Hello! My name is Sofia Ashraf. I'm content creator by profession, and a rapper by digression. This is my story! Kodaikanal won't. Kodaikanal won't. Kodaikanal won't step down, until you make amends now. This is the story of, Kodai's frustration, known to us as a princess of hill-stations. Unilever came and left devastation, as they exposed the land to contamination. Now this is real, prolonged exposure got many men killed. There's children born being seriously ill. The environment is polluted still, now that's some toxic shit. By the way, what they say, that their battery was safe as day. They don't trust a word of what the workers say. What about the polluting? The mercury poisoning? It is life threatening, there's kids suffering, poison in the soil, you don't have us foiled.
Your cleanup was a sham. There's poison in the air, you ain't done-da done done. Kodaikanal won't! Kodaikanal won't! Kodaikanal won't step down until you make amends now. Unilever, cleanup your mess, Unilever, cleanup your mess. Unilever, I said clean up your mess, I said cleanup your mess. That's right, cleanup your mess. Unilever has been hiding behind their fake PSAs, and their Pepsodent smiles. They've washed their hands off Kodai with Lifebuoy, There's nothing Fair or Lovely about this trial. But, this is real. Prolonged exposure got many men killed. There’s children born being seriously ill. The environment is polluted still. Now, that's some toxic shit.
By the way, what they say, that their battery was safe as day They don't trust a word of what the workers say. What about the polluting the mercury poisoning? It's life threatening, there's kid suffering. Poison in the soil, you don’t have us foiled. Your cleanup was a sham, there’s poison in the air. You ain't done done-da done doneKodaikanal won't Kodaikanal won't! Kodaikanal won't step down until you make amends now. Thank you so much! So this, this is the video, that it just blew up! It hit like, it hit 3.5 million views in 3 days. It just blew up! And I just want to see a show of hands. How many of you liked or shared or commented, or signed the petition. Right? Now, all of you, Thanks to you guys! Five hundred and ninety one families, got compensated by, Hindustan Unilever. I've been painted as the sole crusader, who stood up in front of this huge, multinational corporation, that is, actually ridiculously far from the truth. There have been a number of people, behind this struggle. In fact it's a fifteen year long struggle that has finally, come up to this point. The actual NGOs behind this are Other- Media, and Chennai Solidarity group who have actually worked, collectively together for fifteen years. Releasing publications, ticket fencing, standing out there on protest marches, doing research, releasing information about this. They've really fought, and then they realized, that you know nothing was happening so maybe, we need to do something else, but I'm getting ahead of myself. How did I get associated with NGO, and this was I think a lot of luck coming into play.
Back in college, I loved the stage, I loved the lights, I loved the mic. I'm not sure if I like cameras on me though. I wish I had worn some foundation. So, I loved being on stage and I used to rap, and back then, I used to write my own raps because, I loved writing. And, here is the deal, back then I was strongly religious, so, I wrote about things that matter to me. So while everyone else in these college festivals, were doing metallica covers, here's this little diminutive figure in a burkha, spitting rhymes about her identity about a hijabi, and when you say things that, when your voice is own, when you speak about yourself, and when your opinions are your own, you do stand out. So that's how, Siddharth Hande, one of the volunteers, at one of the NGOs, discovered me, and, introduced me to Nityanand Jayraman. Nityanand Jayraman is an activist, a journalist, an all round hero, who would 8 years later release a song, called Kodaikanal won't. So, that was how it all started. Niti told me about this really really cool thing called Justice Rocks. I have to tell you about Justice Rocks! See what Justice Rocks is, it’s like a copyleft, it’s a rock show. But, it’s a protest rock show, where we talk about environmental pollution, we talk about, human rights violation, you know typical things that rock stars talk about I’m sure. So, we have these rock shows, and if you notice when there is rock show, they generally have sponsors. And then you stand on stage and say, “Oh my God! We would like to thank our alcohol brand sponsor! Please destroy your livers. They’re awesome!” You’re forced to say nice things about undeserving sponsors. No matter how many sweatshops they own or how many child slaves they employ. Now, we are anti-establishment. We are anti-corporate. We can’t put up our show that is all like, “Yes! Stick it to the man." They’re like, “Oh! Please drink this black water of imperialism. Pesticides. Mm” We can’t do that, right? So we have an interesting concept. We don't have sponsors. But we have the opposite of a sponsor. What we call an unsponsor.
