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Lavanya Bahuguna

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Srishti Kapil Shares How She Is Challenging Sexist Trolls Through Powerful Slam Poetry

  • IWB Post
  •  January 12, 2018

I like how the youth is transforming its rage towards social or personal injustice into something productive like slam poetry. It is indeed amazing to see these young minds creating art that’s so fresh for the audience and at the same time, powerful enough, forcing them to give the discussion a thought.

One such new talent is Srishti Kapil, a 20-something girl from Delhi, who recently stood tall to poetically recite the sexual messages she and her friends usually receive in their ‘other’ inbox on social media. This is her first internet video in which she shares her poem called ‘No Place 4 Hate,’ and it goes like:

I’m tired of ‘Hi, hello, dear. How do you do? I just wanna have a friendship with you. This method I heard is tried and true. So, baby, I’m just going to continue like hello, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi. I’m a nice guy, give me a try, why you being so shy. You’re such a bitch, why don’t you reply?’

We spoke to Srishti, who is deeply affected by the alarming rate of cyber crime, to understand its influence on her life as a spoken word poet. Excerpts:

Introduce yourself to our readers.

I am a final year literature student at Sri Venkateswara College, DU. I guess I can now call it my home after moving cities all my life, thanks to the nature of my father’s job. As a child, I had to change 13 schools before finally (sort of) settling into DU.

When did you first start writing and what was it about?

I wrote my first poem at the age of nine, it was called ‘my favorite festival’ and had wonderful unique rhymes like holi-rangoli, cartoon-aflatoon. If you delve into the army (AWWA) journals of 2007, you might even find this jewel somewhere, typed out in the tiniest font; something my proud father carried around so he could read it out to the next unfortunate soul who happened to ask him how his daughter was doing. Ha-ha!

Srishti Kapil

At the age of nine? Impressive! And when was it that you first got noticed on a prominent platform?

I wasn’t even a teenager when I came across an article in The Times of India where this particular MP commented on the stray dog menace and said that we must send them to China to be eaten. Almost seething with rage, I sent a letter to the editor, the format of which we had been taught in school, except I was the only one in class who wrote one outside of the examination hall. I wrote an angry response to his statement and talked about ‘how dogs are a thousand times better than humans’ and attached a picture of me glaring into the camera. This made our neighbors ring the bell early next week with a copy of the latest TOI in their hands. They showed my mother how my picture covered 1/4th of the paper and seated themselves down for some celebratory chai while my mother ran around looking for her reading glasses. To my surprise, most of what I had sent in had been published along with the name of the MP mentioned in bold for the headline. Controversial, you see, has always been my middle name!

I kept sending in articles after, all of which were published and made me feel a little bit like a celebrity in school (APS, Mathura).

Lol! So is writing the only way you express yourself?

For the past year, I have regularly been performing, it is sometimes political, sometimes personal. The poetry community in Delhi is warm, welcoming and incredibly talented. Here is where you would find me often, as a part of the audience more than a performer. So yes, words are the only way I express myself, and for now, that is enough.

Do you read?

I do not read as often as I would like to or as often as I used to. Back in school, I read a lot of Stephen King, Dan Brown, Jeffery Archer, Khaled Hosseini. While studying English literature has exposed me to many brilliant writers like Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Kafka and Murakami, I really miss the days where I could read solely for the pleasure of it.

How long did it take you to pen down the now viral poem ‘No Place For Hate?’

It took me less than a day. Editing it to meet the Facebook community standards, on the other hand, took significantly longer. Seeing Gurmehar Kaur getting rape threats, Aranya Johar getting unnecessary hate, and reading the vile comments being passed around after Gauri Lankesh’s murder, is as saddening as it is angering. So when approached for the NoPlace4Hate Campaign, I did not think twice.

Is it based on your/your friends’ personal experiences?

This verbal violence thrown towards women on the internet is universal, isn’t it? I have seen supposedly ‘respectable’ men lose no sleep over sending abuse, obscenities, and threats out on a daily basis. The internet is a scary place for women, and it is about time cyber security is taken seriously. Even holding discussions about the complexities of consent, the normalization of sexual harassment, is a start and something I was hoping to achieve.

Did you receive online abuse/hatred after the poem was shared thousands of times?

I was in London when this video was released and honestly, seeing the extremely adverse reaction I got from most men (and, some women) was scary. My immediate response was to switch off my phone and get off social media for a while. On the other hand, I have had too many women telling me that they could relate to whatever I have said, which is upsetting.

Do you plan to perform it live anytime soon?

Not immediately! Receiving tonnes of abuse in my ‘others’ folder was crazy. However, I also noticed strangers defending me, even though they themselves got caught in the vicious dialogue later. Seeing this gives me hope.

Srishti Kapil

How did the family react?

My family was great. My mother shared it, my sister boasted to her friends and greatly exaggerated my virality, my father held himself back from “wringing the skinny necks of all the donkeys commenting,” while my grandma said, “You look so kamzor, log kya kahenge? Kapil household mein khaana nahi milta.” Ha-ha.

How do you handle unwanted annoying messages you get on social media?

I ignore them. Gone are the days when I had the time or patience to educate or sensitize the senders. Today, I mostly try to stay under the radar and brush them off.

Care to share the funniest one with us?

I remember this distinguished looking gentleman going on and on about my ‘natural beauty.’ I told him that I underwent four plastic surgeries and wore more makeup than all the Kardashians combined. He never replied after that.

Do you ever find yourself discussing online sexual harassment with your parents/teachers?  

We do not talk about it at home, unfortunately, though I have been attempting to start these discussions with my sister. Neither did we have any guidance or even a harassment cell in school – all 13 of them.

Talking of college, it’s a welcome change where nothing is off limits. Especially in a university like DU that has a strong culture of protest and rebellion, our classrooms are war zones where we are taught to choose peaceful protest over violence, to question everything that is happening or has happened ages ago. I feel joy when we, an almost all female class, talk about the patriarchy and harassment and how it affects us with our almost all-female panel of professors.

I’m sure you’re a hero in your peer circle, already!

Ha-ha, how I wish! In my group of 10 best friends, I have received endless voice notes and messages as I had been apprehensive and anxious about this video ever since I shot it. Two of them even tried to educate the men commenting on the video only to get targeted themselves.

Is slam poetry a paid job?

When I started performing, the idea of asking money for my performance was alien and absurd to me, but after being around in the circuit for a while and bettering my craft, I have a better idea of how it works. Most of my income comes from winning poetry slams in and around DU; they have decent cash prizes, and during the fest season, they are held almost daily. For this video, I got a fair remuneration, but I did have to explicitly state that I would not do it for free.

For a broke college student, it is good money but not something one can survive on or can build a career out of, at least in India. I have heard of countless incidents happening to other artist friends where the organizers refuse to pay the promised amount after shows or when we are told condescendingly that we will be paid in ‘exposure.’ This is really shameful, and while it is changing, it is not changing fast enough.

What’s coming up next from you? 

Currently, I am proud to be working with three fantastic organizations. I am a fellow at Slam Out Loud where we take classes with underprivileged students around Delhi and teach the art form we excel in. I teach poetry. I am also working with Free The Verse and Kommune, two brilliant groups that have done commendable work in taking the spoken word, storytelling and music scene forward and promoting artists by giving them their due. After graduation, I hope to get into a good college and do my masters in journalism.

Image source: Srishti Kapil

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