Rajasthani Folk Singer Sumitra Das Goswami Is Paving The Way For Women To Take Control Of Their Dreams
- IWB Post
- August 30, 2019
Rajasthan’s folk music mesmerizes everyone with its beautiful rhythms and words. The music has a rustic touch to it and originates from emotions, stories, and daily activities of Rajasthani people, which binds listeners till the end with its melodious tunes. While every community has its own folk entertainment, one among them, known for its rich musical repertoire, is the Kamad (or kamadiya) community – the wandering minstrels who sing hymns in praise of Baba Ramdeo, a famous saint from Marwar, whose footprints they worship.
The social norms of the rural community do not allow the women to perform in public spaces, however, Sumitra Kamad, better known as Sumitra Das Goswami, who hails from the village of Jaitaran in Pali district, has been defying these norms and acting as an agent for change through her sheer passion for singing.
It wasn’t easy for Sumitra to begin her journey in the world of music, which has brought her many laurels over the years. She was boycotted by the members of her community because women were forbidden to sing in public spaces, as it demeaned the social status of the family and the community. However, she owes her success to her father who believed in her talent and fought the society to let his daughter live her dream.
Sumitra’s introduction to music started at a young age. Her father worked as a construction worker during the day and spent nights singing traditional songs at the temple. Inspired by him, she decided to take over his legacy, turning a deaf ear to the societal conventions. As destiny was in Sumitra’s favour, she was noticed by Jitendra Pal Singh, founder of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Over the years, with their backing, she has performed in several international concerts and features regularly at Indian music festivals.
In a recent conversation with Sumitra, we got insights into the life of the front-runner of the Kamad community, whose hypnotic voice has earned her a loyal fan base.
Here are the excerpts:
Tell us about the life of women in your community.
Women in our community are confined to the boundaries of their household. Most of them are housewives and their husbands work as farmers and labourers. Women in our community are not allowed to be singers, only men can take up this profession. I haven’t married anyone in my community till now because I will have to leave this profession. So, if I do get married someday then it will be someone from some other community, who supports my passion because I wouldn’t compromise on it. However, my family has been very supportive of my decision and I want my life partner to accept me for who I am and what I do because being a singer is not wrong in my eyes. My father has worked very hard for me to reach this level and I can’t ruin it.
How did your father respond to the opposition you faced by the community?
My father has been a great support. When the community got to know about me singing in public spaces, they didn’t take it well. They asked my father to get me married because a woman taking up such a profession wasn’t considered good. Till date, women from our community are not allowed to sing, but when people came to my father back then, asking me to stop performing, he straight away told them that my daughter will sing no matter what. He told them it was up to them if they wished to keep any relations with us. He was clear that he was helping me have a successful career in this field.
So, how did the community react to your profession before they finally started accepting your work?
People in the community have really repressed mindsets when it comes to women singers. They constantly judge you and slander your character. Now that they know that I am doing well in this field they are proud of me, but earlier when my father was alive they used to torture him for allowing me to become a singer. They used to tell my father that no one will marry your daughter and you are wrong in making her do this. However, my father gave them a fitting reply, saying that I will earn fame one day and there was no way that he would ask me to stop singing. He was clear that he would not marry me into a family that doesn’t support my dreams.
Now things are going well for me. Many people from within the community support me and those who don’t, I don’t pay any heed to what they have to say.
Can you share the kind of songs that you sing?
In some of the songs I write, I talk about the struggles I faced in my childhood. I lost my mother at a young age and my father worked really hard as a construction worker. My father was really proud of me as I learned to play instruments and sing, taking his legacy forward. But usually, I sing bhajans of Kabir Das Ji, Meera Bai, and stories of Ramdeo Baba.
How was your experience performing at international concerts?
It was a dream to perform at the International stage, for which I am very grateful to Jaipur Virasat Foundation who found me and provided me the platform. Jitendra Pal Singh, better known as John Da (the founder of JVF), spotted me singing with my father when he visited Pali many years ago. He suggested me not to succumb to social conventions and brought me to Jaipur, where I performed for the first time. He wanted the world to hear my voice and pushed me to perform at many festivals.
For my first international performance, I went to Holland. After that, I was invited to London to perform at the iTunes festivals and in 2015 we even went to Germany. I could never imagine that being from a village I could accomplish so much in life and people would invite us to such prestigious festivals.
I have performed at many music festivals in India also, which include RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) held at Mehrangarh Fort.
What is that one tradition/custom regarding women that makes you angry?
I don’t like it when people question and nag women for their choices. When people asked me to not talk about what I do, I told them that I will not hide it. I am doing what I love and I am unapologetic about it.
What advice would you like to give to women who are scared of following their heart?
I would say women should follow their heart and achieve their dreams. I struggled my way to reach the point that I have today, and I would suggest women take me as an example. Have faith in yourself and keep working towards your goal without looking back. Turn a deaf ear towards people who try to pull you down. Many women tell me that they want to become like me, and I tell them that I stood for what I wanted and my family supported me. Today they are very proud of my choices.
This women’s Day, JVF started a crowdfunding campaign to celebrate the future of women in folk music, so that they are able to raise funds to provide safe spaces for women folk musicians of Rajasthan. Please follow this link to empower our traditional folk singers who regale the audience with their enthralling voices.