Drumming has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years, but women have not found a place in this tradition until recently. A group of Dalit women from the Mahadalit community in Bihar have formed the country’s very first all-female band of drummers, and they call themselves the Sargam Musical Band Group.
Two years ago, Sudha Varghese encouraged a few women from the community to begin training on the drums. Varghese is from the NGO Nari Gunjan, an organization that seeks to empower Indian women and girls.
“I always thought of the upliftment of the poor, and was surprised to see some women playing music at a social gathering during my trip to South India. I decided to implement this idea in Bihar and thus came into being the all-women musical band,” said Varghese. “Initially the rural women were reluctant to the idea but eventually they agreed for it and now they are challenging the male bastion. This is a great satisfaction for me.”
For 10 months, the group of women would practice for over two hours a day, with the help of a bandmaster who would travel from Patna to teach them how to play. When they weren’t practicing, they continued their previous duties of tending to agricultural fields, completing household chores, and taking care of the children.
“It was not easy for us to gain mastery over drumming and reach to this stage. Our husbands discouraged us while the other male villagers would taunt us when we began learning with the help of a local drummer, but we hardly cared about their comments. Now, we are proud of our achievements,” said Savita Devi, the head of the now 10-member band.
Regardless of the community’s opinions of the women, the band has successfully captured the attention and respect of their district and the surrounding areas. They are in high demand to play at weddings, ceremonies, social gatherings and festivals, and have traveled as far as Bhubaneshwar and Dehli.
The band is booked nearly every day and charges Rs10,000-15,000 (Indian Rupees) a gig, which is equivalent to about $150-250 USD. Each band member earns around Rs30,000-50,000 a month, or $500-$800 USD. All of the women have gained financial security and freedom through this creative outlet, and can now support their families confidently.
“A lot of happiness has come into our lives. We are not educated but we are now able to send our children to schools to get education,” said group member Pancham Devi.
Not only has this job changed their economic situation, it has also shown them a lot of respect from members of their community. All 10 women would say that their spirits have been completely changed from being part of the band. They feel empowered and liberated, and can’t wait to see what opportunities open up for them in the future.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter