The prestigious fifth ONV literary award has been conferred on Tamil poet and lyricist Vairamuthu which has sparked off angry outbursts on social media from Parvathy Thiruvothu, Geetu Mohandas, Chinmayee Sripaada, classical musician T M Krishna and other celebrities.
The first non-Keralite to win this award instituted in the memory of the great late poet ONV Kurup, Vairamuthu had been accused of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment of women during the MeToo movement. Chinmayi Sripaada had posted a thread of tweets revealing instances of harassment she had faced from him which was dismissed by Vairamuthu. He had defended himself saying that it had become a practice to malign respected persons.
Vairamuthu was selected by a jury comprising Malayalam University Vice Chancellor Anil Vallathol and poets Alankode Leelakrishnan and Prabha Varma. They had awarded him for his “mellifluous language, original images and philosophical insights”. But this decision is being widely criticised on social media.
Parvathy took to Instagram to convey her dismay and despair. Pointing out that 17 women had exposed Vairamuthu with their stories, she wrote, “There seems to be enough whataboutery to continue wronging those who are wronged. Only to uphold the reputation of those in power”. And added that she did not subscribe to the “art vs artist debate”. For her, the humanity of the person creating the art is the only thing she chooses to look at.
“I can live without the art of those who hollow out lives with absolute impunity”, she said, and archly questioned noted director, Adoor Gopalkrishna, who is the chairman of the ONV Cultural Academy, about how he justified this decision.
Parvathy further said that ONV was Kerala’s “pride, his contribution as a lyricist and poet is incomparable”. “Our hearts and mind have benefited through his body of work…this is exactly why it is immense disrespect to give such an honour in his name to the accused of sexual assault crimes”, she said on her Instagram page.
While Geetu Mohandas expressing her solidarity with Chinmayi Sripaada, wrote a single line that an award in the name of one of our greatest literary figure shouldn’t go to a man accused by 17 women of sexual harassment. Classicial musician T M Krishna tweeted: “This is how our society validates and gives more strength to someone who has been called out by several women as a sexual predator. Utterly Shameful!”
Meanwhile, Vairamuthu who has won a cash prize of ₹3,00,000, a citation and plaque said he was honoured to receive the prestigious ONV Kurup award.
“This award from Kerala, the land I highly respect for its soulful literature, gives me immense happiness. I see this as a crown placed on Tamil by its sister language”, he said in a statement. Poet Vairamuthu’s first poetry collection was released in 1972 when he was still a student of Pachayappa’s College. He has penned over more than a thousand songs and poems in a career spanning four decades. He has won several national awards and has been conferred the Padma Bhushan by the government of India.
On ONV Kurup, he said that he was a literary pioneer. “ONV went on to show how to diminish or eradicate the distance between poetry and lyrics. He is not just a poet. He has been the voice for many of people’s struggles and created great pieces of Malayalam literature which is on par with world literature,” Vairamuthu added in his statement to the media.