Early in 2016, Chandigarh’s Dub Sharma remixed student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s Azadi chant to create a powerful track that put a spring in the step of Indian protestors – and just about anyone looking for an infectious beat to dance to.
The track was released shortly after the chaos at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, when Kumar and other leaders of the student union were arrested after slogans that were purportedly anti-national were allegedly shouted at an event on campus. Kumar was brutally assaulted by lawyers when he was in detention.
His triumphant speech at the university upon his release weeks later reminded Indians of the freedoms we must still obtain, seven decades after Independence: from poverty, feudalism, capitalism, Brahmanism, the grip of the Sangh Parivar and of the casteist, patriarchal values contained in the ancient Manusmriti text.
Though it has now come to be associated with Kumar, the Azadi chant actually originated across the border. Feminist Kamla Bhasin heard a version of it when she visited Pakistan in 1984 and began to riff off it at rallies in India.
Early in 2019, Dub Sharma produced another take on the chant, for the film Gully Boy, about a rapper in a Mumbai slum.
In December 2016, the musician wrote a blog post explaining how his track came to be created.
“People don’t want to talk about ‘freedom’ properly because it is very convenient not to,” he wrote. “Even though most of them know how big this problem is but choose to stay lazy when it comes to expressing themselves. We need to talk about freedom as much as we can. We need to wake the lazy ones up. This isn’t the time to do what’s easy, it is the time to do what is needed.”
He added: “Amidst all this, i believe we as artists have a role to play. we should make content that helps amplify the reality so people cannot ignore it anymore.”
Read all the articles in the Art of Resistance series here.