ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Dalit rap songs as poetry of resistance


Sarma Ira - Leipzig University, Institute of South and Central Asian Studies, Leipzig, Germany


26 – Radical Poetics in the Literary Cultures of South Asia


 As a musical form, rap has a long history as a medium of protest and resistance – “the expression of choice for those who stand in opposition to dominant power throughout the world”. (Pate 2010). For just over a decade, it has also been studied as poetry: as a verbal genre, every rap song can be regarded as “a poem waiting to be performed”. (Bradley 2009) Rap lyrics are powerfully eloquent, they display sophisticated rhyming schemes, employ word play and metaphors, tell us stories and are inherently rhythmic.

In my paper, I want to apply Bradely’s approach to the work of Sumit Samos, a Dalit rapper from Odisha who has been writing rap songs, mainly in Hindi and English, since 2016. Samos’ songs are testimonies of self-empowerment and agency. His rap attacks oppressive casteist ideologues and exposes mechanisms of abuse and subjugation. At the same time, his songs are powerful calls for resistance and messages of encouragement: addressing his own community – and by extension a larger community of the excluded and oppressed that is not limited by a sense of ‘Dalitness’. By focusing on the ‘speech’ of Samos’ rap songs, i.e. the narrative, language, and the interplay of text and oral presentation, I want to show how the relatively new genre of Dalit rap contributes to the existing Indian literature of resistance and argue that this genre plays an important role when it comes to understand contemporary protest movements.