Protest Songs In India: Meet Musicians Singing The Songs of Change
From Shaheen Bagh to JNU to Jamia, The Quint went to anti-CAA-NRC protests with musicians who sing protest songs.
Video Editor: Kunal MehraCamera: Mukul Bhandari
It was 2:00 am and the song Mera rang de basanti chola was echoing from a distance at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, where people are protesting against CAA and NRC.
The pan-India mass protests against citizenship law brought by the current government have persisted for over a month and show no signs of slowing down.
With Indians singing and painting on the streets against the government and its laws, India seems to be witnessing a creative renaissance. The Quint caught up with three musicians — Sumit Roy, Poojan Sahil, and Armaan Yadav — on the streets of Delhi. Traveling with them from Shaheen Bagh to Khureji to JNU, we talked to them about their process of writing protest raps and songs, what they think about the situation in the country, and why they write.
Sumit Roy, rapper and visual artist
Sumit Roy released his first song in 2017 which focused on demonetisation, hate politics and other issues impacting India.
Taking inspiration from pop-culture, Roy's music is a blend of visual art and hip-hop, centered around present-day political anxieties in India.
“Going to protests is majorly about standing in solidarity with everyone. I hope to present a point that is subtle but also catalytic for an audience that would not traditionally consume the kind of art I am presenting.”Sumit Roy
“Me and Abhishek (who did the music initially) were really scared to put it out then. It was much later when we dropped it as a single for my band RollsRoy’s.”Sumit Roy
The lyrics of his songs stand very true, especially in today’s context. Sample this:
‘Poorna Swaraj phir shabdo pe lathi kyu? Ghista hai hath, main likhne se daru kyu?’
Sumit’s latest song Go Protest, written after the crackdown of Delhi Police in Jamia Millia Islamia, is a spin off of ‘Poorna Swaraj’ which went viral on social media. He wrote half the song in an Uber cab on his way to the recording studio and recorded it at 4 in the morning. The message of the song is to remind everyone of their constitutional rights and encourage them to go to the protests.
Poojan Sahil, Math Teacher & Musician
Poojan is a math teacher, plays guitar and his forte is writing parodies of famous Bollywood songs which reflect the reality of the society, highlight environmental issues, fake news, and political criticism.
“The first page of our NCERT books is the preamble. It was a part of our growing up years, reading it everyday, we felt responsible towards it. Now, it feels like that the preamble, so dear to us, is under threat. We are protesting to protect that.”Poojan Sahil
The first song that Poojan wrote and published was about the Nirav Modi scam. He also sang about exams, petrol price hike, water crisis, Kerala floods, the statue of unity, lynchings, hate politics and now the citizenship amendment bill.
He wrote a Hindi version of Bella Ciao, Wapas Jao. It goes like: Jab Tak Hai Baki Seene Mein Dam, Gayenge Hume Zalim Wapas Jao Jao Jao...This song was his way of expressing his apprehension of the growing oppression he felt.
After the attacks on protesting students, Poojan wrote a parody song of the famous Hindi song ‘Pachtaoge’ which goes like, 'Tum students se jo takraoge, bada pachtaoge’.
“Parody helps in putting forward the narrative, people know the song and music already, and now they just have to learn the new lyrics. And I feel these songs that I have written are supposed to be sung at the protests, that’s the best way I can contribute and fit as a pixel in the bigger picture.”Poojan Sahil
Armaan Yadav, Student-Rapper
Armaan Yadav is studying literature from Ashoka University. Passionate about writing, Armaan started with performing spoken poetry.
In February 2019, Armaan released his first track, Saffron Ablaze. He says this song is his contribution to free speech and a way to voice his dissent in times of general censorship on people speaking against the government in power. Some lines from the song:
Welcome to the land of hysteria
Or as we like to call it, Incredible India
Where the leaders aren’t credible
Most are criminals
Where if you say a word you see the crowds lynching ya
“I thought that enough was enough, and it was time to speak up against the absolute madness that has engulfed the country in a supposedly unstoppable flame.”Armaan Yadav
Armaan is on a mission to bring hip-hop culture to the streets. Although he is comfortable with writing and expressing in English, Armaan felt doing so is confining him to an echo-chamber and he needs to write in other languages to reach out to a larger audience. His latest rap song is called ‘Zulm’ which he wrote in Hindi. Some lines from the song:
‘Ram bhi yahan pe, Abraham bhi yahan pe
Yahan rahen saare dharam musalmaan bhi yahan ke
Ye jo jaati me baantein, aur ashanti failate
Inko kehdo jaake dekho inquilab bhi yahan pe’
“Growing up as an army kid, I was groomed to be patriotic somewhat in some senses. But now there is a question of who is patriotic and who is not. The anger is very internal and individual and it affects people around us. One of my friends got shot recently, so wouldn’t that make me angry?”Armaan Yadav
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