Hip-hop music and its humble origin as a counter-culture against racial discrimination in the United States is well known. The African-American artistes articulated their woes against the white oppressors through this genre of music, also known as rap music.
Since then, this music form has been considered as the voice of the voiceless around the globe. In spite of India having several rappers, only a few have addressed serious social issues.
Sumeet Samos, a JNU student who hails from Tentulipadar village of Odisha, recently released his first hip-hop single 'Ladai Seekh Le' (Learn to Resist), on the caste discrimination in India. The video music begins with Samos' own experiences and addresses the various discriminations faced by the Dalits. The lyrics (in Hindi) poses several questions to higher castes and demands fellow Dalits to 'learn resistance'.
A post-graduate in Spanish and Latin American Literature, Samos calls himself an 'anti-caste student activist'. He has been active in Ambedkarite movements in the JNU campus. He says he is not particularly 'proud or ashamed' of being born and brought up in a Dalit community, but rather thinks of it as part of his historic identity.
It is the Dalit literature and interactions with various political groups that made him think about presenting his views on caste discrimination. His interest in hip-hop music led him to choose this medium for that.
"I realised that there was an instinct in me which pushed me towards this and so yeah, given the reach of the medium and since no one from our community had done it before, I thought I should get into it," says Samos.
Inspired by black singers like Joyner Lucas, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur, Samos says their voice against gun violence, illegal incarceration and questioning white supremacy etc makes him use music as a major tool to fight injustice. "Therefore, I try to follow their methods but under my own local context," he says.
'Ladai Seekh Le' begins with Samos' articulating about an extended caste discrimination in JNU campus. He says in spite of having good grades in the examination, he was denied scholarships and recommendation letters. Samos, through the video song, calls it a "brutal form of discrimination he faced in JNU."
"JNU is just hyped to be one progressive space but has a history of opposing affirmative actions for marginalised sections - for both students and faculties,"
-- opines the 24-year-old Sumeet Samos.
He alleges discrimination based on caste in the interview for courses in JNU. "The Left speak on behalf of marginalised sections but are least bothered about the reality," averse Samos. "I think it is their desire to maintain hegemony over us," he adds.
Hip-hop and fighting caste
Oppressed people in India have come up with various art forms to fight against the injustice they face on a daily basis and propagate emancipatory politics. Samos cites examples like "the Dalit Lokshahirs of Maharashtra and the Chamar pop singers of Punjab like Amar Singh Chamkila and Lal Singh Dil."
Unlike in America, in India hip-hop did not flourish among the marginalised sections. Singers from the upper classes dominated the scene for years. According to Samos, the reasons can be attributed to the music market and investments like capital, studio etc. "The upper caste people had all these requirements and they appropriated it soon as part of the centuries-old tradition to take up anything which could provide fame and influence in order to maintain supremacy over the marginalised," he says.
However, there are artistes from the marginalised sections who understand the power of hip-hop and explore its possibilities to fight day-to-day exploitations in the society. In Samos' opinion, the new changes make "Hip-hop more transformative." And he is hopeful that "groups like 'Casteless Collective' (a band from Chennai) and individuals like me will take this journey forward by bringing in the anti-caste discourse in hip-hop."
The video ends with the graffiti calling 'Free Chandrashekhar Ravan,' the co-founder of Bhim Army, who is in Uttar Pradesh jail for months under draconian National Security Act (NSA) for his alleged involvement in Saharanpur violence in May last year.
Watch the video: Ladai Seekh Le
Directed by Sanjay Singh Karki
Produced by Qweed Media
Cinematography: Sidharth Shankar and Trishanu Kaushik
Editing: Sidharth Mohan Vitthal and Sidharth Shankar