Songs of Dalit Protest: Sheetal Sathe, Ginni Mahi & Sujat Ambedkar

Songs of Dalit Protest: Sheetal Sathe, Ginni Mahi & Sujat Ambedkar

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It wasn’t a Hindu you killed
It wasn’t a Muslim you killed
It was a human being...
A human being you killed!

As Sheetal Sathe read out these lines by Dalit poet and activist Sambhaji Bhagat, her voice resonated with enviable dynamism. Sheetal, along with Punjabi folk pop singer Ginni Mahi, musician Sujat Ambedkar and stand-up comic Sanjay Rajoura, had gathered under SAHMAT’s banner in New Delhi for a cultural evening. The sequence of performances was organised on the eve of a massive rally and public meeting organised in the capital by the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch.

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Sheetal started performing with the Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural organisation set up in Pune, following the 2002 Gujarat riots. Young students and professionals from the troupe performed plays, songs and protest poetry on streets and in slums, practically all across Maharashtra. A young Sheetal, with her resolute demeanour and sharp rhetoric, rose to prominence soon.

Sheetal Sathe with her troupe. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Sheetal Sathe with her troupe. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb/ The Quint)

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad began a crackdown on musicians and poets suspected of promoting Maoist ideology in May 2011. Sathe and other members of the Kabir Kala Manch went underground soon after. On 2 April 2013, Sathe and her husband Sachin Mali, also a member of the Manch, re-emerged some time later at the Maharashtra Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai. They termed it an act of satyāgraha for free expression and not a “surrender” before the police. Sathe was pregnant at the time. She was denied bail despite her condition, and was finally granted by the Bombay high court on 28 June 2013. Sathe and the Manch featured prominently in Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Jai Bhim Comrade.

Gurkanwal Bhati, aka Ginni Mahi, is an 18-year-old singer from Punjab who sings about Dalit pride. Her idols are Sant Ravidas and Babasaheb Ambedkar. Quoting Sant Ravidas, she says that he had envisioned a world without sorrow and believed in equality for all.

Ginni Mahi at the SAHMAT concert. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Ginni Mahi at the SAHMAT concert. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb/ The Quint)

There is something electric about Ginni. She has just joined college and always wears a smile. She decided to share a curious story behind her hit and popular song Danger Chamar. Ginnis says that one day in school, someone came up to her and inquired about her caste. She was taken aback and replied that she was a Ravidasi. The person exclaimed, “Oh, you are a Chamar”, to which she replied in the affirmative. What followed drove the young pop star to write the song. “Yaar, yeh Chamar bahut danger hotey hain,” she was told. Ginni adds that as a woman, its possible for her to express herself through her songs and this is only because of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Ginni hopes to become a versatile playback singer one day and make her mark in Bollywood.

Sujat Ambedkar is a musician. Incidentally, he is also the great-grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Sujat is at present studying journalism and engages actively with student politics. He says that as drummer, he was initially part of a rock band in Pune. But now he is discovering exciting new ways to converge his love for music and his politics.

Camera: Sanjoy Deb
Editing: Sashant Kumar

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