Graded Solidarity: An Interview with Ambedkarite Rapper Sumeet Samos


Tejaswini Tabhane

"Revising our past time and again.
It drives me insane,
Like a stream of current flowing through my vein,
Squeezing out all the gray matters of my brain.
I see too many patches of caste slavery stains.
In this very lane,
We will blow up Manu's kingdom no one us can restrain.
We busting all your myths, learn from us how to be humane.
Yo this is us Children of Counter Culture,
Counter Culture, this is us."

sumeetThese are the powerful rhymes of resistance of a charming young man who raps about caste-based oppression and exclusion. Music, poetry and dance are certainly not new to Dalit struggle, but rapping is. It is very courageous of Sumeet to introduce this completely new form of dissent to the movement when he had and continues have no supporting structures.

So who is this Ambedkarite rapper? What is his story? How and why did he join the movement? To search answers for all these questions and introduce this young, passionate Ambedkarite to you, I interviewed him via email. My attempt here is to highlight the systemic oppression and injustice marginalised students face on a daily basis. The story of Sumeet Samos stands distinct from others even though it represents the lives of many Bahujan students who live on the fringes of this Modern India.

 Q. Would you like to introduce yourself to all of us?

Sumeet: Jai Bhim! I am Sumit. I just completed my Masters in Latin American Literature (Spanish) from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). I come from Tentulipadar, a village in Koraput district, Odisha.

 Q. How did rapping become a significant part of your struggle? Also, how important music and rap is to you in your personal life?

Sumeet: To have an interest in learning to rap was an organic process for me. The way caste affected me and people around me always left me unsettled and discomforted me. I have felt a deep sense of emotional, intellectual and financial deprivation from my early years of school. I always wanted to retaliate but couldn't. With no support systems to protect, it would have been like hitting a stone wall with one's own hands.

I have always been interested in the folk music of Odisha, photography, poetry and dancing. After I became aware of anti-caste discourse, I started engaging with Ambedkarite students' movement, reading Bahujan literature and interacting with fellow Ambedkarites.This was the beginning of my consciousness getting shaped, which touched me powerfully. I wanted to rap, click photos and dance as a way of giving creative form to this consciousness. Through these forms of storytelling, I also wanted to talk about individual autonomy.

I dream of creating autonomous spaces for Bahujans, be it media, music, entrepreneurship, student organisations, study circles or different art forms. In short, a counter-culture! To put it in one line, the urge to rap, to dance, to click photos and to write poetry is my emotional response and critical engagement with the degrading unequal human relationships that thrive on enforced dehumanisation of Bahujans.

[Sumeet Samos raps about Kandhamal Pogrom against Dalit/Tribal Christians in around 600 villages of Odisha in 2008:]

 Q. What challenges do you face as someone who has come from marginalised community to this premier institution, JNU? Are things any different here as compared to rest of the educational institutions?

Sumeet: There are many challenges in university spaces like JNU. The first challenge is to work very hard to fill the gap of years of enforced deprivation. This can be as simple as gathering the courage to open your mouth to speak or to be able to think of oneself as dignified human amidst the fish market of noisy sophistication that constantly tries to make you feel less of a human.

There are various others challenges that one has to confront such as financially sustaining oneself and one's family, covert to overt forms of discrimination, alienation in classrooms, problems in the family and constant isolation. These things can take a heavy toll on a young student. Our friend Muthu [Muthukrishnan Jeevanantham], a Dalit research scholar in JNU, had to lose his life amidst all of this.

I personally come across many Bahujan students going through these experiences.The premier brand of JNU (a brand of progressiveness) has been very systematically manufactured over the last forty years on the altar of numerous forced dropouts, caste discrimination during viva voce, exclusion of Bahujan autonomous discourse in pedagogy and isolation in various spaces of this sac(red) institution. As of what I know, every other central university too is an exclusionary and discriminatory space for the Bahujans. The difference is only of degree.

 Q. You are an active member of Birsa Phule Ambedkar Students' Association (BAPSA). Why do you feel there is a need to have such an organisation in JNU which already has many other active student associations?

Sumeet: Yes, I am a member of BAPSA. The need to have an autonomous student organisation for the marginalised students is very important for many reasons. First and foremost, it acts as a support system for students. Second, it also helps to establish the Bahujan discourse that has been made invisible or distorted by the upper caste-dominated student organisations. This can be seen across the spectrum, from left to right student organisations. Third, it gives ample space to nurture our own student leaders, activists, public speakers, writers and event organisers. Lastly, it gives a space for internal critique and dynamic engagement where the Ambedkarite discourse is not treated as static dogma.

 Q. Many times I have seen you talk about "graded solidarity" in your Facebook posts. What does it mean?

Sumeet: Yes, I do talk about graded solidarity. When I say graded solidarity, I am referring to the "solidarity" of the upper caste and upper-class Indians. I strongly think an oppressed community fighting its own battle is itself a source of solidarity and strength to other marginalised communities anywhere around the globe. I have so many examples to validate this claim but here I would put forth two from our university spaces.

1. When a certain upper caste student from a prestigious college of Delhi University holds a placard, gets threats by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), it turns into an outrage in the streets with loud noises of solidarity for days. I am not saying there shouldn't be an outrage but why does it end there and is not extended to the many Bahujan students who are threatened on an everyday basis? The whole series of incidents leading to "Save DU" campaign started with a talk about Manipur and Chhattisgarh but gradually these two names were deliberately or unconsciously erased. The protest ended up being all about "us versus ABVP". The "us" became the focus of many upper caste student activists capitalising on it.

2. This is a personal narrative. My BA and MA degrees have been withheld by the JNU administration for the last two months due to my involvement in the protests against University Grants Commission Gazette and seat cuts in JNU. I have been running from pillar to posts for these two months. My one year of further study is already lost which is a costly affair considering my socioeconomic conditions. When upper caste student activists are imposed with fine or face any trouble, it turns into an outrage and calls for solidarity, and a united fight is invoked all around. Not even our names would be mentioned in this manner. Even genuine human response and empathy is graded according to caste and class in these spaces.

 Q. As parting thoughts, what would you like to say about the struggle of Dalit Bahujan Adivasi students in the university campuses?

Sumeet: I would say the assertion and transformative discourse channelised by Ambedkarites in university spaces across the country is surely bringing a new generation of critical mass which is vocal, confident and strong enough to counter the existing discourses. In exclusionary university spaces and colleges, our existing Ambedkarite students need to create support structures through gatherings, study circles, interactive groups to sustain our students where one has something to hold onto in these spaces. I personally am very inspired by our Ambedkarite students from Lady Shri Ram College for Women where they have created such a space for Bahujan students along with BAPSA in JNU which is gradually growing to be a support system for Bahujan students.

 Jai Bhim!



Interviewed by Tejaswini Tabhane, a budding Ambedkarite and a first year student of B.A (H) Economics at Miranda House, Delhi University.

Edited by Tejas Harad, who works in the copy editing department at Economic and Political Weekly. His interest lies in studying the intersection of Ambedkarism, feminism and theoretical Marxism.


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