‘Loknaad,’ an outfit led by activist couple Vinay and Charul, use music to highlight the plight of the marginalised

The lives of the rich and the famous make headlines. The glamour world gets its share of media attention, but issues about marginalised communities most often remain unknown. Their plight goes unnoticed. Their lives and deaths remain meaningless. Their voices lost. But there are movements and people who stand for them. The duo Vinay Mahajan, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate and Charul Bharwada, an architect, have taken up the cause of the people who live on the fringes of society. They disseminate information on their plight through their catchy, fiery songs. Their outfit called ‘Loknaad’ (People’s Voices)—Voices Of Dignity was formed 15 years ago, when the two came together sharing “similar concerns and interests”.

The activist couple was in the city as part of the recently-held Bob Marley Fest that stands for people’s struggles in different parts of the country.

Both Vinay and Charul are professionals who have taken up an alternative lifestyle by choice. They have been doing research works on livelihood issues of pastoral communities—shepherds, salt-makers, fisher folk, construction works, migrant labourers and such. And the research has led to stunning revelations about the hardships faced by them. “We keep learning that there is more to environmental issues. Our grasslands are being lost to development, our rivers are drying, the forests are being cut, the soil is eroding. For each depleting resource, the dependant community is being affected drastically. This is not only an environmental problem but an issue of livelihood, of survival,” says Vinay, who composes the songs and pens lyrics together with Charul.

On choosing the medium of music, the “musically inclined” duo say, “We wanted to communicate our research findings to the largest section of society and music seemed the best medium besides our seminars and presentations.”

The subjects that their songs cover deal with any kind of injustice faced by people, be it farmer suicides, starvation deaths, religion or livelihood based atrocities, border dispute generated violence, gender issues and such. A song on child labour, meri baari hai expresses the desire of a child to go to school and not watch adults sit leisurely while they work 18 hours. .

Another issue that they sing about is on the innocent victims of violence. “These deaths become concerns only of the family members but these are social losses. Many of our themes are around violence,” says Charul, adding that as countrymen we can at least remember them and pay a tribute to these unsung martyrs.

Vinay speaks with a conviction of one who has felt and touched the issues at the grassroots. He says that violence gets defined very narrowly now. It is only inflicted by a terrorist or a war or and it’s only visible violence that is talked about. “But the larger scale violence is not even categorised as violence.”

He rattles off figures—17,000 farmers end their lives because a policy has been changed, 16,000 children die of starvation every day in the world, three lakh children die on the day they are born. “This is invisible violence, violence of insensitivity.”

Through their music they support all ongoing people’s struggles and issues in civil society.

The issues are the same all over the country, they say, but in Kerala they identify with the Plachimada struggle, the Endosulfan deaths and the Chengara land struggle. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, it is the Kudankulam anti-nuclear protests that they are troubled by. Closer to the city, waste dumping they feel, is a problem affecting lives. Their aao lakeerein mita dein is an anti-war song. In dino deals with current state of growing violence, Insaan hai hum is about the fundamental identity of a person as a human being, rabba yaar is against justice meted out by the Khap Panchayats and borderless love, meri ammi deals with the subject of atrocities against women.

The songs are accompanied by rustic instruments. Vinay plays the dafli (a hand drum) and Charul vibrates the ghungroo and off they go on their motorbike right into the hearts of the people.

The rewards for this kind of populist work are aplenty. Charul recalls going for a meeting to Chattisgarh where they sat in the audience and were surprised to hear three tribal women sing one of their songs on stage. “That was really a reward. We have not taken our music to any commercial channel. We say our songs have their own wings, their own flight independent of us. It will reach the people who need it.”