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These Musicians Sing For A Cause And We Are Lovin’ Their Beat!

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By Amna Kapur:

Music is an odd entity that has the extraordinary power to invoke emotions and make you relive memories. Often, melodies can transport you back in time and lyrics can bring about full-on tears. This is why activists are now turning towards song to inspire the masses. While there will always be the more famous singers with somewhat frivolous lyrics, a whole genre of relevant music is being born and Indians are at the forefront of it. It is heartening to also see the already famous artists, such as John Legend and even Kendrick Lamar utilising their vast influence for a good cause.

Sofia Ashraf

Fifteen years ago, multinational consumer-goods company Unilever dumped toxic mercury waste in the southern town of Kodaikanal. This act has affected the city since and children are being born unhealthy. 29-year-old Tamil rapper Sofia Ashraf, however, did not stay put and her version of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ has gone viral. The song, called ‘Kodaikanal Won’t‘ emphasises on the damages caused to the people and the town due to mercury poisoning and urges Unilever to make swift amends. With almost four million views on her video, Ashraf succeeded in making a difference and the company has agreed to clean up their mess. Also called the ‘Burkha Rapper’ by the media, Ashraf’s music covers a range of social and environmental issues. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “No work is insignificant,” and we see this in such situations where every share, like and view on the video has contributed to creating a vast difference.

The Ska Vengers

The Ska Vengers are a Delhi-based band of eight ‘well-seasoned’ performers who are not afraid of sharing their opinions. The band pulls back no punches in their song ‘Modi, A Message to You,’ a critique aimed at Indian PM Narendra Modi accusing him of being part of the 2002 Gujrat riots. The political leader is compared to Hitler with the video ending in swastikas. Though the evidence for this is unproven, the case is such that one may never know the real truth especially as it concerns an extremely powerful and connected man. “In 2002, we had terrible riots in the state of Gujarat; some people have described it as a pogrom in which more than 2,000 Muslims had been killed. Many people are convinced that he (Modi) played a direct role in these riots,” said the band’s leader, Delhi Sultanate. The song reprimands Modi for his repressive views on women’s safety, LGBTQ rights, and artistic freedom. Though the song may be radical, it is crucial for people to know all sides of the story, not just what they are being fed by the media.

Kendrick Lamar

An American rapper from California, Kendrick Lamar is known for his wildly popular club anthems and radio hits. Closer examination, however, illustrates the thought that actually goes into the writing of the lyrics with heed given to social issues as well. The rapper has mastered the art of inconspicuously embedding profound messages into catchy tunes with songs like ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ which talks about alcoholism and his recent album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ which includes laments about racial inequality in America. Lamar, 28, has established himself as a unique voice of his generation in hip-hop.

Bruce Springsteen

It takes courage and strength to step up and fight for what you believe in. Bruce Springsteen’s game changing song ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ created the biggest backlash of his career. The track, released in 2000 was one of the first by a major artist to talk about police brutality. It makes a direct reference to the killing of unarmed Guinean 23-year-old immigrant Amadou Diallo by four NYPD officers the year before. At a performance of the song at Madison Square Garden the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association ordered the city’s 27,000 policemen to boycott the show. The subject of the song is a delicate one and approaching as sensitive a subject as this is not an easy chore. Springsteen was able to raise awareness, which is the first step towards solving a problem.

Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean, the ‘environmentalists with guitars’ are prime examples of spreading messages through song. Rahul Ram, the vocalist and guitarist of the band says that he, being an ardent supporter of Narmada Bachao Andolan in the early 90s, was inspired to make a difference with his music. ‘Cheetu,’ their first activist anthem was written by Ram when he was in jail for being involved with the aforementioned movement. Indian Ocean is known for their motivational protest songs that are stimulating and vitalizing.

Song is slowly becoming a widely used and more effective method for activists to create awareness. By cleverly integrating a social message into a melody, one can create a unique blend of sound that the masses enjoy listening to and can make a difference through.

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  1. Manohar Kabeer

    Good Collection. I wish I could have seen Loknaad (www.loknaad.in) in the list too. Independent musicians(Charul & Vinay) who sing for village communities, social issues & unspoken causes!! Have a look. They have recently launched an album called Azaadi. the songs can be heard on their website and could be purchased too. Cheers.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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