Vairamuthu, the Tamil poet and lyricist accused of sexual harassment, announced in a video on social media on Saturday that he would be returning the prestigious ONV Literary Award as he did not want to receive the award “amid the controversy”.
The award was being conferred by Kerala’s ONV Cultural Academy.
In the two-and-a-half-minute video, Vairamuthu said: “It was announced that this year’s prestigious ONV Literary Award given by the ONV Cultural Academy of Kerala will be conferred to me. I was happy about that. But due to a few envious people’s interventions, I have come to know that the award will be re-examined. I think this will may belittle late poet ONV Kurup and myself. I am also hurt that the brilliant jury panel should not be pushed to an uncomfortable position because of this controversy. Hence, amid the controversy, I decline to accept the award. But I need to re-iterate one thing. After all this, I am very truthful and no one needs to examine my honesty. Hence, I have taken this decision. I announce to turn down and return the award to the academy.”
விருதைத் திருப்பித் தருகிறேன்…#ONVaward https://t.co/1ELyjBgnu6
— வைரமுத்து (@Vairamuthu) May 29, 2021
Vairamuthu requested that the prize money that he would receive be donated to the Kerala Chief Minister Public Relief Funds. He said that he would donate Rs 2 lakh as a symbol “of his love towards Kerala and its people”.
He thanked all those who congratulated him on the award, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin.
On the same day, Vairamuthu’s son and lyricist Madhan Karky expressed solidarity with his father and wrote on Twitter, “If a group of people hate your family and throw baseless accusations on your dad or mom, and your parent denies those accusations, who will you trust? I trust my dad. If the concerned people believe they have truth on their side, let them take it to the legal authorities.”
The decision to return the award comes a day after the academy announced that it would review its decision, following the backlash from several members of the Malayalam film fraternity, writers, and other prominent personalities who pointed out that Vairamuthu was being awarded despite being alleged of sexual misconduct since 2018.
On Wednesday, Vairamuthu became the first person outside Kerala to receive the annual honour given by the academy to writers since 2017. It is awarded in memory of renowned Malayalam poet and lyricist ONV Kurup who died in 2016. The award comprises a cash prize of Rs 3,00,000, a plaque, and a citation.
Many personalities like vocalist TM Krishna, filmmakers Anjali Menon and Geetu Mohandas, actors Rima Kallingal and Parvathy Thiruvothu, and writers Meena Kandasamy and NS Madhavan called out the academy honouring an alleged sexual predator. Vairamuthu was named as a sexual harasser when the #MeToo movement gained momentum in India in October 2018. Several women, including singer Chinmayi Sripaada, accused him of sexual misconduct.
ONV Sir’s name resounds with deep sensitivity, dignity and respect for any Malayalee. Therefore very disturbed to know that ONV Academy has chosen an alleged perpetrator (called out by 17 women) for the #ONVAward. Are these the values they celebrate? https://t.co/Y87dOIcGfj
— Anjali Menon (@AnjaliMenonFilm) May 27, 2021
Following the backlash, the academy on Friday said in a statement: “ONV Cultural Academy has decided that this year’s ONV Literary Award would be reviewed again as per the recommendation of the decision-making committee.”
Speaking to Silverscreen India earlier, Chinmayi had said that she was good friends with Karky before she publicly outed his father. Chinmayi had said, “I told him [Karky] before #MeToo that his father molested me. I also said it’s not your cross to bear.”
In a tweet, she said that Karky’s reaction came as as a surprise for her when he said he knew about his father’s alleged sexual misconduct.
The phone call he made via someone – he asked me to shut up & that he’d like to settle this – I have records. I have evidence for Madhan Karky’s phone call where he agreed he knew his father is a molester. I have witnesses. It is best they give a public apology.
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) May 29, 2021
“He said he knew. And that his mother had told him this. Karky said, ‘My mother had a long list of girls and when she added your name to it I said to her, no way, there’s no chance’. Now, in retrospect, I feel I should have asked him what his mother said. How she said it. I don’t know what she thinks happened,” the singer had said to Silverscreen India.
While the duo’s friendship ended, Chinmayi added, “Karky had told me, ‘Through the night Nandini [his wife] and I couldn’t sleep. Whatever happens, we will stand by you. And then the next day he blocked me on Twitter the moment I posted my story. He never reached out after that. I am sure it was traumatic for him. It’s tough on the family. I told him it was not his cross to bear but this society is not nice. As much as they abuse me, they abuse him too.”
Politician and filmmaker Seeman, and veteran director Bharathiraja have expressed solidarity with Vairamuthu.
Meanwhile, Vairamuthu was recently embroiled in another debate surrounding the release of his song En Kadhala, which showcased a school girl falling in love with a much older man. The song was slammed by social media users for promoting predatory behaviour.
Vairamuthu was also conferred with the Padma Shri in 2003 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014.