“Your forefathers kept mine oppressed
Isn’t that why we are given our quota?
Don’t be so proud because you get all you want
Unlike our ancestors, we won’t remain calm!”
When The Casteless Collective, a band from Chennai, sings these lines as part of their “Quota Song”, the audience goes wild. “‘No one has ever sung about me on any stage.’ That was their feeling,” Arivu, one of the songwriters of the ensemble tells VICE about how the listeners react to their music. “This is the first time they are listening to their own story in a big musical concert.”
At the very core of the band's disruptive nature are their songs that talk about the inequalities in our society, especially those that arise out of a rigid caste system, which continues to enslave people even today.
The songs emerge out of their defiance of the Brahmanical playbook that has existed for centuries, dictating several stigmatised notions: that if you belong to the ‘lower caste’, if you are an ‘untouchable’, then you don’t get to have a voice. The ensemble includes funeral musicians who learned to play their instruments in a graveyard, Gaana singers who sing about systematic oppression, and rappers who talk about inequalities.
In this episode of VICE Meets, the members of The Casteless Collective talk about how the band came to be, how PA Ranjith—a Tamil film director—put together the band to express his activism through art, and how songs like “Kaalu Rooba Dhuttu” gave voice to the plight of manual scavengers in India. They tell VICE how a casteless society cannot be built upon the ‘I don’t see caste’ narrative, but that acknowledging the divides in the Indian society can eliminate this problem, and creating a truly casteless society in today’s time.
Follow VICE on Twitter.