Bonding with roots, past glory through folk songs
CHENNAI: Breaking free from the clutches of bonded labour that haunted their community for generations, the members of the Rescued Bonded Labourers’ Association (RBLA) musical troupes are going back to their roots to track the lifestyle and past glory of their community by documenting the folk songs.
The members of Dolkattai Irula Kalai Kuzhu have recorded nearly 200 folk songs capturing the lifestyle of their community, which is classified as one of the six Particularly Vulnerable Tribal groups (PVTG) in Tamil Nadu.
The cultural association of RBLA is popuralising folk songs of the community, besides creating awareness about trafficking, bonded labourer system, and child marriage among others.
“Our forefathers lived inside forests. Hunting and gathering medicinal herbs were the main livelihood. The community was forced to move out of the forest in the early 1970s after laws banning hunting were implemented Since then, the community has been living at the mercy of landlords and changed our lifestyle,” said Durairaj, who heads the cultural troupe. Several rescued bonded labourers, including women, are members of the troupes.
Songs and music are intertwined with the community, which has songs for all occasions. “The knowledge of our ancestors passed onto the younger generations through songs. We want to bring them back and document them for the generation to come,” said Durairaj.
Being one of the lead singers and composers, Durairaj, along with 20 other members, have brought back several songs to life, encapsulating the nuance of their community’s lifestyle. Financial constraint is remaining a hindrance to Durairaj and his troupe to come up with an album. “It is our dream to come up with an album on the life of the Irula community and their struggles. But lack of resources is remaining as a stumbling block, “ Durairaj said.
Rescued Bonded Labourers’ Association (RBLA) musical troupes have also been performing at government programmes to create awareness about child labour, bonded labour, child marriage and trafficking, he said.
“We met elders in the community in different parts to record the songs they sing on various occasions. We recreated them by blending the old and new verses that suit audiences outside the community, too,” said 25-year-old Chinnaraj, son of bonded labourers, who were rescued from a woodcutting unit.
The BSc Hotel Management graduate has also penned a couple of songs to create awareness for the community and performed at Margali Makkal Isai, the cultural programme organised by noted film director Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Cultural Centre to highlight the plight of his community.
“I saw my parents toiling day and night in a woodcutting unit and mango grove. They managed to come out of the bonded labour system when I was about 10 years old. I realised their struggles and untold miseries as years passed by and want to work for the community,” Chinnaraj said and added that he chose folk and rap songs to educate the community about their rights.
“Filmmaker Ranjith and rapper Arivu encouraged me to write songs to educate my community. They were happy to see me and our troupe performing, highlighting the plights of the community and emphasising the importance of coming together to fight for our rights,” said Chinnaraj, who also inspired a dozen educated youngsters in Tiruvallur to work for the upliftment of the community.
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