Have you heard Chamar Pop? If not, Ginni Mahi is a good place to start. Gurkanwal Bharti, popularly known as Ginni Mahi is 18-year-old singer from Punjab, who proudly identifies as Dalit as much as Punjabi, Ginni’s been reversing the pop music trend with her songs.
Mahi’s music, though catchy, comprises of revamped shabads (devotional songs) and songs about Dalit pride. With thousands of followers on Facebook and YouTube, Mahi has arrived. And this is rather interesting in the times of Punjabi hip-hop. Mahi’s music is earthy, sprinkled with Punjabi folk unlike brand Yo Yo or Badshah.
Her songs are rooted in Punjabi folk tunes and extol the virtues of BR Ambedkar and Sant Ravidass, both powerful Dalit icons. Mahi’s family belongs to the Ravidassia faith, founded out of Sikhism, that believes in the oneness of God. The teachings of Ravidassias are compiled in the Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji, the community’s holy book. Mahi’s songs are, for the most part, shabads or hymns written in praise of her Guru. Born to Rakesh Chandra Mahi and Paramjeet Kaur Mahi in Jalandhar, Punjab, Mahi realised that she wanted to be a singer at a very young age. She remembers going up to her father and saying, “Papa, ek gaana sunau? (Papa, shall I sing you a song?)”
Her doting father, who changed his children’s surnames from Mahi to Bharti because he says he wanted them to be remembered for being Indian above all else, thought there was an element of magic in her voice and endeavoured to take her to every music producer he knew. They eventually found a champion in Amarjeet Singh of Amar Audio, who has produced both of Mahi’s albums, Guran di Deewani and Gurpurab hai Kanshi Wale Da.
Surrounding Mahi is a team of family members committed to turning her dream into a reality. Her team consists of members of her joint family, especially her mother, father and chachi (aunt), who listen to hundred of songs before deciding which ones Mahi should sing. The team has focused exclusively on songs with Dalit pride messages so far, but Mahi’s father says that they aren’t restricting themselves to devotional songs. He says, “Thodi pehchaan banane ke liye humne devotional songs chune (We chose devotional songs to cultivate her identity).
Her videos, though not of high quality, are a treat to watch. In ‘Danger Chamar’, we see Mahi, dressed like the girl next door, challenging the mainstream ‘Punjabi swag’ with her confident singing and Hulk-like men in the background, who do nothing but flex muscles. Way to be subversive. And what does Ginni Mahi sing while men flex their ‘doley-sholey’? About the ‘Danger’ that is a ‘Chamar’, of course.
About growing up with the constant reminder that chamars are dangerous – the kind of otheri – sation Dalits constantly face. Instead of being a victim, Mahi decided to make a song about it that’s so catchy and absurd all at once that you begin to see the point. As a devout Ravidassia – follower of the Sant Ravidass school of Sikhism – Ginni Mahi’s music has strong religious under – tones. She sings in praise of her Guru Sant Ravidass, who like her other hero Dr BR Ambedkar, is also a Dalit icon. However, un – like devotional music at large, Mahi incor – porates dance beats that make her music youth-friendly. One of her songs called ‘Fan Baba Sahib Ki’ goes, “Main thi Babasaheb di, jine likheya si samvidhaan” (I’m Ambedkar’s daughter, the man who wrote the Constitution).
She goes on to sing about the significance of her identity and how she, as a young Dalit woman, needs to be heard. In her track ‘ Haq’, she sings about fight – ing for rights and how Babaseheb has taught Dalits to speak up. Mahi considers her songs to be ex – tremely important in reminding her com – munity to remember their Guru. “ Unhone apni taraf se sirf Dalit samaj ke liye nahin, par pure world ke liye kaha tha ki mein aisa raj chahta hoon ki jahan par kissi tarah ka bhi bhed-bhav na ho. Equality sabhi ko mile (From his side he [Guru Ravidass] did not just talk for the Dalit community, he said it for the whole world that I want a dispensa – tion without caste discrimination, where ev – eryone is equal),” she adds.
In her song Dan – ger 2 she repeats this message. She takes the unpleasantness usually associated with her caste name (Chamar), often used as a slur, and turns it into something empowering, a tag of pride. She’s mindful of the support she’s received from her community and says that her songs are a way of promoting her “Dalit samaj” and religion. She recently cleared her class 12 exami – nations with an aggregate of 77 percent and is now beginning her first year at college. Her family is adamant that she complete her education, even as she dreams of con – quering the hearts of millions of Indians with her singing. Budding playback singer she may be, but for now, Mahi also has col – lege to worry about.