An internal probe by the prestigious Dhrupad Sansthan in Bhopal is on into sexual harassment charges leveled against two of its famed gurus, Ramakant Gundecha and Akhilesh Gundecha.
Dhrupad is one of the oldest surviving classical music forms in India and the Sansthan is accredited to Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage committee.
Ramakant, one half of the famous Gundecha brothers along with elder brother Umakant, died last year following a heart attack. Umakant heads the Dhrupad Sansthan. Akhilesh is their brother and a pakhawaj player, who accompanies them and often maestros such as Ut Z F Dagar, Ut Fahimuddin Dagar, Asgari Bai, and Ritwik Sanyal.
According to reports, the allegations first surfaced in a post put up by a group titled, ‘Dhrupad Family Europe’, and emailed to the students of the musicians, highlighting alleged harassment by the two gurus for years. The Amsterdam-based yoga teacher who put up the post wrote that she was doing it on behalf of a friend who wanted to remain anonymous.
The Dhrupad Sansthan said in a statement that an internal committee would look into the charges. “The committee shall look into the allegations levelled against Akhilesh Gundecha, and until the committee submits its report, Akhilesh Gundecha has voluntarily withdrawn himself from Dhrupad Sansthan activities,” the statement, signed by chairman Umakant, said.
The Facebook post said the alleged victims of the two gurus had kept quiet due to threats. “We have been prisoners of this silence for fear of reprisals, for fear of your judgments, for believing the threatening words Ramakant and Akhilesh Gundecha would say to keep us silent. Fortunately enough, things are starting to change worldwide…They would threaten us saying they always get what they want and won’t accept ‘no’ as an answer,” the post said.
The Sansthan said the committee would “strive to deliver justice without prejudice”, adding, “a safe environment and impartial teaching have always been the paramount concern at Dhrupad Sansthan.”
It FB post claimed that many students were sexually propositioned, told to give in if they “ever wanted to have a career in music”, and that saying no would mean “trouble at the Gurukul”. The post also claimed that the gurus touched their students inappropriately.
Reports quoted a male student at the institute, who studied under Akhilesh, as claiming that everyone around knew about the sexual misconduct.
Born in Ujjain, Umakant and Ramakant learned dhrupad from Zia Fariduddin Dagar and his brother Zia Mohiuddin Dagar — cousins of the two significant forces in the second half of the 20th century, the senior Dagar Brothers (Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Aminuddin) and the junior Dagar Brothers (Nasir Zahiruddin and Nasir Faiyazuddin). They began to perform four years later.
The Gundecha brothers were awarded Padma Shri in 2012 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2017. While the meditative, leisurely pace of the music has caused it to lose takers in India in the last few years, it has seen a revival due to the efforts of the Dagar family, and musicians such as Uday Bhawalkar, Ritwik Sanyal and the Gundechas.
Dhrupad’s most dedicated audience remains in Europe, where concerts are held regularly. Most of the students at the Dhrupad Sansthan are also Europeans.