The Arts

'Obscenity': Two Maharashtra Rappers Booked for Hard-Hitting Songs on Social Injustice

Raj Mungase's song attacked the Eknath Shinde-led government without mentioning names. Umesh Khade criticised politicians for ignoring poverty. Notably, neither named anyone in their songs.

Mumbai: Two young rappers posted videos of their songs on the internet. In a matter of minutes, both songs went viral on social media. The two men, from two different parts of Maharashtra and perhaps unknown to each other, had raised similar political and social questions. 

While Raj Mungase’s rap attacked Maharashtra’s Eknath Shinde-led government (without mentioning names), Umesh Khade criticised politicians for ignoring poverty-stricken people for their personal gains.

The Maharashtra police found both the songs “obscene” and booked the rappers in two separate cases. 

On March 25, Mungase, a young man from Aurangabad, released his new song “Chor” on a YouTube channel called ‘Bhimraj production’. His song directly opens with the lyrics “Chor aale 50 khokhe gheun kiti bagha, chor aale…ekdum okay houn”, which loosely translates to, “Look, the thieves have come with Rs 50 crore. Look, the thieves look all fine”. 

The song, which has over 22,000 views till date, mentions no political party or politicians.

But it hints at the allegations made against the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and the MLAs of his faction of the Shiv Sena who had camped in Gujarat, Assam and Goa in June last year after breaking away from the then Mahavikas Aghadi government and aligning with BJP. The MLAs were accused of taking hefty bribes to jump camps and bringing down the Uddhav Thackeray government. Shinde became the chief minister after this political coup.  

Mungase was picked up from Aurangabad and brought to Ambernath in Thane district following the registration of an FIR based on a complaint filed by an activist from the Shinde faction. The Ambernath police, however, have denied having detained Mungase. 

Mungase was booked under section 501 (defamation), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace) and 505(2) (statements creating enmity between classes) by the Shivajinagar police station in Ambernath.

His younger brother Somesh, speaking to the media in Aurangabad, said days before the FIR was registered, the police had even visited their home. Afraid of police action, Mungase had gone into hiding before he was taken to Mumbai, his brother claimed. “He has done no wrong. It is an angry rap against the state of politics but he mentions no names. Now our family is afraid of the repercussions,” Somesh said. 

Ambedkarite activists from Aurangabad shared that Mungase comes from a Dalit community and has of late been participating in Ambedkarite movements. “He accepted Dhamma Deeksha (converted to Buddhism) only recently,” shared Gunratna Sonawane, an Aurangabad-based student rights and anti-caste activist. 

Khade’s song, on the other hand, is more generic. Unlike Mungase’s song, it does not criticise or side with any political party. His rap simply focuses on how the poor and marginalised are left to fend for themselves even as the political parties are busy striking lucrative deals. Khade, a Mumbai resident, is more famous as Shambho and his Youtube channel ‘Shambho Rap’ has over 3.74 lakh subscribers. 

On April 6, the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of Mumbai police lodged a complaint against Khade for uploading a song, ‘Janta bhongali keli’ (‘You stripped the public naked’). ‘Bhongali’ is a common rural slang used to denote nakedness. Khade, in an acerbic tone, hits out on the state for not caring for its citizens.

He is unforgiving of the opposition too. “Virodhak Shashak dost aahet chalay, fakht tumchach mast aahe laad (‘opposition and ruling parties are both hand in glove, they are having a gala time’),” he sings. The 2:54 minute rap got close to 80,000 views since it was posted on March 11.

Soon after Khade was called for questioning to Wadala police station, Nationalist Congress Party leader and MLA Jitendra Awhad accused the police of harassing both Khade and his family. Awhad, supporting Khade, tweeted: “Khade and his parents were detained at the Wadala police station. There is nothing offensive in this song. He has not named anyone. He has spoken about his poverty in this song.”

“This is not a police state. We will not let freedom of expression in a democracy crush us like this,” he further adds.

The Wadala police have claimed that Khade was let off after questioning. Khade has been booked under section 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace), 505 part 2 (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes) of the Indian Penal Code and section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of IT Act, 2000. His song, similar to Mungase, nowhere mentions any community. So, it is unclear why the police have booked him for “promoting enmity between classes”.

In another tweet, Awhad wrote that if revolutionary poet Namdeo Dhasal was to be alive today, the state would have permanently put him behind bars. Dhasal’s work, steeped in harsh words, gave a raw depiction of lives in south-central Mumbai, where the famous red- light area Kamathipura is located. Dhasal had challenged socio-political caste hierarchical structures through his revolutionary writings. 

Vipin Tatad, a young rap artist from Amravati, and popular for his rap in the film Jhund and docu-series Murder in a Courtroom says that the recent police action “shook him”.

Tatad, a 25-year-old Ambedkarite artist, says that most rap artists reflect on their immediate surroundings and capture the subtleties of growing up in a disenfranchised neighbourhood. “Most artists emerge from small bastis and have lived in abject poverty. They are able to capture what is missed by the urban, savarna artists,” Tatad says. 

Underneath their cussing, Tatad points out, “The artists are trying hard to pull your attention to a more immediate political question. Rappers are vidrohi (rebellious) artists and if the state goes on criminalising us mindlessly, it would be counterproductive,” he says.

He vehemently rejects the “vulgar” and “obscene” tags that are used to attack rap. “This art form is not vulgar. If anything, it is death due to starvation, caste atrocities, increasing unemployment and poverty that should be termed ‘vulgar’,” he says.