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‘I’ll Scream Coz I’m Tired Of The Silence’ Afghan Rapper Sonita Alizadeh Sings For All Women Trapped

Afghan origin rapper Sonita Alizadeh raps with a voice that encompasses all women in the world who are silently becoming victims of misogyny in one way or another every moment.

Afghan origin rapper Sonita Alizadeh raps with a voice that encompasses all women in the world who are silently becoming victims of misogyny in one way or another every moment.

Translated from the original in Hindi.

“I am not a sheep or goat/ that a price has been fixed for us/ I want to go back to school/ have to find from books for myself/ a new path of possibilities…”

Almost everyone knows the name and fame of Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. But there is another girl almost the same age as her from her neighbouring country, Afghanistan, who has made a place for herself in the world with her unique identity too.

Little Sonita Alizadeh grew up in a small town in Herat, Afghanistan, as every child grows up in that country, laughing and playing with her friends in the midst of many restrictions imposed by religion, society and family. She was sent to primary school by her family to study, but she spent most of her time helping her mother with household chores.

She knew she would never get the love and importance that her elder brother or all the other boys in the house would get, because she was a girl. But this did not worry her then, as the troubles would disappear from her mind when she went to school and played with her friends…

Marriage, in which a daughter is ‘sold’

Mid- 2006, 10-year-old Sonita realised that she was suddenly getting better treatment from her parents. She was being given less housework, more food, and new clothes. She had to ask quite a few times, after which her mother told her that she was going to get married in a few days, so she had to be ready in every way.

Little Sonita did not know the real meaning of a nikah, but from the experience she had in her short life, she had come to know that in marriage, the girls are ‘sold’ by the family members for a huge amount of money forever to some unknown man and family, and from where girls rarely return home again.

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Marriage was a terrifying prospect for Sonita Alizadeh

Sonita got terrified after hearing about her upcoming marriage. After all, she still had to study a lot many years, make all her dreams come true. She didn’t want to get married. She cried and pleaded a lot, but no one listened to her and the day of marriage was fixed.

But around the same time, Herat was attacked by Taliban terrorists. To escape the havoc of the Taliban, Sonita’s entire family fled to Tehran, the capital of neighboring Iran, and her arranged marriage was annulled.

Sonita Alizadeh takes up a job cleaning NGO’s toilets in Tehran

Refugees in Tehran, Sonita and her family were passing their days in extreme poverty and hardship. To help support the family, Sonita started cleaning the toilets of an NGO being run for Afghan refugees.

She wanted to reach out to her dreams in any way possible, so even in difficult circumstances, she continued to read and write alone. Sonita was fond of watching music videos on TV in her spare time at the NGO, and she recognized the songs of famous (in those days) Iranian rapper ‘Yes’ and American rap singer ‘Eminem’. She was deeply influenced by those rap songs as they spoke of her own heartache, frustration and anger.

Rap poems against forced Nikah and the ‘sale’ of daughters into marriage

Rap, which most of you readers are familiar with from the movie Gully Boy 3 years ago or from the songs of Baba Saigal decades ago. Rappers use sharp, sarcastic and angry words to compose songs about problems and their unique solutions in and around themselves, and make it a metrical melody without any melody. Sings like a poem.

Soon Sonita also spoke in her mother tongue about the struggling lives of refugee Afghans, the civil war in Afghanistan, the plight of her homeland due to the Taliban, the pathetic condition of women of all ages in Afghan society, the ‘forced marriages’, and the forced marriage imposed on her. She began writing and singing rap poems against “Beti Bachke Ki Rit” (sale of daughters into marriage).

Sonita Alizadeh also came under heavy pressure not to sing

Because in Iran and the Shariat it is a ‘sin’ for Muslim women to sing openly, and especially in public, there was a lot of pressure on Sonita Alizadeh from the family not to sing. But now that she had found what she loved, and made sense to her, she didn’t listen to anyone.

Forgetting all the fear, Sonita started rapping, and secretly opened her own YouTube channel, made the videos at home, and started posting them. It didn’t take long for Sonita’s rap songs to go viral and soon she became very popular among young Afghans around the world, especially among Afghan girls who were as depressed and troubled by life as her.

According to Afghan law, it is mandatory for a girl to be married by the age of 16, but most of the girls are even younger. In the name of religion and social custom, they are forcibly ‘sold’ by the family to an often unknown and much older man; that is, they are ‘married’.

