"I am a Political Being First"
By: Srishti Lakhotia
“Gaana and rap is a democratised and secular art,” said 26-year-old rapper and lyricist at the Casteless Collective. Arivu has recently released a rap song called ‘Sunlo Mantri’ to highlight the spike in cases of police brutality across India . He talks about the existing caste line, his encounter with caste as a child and his loyalty for “Gaana”.
When you listen to people talking about standing for the oppressed, do you feel angry?
Yes, because it is a saviour mentality. I have seen so many saviours in my life, they will say that you need not talk, I will talk to you. But Periyar and Ambedkar have educated me to say that I can speak for myself. I am a person who loves this country, but will they accept me if I say that I eat beef? People judge us through our skin colour, the way we talk, the branded clothes we wear, through the money and fame. But basically, a common man will judge you through his caste eyes. This is India; it is not the map we see. Hierarchy is what India is.
What does rapping mean to you?
Rap is like narrating a story in the form of protest music. It does not come from a comfort zone. The voices of the unheard should be the roots of rap.
You have mentioned Periyar and Ambedkar in many of your songs. How are you so inspired by them?
The equality and human dignity that they had fought for inspired me. Even today, India is divided by its caste. The land that stands united, but many do not even own land. There is no free man in a village, always, someone will command you. As students, we sit in the same classroom, listening to a teacher. But they are not equal as each has a different life. We need to talk about this difference. Acceptance is what our struggle is about.
What is your comment on the recent comment made by Rajinikanth on Periyar, at the Thuglak magazine event?
Rajinikanth made a very casteist and dim-wit comment. It was not at all surprising since he has saffron backing to his statement.
You have studied engineering and done MBA in human resources and started studying for UPSC exams. What inspired you to take up writing and rapping?
I had started singing songs on Ambedkar and Periyar in my school days. Initially, I started writing songs. The fact that my parents didn’t buy a television thinking it affects the culture pushed me to read books to pass-time. Gradually, it became a habit and contributed to the songs I wrote. My grandfather and my grandmother’s struggle for respect inspired me.
Which script writers and rappers inspire you?
I like Kendrick Lamar, Nina Simone and Bob Marley. I read the works of Tamil writers like Inkulab and village folk artists. I grew up listening to folk songs in my village; they inspired me to take up writing, to express myself.
How did you join the Casteless Collective?
I was pursuing UPSC when while travelling on the train I met PA Ranjith. I told him of my interest in writing poems. One day, he invited me to audition for the band, and I passed. Since, then, I have been working there and also as an independent artist.
Did your family support your decision to switch to art?
My family thought this fever of art to be a passing flu. They never asked me to stop. Though, they did want me to be more focused on my academics. They feared the kind of isolation I might face in case people find out about my social background.
Was the fear proven after you entered the industry?
Discrimination is a big word, and the industry just excludes you. It treats you differently from a mainstream person. The only thing that saves me is my qualifications, my education. I do not care if they isolate me.
Is investment in learning Carnatic music, high and expensive?
Investment there is caste. Gaana is more relatable to the working-class population. The glory over the Dravidian movement is just a fake emotion; it has still not wiped the tears of a Dalit.
Amidst the rise of street music in India now, do you think this ultimate goal to perform for cinema will change?
No, the street music in London is starkly different from the Indian streets. To perform you first need to have a proper street, if not then, how will the street art be good. Even in the village, if you have talent people will want you to perform for the cinema, for fame. It doesn’t change.
How has the electoral system disappointed you?
I feel it is a corrupted system and the winning of an election is an understood thing here. There will be police everywhere to check still everyone knows that the money is flowing. It is a match-fixing thing.
Tamil Nadu as a State has always opposed Hindi politics, but the AIADMK Chief has shown support on the issue of CAA. What are your remarks?
I would have been surprised if they hadn’t supported it. You cannot expect any good out of the garbage. They do not let the protests go more than an hour. It is them being unfaithful to the people who elected them. They care for cows, more than they care for humans.
Do you perform in villages?
Yes, I started from there. I used to sing songs of Ambedkar and Periyar in my childhood days. That was the first stage. I go to villages now and then, perform there.
Policies stress on literacy and rationale behaviour. How important is just a literacy rate?
What is education? Who is teaching? The teacher is a casteist here. Imagine the life of students then. I studied in a school where most teachers were casteist. They used to mock at me by taunting on my skin colour; they were this kind of casual casteist. The school makes some students feel inferior. In my school days, I was that inferior child. For teachers, beating two students from different castes with the same stick is equality, but it is not.
There is a rich kid and a poor kid in the class, and the teacher will not hit the kid because he might be the son of a politician. So, the teacher will beat the poor kid instead to set an example. In schools, all they care about is why the shirt is not iron, and why a shoe is not shining, these disciplines are casteist.
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