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“Sir, you know, that just makes you a paranoid fascist leader. 
People will rise up against you, is that your fear?” 

This is Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Rahul Rajkhowa, in the course of a feisty rap number, addressing the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the university on the 80% seat cut in M Phil and PhD admissions for 2017-18.

Even in a university where protests against the move have been intense and long-lasting, rap is a unique form (video above).

The 22-year-old musician from Assam, who just finished his MA in International Relations from JNU, is part of the batch currently applying there for an M Phil. He decided to make a rap song protesting against the decisions regarding the seat cuts, and threw in other festering sores as well, such as the branding of several JNU students as “anti-national” and the disappearance of a student, Najeeb Ahmed. Najeeb, who has been missing since October15, 2016, was allegedly assaulted by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – the orange party – the night before he went missing.

Rajkhowa believes people need to be made aware of what he terms “the terrible decision-making skills and the incompetence of the VC.” He told Scroll.in: “A lot of people are passionate about academics. Some of them do not come from well-to-do economic backgrounds, so the subsidised education provided by JNU gives them a chance to prove themselves.”.

It caused him immense pain, he said, to see people being defeated by the decision and leaving for their hometowns without even attempting the M Phil entrance exams. He decided he’d had enough.

“So I decided to voice the opinions of my batchmates who were wrongly denied a chance at further studies, to voice the pain of Najeeb’s mother who still awaits her son, who was beaten up by the orange goons a night before he went missing, to voice the opinion of JNU students wrongly branded as anti-national,” he said.

Zuhaib Mohammad / HT Photo
Zuhaib Mohammad / HT Photo

In his song Rajkhowa criticises the JNU administration and ABVP, rapping:

“But how do you catch the guilty 
when you got the government on your back, 
cleaning up your track. 
cause ideology and religion 
are good reasons to kill, so you will... 
Now call me anti-national, 
for saying things rational.”

His choice of rap as a tool for social justice was inspired by rappers like Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube and Dr Dre, who rapped about police brutality against African-Americans, and Kendrick Lamar, who continues their battle. The idea of rap has become distorted over the past decade in India, he said, with the likes of Badshah and Honey Singh dominating the scene.

Said Rajkhowa, “Rap music was a channel through which they expressed their agony and gave collective hope to people. One sound, a thousand voices. People have lost the clue that rap music is essentially music against oppression and discrimination.”

Rappers like Naezy, Divine and MC Kash are among the rappers in India who frequently sing about pressing socio-political issues like poverty, corruption and militancy.

Rajkhowa had released another rap song in May, 2016, protesting against the propagation of stereotypes and discrimination against North Easterners.

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A singer/songwriter himself, Rajkhowa has a funk and blues band called Paperboat which performs songs about social issues, such as the objectification of women, domestic abuse, and class struggle. The band likes to give the songs a groovy twist, so that people can dance to songs with a message.

“After all, what is the point of music if there is no message there?” said Rajkhowa.