Published: 13th December 2018
Dance of Democracy: Why this anti-Sterlite song could serve as a wake-up call for every Tamil youth
The collective Justice Rocks along with musician Kaber Vasuki and Nityanand Jayaraman commented on the plight of democracy in the state of Tamil Nadu and the clamping down on dissent through the song
If Sofia Ashraf's Kodaikanal Won't served to tip the scales against Unilever and their Mercurial issues, it also served as an eye-opener to the power of art, theatre and music in taking an issue to the mobile-obsessed millennial. Against that backdrop comes Jananaayagam — a Tamil rap video that hits the average Tamil (and Indian) person hard with their take on issues ranging from Sterlite's smelter to the Ennore Creek issue.
Using this language of music and rap, a group of activists along with musician Kaber Vasuki and environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman have effectively criticised the state of democracy in Tamil Nadu with an originally composed song and video that was released recently. The initiative was done under the banner of Justice Rocks, a collective of artists that has been raising their voices for issues of social and environmental justice. The video is an invitation to the state government to denounce corporate influence and stand by the people who elected them and restore democracy.
Restoration of democracy: The video showcases an average citizen whose constitutional rights are being shackled
Duh..this is DEMOCRACY
Speaking to Edex, Nityanand explains the concept of the song saying, "This song is an invitation to the government, to the state asking them to stand by the people and to restore democracy. It is meant to throw the spotlight on the fact that in a democracy this kind of violence, the crackdown on civil society is not right. It highlights that our democracy is currently broken, that our constitution guarantees rights and so we are obliged to fight for it. The song and the video are also trying to highlight that people must not keep quiet, we have a constitutional obligation to speak and to be heard." The video showcases an average citizen whose constitutional rights such as the right to freedom of speech, right to religion, right to information and more are being shackled one by one. At first, he is shown being fed that he is free and can exercise all his rights in a democratic country like ours.
The song, co-written and composed by Nityanand and Kaber, is inspired by the struggle against the Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi. The song was launched on the YouTube page of Vettiver Collective (a space that is open to people of diverse ideologies to discuss, debate and take action on social and environmental issues) on Dec 5, both in Chennai and in Thoothukudi ahead of the Dec 7 hearing of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) looking at the closure of the plant due to environmental concerns.
What's on your tracklist?
The song speaks about several environmental issues that have plagued the state of Tamil Nadu. Nityanand adds that the state has been a hotbed of confrontational issues where there have been continuous conflicts between the citizens and the state and between the police and the citizens. It speaks about the controversy around the eight-lane Salem Chennai Expressway, which has become more intense with recently sourced documents revealing that the Rs 10,000 crore project may have been officially conceived and cleared within six days and based on a recommendation by a World-Bank-blacklisted consultant. The Ennore coal power plant and fisherfolk protest have also been spoken about in the video song. The Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project, located in the Tirunelveli district, which faced several delays due to opposition from local fishermen, has also found a place in the song.
All of this pushed the duo to get their pads and guitar picks. "The government in the state has become very intolerant to whatever people have to say. There seems to be an urgency and a hurry to push through large projects, which obviously raises questions in the minds of the people when they have to part with their land or property. No matter what your problem is - protesting against pollution, a road, or for a road, anything that you do as a citizen to demand your rights as a citizen from the state, the only department that you're made to interact with is the police department. My problem might have to do with metal water, sewage, transportation, land acquisition, but the only department that comes to meet the citizens is the police," says Nityanand.
Right to freedom of speech: The song, co-written and composed by Nityanand and Kaber, is inspired by the struggle against the Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi
Right oh. Let's speak louder
The song might sound to some like it is bashing the centre, BJP, and its ways too. It doesn't seem to do that directly but there's an underlying tone, where you see in several parts of the video that when people protest on social media, how the bhakts come to the rescue. The video also partly trolls them. Nityanand and Kaber's song wants to convey a clear message. "In a democracy, there can absolutely be no situation where people are being beaten up by their own elected government, something is not right about it. The government should not see people as enemies but see them as rightful rulers who have issues and concerns. Sometimes these protests need to be loud because being soft-spoken you don't get heard," adds Nityanand.
The video's Creative Director and a long-time volunteer at Justice Rocks, Satwik Gade, explains to us how they came up with the appropriate concept to match with the intensity of the song. "The idea was to develop something called artivism - activism and art to sort of interact - music, art, cinema sort of work as a soft tool for negotiation and helps in conveying the right message to people. We are actively promoting this sort of culture for social change and this was the best way to do so," says Gade. "We tried to do a video apt for the lyrics in the song, so we put in a common citizen being awakened, through different mediums, each medium has its own restrictions but then the message needs to get to the audience, so we created a kind of an abstract format for the video," he adds.
After Nityanand and Kaber had completed composing the song, they called Justice Rocks to get involved in the project. "We had really long discussions, and also tried to understand the politics behind what the song is trying to convey and come up with the appropriate message that could be conveyed through a video," concludes Satwik.