Sumeet Samos from Jawaharlal Nehru University doesn’t carry that typical ‘JNU wala’ look. One would find him wearing loose shirts and low waist cargoes along with a baseball cap and a pair of sneakers. He looks like any other youngster who is into hip-hop and rap music, somewhat diametrically opposite to the usual kurta-clad student activists on the campus. But his wristband which reads ‘Jai Bheem’ clearly tells you about his activism against casteism and discrimination.
Samos, a 25-year-old Dalit student from the Centre for Latin American Studies is a student activist who is using rap music as a weapon to fight casteism. The young rapper has become a new face of anti-caste resistance after his foray into this genre of music last year. His videos are quite popular on Facebook and YouTube and he is being labelled as a ‘Dalit rapper’.
‘Rap is a great medium’
“I think rap can be a great medium for people, especially the youths. Through this, I can represent the collective identity of being exploited and oppressed. I belong to that identity and I have to accept it,” he says.
But Samos wasn’t always fond of rap music as the Honey Singhs and the Baadshahs never excited him. He had never planned to become a rapper. ” I used to hear a lot of speeches and debates against casteism which were lengthy and boring. I wanted something that can be easily understood. That’s when I decided to start singing and writing rap music.” He isn’t a fan of rap artists in the US but he does follow their music for learning, especially Joyner Lucas, an American rapper.
For someone who hails from a remote village in Odisha’s Koraput, entry to the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in the national capital put him at an advantaged position. He is also an active member of BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association), a students group fighting against casteism in JNU. Samos says that JNU has given him access to media as well as improved his command over languages which many Dalit students are still deprived of.
‘Casteism is everywhere, even in JNU’
However, he is equally critical of the casteism and the discrimination that is present in the campus which is known for its progressive ethos and ideas. “If a student goes for an interview, people will somehow try to know the caste. Either through the name or through the schooling. They even try to judge by the kind of English that one speaks,” he says.
Rap music in India has been mostly about pop culture references and has often faced criticism for misogynist lyrics and vulgar visual content. But Samos thinks that it is the so-called ‘woke’ rappers who are a bigger problem.
“They come from privileged backgrounds, study in big colleges and have a good command over English. And they talk about struggles and scars in their lives,” he says adding that they don’t have much content to offer.
“They say random things like pollution, corruption etc. I talk in specificity. If I am saying caste, I am being specific about the caste-based discrimination,” he says.
‘Dalit rap’ is not just for Dalits
Samos, as per his own admission, is now well-known in the campus because of his music. But he maintains that the JNU support group pages on Facebook never shared his videos.
Of all the things that he likes to address, one of the most important is the lack of understanding of the word ‘Dalit rap’. “The upper castes think that what I do is just for Dalits. No, I am talking about castes and that involves you as well,” he says.