Aslah Vadakara and Shaharbanu CP
Before saying anything about the “Willuwandi”, the musical band, we need to talk about a great event in Dalit history in Kerala, which could better explain the name of this music band-Willuwandi.
The Public Works Department in Kerala was started in the 1860s in Travancore.The foreign engineer proposed to Srimoolam Tirunal, the king of Travancore, a plan to construct a road in the North of South Travancore. The king’s reply was, “As Murajapa Mahotsava is getting near, it is not possible to give manly or monetary support.” Because the rulers were not in need of roads. The pavement through which the litter carriers took them was not their concern.
Later, two roads categorised as the royal path (rajaveethi) and the local path (gramaveethi) were constructed. The local path was opened for public access, but the royal path had only restricted and private access. Though in 1886, the royal path too was open to the public, the society did not let it do so.
Ayyankali, born in the Pulaya caste, had been subjected to social injustice in his childhood itself when his freedom to travel was denied. Only the well-dressed elites traveled in the bullock cart or Willuwandi. The downtrodden people were forced to keep away from the paths the carts have taken. The conscientious Ayyankali decided to dissent their arrogance. He bought a bullock cart (known as Willuwandi), and made an adventurous journey through the public road wearing a dhoti, baniyan, turban with a wrapped angavasthram around his shoulder. This rankled the elite upper class. They obstructed his journey. Then Ayyankali pulled out his dagger and challenged the Savarnas. No one dared to oppose him. Without any fear, he resumed his journey in his own cart. His enthusiastic followers began to travel with him. The solo revolt of Ayyankali was a courageous footstep taken in history against casteism and denial of freedom of mobility.
Willuwandi, the Struggle through Music
Willuwandi is a symbol of resistance against the savarna atrocities. Castiesm still tangles the Indian society in threatening ways. The savarna hindu movements set out inhuman oppression aiming to hurt Dalits. Many people including Rohith Vemula, the research scholar and student leader of HCU, have been killed by Savarna fascists.
The Willuwandi Metal Band was formed in remembrance of Ayyankali. It alerts the necessity to go on with the creative struggles and expression of resistance. The Band was formed under the leadership of Dalit student activists of Ernakulam Maharajas College of Kerala, a college enriched with a deep history of several struggles. The band members of Willuwandi are Sethu and Swathi Sangeeth, students of Maharajas college and Balu and Subi, from CUSAT.
The popular songs from this band include “From Shadows to Light” in remembrance of Rohith Vemula, “Eat Me Brother,” “Najeeb” talking for the missing JNU student Najeeb, “Black God” paying homage to Ambedkar.
Babasaheb’s Coat and Megashow in Nagpur
Sethu, the Dalit activist and member of Willuwandi Metal Band says that “There is no need to highlight that Willuwandi has a significant history. Its roots itself lie in the public declaration of Mahatma Ayyankali that the public road is ours too. Our band is a struggle. Today in India Dalits and other minorities, especially Muslims have been leading their own resistance against the oppression they endure. Willuwandi musical band is in solidarity with them. We are not using any kind of brahminical musical apparatus. We wish to create a great Bahujan revolution by the political strategies raised by Babasaheb Ambedkar.”
“This country is ours too. We have to regain it. Willuwandi is an awakening song to invoke such realization. We are seeking yours, especially the youngsters’ support for that. .. My biggest dream is a music performance in Deekshabhoomi, the heart of Nagpur, where Babasaheb Ambedkar united lakhs of people, wearing the black coat of Ambedkar amidst hundreds of thousands gathered to bear witness,” says Sethu, UG final year student of Maharajas College.
The group has done several stage performances inside Kerala and is looking forward to getting their entry outside the state and fulfill their dream as shared by Sethu.
Aslah Vadakara is a Research Student in Anadolu University, Turkey. Shaharbanu CP is a member of the faculty in EMEA College, Malappuram, Kerala.