Perspectives: The Dalit rapper reinventing being untouchable

CREDIT: SUMEET SAMOS

CREDIT: SUMEET SAMOS

 

untouchable rapper Sumeet Samos rhymes about how caste lives on in india.

Caste is a social system that divides human beings on the basis of birth.

The lowest caste is the untouchables. And these untouchables are called Dalits, which is the community that I belong to. The jobs that we have traditionally done are manual scavenging or sweeping, working as landless laborers. Jobs that can be perceived as degrading.

I came to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi from a village in Odisha, one of the most backwards districts in India. So when I came to JNU, I almost had this idea that I lacked something in me. Maybe I’m inferior, I have to improve.

I started working harder and harder. My dream was to get a scholarship and go abroad. And I thought through my hard work, through my efforts, I’ll break caste.

That’s what I thought. But the moment it came to scholarships, the moment it came to recommendation letters, I was discriminated against. Nobody took me seriously, everybody was delaying their recommendation letters or not giving them to me at all.

 

“I thought through my hard work, through my efforts,
I’ll break caste.
That’s what I thought”

 
 

That broke me. Until then, my experiences with caste had all been more personal, and I had never conceptualized caste as a larger structure. I started reading literature, philosophy and learning. That made me realize what caste is, and that anger lead me to rap.

My first performance was at a student rally. It was just verses, there was no rhyme, there were no syllables. No structure. I just shouted and screamed at the microphone and it came out.

It received around 15,000 views online in the first day. And people started calling it Dalit rap, Dalit hip-hop.

I started realizing...is it? They’re already putting me on a pedestal, so where should I go? From then on, I started working hard to rap for real about caste, higher education and the student movement in India. The situation forced me into becoming a rapper.

In the initial days, I was truly afraid because it was very new. First of all, I’m a Dalit, and secondly, I come from Odisha, a place which has historically been in a state of conflict – not only caste violence, but also conflict related to the Maoist insurgency. I thought, if they link me with these Maoist groups somehow, they might just put me in prison for years.

 
SUMEET RHYMES ABOUT THE SHARED VULNERABILITIES OF INDIA’S MARGINALIZED. CREDIT: LURE

SUMEET RHYMES ABOUT THE SHARED VULNERABILITIES OF INDIA’S MARGINALIZED. CREDIT: LURE

 

For the Dalit crowd, which was never introduced to hip-hop or rap, it was a new genre for them. They found it confusing. On the other hand, the young crowds at colleges loved it.

Through hip-hop, talking about my pain, suffering, or questioning caste and society at large, I brought out those daily conversations that we have inside our houses or circles of friends. Students related, and that pushed me to do more rap.

However, there has also been a lot of censorship from the ABVP [right-wing Indian student organization]. There have been a lot of threats from ABVP student wings and certain young guys from my state saying, “The day you come back to Odisha, I will burn you alive.”

These kinds of threats keep coming. But I don’t want to focus on that, because the moment I engage, I get exhausted and demoralized.

To be a true rapper, and for your rap to be socially transformative, you also have to be an organic intellectual. You have to be among the people, you have to be among society and everyday life. You cannot detach yourself from that.

In Mumbai, something is happening. In the slums of Chennai, they’re starting to pick up hip-hop. There's a shared vulnerability that joins marginalized communities.

Rapping is the only thing that makes me happy all the time. I recently completed my master’s in Spanish language and Latin American literature. Now my tactic is to continue reaching out to more platforms with my rap. So at least if something happens to me, I know that there is a crowd that will stand. I hope so.

To be a true rapper, and for your rap to be socially transformative, you also have to be an organic intellectual. You have to be among the people, you have to be among the society and the everyday life. You cannot detach yourself from that.

 
 

In Mumbai, something is happening. In the slums of Chennai, they’re starting to pick up hip-hop. There's a shared vulnerability that joins marginalized communities.

Rapping is the only thing that makes me happy all the time. I recently completed my master’s in Spanish language and Latin American literature. Now my tactic is to continue reaching out to more platforms with my rap. So at least if something happens to me, I know that there is a crowd that will stand. I hope so.

 
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