I begin with extending solidarity, love and strength to Uvika Wahi. She came out with her story of survival against abusive ex-partners Ashish Sachan (Hashback Hashish) and Vishnu PS (Soulspace) back in 2018 and recently expressed her disappointment about artists Suryakant Sawhney and Rana Ghose continuing their association with Sachan in various ways, after knowing about the abuse.
I do not wish to give any details of the story here, Uvika has made things clear and accessible on her Instagram profile. This is a response to Suryakant Sawhney’s (Lifafa) statement which reeks of him shirking responsibility, absolving himself of any complicity while continually centering himself in what is an unsuccessful attempt to prove his integrity.
I do not invite any debate on this as, for me, it is largely undebatable. Instead, I hope to illuminate the extremely distorted perception he and many others have of abuse, trauma, and what a show of creative solidarity and continued exchange means to a survivor who has to watch it all happen.
I write this not only as an angry woman but as one among many who have experienced abuse (in multiple, varied forms) within intimate relationships. Even as woke culture and its performance grows around us, our safety in recounting our pain and demanding accountability is never a given. In fact, as most of us know, the moment we speak about it, our lives are closely scrutinised following which we are catapulted into a world of self-doubt and incessant gaslighting. This, when what we need is solidarity, community and healing.
Sawhney writes in his statement,
“He (Ashish Sachan) was a part of the creation of that song in early 2018 – whatever little % it may be. Most importantly, it was prior to the 2020 public allegations made against him which is when links were severed and continue to be so. I simply chose to be transparent about the origins of the song – not in fact promote him. I addressed this in the description of the Mandir video when it came out in Dec 2020 where I also stated that his share of the royalties will be donated to an organisation dealing with women’s violence. To me, this was the actual way to go about restorative justice.”
Say I agree – I don’t – that this was not ‘promotion’. It was, however, ‘collaboration’. To a survivor, both have the same implications, and what may seem like legitimate “nuances” to him and his colleagues invalidates the experiences of the survivor. What is ‘transparency’ to him, is a painful act of solidarity for survivors to watch.
I distinctly remember the feeling of betrayal when a close friend continued to greet my harasser in front of me. The release of ‘Mandir’ clearly brings out how an artist gives precedence to platforming their own work over survivors’ trauma, and that is precisely why separating the art from the artist isn’t something I can do. I refuse to believe that ‘Mandir’ couldn’t be released without transforming it into something without Ashish’s contribution. If nothing else, ditch the goddamn track!
Sawhney could have actually addressed these allegations, thought about what must be done and tried to reach solutions. What we are saying however, is that these solutions reflect a grossly distorted understanding of how to extend solidarity. Portraying oneself as a flagbearer of “restorative justice” while deeply hurting the survivor but somehow putting that hurt up for debate through an act of self-defence is far from how it is done.
It is here that I must address an emerging, dangerous trend – powerful men in tune with what is politically correct, using that very language and all the buzzwords to shrug off what is an extremely disconcerting act of participating in creative exchanges with an abuser and releasing the result of that collaboration after a year and a half of being aware of the abuse.
While he accuses people of clubbing everyone involved in the making of ‘Mandir’, including the abuser, under one umbrella, he also does the same to us – calling us ‘internet mobs’, repeatedly shifting the subject to cancel culture when actually no one is cancelling him. I cannot understand how people repeatedly centre themselves in a conversation that is much larger than them and their “work”. One can critique internet mobs for being reactionary, but to choose this moment for it, when these “mobs” happen to ask meaningful and reasonable questions, is reflective of how accountability is being deflected using questions of punitive justice and woke mobs that can be taken up at a later time.
Second, his claim of Ghose being responsible for the creation of an inclusive, safe platform for artists begs an answer to several questions. Safe for whom? How do Sawhney and a bunch of other men get to decide what is inclusive and safe? These questions must constantly be asked within these spaces to create a sustained process of expansion and inclusion. People like Sawhney, who are so obviously privileged, must reflect more deeply about the spaces they create and inhabit and how it is still impenetrable in so many ways, and unsafe, in so many ways. No one questioned his “life’s work”, as Sawhney claims, and addressing these concerns does not take away from meaningful efforts made in the past to transform the sphere of music production into something more diverse and safe.
Instances like these are testament to all the work that is yet to be done, not to mention the glaring absence of questions of caste (a much larger conversation that I hope is addressed soon). People who follow the work of Pagal Haina, Rana Ghose and Lifafa were only hoping for acknowledgement and accountability based on informed, sensitive reflection.
The idea of abuse remains, perhaps, far too distant for some of them to actually understand the added hurt statements like these inflict.
Third, making peace with one’s abuse and the abuser is part of the healing we all undertake. It is impossible to go on with life when one holds on to the rage, insecurities, self-doubt and anxiety that anyone who has faced any kind of violation/violence/abuse feels. Especially in the context of intimate relationships, we try hard to come to terms with how friends and lovers crossed lines with us, were violent with us. We often forgive and overlook some instances, giving them a second, third and often fourth chance. So if anyone understands that life is a “complex affair”, it is us. In making our peace, does it mean we have forgiven them? Does it mean we support the spaces that give them a platform or people that continue to associate with them? I hardly think so. And the fact that Sawhney thinks it is important to mention that she has made her peace with it, shows how little he understands violence and trauma, forget “restorative justice”.
For someone that has followed his work, (more in his capacity as a performer in Peter Cat Recording Co. than Lifafa), and I speak only for myself here, this extremely poorly written statement that gives himself so much importance makes everything from before irredeemable, something it was not before the statement. He repeatedly says it is not a crime he committed, and that distances himself from the act itself.
Yes, we are often not the direct perpetrators of the violence inflicted, but the very question of carcerality (that he has based his entire statement on) places the responsibility of a crime not only on the most immediate and accessible person that committed it, but on a culture that allows for its existence. And I hope Sawhney does not, once again, make this about himself but understands the larger role we all play in a society rife with violence, and as survivors that rifeness comes across in something as seemingly innocent as releasing music made with an abuser years ago.
A few days after I wrote the first draft of this piece, Sawhney released another statement which, as he has acknowledged, is a product of the strong criticism he received from his audience regarding the initial statement.
I am sure his unconditional apology and reflection is appreciated. And yet, the journey that led to it remains emblematic of the ways in which self-defence and non-apologies take precedence over admission, acknowledgement and accountability, especially from those who possess capital and a command over the language with which one can dodge legitimate questions, and are part of networks that consider themselves “progressive”. Making mistakes means that we are human. However, these mistakes cannot be viewed in isolation but must be placed within larger trends that survivors are only too used to experiencing.
This is not really a comment on carceral justice, cancel culture, ostracisation and so on. Those remain important and yet wholly different discussions that have nothing to do with Sawhney’s actions (or lack of) since 2018, and beg for a consideration of various other aspects such as caste, class and possession of capital (social, economic and cultural).
This is only about a statement which captures how we will do anything to absolve ourselves of our complicity in giving abusers a platform, to dissociate from how we, as a society, create and perpetuate the normalisation of violence against women – in our language, in the solidarities we form and in the case of Sawhney – the music we make.
The author would like to thank Uvika Wahi, for consenting to this being published. Additionally the author would also like to thank Vishal George for lending their time, insight and support while she wrote this.
Supriya Kumar is Master’s scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is pursuing Sociology.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty