Women In Unison Can Change Their World – On Nari Gunjan

The Nari Gunjan Sargam Musical Band practising at Dhibra village near Patna. Photo by Ranjeet Kumar


Women In Unison Can Change Their World – On Nari Gunjan

By Jennifer Mulligan

I often read about microloan programs for women in disadvantaged countries. When women are given a chance at a better life through these opportunities, they often seize the opportunity to do so, and their entire community benefits.

The Nari Gunjan Sargam Musical Band, composed of ten Mahadalit women from the remote rural Indian village Danapur are doing something a little different. The women in this band are using drums as a communication tool, and in doing so, have changed the attitudes and the behaviors of their villagers around the issue of domestic violence.

By day, the ten women are agricultural laborers and maids, and earn very little money. But when the work day ends, they fuse into a group of strong, confident female musicians, commanding rates up to five times higher than what they make during the day, and playing their music at prestigious events. In November 2014, Nari Gunjan performed at the opening ceremony of the fifth Shashi Bhushan memorial theater festival at Kalidas Rangalaya. However, it’s what these women are doing in their own village that piques the most interest in people elsewhere.

When a woman in their village is experiencing abuse, the women of Nari Gunjan become a sort of mobile emergency response unit. They go to the house where the abuse is taking place, and they play their drums. By drawing direct attention to the abuse, they are effective at getting the woman’s husband to stop the abuse from fear of shame and disgrace within the community. This is a powerful tactic that is met with some fierce resistance. And, the response isn’t to back down, but to keep drumming.

The women in the group, ranging in age from 20­-60, agree that it is their didi, Sudha Varghese, who is responsible for who they have become as women in a position of power.

Sudha Varghese is a social worker and Catholic nun who works for the improvement of lives for women and children through the organization Nari Gunjan. This organization provides employment and teaches skills, arts and crafts, as well as looking after children from ages three to eight.

Sister Sudha has been quoted as saying, “I want to break the myth that women cannot do what men can do, I want to prove that women are equally or say better than men.”

This is a powerful statement from a Catholic, and even more so from a nun. Nuns everywhere have often been the women who fought for the lives of the poorest of the poor, the sick, old, or dying. My grandmother, after my grandfather died, and two of my aunts are nuns. Each of them contributed to my life, showing me that women could be in a position of power, and also compassionate and generous with those who have much less than most people in the world.

With a very immediate and effective response within their community, the women in the Nari Gunjan Sargam Musical Band demonstrate that we all have that power to change a situation for the better, but, we need to show up. We need to be vocal and not back down from oppression.

By learning and playing drums to evoke a powerful shift, these women are making the world a better place for every woman to exist without fear.


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