Beating Drums and Patriarchy: Meet The Nari Gunjan Sargam Mahila Band
Savita Devi sat on the dais along with four other women. One of them being Miss India Crown 1995, the other being an Architect and an Urban Transport planner among the other two. The panel discussion started with Savita Devi’s long monologue. Before she handed over the mic to the other panellist, she said, “Hum bajake aye hain”. The crowd burst into laughter and later into applause. Which roughly translates to “we beat em’ up!”.
Savita Devi is the head of Nari Gunjan Sargam band, an all-women band from a Mahadalit community in Bihar. She was recently in the capital to talk at an event in memory of Nirbhaya. The band was called to the stage. Around ten women entered the stage, all dressed in sarees of the same colour, same sweaters and same scarfs, and they had big drums swung across their shoulders.
They entered the stage with swag and rocked the stage with their bold beats. Their eyes reflected an energy that picked the mood of crowd. The beats went from one speed to another and as it went higher the crowd’s cheer became louder and louder.
Their story is also something which resonates with all. Working in other’s farms for a mere 100 rupees a day (less than $2 dollars), these women now earn more than 1000 rupees a day by performing at events. There ain’t a place in Bihar where this Mahila band has not performed from weddings, events and sometimes even at functions organised by the government! Well, not just Bihar, they were invited to Orissa recently and people there got a chance to hear them too.
There journey wasn’t perfect. Savita remembers how they were always made fun of by the men of her village and so were always put off for trying to do something which ‘only men did till now.’ But their determination was strong just like the drum straps across their shoulders. Savita said, “I had made up mind to learn to drum even it took me all my life to learn.” The group learnt within months of training under Aditya Gunja who used to travel 20kms every day to reach the village to train them. They aren’t just earning their living with these drums, they use these musical instruments to beat domestic violence as well. Every time there is a case of domestic violence in the village, these women start playing their drums in front of that particular house to draw attention from the villagers.
Savita said, “now when we come home in Scorpios and government cars, they (men) say we’ve done well for ourselves.”