issue? At the same time, I had heard enough to doubt that it would be taken seriously. I wasn’t sure at all on what to do, so I did nothing. I decided to hold onto the truth until I had clarity or something more happened for which I could be of help so that future students that come feel safe.
Two months went by and I heard nothing and life was back to normal. Then on August 31st evening came the Metoo Dhrupad Sansthan group and a message by “Elisabeth”. I have no idea who is behind Elisabeth nor do I care. Nor do I completely agree with exactly how it was done. Nor does that matter. What matters to me is how the Gundecha family chose to respond to the allegations. The only response for almost 2 days was to request people to leave the group. No statement on the group saying the matter would be investigated. The matter wasn’t mentioned in the Gurukul either. Their silence spoke volumes but I waited and really hoped they would respond. Two days went by and a feeling of disconnect had started to grow within me from the lack of response from the Gundecha family.
Then on a very sensitive day of the 1 year anniversary of Babuji passing away (for which there were morning and evening concerts lined up at the Gurukul) came the sharing of the Elisabeth message on Facebook. That was a real shock. I did not agree with the timing nor the approach as the platform isn’t at all fit to discuss such a sensitive matter. At the same time, I was starting to feel quite disconnected due to the silence and felt that perhaps there was no other way to get a reaction from the Gundecha family. I didn’t know but either way, there was nothing for me to do but wait for a response. And hope for something fruitful to emerge from such a sad situation for everyone. Immediately upon the Elisabeth message going public, we students were called one-by-one to speak with Guruji. I was nervous because I knew that speaking my truth in this case wouldn’t be easy and I had to do it without revealing names or details. At the same time, I was relieved because this moment needed to happen.
What transpired for the next 5 hours as we all ended up gathered in the Gurukul hall has revealed some dirty truths here. I cannot sum it all up here, but what is most striking for me is that the Gundecha family is more concerned about protecting their name than anything or anyone else. I have immense respect for the women who chose to confront Akhilesh Guruji in a group setting in front of Bade Guruji, Dhani, Anant and all the students of Gurukul about the sexual harassment they faced by him. And I am immensely disappointed and saddened by Bade Guruji, Anant and Dhani’s response based on fear of losing their name and not on love for their students and commitment to truth and justice. And I have immense love for the men in the group who chose to speak up and demand that Bade Guruji take action.
We students requested that Akhilesh Guruji be removed from the institute for 5 years while he gets therapy and the family gets sensitised to the issue of sexual harassment, a written apology given and a women’s committee formed to address any similar issues that arise in the Gurukul in the future. Most of this was not agreed to, some of it was, but more importantly, there was absolutely no heart in their response. It felt false and superficial. All pretense based on fear and self-protection. There was no point in the 5 hours together where they wanted to know more of what happened. Instead they continued to dismiss the seriousness of what the women were sharing vulnerably and passionately and instead focus on demanding to know who is behind Elisabeth and this “conspiracy”.
The only real conspiracy is keeping this kind of behaviour a secret, not that of the attempt to bring voice to it however imperfect the attempt may be. We human beings may be weak at times but we cannot pretend to be strong and hide behind power and prestige and go on abusing the power blindly and allow those around us to do so. It’s a deep rooted cultural and psychological work especially here in India to start to treat women with respect and it simply cannot happen with the attitude that I witnessed yesterday.
I am sure my response, this sharing, is flawed in many ways. I may have said too much, been too hasty, passionate or judgemental or not given a clear enough picture for you to understand things better. Hopefully others can continue to fill in the picture. But I have done my best to be honest and empathetic after 24 intense hours of little sleep and food and much reflection on what is truly important. It is clear that not only must I leave the Gurukul immediately but also openly stand for what is right. Let this ripple continue. I don’t want to delay this sharing by reading it over or showing it to anyone and risk changing my mind for practical reasons. I have been told by multiple people that Akhilesh Guruji openly threatens people with his powerful connections in the police and court system and I have seen enough to believe them, but I do not want to not act out of fear. I trust that sharing my truth with courage and love for not only the victims but also for the Gundecha family will carry me. I am not taking sides but rather stepping up for what I feel is right. More justice may result as a result of escalation but the real work of looking into and dissolving the things within us that allow cultural and systemic injustices such as this to occur will take time. Let us each find our own way to bring light to this path…