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MD Pallavi’s anthem for intolerance

You don’t need to tolerate domestic violence—speak up and speak out, the musician says in a rousing new single

An art installation against domestic violence in Bonn, Germany
An art installation against domestic violence in Bonn, Germany (Unsplash; photo used for representational purposes)

Violence can come in many forms for women. Violence is a plate of food flung against the wall. Violence is being unable to discuss what’s worrying you without being afraid of defensiveness and anger. Violence is the expectation that you will work quietly in the background without expressing your needs or frustrations. And of course, there is violence of the literal sort; the kind that leaves bruises on your body.

Bengaluru-based musician Pallavi M.D.’s latest Kannada single Sahisabekilla Neevu ('you don’t have to tolerate it') addresses all these forms of violence. It is an anthem—sung with extraordinary power and a subtle sense of anger by Pallavi, a trained classical musician who has also composed the song—that carries not only a message against domestic abuse but also, for lack of a better term, an action point. With words by Kannada poet Mamta Sagar and additional vocals by musician Vasu Dixit, it is addressed to everyone vulnerable to violence in the home. You should not be afraid to talk about it, sing or complain about it, it says. Do something about it, go to the police, go to the courts. You don’t have to keep quiet because it is not your shame.

The song is part of a creative collaboration between Pallavi and Nyaaya, an organisation that is creating an open-access, digital resource that provides simple, actionable, and accessible legal information for all Indians. “When Nyaaya approached me to compose songs, specifically written and recorded with the purpose of them being nuggets of information about legal rights of citizens and their access to justice, it seemed deeply challenging and at the same time, necessary,” says Pallavi. “The challenge was to package legal jargon into hummable, easy-to-hear-and-understand songs that would also be calls to action.”

Sahisabekilla Neevu is the first song in this series called Namma Nade Nyaayada Kade (Our Move is Towards Justice) of which the first three are ready, says Pallavi over WhatsApp from Europe, where she is touring across cities with frequent musical collaborator Andi Otto, a German sound artist. Some of the other issues that have been touched upon in her work with Nyaaya are child marriage and right to education.

“Music can be a powerful medium to bring about social change. From my childhood, I remember the songs Ek titli, anek titaliyan and Mile sur mera tumhara, which drove home the message of unity in diversity for a lot of people from my generation. Music can be used to move, to unify and to pacify,” says Pallavi, who thinks while music can exist for its own sake, musicians and artists should respond to the world around them.

MD Pallavi has composed and sung the anthem
MD Pallavi has composed and sung the anthem

In recent years, independent music in India has seen a resurgence of protest songs tinged with social activism. Chennai-based Madara, aka Rahul Negi, has released songs about the gruesome deaths of 16 migrant workers on a train track in 2020, and before that, songs protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Kashmiri rapper Ahmer, whose 2019 debut album Little Kid, Big Dreams, produced by Sez on the Beat, was called “scorching” by Rolling Stone India, is a cult classic among Kashmiri youth. Tamil rapper and lyricist Arivu’s work has addressed caste and systemic injustices, climate change, and the CAA.

With Pallavi’s songs for Nyaaya, there is an added element of not just talking about injustice but providing solutions too. These anthems are for everyone who has felt helpless, befuddled by the legal system, and unable to confront it in a still deeply feudalistic and hierarchical society. Nyaaya assures us that it may not always be so.

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