Co-author: Shaharbanu CP
Before saying something about the Kerala-based band “Willuwandi”, there needs a historical narration of a great event of Dalit’s history in Kerala, which could better explain its name.
In the late 1800s, there were certain royal roads (rajaveethi), that were opened to the public. However, the strong caste discrimination in the state prohibited lower castes to use these roads. Another restriction made on the lower castes was that they were not allowed to travel via bullock cart.
Ayyankali, born to the Pulayar caste, had been subjected to social injustice since childhood. The conscientious Ayyankali decided to dissent this arrogance. He bought a bullock cart (called willu wandi in Malayalam), from his own money and made an adventurous journey through the public road wearing a dhoti, baniyan and turban and wrapped angavasthram around his shoulder. This rankled the elite upper class who tried to stop him. Ayyankali then pulled out a dagger and he challenged the Savarnas. No one dared to oppose him. Without any fear, he resumed his journey and broke the dominance of the upper castes on public roads. This revolt by Ayyankali was a courageous first step taken in history against casteism in Kerala.
Castiesm still tangles the Indian society in threatening ways. The Savarna Hindu movements set out inhuman oppression against Dalits. People, including Rohith Vemula, have been killed by Savarna fascists.
Willuwandi Metal Band, formed in remembrance of Ayyankali, pushes on the necessity to continue creative struggles and expression against intolerence. The band was formed under the leadership of Dalit student activists of Ernakulam Maharaja’s College of Kerala, a college with a deep history of struggles. Sethu and Swathi Sangeeth, students of the college, Balu and Subi, from Cochin University of Science and Technology, are the members of Willuwandi.
“From Shadows to Light” in remembrance of Rohit Vemula, “Eat Me Brother”, “Najeeb” for the missing JNU student, “Black God” paying homage to Ambedkar, are the major songs of the band.
Sethu, Dalit activist and key member of Willuwandi Metal Band says that, “There is no need to highlight that Willuwandi has a significant history. It roots in the public declaration of Mahathma Ayyankali that the public road is ours too. Our band is a struggle. Today in India, Dalits and other minorities, especially Muslims, have been leading their own resistance against the oppression they endure. Willuwandi is struggling in solidarity with them. We are not using any kind of brahminical musical apparatus. We wish to create a great Bahujan revolution using political strategies raised by Baba Saheb Ambedkar.”
“This country is ours too. We have to regain it. Willuwandi is an awakening to invoke such realization. We are especially seeking the youth’s support for that. My biggest dream is a music performance in Deekshabhoomi, the heart of Nagpur, where Baba Saheb Ambedkar united lakhs of people,” says Sethu, UG final year student of Maharaja’s College.
The group has done several stage performances in Kerala and are looking forward to going out of the state and fulfil their dream as shared by Sethu.