Ginni Mahi, queen of Chamar pop, is more than a Dalit icon
The Punjabi artist has given freedom a new name: one without caste.
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Gurkanwal Bharti aka Ginni Mahi is a 17-year-old rapper from Punjab. She is also a dalit (or Chamar) and an Ambedkar loyalist.
Now she's the queen of "Chamar Pop".
Ginni's song "Danger Chamar" has gone viral on social media and it speaks of equality, Ambedkar, the Constitution and Ravidass.
Ravidass is the reverred founder of the Ravidassia community - the Dalit breakaway faith in Sikh-dominated Punjab, to which Ginni's family belongs. Her music is, at one level, just rejuvinating the words of Ravidass and Ambedkar.
"When I sang Mein fan huun Baba Sahib di, in praise of BR Ambedkar, it was not to cash in on the popularity of the man who enjoys immense respect in our community, but because he talked about human values," Ginni told India Today.
But she didn't really begin this way.
A profile tells us that Ginni has been singing at functions since the age of 13, aiming to get into Bollywood. Her songs were popular and her fan club grew.
She has also spoken of how a "fan" once came up to her and asked about her caste.
"I am from among the SCs," Ginni told the girl. "Which one?" the girl asked. "Chamar" Ginni replied.
"Oh! I should be careful. Chamars are danger, they say," the fan told Ginni.
At once, the 17-year-old gave YouTube "Danger Chamar". The song asks the Dalit community to unify against forces of social inequity and economic deprivation, reiterating the message of her two gurus: Ambedkar and Ravidass.
The video grabbed views and attention, propelling her to the status of a Dalit icon.Ginni Mahi released a sequal to Danger Chamar. Photo: YouTube
In the recent "Ki Hoya Je Main Dhee Hain", Ginni spoke out against female foeticide. Will she use pop to take on all social injustices?
"I feel the essence of my songs exhorts people from across castes, age groups and economic backgrounds to take a relook at themselves and realise the need to fight against injustice and oppression," she said.
"Freedom can never be just a seven-letter word. For me, it has multiple meanings. It is a space where sensitivity, empathy and non-discrimination flow unhindered."
With Ginni Maahi, that freedom has a new name: one without caste.