Hip-hop now voice of protest for Bangladesh youth

Prothom Alo English Desk | Update:

Bangladeshi youth are turning to rap music as a way to highlight inequality and exercise their freedom of speech. Photo: Asian CorrespondentYoung rappers of Bangladesh use music to criticise the country’s political 'dysfunction, democratic erosion and gaping inequality'.

Despite rapping rhyme about love, romance and money, they compose hip-hop numbers covering several recurring political themes, as writes Asian Correspondent.

One of such theme is the culture of silence around inequality.

"Everyone is silent … nobody is talking,” observes rapper Skib Khan in 'Shob chup.' The elite need inequality, he says, because “otherwise how will the rich get servants to serve their families?" read a 16 May article of the Asian Correspondent, a news website.

In Bangladesh, it said, more than 60 million people - nearly a third of the population - live below the poverty line of US$1.90 per day. Twenty per cent of Bangladeshis hold 41 per cent of all wealth of the nation.

Inequality, according to the article, is visible every day in the slums of the capital Dhaka, arguably the world’s most crowded city.

"But it is ignored in the nation’s political debate," read the article written by Mubashar Hasan, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Oslo.

Rapping for freedom of speech

Bangladeshi hip-hop is also a defense of free speech in a country where that right is rapidly eroding, the author observed.

In 2013, the government amended the Information and Communication Technology Act to mandate a jail sentence of up to 14 years for online speech deemed “offensive” by the authorities, the article pointed out.

Since then, 1,271 Bangladeshi journalists and activists have been charged with cyber defamation, according to New York-based rights organisation Human Rights Watch.

The proposed Digital Security bill, likely to be made as law, "would impose even stricter regulation of speech", observed the article.

Hip-hop artist Towfique Ahmed is a vocal critic of corruption in Bangladeshi politics. Photo: YouTube

In his track 'Bidrohi,' or 'the rebel,' rapper Towfique Ahmed sees these crackdowns as a violation of Bangladesh’s founding ideals.

“I haven’t seen the war but I heard of it. I don’t know how to do a revolution but my blood is on fire,” he raps. “Don’t take me as someone who is a stupid because of my silence.”

Another group Cypher Project raps about the high-profile 2014 murder case in which security forces abducted and killed seven people in Narayanganj.

Dysfunctional politics

By virtually any measure - political equality, freedom of speech, human rights, religious tolerance, freedom of the press - this is a country struggling with the most basic tenets of democracy, Mubashar wrote in his article.

One group, Uptown Lokolz has declared elections, which are held every five years, pointless, the article mentioned. The “country’s situation changes every five years,” they rap. Yet “whoever comes to power … everything is lost under the curtains of self-interest.”

Rappers indict self-serving politicians for the rise in religious violence in Bangladesh. In “White Democracy,” the rapper Matheon wonders “for how long religion would be subject of big politics … maybe I am a Christian but I understand your corruption.”

The US-based Bangladeshi rapper Lal Miah condemns politicians who foment religious zealotry as “frauds who are betraying the secular spirit of 1971.”

Towfique Ahmed has perhaps the most pointed critique, wrote the article. Bangladeshi politicians corrupting society for their own benefit are waging “false Jihad”, the article quoted him as saying.

Hip-hop in Bangladesh, as in the US, becomes protest music simply by unflinchingly portraying the harsh reality that too many young people live every day. the article concluded.

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