The Politics of Indian Punk

Some of the most compelling art and critical insight into the country's sociopolitical issues is coming from the fringes of India's music communities: its punks.

Uday Kapur

October 28, 2020

The Politics of Indian Punk

In December 2019, the Indian government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), fast-tracking citizenship for every religious minority in the subcontinent except Muslims, elevating the Hindu nationalist agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and triggering a brutal pogrom against Muslims in Delhi in late February. In the wake of ensuing protests, a small but dedicated community of musicians voiced frustration as chaotic, frenzied, and honest as those at the site of the agitations.

"Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, I've seen this city lose its soul to this kind of nationalistic politics that deals in absolutes," said Vrishank Menon, a member of Mumbai-based hardcore act Death By Fungi. "The rise of Hindu nationalism is also linked to rising privatization and gentrification. We're reaching a breaking point. The politics of our music is a reaction to the suffocation we feel."

Death by Fungi is part of a group of bands — including Pacifist, Hoirong, False Flag, The Riot Peddlers, Retromist, and others — that offer an abrasive, confrontational soundtrack to the country's stagnating economy and authoritarian policies. Eschewing the brand-reliant, infrastructure available to independent musicians in India, these bands are attempting to move beyond emulating the punk genre's sonics, reacting to Indian politics rather than lifting their politics from the Western artists they idealized. Some of the most compelling art and critical insight into the country's sociopolitical issues is coming from the fringes of India's music communities: its punks.