Pranathi Diwakar, PhD Candidate in Sociology, The University of Chicago
The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests that swept the nation in 2019-20 exposed divergent imaginations of India’s political futures. In this talk, I look at this political moment as one that exposes an ongoing rupture in Indian polity that falls along regional, neighborhood, caste, and cultural lines. Using insights from ethnographic fieldwork conducted over eleven months between December 2018 and March 2020 in two live musical scenes—Carnatic music, associated with Brahmin participants and Gaana music, linked to Dalit participants—I describe how members in these distinct scenes reconcile participation in musical spaces with political action. Although Carnatic music world participants profess an “apolitical” approach to their music, I argue that their escalating espousal of Hindu right-wing political ideologies is fostered in such musical and “cultural” spaces which preserve Brahminical caste exclusivity. In contrast, Gaana music’s lyrical content, which ranges from funeral dirges to humorous reflections on friendship, community, and city life, is rife with political commentary. Ranging from Ambedkarite and anti-CAA songs to others that expose the hypocrisies and contradictions of life in city “slums” as young, Dalit men, the everyday is made musical, the everyday is political. By contextualizing these trends within the history of caste-linked cultural contestations in Tamil Nadu, I examine how responses to Dravidian politics and the rise of Hindutva as well as Dalit political action have set the scene for musical politics of the everyday to emerge as the arena in which caste and political ideologies are both cemented and battled.