By Caroline Paul Kanjookaran
“What were you doing at 18?” moderator Edith Kimani asks the audience assembled for the opening ceremony of Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum 2018, before answering her own question with a laugh: “Not much”. Apparently, the rhetoric question invoked the same effect it intended to, as a small silence fell over the audience, myself included. It’s hard not to feel admiration for the prodigy that took over the stage next – Ginni Mahi, who, at the tender age of 18, is already using her voice to tackle an issue of inequality in her native India. She talks to the audience, mostly in Hindi (an Indian language) mixed with English and then proceeds to belt out two of her songs. By the end of the second song, the audience is alive and clapping their hands rhythmically, to match Ginni’s vibrant tunes.
Hailing from the community of Jatavs in Punjab, India, Ginni is now the voice of ‘Dalit Pop’ in the country, a YouTube sensation in her own right. Her songs revolve around the lives of Sant Ravidass — founder of the sect to which she belongs — and Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar (popularly known as Babasaheb), India’s great Dalit leader, social reformer, and first law minister after independence, best known as the Father of Indian Constitution.
Ginni’s eyes light up animatedly, as she speaks to me about her model: “I draw a lot of inspiration from Babasaheb, as he’s one of the greatest Dalit leaders in India”. She adds: “I am very excited to be in Bonn, the very place where Babasaheb spent some time studying Sanskrit. This very fact makes my first visit to Germany even more special.”
The girl continues: “I try to follow in the steps of Babasaheb, who held a great vision for India on how to bring about development and progress in the country. I was very disturbed to see the inequalities existing in the society and the ways in which women are treated poorly, despite them being given several rights in the Indian Constitution.” According to Ginni, the rights remain mere words and are not implemented properly, so she is trying to make a difference through her songs about these problems. She is also attending many international events where she talks about the challenges she finds at home; and the girl also uses art to increase awareness. “Music is a medium that is close to my heart because people not only enjoy it, but also tend to understand the underlying messages better. That, for me, is very important,” she says.
“Equality and humanity are the two concepts I am passionate about,” Ginni continues, “Babasaheb stood for these two issues from the very beginning and fought hard to ensure that it is implemented. Along the way, he had to make great sacrifices as well, and the more I learn about him, the more inspiration I derive from his life and story”. Still, inequality remains a pressing challenge in India. “It should not mean that women lose sight of their rights,” Ginni points out, “For instance, many women in India become widowed or divorced, and they feel a pressure to remarry – but why should they if they don’t want to?” Ginni believes these women should stand up for their right to lead their lives on their own terms. “This is something I emphasize on greatly – every woman is free to either study, work, or do whatever she wants,” Ginni concludes, “I always stand for women’s rights, and I will continue my fight against inequalities and injustices.”
Ginni’s enthusiasm and optimism is infectious, as I finish the interview feeling a little more positive about tackling inequality in my home country – as you know, I also come from India. As this artist is determined to continue her fight, and I, on behalf of the women in India, am cheering for her.