(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of sexual harassment. Reader discretion advised. The names of women have been kept anonymous to protect their identity.)
"I asked a man, whom I addressed as Anna (brother), the way to leave the venue as I had a panic attack. He looked me in the eye, and the next thing I knew, his hand was on my breasts and I was groped. I froze. I couldn't move an inch. A horrific, traumatising experience I can never get over," a 31-year-old independent filmmaker, who attended AR Rahman's concert in Chennai on Sunday, 10 September, shared with The Quint.
She is one among the many women who have spoken about the alleged harassment and molestation they were subjected to, when they attended ARR's 'Marakumma Nenjam' concert in Chennai's ECR.
Mismanagement by the organisers at the venue led to a "stampede-like situation," with many who had valid tickets unable to attend the concert.
The phrase 'Marakumma Nenjam' translates to 'will the heart ever forget.' What could have been a 'unforgettable' night of music for the women, turned into an 'unforgettable, harrowing and traumatic night', for many who attended the concert. The Quint spoke to four women who recalled their experience.
'Came To Witness His Magic, Left With Trauma'
The 31-year-old filmmaker told The Quint that prior to the concert, many people were not allowed to enter the venue as the seats were already occupied.
"The place was overcrowded as the organisers sold more tickets than they should ideally have. Despite my friends paying for their tickets, they were not allowed to get in and had to return home," she said.
A 23-year-old woman, who is working at an NGO in Chennai, recalled that the stampede began before the concert could begin.
"We waited in long queues to collect our tags to enter the venue. Everyone was pushing and all of us were getting squeezed with absolutely no place to breathe... super suffocating," she said.
"After one hour, we were relieved that we passed through the queues to enter our seating only to realise that they was no seating at all and we had to stand. It got much worse during the concert as they were no place to stand," she added.
Speaking to the media on Monday, 11 September, Tambaram Police Commissioner Amalraj said that a detailed enquiry has been initiated to probe the incident.
"We have called for an enquiry to look into the reasons for overcrowding and traffic congestion, and also into the overall arrangements made in connection with the event by the organisers. We want to ensure that this incident does not happen again in any concert," he said.
ACTC Events took to social media, stating the show was a “massive success”, but also apologised for the "overcrowding."
The Quint reached out to ACTC Events in connection with the allegations made by the women. The story will be updated after we receive their response.
'Touched Everywhere, But Was Helpless'
Photos and videos from the concert went viral on social media late on 10 September, in which the venue can be seen jampacked with crowd. In many of the videos, children can be seen crying and looking for their relatives after getting separated from them, and people trying to make their way out of the venue.
The show went on despite the sea of people who were entering the venue, the women alleged.
"Just when we thought it would get better, it got much worse. The crowd started pushing each other. Even if I wanted to leave, I couldn't have because we we were so suffocated amidst the crowd," a 22-year-old lawyer, who is a resident of Chennai, told The Quint.
The lawyer, who graduated from college earlier this year, recalled her experience of being groped multiple times for over half-an-hour when she, along with her mother, were trying to exit the venue. Though initially she told herself that it was because of the crowd, she soon realised she was being touched intentionally.
"I lost count of the number of times I got groped yesterday. After a while, I gave up and didn't try to defend myself. I tried pushing them, punching them, but they kept touching me. So I had no choice but to stand still," she told The Quint.
"Today, I stand here as a mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted victim, who can't do anything about it," she narrated.
The 31-year-old filmmaker, who was also groped, said in order to save herself from getting a panic attack, she had to close her eyes and listen to the music. "Even if I had a panic attack, no one would've helped me, because it was claustrophobic," she told The Quint.
Young Kids Separated From Parents
The four women told The Quint that they witnessed young kids being separated from their parents in the crowd. "These kids were crying and we couldn't even help them because we had to run for our lives. An old women fainted and fell to the ground, but even the paramedics couldn't reach her because that's how crowded it was," the 22-year-old said.
A 45-year-old corporate professional, who brought her 10-year-old child to the concert, alleged that there were very few volunteers present to help manage the crowd. "At one point I started crying in panic because of the stampede while collecting tags," she told The Quint.
An Arthritis patient, the woman said she had to walk at least 3 km and stand for three hours with no volunteers there to help.
"We are such huge fans of ARR. We came to witness his magic, but all we got was physical and emotional trauma," she said.
'Will Never Attend An Open Concert Again'
Soon after the backlash, AR Rahman came forward and offered remedy to all his fans who couldn’t enter his recent concert. Rahman has asked fans to reach out to an e-mail address to get their tickets refunded and for other problems regarding the concert.
Speaking to The Hindu, he said he was "deeply disturbed" by the incident. “Safety was the primary issue, especially because there were women and kids. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone, but we have to realise that the city is expanding, and the passion to consume music and art is also expanding," Rahman said.
"Just because I cannot afford VIP tickets by paying 25,000, should I be left to die without any protection? No amount of money they give us will undo my sexual trauma. Even then, the least I deserve is monetary compensation," the 22-year-old lawyer told The Quint.
All the women The Quint spoke to said that the incident aggravated their anxiety and demanded accountability from the organisers.
"I don't think I will attend open concerts again in my life. It is so scary and not sure if I will go for an AR Rahman concert again if he doesn't take accountability. What he has said now is nothing but a half-hearted apology," the 31-year-old filmmaker said.
Meanwhile, the 45-year-old woman said her daughter was left traumatised post the event. "All we wanted was one great evening listening to our favourite musician perform. But, instead, we got life-long trauma. I am just upset my young daughter had to go through this experience," she said.
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam