Rhymes for Rights

A powerful music video brings forth the voices of women from a slum resettlement colony in Delhi

Hum Khadar ki ladkiyan, suno hamari baat (We, the girls of Khadar, hear what we have to say)”. As they stare into the camera and sing in unison, one cannot help but hum along to the catchy refrain. Their gaze is determined, their words eloquent and their message commanding.

They belong to Madanpur Khadar, one of the many slum resettlement colonies on the periphery of Delhi. In the music video Khadar ki Ladkiyan (Girls of Khadar), they sing about the lack of infrastructure in their neighbourhood and the patriarchal constraints, sexual harassment and violence women encounter.

“We don’t have regular water supply, a proper sewage system, sanitation or parks where women can hang out. It is difficult for girls to step out of the house at night. Their families get worried about their safety,” says Jagriti, who wants to inspire women to live on their own terms through the video. The 19-year-old is an admirer of Lata Mangeshkar and aspires to become a teacher.

The music video is part of Gendering the Smart City, a project helmed by Dr Ayona Datta of King’s College, London, in collaboration with Jagori, an NGO, and Safetipin, a social enterprise. Ayona started a WhatsApp diary with a group of 11 girls from Madanpur Khadar to document their everyday experiences, digital lives and how they negotiate public spaces. “During a workshop,” she relates, “we discussed how we could creatively tell our stories through selfies — our participants are avid selfie-takers. I showed them viral videos, such as ‘South Delhi Girls’, and asked them how they would describe themselves in relation to their locality. That was when they began talking about Khadar ki Ladkiyan. I felt it should reference these settlements’ thriving grime music scene.”

The catchy lyrics and beats are a result of their collaboration with Sunayana Wadhawan, the video’s music director. She met the women on Sundays to synthesise their stories into the lyrics and experiment with rhythms and rhymes. “Apart from clapping and dancing,” she writes, “one of the exercises I conducted was an attempt to find a shared rhythm using a timing that we are all familiar with — the sounds made when we wash clothes.” They also took inspiration from female hip-hop artists, such as MC Kaur and Dee MC.

Shooting the video was often challenging. The narrow roads, mounds of garbage and lack of public transport made the process more cumbersome. Many of the participants were initially camera shy. Nandan Latwal, the director of the video, recounts, “We had to shoot multiple takes for a single 5-second line and at times, with zero success. The first day was exceptionally challenging, but the final few days went smoothly,” This transition is evident in the video — at times, the women seem hesitant, while at others, their confidence shines through.

While they were initially awkward about shooting in their neighbourhood, eventually people started recognising them on the streets, which made them feel like celebrities. Children began following them and echoed their verses: ‘Yeh Sheher humara aapka, nahi kisi ke baap ka (This city is for you and me, it’s no one’s property)’.

“After the clip was uploaded to YouTube, I was ecstatic,” confesses Ritu Singh, an MA Hindi student. “I never imagined I would be part of such a video, but I took up the challenge and learned a lot along the way. I hope it inspires girls to get out of the house, fight against societal constraints and achieve their potential.”

“This is just the first step — like a trailer,” she adds with a smile. “The film is yet to come.”

An edited version of this article was published in The Tribune.