Coded content: Daku’s latest work is a QR code. The technologically advanced artwork is his way of reiterating his message after the original graffiti he’d drawn, above, was removed by the municipality Image Credit: Sandeep Aryan

Daku, graffiti artist

A graphic designer by the day, Daku sneaks into the night and sprays the concerns of the common man on walls across Delhi. The 30-year-old graffiti artist, who goes by an assumed named that translates as bandit, has been painting his thoughts on walls, shutters, buses, buildings and trains across Delhi since 2008.

“There are boards on traffic signals in Delhi that say ‘Stop’, below them I have posted stickers that say ‘vandalism’, ‘corruption’ and ‘promising’. Now the boards read ‘Stop Vandalism’, ‘Stop Corruption’ and ‘Stop Promising’,”

Daku tells GN Focus.

During the Anna Hazare anti-corruption protests, thousands of people gathered at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi. Daku noticed that a lot of these protestors were unaware of what was happening and were there because everyone else was. Depicting this ignorance, he drew graffiti near the Ramlila Maidan showing a blindfolded man sporting a Gandhi cap. It said, ‘Blind nation’. This graffiti has now been removed.

“Visuals speak for themselves and are understood even by those who cannot read,” Daku says. “Streets and roads offer a wider reach as not all visit galleries, but everyone crosses a wall.”

It is Daku’s smart tactics that save him from prying eyes. The more novel ones include sporting a fluorescent orange jacket and working under the guise of a Public Works Department official.


Mohammad Muneem Nazir, musician

Mohammad Muneem Nazir is 30 years old and is the lead vocalist of Highway 61, a Sufi ethnic rock band based out of Pune. The band’s songs, which celebrate music, expression and freedom, is a fusion of classic rock with Urdu and Hindi lyrics.

Nazir was born in Kashmir and moved to Pune in 2000 to study engineering.

“I go to Kashmir every five to six months to write the lyrics, we have performed there in the past, but not anymore. Our songs are politically motivated and there are people who control and dominate and don’t want us to perform,” Nazir says. “We have realised it’s easier to perform, express and be accepted outside than in Kashmir.”

Highway 61 consists of six musicians from across the country and has performed in concerts, at educational institutions and also shared stage with Canadian musician Bryan Adams in 2011 playing to an audience of about 25,000 people.

At the moment, Highway 61 is working on its debut album Alif.


Priya Goswami, filmmaker

According to a recent World Health Organisation report, about 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Film-maker Priya Goswami has dealt with the issue subtly but firmly. Her movie A Pinch of Skin talks about FGM, a common practice within the Dawoodi Bohra community, a sect of Ismaili Shias, who live mostly in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Faith is how they reason FGM, while Islamic scholars say that Islam does not approve of it.

A Pinch of Skin received a special mention at India’s 60th National Film Awards this year and was shot in five cities across India. In the film, 25-year-old Goswami has spoken to women aged between 22-70 years, who talk about this secretive practice, which is sometimes even hidden from the girl’s father. It is carried out by women on girls as young as seven to maintain their chastity when they are older.

In the movie, women have spoken both for and against FGM. Since confidentiality was essential, Goswami shot the movie alone, showing only the hands, feet, shadows and silhouettes of women, not revealing their identity. Goswami feels that this is just the beginning and hopes activism will follow. “I want to start a conversation where none exists. So my agenda is to take this movie back to the community and make people talk about the issue. That would be a step towards activism,” she says.


Zubair Magray/Haze Kay, rapper

As 22-year-old rapper Haze Kay hits the stage to perform at a concert, the crowd applauds and screams. As his words get stronger, the screams soften, the cheer turns into concern and there is absolute silence when he sings the following lines: “Justice to the girls who were so innocent/Justice so our sisters can be roaming free/Justice to Aasiya and Neelofar/Justice to the girl from Delhi.”

The above lines from a song by Zubair Magray, who is known by his stage name Haze Kay, talk about atrocities on women in India.

Kay was born in the troubled valley of Kashmir and was inspired by Lowkey, an English musician and political activist of English and Iraqi descent, who sang about Gaza and Palestine. In 2009, Kay started rapping about the socio-political issues in India, particularly in Kashmir and became one of the first rappers from the state.

He has written about army brutality, massacres and custodial disappearances in Kashmir. After moving to Pune in 2010, he started performing in colleges and concerts. But it hasn’t been an easy ride. “The audience loves my songs and after the show we sit down for a discussion, but sometimes the management sees the lyrics and cancels the show,” Kay says. “I work independently on my laptop and mic as the studios I recorded started censoring my songs.”

Kay has rapped for three hours on a radio show. He was also invited to judge Rap Impact, Kashmir’s first-ever rap contest. But he walked out when the organisers said that he would not be allowed to rap about political issues. Kay is currently preparing for performances in Delhi and Mumbai at the end of the year.


Shilpi Marwaha, street theatre activist

Shilpi Marwaha has always been fascinated by street theatre. In college, she sat in the canteen and watched students from her college practise plays in the hot, dusty field. Clad in plain kurtas and jeans, the girls climbed on top of each other to form a monument, fell on the ground while questioning the government and sometimes even got hurt while catering to the audience on all four sides.

Today, 23-year-old Marwaha is a part of the Asmita theatre group in Delhi, headed by well-known theatre director Arvind Gaur, and performs up to eight street plays in a day. “Since we perform on the roads and streets, we get a chance to interact with the common man directly,” says Marwaha.

Along with her team, Marwaha has performed on issues such as road rage, lives of street children and domestic violence. After each performance, the team sits down for a discussion with the audience. “This provides a platform for people to debate and give their opinions. There have been times when men have confessed to molesting girls,” Marwaha says. “Recently, a seven-year-old boy, without the knowledge of his parents, called us and asked us to perform a play on atrocities against women in his locality. When asked, he hesitantly told us that he had a five-year-old sister who he cared for.”


Preethi Herman, online activist

Preethi Herman can help you take the next step towards accomplishing a cause you stand up for. The 31-year-old online activist has worked with tribal groups in the hinterland of India, environmental organisations and trade unions as well as women’s associations. She now works as the Country Lead and Campaigns Director for India with Change.org, a website that is also the world’s largest petition platform, growing by more than two million new users a month.

“We help campaigns win by providing a free, open petition platform that empowers people to start and win their own campaigns,” says Herman. “As a campaign unit, we provide people with strategy and media support. People across 18 countries are using Change.org in 15 languages to tackle everything from hyper-local to systemic international problems — and they’re winning every day.”

This was evident when 2,633 people from Delhi and the National Capital Region joined Kalpana Mishra’s campaign in 2012 and stopped singer Honey Singh’s performance on New Year’s Eve at a hotel in Gurgaon. The incident took place after thousands were outraged by Singh’s derogatory lyrics, with voicing their disapproval on Twitter, resulting in huge media coverage.

Herman believes campaigns can change the world. “Each campaign victory is my favourite. Be it a father seeking justice for his daughter who died because of an acid attack or someone who ensured that the authorities planted 18,000 trees for the 1,800 they cut. These victories prove that change can be brought about by regular people on issues that concern them. In India, the platform has also seen a spike in petitions on women’s rights, especially after the Delhi gang rape last year,” she says.