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Expressing Political Dissent Via Rap Is On The Rise In India

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I believe that ‘rapping’ has always been the most accessible way to express any oppression and hardship because it uses the most digestible form of art to put forward its point, i.e. music. As a country, we have historically been lovers of music, but until the middle of this decade, the only kind of rap music which we were consuming was all about fun, girls and alcohol. These songs were completely irrelevant to the political environment surrounding the nation and the socio-economic condition of the oppressed. They were all about the multiple ways in which one could get high and impress the ‘bandi’ (girl).

But none of these criticisms can take away the kind of impact these songs have had on the musical landscape of our nation. After all, the ‘Honey Singhs’ and ‘Baadshahs’ of our country have created a revolution which is impossible to ignore.

The music they created not only became incredibly popular but also took them to individual stardom, the kind which was usually reserved only for elite Bollywood superstars. But, eventually, a wave of change came. The landscape evolved. 2015 was the precise year when the ‘Gully Rap‘ of Mumbai took over the city and created ripples around the country.

The rap song Mere Gully Mein quickly became the new Mumbai anthem. Artistes like Divine and Naezy, the guys who came up with the song mentioned above, were local heroes. Their music spoke the language of the people. As fun as the rap song sounds, it contains scathing commentary against police brutality and socio-economic oppression.

In 2016, when Kanhaiya Kumar and his ‘Azadi’ speech took over the nation, a small-time, rising musician named Dub Sharma created a song around the whole controversy. And it instantly struck a chord with the rebellious youth of our nation, the ones who believe communism is cool but reservation is not, seemingly delusional about the fact that reservation is an integral part of communism.

Another music group called ‘The Casteless Collective‘, which includes 4 rappers and 15 other musicians became extremely popular in Tamil Nadu, by providing a platform to the voiceless segment of society who believed that they could express their disdain towards the establishment via this art form. Their Tamil language rap song ‘Anti-India‘ which was a raging piece of rap about the overt nationalism of the current regime, bordering on jingoism, became a cult favourite among the music lovers of our county, notwithstanding language barriers. Another factor attributed to this group’s success could be the strong conflict between Tamil Nadu’s state government and the central government. PA Ranjith, the famous filmmaker who directed two films starring Rajnikanth and whose films are fundamentally politically charged, leads this group.

Movie about rap music
Alia Bhatt and Ranveer Singh at the trailer launch of their movie Gully Boy in Mumbai. (Photo by Milind Shelte/India Today Group/Getty Images)

In 2019, we’ve witnessed the ‘Gully Boy’ wave; a movie, starring legitimate superstars such as Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt which introduces Gully rap to the general public. From the elite to the economically backward, everybody can be heard crooning Apna Time Aayega. It has become a rage, unlike anything Indian music had ever witnessed. The movie is not just about music but also depicts class struggle in a subtle and thought-provoking manner. It is loosely based on the lives of musicians like Divine and Dub Sharma, the former who is currently the undisputed rap king of our country, while the latter is much more experimental with his tunes and lyrics. His song ‘Jingostan’ from the movie mentioned above is a great number with wicked lyrics.

The two artists collaborated on the song ‘Azaadi’, the recreated version of Dub Sharma’s 2016 song, with an added rap portion by Divine which also became a raging hit due to its anti-establishment tunes.

More recently, a rap song against the much-maligned ‘Citizenship Bill’ of Assam, also became a blistering sensation all over the nation. While on the other hand, Hyderabad, my home city is still grooving to the fun lyrics of ‘Miya Bhai’, which accumulated a staggering 90 million views. Although undoubtedly great to listen to, this song is like an empty vessel with nothing much to express other than the fun aspects of the city.

Rapping is here to stay. Its popularity is on a constant rise with many of our youth actively trying to engage in this art themselves, including me. After all, rap is cool, and it’s the ‘new cool’ to be politically aware and a communist, but the kind of communist who understands what communism is!

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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