According to statistics from the United Nations, 60-80% of Afghan girls are victims of these barbaric practices of forced marriage and bride sale, and a child marriage takes place every 2 seconds around the world.

Whether married or not, ordinary Afghan women have been subjected to brutal persecution at the hands of their own countrymen, religion and patriarchal society. There have been many women speaking out against these injustices, but those voices have always been suppressed by brutally beating or killing.

Success as a rapper, but her family wanted her married

Refugee Sonita Alizadeh, who wrote and sang rap songs and cleaned the toilet, was now 16. In 2012, a famous Iranian female documentary film maker Rokhsare Ghimaghami was fascinated by listening to young Sonita’s unique rap songs with edgy words. She made a documentary on Sonita’s daily chores, studies, struggles, and rapping from 2012 to 2014.

The documentary ‘Sonita’ released in 2015 created a stir all over the world.

Sonita won the first prize of $1,000 by participating in an American poetry contest on the topic of encouraging people to vote for the 2014 election in Afghanistan. The daughter sent that money to her mother, who was shocked, realising for the first time in her life that ‘girls can make money on their own like boys’.

Brides for sale

But Sonita’s success meant nothing to her family. Her mother came to Afghanistan after 3 years to arrange Sonita’s marriage, which, according to her seemed to take forever. It was decided that she would be sold for $9,000 because $7,000 were needed to buy a wife for her elder brother, and the remaining 2,000 were needed to repair the house.

Sonita, who now clearly knew the meaning of nikah, was numbed with pain and anger after hearing all this from her mother, who kept increasing the pressure, but in front of the stubborn stand Sonita put up, she had to give in, but not until Sonita’s friend Rokhsare gave 2 thousand dollars to her mother and asked for six months’ time for Sonita.

Deeply shaken by the incident, Sonita wrote her historical rap poem ‘Brides for Sale’ and Rokhsare made a powerful video of it, in which Sonita flaunts a price tag on her face and bleeds into a bridal dress…

“Let me whisper in your ear so that no one hears it / Let me whisper about the brides being sold / Because they say women should keep quiet / This is the city’s custom and religion / …

…but you all scream now ladies/ break the silence of your life/ I am a 15 year old girl from Herat/ I will scream because I am tired of the silence/…

… I will cry to compensate for the silence of all of you / I will cry for the deep wound in my body / I will cry because I am tired but not scared / With the price tag you put me inside the cage…” wrote poet Sonita.

Escaping to the US on a scholarship through her rap

Feeling somewhat lighter and comfortable, Sonita continued her work, studying, and rapping.

After the stupendous success of Brides for Sale, the US NGO Strongheart Group invited Sonita to continue her further studies on a full scholarship at Wasatch Academy, Utah Valley University, USA. Sonita knew that if her family came to know of this, they would stop her, so she did not let them know of it until she was safe in the US.

After this, Sonita continued to make unusual rap videos like ‘Nafus’, ‘Girls’, ‘Brave and Bold’, ‘Child Labor’, ‘Unite’ until 2021, and has also performed live to spread her word around the world.

Acceptance by family and a brighter future

Simple but sharp words characterize Sonita’s poems. She has also been awarded with many awards and honour for her initiatives. And after years of opposition, now that Sonita has become a celebrity, her family has accepted her with respect.

The universalism in her songs make them applicable not only to Afghan women, but to every woman in the world silently becoming a victim of misogyny and rape culture. She lives in New York, USA, and after completing her studies, she has become an activist on issues like women empowerment and child marriage. She calls herself a ‘raptivist’ who continues to fight for women’s human rights with her rap songs.

Today, when Afghanistan is facing a renewed Taliban terror, Sonita has not remained silent, and in every way she is bringing the ground reality of her country and its women to the world in a fearless manner.

Sonita is a realistic artist who has a powerful weapon in her art. She believes that on the strength of this, one day she will be able to end the plight of Afghan women, the dreadful practices like child marriage, bride sale forever…

“Good girls are like dogs / You just play with them / You don’t give them the right to choose your own path / But I’m a singer / I want a bright tomorrow for myself…”

Image source: Sonita Alizadeh/ Instagram

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Suchetana Mukhopadhyay

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