Performing Dalit Feminist Youth Activism in South India: Rap, Gaana, and Street Theater
Young Dalit men and women are changing the narrative of casteist oppression in India. Youth activists perform protest songs in the genre of rap and gaana, using elements of slam poetry and rap from African American artists and blending them with local musical innovations. The performances have deliberate messaging, signaling particular caste and gender injustices, both current and historical. This paper will analyze Dalit youth performances of rap, gaana, and street theater (koothu) in South India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, to understand the poetics of protest against caste and gender oppression. It will look at the notion of space in these performances. Since social space has historically been restricted for marginalized groups such as Dalits, and even private space has never existed for Dalits, more so for women, the performance space—the screen, the theatre, or street—becomes a heterotopia, or a third space for voicing injustice through song. Taboos are tossed aside in this space; transgressive, private-public fused in-your-face musical phrasings appear on every audio and visual device through the globalization of the internet. Rap and gaana queer accepted caste and gender narratives. This paper will look at youth rappers, such as Arivu, the latest sensation, gaana performer, Isaivani’s performances, as well as “The Casteless Collective” and inquire into the reasons for their appeal despite their iconoclasm. Affect is another area of inquiry in the analysis of Dalit performance, since caste and gender oppression meant invisibilizing Dalits and not seeing them as humans with emotions. Examining the value of affect within performances as well as its effect on audiences is important, since both coalesce to make historically restricted speech appealing and far-reaching in effecting change.
"Performing Dalit Feminist Youth Activism in South India: Rap, Gaana, and Street Theater,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 24:
2, Article 12.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol24/iss2/12