We will pick an entity, who has been flouting human rights, or who has been polluting the environment, who has just been bad, guys. And then, we call them our unsponsor, and we lampoon them throughout the show saying, “These guys suck! Please don’t buy anything from them”. So, that first year, the Justice Rocks, it was unsponsored by Dow Chemicals. Dow Chemicals is the company that bought over Union Carbide, who was responsible for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. I just want a show of hands, how many of you know about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy? Fantastic. I am so glad. Because this was India’s worst industrial disasters. But you know what happens? The government is trying to wipe it from our memory. The greatest tool that these governments and corporate have, is to make you forget. Have you ever noticed, like after, okay, just think there is a terror attack in Mumbai, immediately they’re like, “Oh! The resilient people of Mumbai have got up and moved on!” Or there has been a flood in Chennai, “Oh! The resilient people of Chennai have got up and moved on!” Forgetfulness is not a good trait. We have moved on. Have we learnt anything from this? Have we looked at the natural drainage systems of water in our city? No. We moved on. We forgot. They want to wipe-out public memory. They want to make sure that you don’t learn from your mistakes so that when they come in and say, “Oh! We’re making an India, we’re polluting an India, we’re developing an India, you don’t remember what a Bhopal Gas Tragedy cost you.” So, that first year. You know what’s scary? Dow Chemicals still operates in India. They sell us pesticides, sometimes illegal pesticides. They sell you Eveready batteries. So, that in 2008 we got up on stage and we told engineering students, “Guys, these guys-bad company! Don’t work for them.” It was that simple. So back then, in 2008, I’m telling you, Dow was offering 11 lakh packages in engineering colleges. So we got up on stage and we told them, “Don’t work for Dow”.
So, I basically did a rap battle where I pretended to be the people of Bhopal, I was battling Dow Chemicals, and telling the people, “Don’t work for Dow.” This, is that song. True, it was quite some time ago, but fool, the fight ain’t done and over, years ain’t quite the matter no more. This isn’t road kill, death’s still taking its toll. There's water water everywhere, corroding our copperware. It’s so polluted, quite deluding. The slaughter hasn’t ended. The field’s a mess and meals are less and nevertheless, you don’t seem to care. The worst effects are the birth defects that still affects even the third generation. Don’t get swayed. Come on, people awake! Keep this evil away, from murdering our nation. Say, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t work, don’t work for DOW! Saying no more uh-ohs. No lame excuses now. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t work, don’t work for DOW! Saying no more uh-ohs. No lame excuses now. Thank you. Man! What an audience! So, this song went as viral as it could in those days of contained social media proliferation. This song actually was mildly successful. We had IIT boycotting the placements in IIT Chennai. We managed something, liittle something. And this was my first tryst with “Raptivism”. It was also my first tryst with labels being thrust on me. See whenever you’re a woman doing something in this country you’re not just an artist. You’re a female rapper. You’re a female writer. You’re a female actor. You know someone once called me a “FEMCY”. I sound like a contraceptive pill. Like, guys I’m a rapper.
But then, I moved on. I did this and I moved on. I moved to Bombay. I got a job in advertising. I just concentrated on making the logos bigger but then, every year I would keep going back to Justice Rocks to speak about issues that mattered because it was my way of dealing with my guilt and figuring out like, “Oh man! I don’t want to be a complete sell-out.” So I would go back every year and perform. Now what had happened is, you heard in the introduction about Hindustan Unilever. Hindustan Unilever had polluted Kodaikanal and for years we had been trying to fight against them. The NGO had tried everything. They performed. They had Justice Rock concerts. Everything. But, nothing seemed to be moving. And that, you know why? Because Hindustan Unilever has a squeaky clean image. They’re seen as this clean and green company. They make these corporate videos where, Sabun se haath dho lia (Wash your hands with soap) and then, you reduce the mortality rate in India. Bhai, aap sabun banate ho (Brother, you make soap). You haven’t discovered penicillin. Like, what is this bullshit? So, they had this image on social media that we wanted to break. Nityanand Jairaman came up to me and he said, “Sofi, we need to hit them where it hurts most. We need to take to social media and try to, probably, show them for the villains that they are.” So I had a little bit of experience with social media because I worked in advertising and I said, “Hey! You know what? Let’s spoof a song! Let’s spoof a song already steeped in controversy and maybe you know, we’ll gather some views. And, that is this song. And that’s what I want to say. Art has great power. But, art alone cannot change the world. Music with a message is great. But, a message with an actionable outcome is even better. So I want to just leave you with a few learnings that I learnt thanks to this campaign. One, if you want to create a message, a music, a song for a cause, one, research well. Get in touch with the organisations or the communities that you are trying to help, and actually make sure that there is some sort of an actionable outcome that comes out at the end of it.
Now, I can just stand up here and sing a song about AIDS. What? Have I cured it? No. If I can figure out some way to get anti - *retra-something* virals out to the people then it makes sense. Second thing that I want to say quickly is, “How do you stay relevant? How do you keep up with the pace of social media "The way to stay relevant is to never stop being an audience. Go out there! Go for gigs. Go for lectures. Watch videos. Laugh at silly jokes. The moment you stop being an audience is when you lose out your connection with them.