Anoushka Shankar: I was 14 when a musician asked if I could go up to his room
The furore over the alleged sexual harassment of some dozens of women by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has coincided with the #metoo campaign drawing attention to the widespread sexual violence against women. Now it’s the turn of Anoushka Shankar, the renowned sitar player, to say, “Me, too.”
“When I was 14, I had a musician ask me if I could go up to his room…,” says Anoushka. Being the daughter of the sitar legend, Pandit Ravi Shankar, didn’t shield her from this indecent proposal. Not one to sweep her experiences out of sight, Anoushka is a powerful woman who has spoken about being sexually abused as a child. Her revelation of the musician’s proposition points to how any woman or girl anywhere is considered fair game by sexual predators — and that those predators can be anybody.
“I think I’m one of the first to kind of make a video and talk about sexual abuse four years back. It was such a shock then, but now it’s less of a shock,” says Anoushka. She has tweeted for #metoo with the message: “When I was six, when I was 7. 8, 9, 10. I was 11, 12, 13. 14. 17. 28. In London. Las Vegas. New Delhi. California. France. New York. #metoo” (sic).
It’s an eye-opening campaign, but can it lead to actual change? One Harvey Weinstein has fallen from grace, but what of the others? “We’ll have to shine a light in the dark in order to clean it up,” says Anoushka. “So in my mind it’s not that we are going through a dark phase right now but we are shining a light on something dark that has being going on from the beginning of time.
She continues, “The fact that there is focus on sexual harassment of all kinds is a good thing if it starts to impact change. If it’s just talking, then it’s not enough. Though I won’t say it’s nothing, because on an individual level to speak is part of healing.”
Anoushka adds with candour, “It’s not enough if we don’t try to make actual change. Change that comes from, for example, what representation of women we have at various fields. We need more women in positions of power so that women’s issues are thought of more, because a room full of men in government and in power don’t think the type of things needed to make a change. So just tweeting isn’t enough, though it’s a great start. But it has to lead to votes for people who would actually help to make things better.”
No field is clean. “The fact is that it exists in the world; therefore, it exists in every field,” she says. “I work in the music world in a kind of very multi-faceted way. I work around the world, in different genres. So I have experienced night clubs, opera houses... in some way, my personal experience in music has been somewhat more protected because of who my father is. But imagine if I hadn’t been his daughter, then what would have happened. Even with that, a couple of people [did make advances]…,” shares Anoushka.
While based in London, she is currently in India to promote the restored version of the film Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) as part of an India tour by the British Council and British Film Institute. Anoushka has composed the music for the feature. Interestingly, this is the first time she has scored music for an entire film.
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