Harish Kamble, 29, said he encountered a humiliating incident in his late teens that haunted him.
He had gone to someone’s house in a village in South India to get some papers. The man was not home, so his wife asked Mr. Kamble to sit down and wait.
Upon his arrival, the man was enraged to find Kamble in the house, who came from a so-called lower caste, or social class. Kamble said he couldn’t shake the feeling.
“To this day, when I go anywhere, I think twice before I go to someone’s house. See the childhood trauma you always carry,” he said.
Kamble also remembers his grandparents telling him how their land had been taken over by people from a dominant caste. The mistreatment that people in his family and community faced became the subject of many of his poems and later rap lyrics.
In India, a new wave of Dalit artists like Kambul is using hip-hop to confront one of the world’s oldest forms of discrimination, caste. This is similar to how black rappers in America began channeling their prejudice and injustice decades ago.
But this wasn’t the kind of hip-hop these artists grew up listening to. In Indian pop culture, hip-hop is associated with misogyny. Popular rappers in the country mostly sing about partying, drinking and chasing girls.
Kamble said he thought hip-hop was all there was to it.
“When I learned that hip-hop started in the ’70s for a good cause and it all started in America, that was also very relevant to my experience,” he said. rice field.
Since then, he said he has discovered many American hip-hop artists, from Tupac to Kendrick Lamar.
Kamble’s rap is a continuation of his family’s musical tradition. His grandfather used to sing ‘Bim Geet’, a song about BR Ambedkar, who fought for Dalit rights and drafted the Indian Constitution.
Kamble compared caste-based thinking to a tsunami in his 2019 song “Jaati,” which means “caste” in his native Kannada.
“Where is my place in this great country?” he asks.
Vipin Tatad, who grew up in the slums of western Maharashtra, said he writes about what his community experiences on a daily basis. His latest song contains a poem about dozens of Dalits being suffocated each year by toxic fumes inside while manually cleaning sewers.
The lyrics go like this: “These drains and gutters, why should they be cleaned?/Do we have a contract to clean them/Those gutters are filled with toxic gases/Hydrogen sulfide and toxic Methane/One deadly breath ends our lives/We’re dying, you say, “Let them die/Is there anything left to speak?”
If you want to get your message across to young people, you need to rap, Tatado said.
And he’s getting attention.
He helped create the theme song for a Netflix documentary about a serial rapist murdered in court in 2004 by dozens of lower-caste female victims. Tatad also wrote a rap song for a Bollywood movie starring superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
But he said his journey was full of hardships. He was stopped in the middle of the performance. He and his bandmates have to produce their own songs, which is expensive. He says gig income is never enough.
“There is no place for us in the mainstream music industry,” Tatado said.
Similarly, most of the anti-carstrap listeners are from the same community as the artist. Brahma Prakash, assistant professor of arts and aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, says mainstream audiences are far from receptive to anti-caste rap.
He said Indian listeners are looking for music that calms and heals them. But “rap gets in the way,” he says. “I don’t think the Indian consciousness is ready for this kind of song in the broadest sense of the word.”
For now, anti-caste rappers have carved out their own space on social media. Top artists like Arivu have over 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Some of Tatad’s songs have over 200,000 views of him on YouTube. But he said he doesn’t see his music as a career, but more like a responsibility.
“If we don’t speak up, we will continue to be exploited,” Tatado said. “We will continue his musical struggle against caste until society treats us equally.”