“All you know is five words — Dalit, merit, caste, Ambedkar and reservation,” sang Ambedkarite rapper Sumeet Samos at the first Bahujan Art Festival organised at Tata Institute of Social Sciences on Sunday.
Samos expressed his own experiences at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, where he says discussion about caste is limited to these five things. “I have often wanted to tell the dominant castes that caste is not about us or these five things. It is about how they oppress us. The song I wrote was in this context,” he tells the audience.
Samos, a master’s student at JNU, was among 30 artistes from 10 states, who took part in the first edition of the Bahujan Art Festival. The event was for artistes belonging to SC, ST, OBC, Nomadic Tribes, Denotified Tribes and other marginalized minority communities.
“It is necessary to claim these public spaces. When I began rapping, I was told to improve my English, my performances were never shared on the social media pages of the institute. I managed to perform once during an event and when I began getting recognition, there was a change in the way I was looked at, among the same people who earlier discriminated against me,” says 26-year old Samos.
The Odisha-born rapper writes and performs songs on caste discrimination, land grab and displacement of tribals in his home state, among other issues.
“We asked students from the Bahujan community on campus for names of artistes, both established and upcoming, who could be invited for the festival. A similar event titled Dalit Art Festival was organised earlier this year at Ambedkar University in Delhi, and we also wanted to promote, amplify Bahujan artists. Through this, we wanted to discuss aspects like these artists can self-sustain, what can they do to network better with each other,” says Aroh Akunth, the cultural secretary of the student union at TISS.
Organisers said the day-long festival, which included photo exhibitions, art by Warli artists from Palghar district and film screenings, was organised to highlight the voices, culture and resistance of Bahujans through artistic means to facilitate spaces denied to them by the Brahminical hegemony.
On Sunday, film-makers from the community, Somnath Waghmare, Jyoti Nisha and Omey Mangal Anand, discussed issues of access to camera and technology. “Film-making is an expensive medium. Due to the access to it for dominant castes, even films on our lives are made through their narrative and gaze. There is a need for the community to provide support through whatever way possible to tell our stories,” Nisha said, who is making a film called, ‘BR Ambedkar, Now and Then’.