Indian Band SXonomics Using Spoken Word Poetry To Talk Feminism & Fight The Patriarchy

Using creative means to talk about feminism? Check! Dismantling patriarchal norms through poetry and music? Check! Teaching parents about the harms of gender norms via videos? Check! That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but an overview of what Indian band SXonomics uses their platform for. The group was founded by Ishmeet Nagpal and Ramya Pandyan.

The Mumbai-based duo first came together for a performance in May 2017, according to a feature article on Scroll.in, at the South Asia Laadli Media Awards. SXonomics was formed after conversations about injustice and inequality and in the friendship that came from shared ideologies. Following this debut, the performers have since appeared at colleges, festivals, at poetry venues, comedy events and activist forums, and are steadily growing an audience in India and beyond (we’re fans!).

Scroll.in’s Damini Kulkarni writes how digital marketer Ramya initially began writing and performing poetry since 2009. Ishmeet, a social worker, was associated with the Laadli Foundation and was asked to put together poetry performances for the Media Awards. The core theme of their work is to help more people understand what feminism is all about.

“We are trying to make feminism accessible, cool and fun,” said Ishmeet.

“It’s difficult for people to understand the concepts of feminism – it just becomes very easy to show it to people if it’s a video,” she added.

The name of the band came from an idea that runs through Indian society, where parents view their children’s worth based on what they can achieve or provide for them.

“I wanted this idea, that parents often measure their children’s worth in terms of the money they will bring, to be a core part about what SXonomics spoke about. We also started out wanting to explore how Indian men’s affection seems transactional, with their idea that mothers need to be respected because they do so much for their children,” said Ishmeet.

The video below titled ‘What Will People Say’ was performed at the Music Arts Poetry Festival 2017, at the Bombay Presidency Radio Club. As outline on their Facebook Page about this performance, the women said they wanted to challenge how everyday language can affect the way we look at certain issues.

“Our set ‘What will people say?’ highlighted patriarchy’s intrusion in everyday language right from arranged marriage discussions to dating dilemmas to locker room talk and digital chitchat,” they said.

Weaved throughout their words and work are discussions about gender roles and assumptions placed on men and women in India, including sexist attitudes toward women especially. Not all of their pieces are designed to be activism, simply a way to share their personal experiences.

“We do not necessarily speak about things we want to change. Sometimes, it is just things that have happened to us and need to be expressed,” said Ishmeet.

In our opinion, shared experiences are often the best and most influential types of activism. When people are willing to stand on stage or in front of a camera and become vulnerable, risking criticism or potential division, therein lies the key to societal change through the voices of everyday people rising up.

The band says they want to use as many creative avenues as possible to ensure their messages reach the right audiences and can be the most effective. Spoken word is only one type of performance they do. The duo also uses a combination of drama, satire, role play and music to address patriarchy.

“What we are doing still has several elements: we are singing, we dance, we do theater, we are satirical, we parody things. We are trying to make it engaging, trying to determine how we can make it interactive and how we can bring audience in the conversation,” said Ramya.

We’ve often talked about how art and creativity are incredibly powerful vehicles to sharing important messages, often even more than politics or academics. Music and comedy can come across as non-threatening, something that everyone can identify with and find entertaining. However, when you look throughout history, art has always been political, becoming the amplified voice of societies shifting and evolving through historical movements.

While SXonomics touch on topics that are universally understood, such as shaming other women for their choices, there are issues that are specifically directed toward an Indian audience. The two women have dissected the way sexism in India is deeply tied in with the caste system which discriminates against those of a lower socio-economic bracket. In this way they are reinforcing the notion of intersectionality, something today’s feminist movement can no longer ignore in order to stay relevant.

“We have seen recently how there are people denying all other biases. There are so many people who focus only on gender oppression and wind up discounting caste and class. Feminism cannot exist in a vacuum, separate from all other issues,” said Ishmeet.

Of course, as almost every woman who exists online and dares to speak out (especially about feminism), the women have experienced some backlash, with people accusing them of “man-hating”. They have received abuse, and in one case they were insulted for their talking about cross-dressing. But it didn’t bother them too much, nor did it stop them.

“I am an LGBTQ activist and these words are not insulting at all for me, but it points to how our society operates,” said Ishmeet.

Above all, they want to help change cultural attitudes toward feminism, which may seem like an uphill battle as there are parts of India which are still very conservative. Although gender-based violence is widespread in India, as outlined by the confronting documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ and seen in subsequent years after the Delhi gang-rape incident of 2012 showed how common this issue is, there are still people who don’t want societal problems to be talked about.

Leslee Udwin’s documentary was banned by the Indian government for the way it exposed such a hideous truth that was covered up by institutional bias. But if true progress is ever going to be made, societies and people in power must be willing to confront problems head on. Sadly this doesn’t always happen, an in some cases political leadership can often be the cause of systemic violence and oppression. Here in the U.S we have seen glimpses of that this year under the Trump administration with executive orders regarding immigrant children, transgender military members, and Muslims.

This is why activism is so vital for the progress of any society, especially in the form of art. While legislation can definitely help kickstart change, cultural attitudes have to be transformed in other, powerful ways. SXonomics hope their creativity can help dismantle sexism, and position feminism to be a standard part of pop culture the same way certain Bollywood celebrities are.

“People are so comfortable in their minds with misogynistic references. I just want feminism to also be something that is welcome on the furniture of your mind. It ought to be sitting on the same plush sofa that has been the prerogative of Salman Khan or Honey Singh so far,” said Ramya.

You can check out SXonomics in action in the video below. The piece titled ‘Revenge Porn’ was part of their set ‘What will people say’ at a poetry event at The Habitat, Khar, in November 2017:

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  1. Pingback: LA-based GirlTalkHQ covers SXonomics: ‘Indian Band SXonomics Using Spoken Word Poetry To Talk Feminism & Fight The Patriarchy’ | The Idea-smithy

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