These Indian spoken word poets are using their art as tools for change

Aranya Johar is a student and poet who uses slam poetry to discuss issues like gender equality, mental health and body positivity. (Courtesy of Aranya Johar)

Aranya Johar is a student and poet who uses slam poetry to discuss issues like gender equality, mental health and body positivity. (Courtesy of Aranya Johar)

Don’t miss performances by three female poets on girls’ education and gender equality in India.

24-year-old Ankita Shah, an Indian spoken word artist and co-founder of The Poetry Club, believes in the potential of poetry to create change in her community. "Poetry comes as a powerful tool then to open people to new ideas and new perspectives," she shares. "It is an easy and accessible art form to everyone who is willing to listen."

That's why on International Women's Day, Ankita participated in the #PatriarchyKaPackUp challenge, an initiative that called on poets across India to share their thoughts on girls’ education, gender equality and politics through spoken word performances. UnErase Poetry, an organisation that promotes spoken word poetry in India, led the challenge.

Many of the #PatriarchyKaPackUp performances highlighted the difficulties girls in India face when going to school. 38% of secondary school-aged girls in India are not in school — and even more are likely to drop out early because of gender bias, poverty or child marriage. In their poems, female writers shared how they fought to go to school and the benefits of educating girls.

Meet three female poets who participated in the #PatriarchyKaPackUp challenge.


Ankita Shah

"I feel poetry is a beautiful art form that talks about our everyday lives with images and metaphors to say that which is often unsaid, unheard and unobserved,” says Ankita on her love of poetry. “And for bringing about change in people, we often have to address the space between what is known and what is unknown.”

Her #PatriarchyKaPackUp poem, “If Girls Are Educated,” explains that the lack of girls’ schools in India isn’t the only reason girls don’t complete their education — gender discrimination, child labour and early marriage all prevent girls from learning. “Policies are not made in isolation / Of the problems that surround it,” Ankita writes. She calls on leaders to address these societal barriers in addition to improving the infrastructure.

 
 

Priya Malik

A former high school teacher, Priya is now a spoken word poet and gender equality activist. In her #PatriarchyKaPackUp poem, “Right To Learn,” she describes her mother’s sacrifices to ensure that she could go to school and be independent: “My mother, on one hand, tried to make ends meet / On the other hand, she taught me how to stand on my own two feet.”

Priya participated in the challenge because she sees poetry as an effective catalyse for progress. “I believe that words can translate into action which eventually leads to change and spoken word poetry does exactly that,” she shares. “It makes people feel something, it makes them feel the need for change."

 
 

Aranya Johar

20-year-old Aranya is a student and poet who uses slam poetry and social media to discuss issues like gender equality, mental health and body positivity. Her #PatriarchyKaPackUp poem, “The Language of Equality,” questions how much longer girls and women have to fight to be educated: “how many more fatalities will it take / for the glass ceiling to crumble and break / to disintegrate.”

Aranya values her own education and is determined to give every girl the opportunity to learn. "I was privileged enough to have access to an education but I could very easily have been like any of the millions of girls across our country who are denied access to an education,” says Aranya. “I encourage others to join the #PatriarchyKaPackUp challenge and use the power of spoken word to demand change. It’s time for decision makers invest in our futures because we are the future of India."

 
 

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About the author

Sabrina de Souza is the Advocacy Manager at Malala Fund. She loves cooking, travelling and her miniature sausage dog puppy, Peanut.