The Hot List 2017: Aranya Johar (Spoken Word Artist)
The 18-year-old viral sensation is slamming gender inequality and societal norms through her poetry
In an especially empowering yearÂ for survivors of sexual assault andÂ harassment as the #MeToo movementÂ spread across the globe, Mumbai basedÂ poet Aranya Johar emerged as a strong newÂ female voice from India. The 18-year-oldÂ gained overnight fame this March with “AÂ Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender,” a raw pieceÂ of slam poetry that challenges the patriarchyÂ with its honest reflection of society’sÂ treatment of women.
Johar started writing when she was 11Â years old and performing when she was 13.Â Her interest in slam poetry was sparked byÂ a love for rap and encouragement from herÂ brother Ankur Johar (aka rapper Enkore).Â “If you don’t put an instrumental behindÂ the verses, it’s literally poetry,” says Johar,Â who also credits her brother for introducingÂ her to the concept of feminism. Since thenÂ Johar has gone on to deliver several virallyÂ famous pieces, co-founded the creativeÂ start-up More Than Mics, curated theÂ company’s Blind Poetry Sessions and hasÂ performed at several prestigious literaryÂ events across the country.
Written about a week before it wasÂ performed for the first time, “A BrownÂ Girl’s Guide to Gender” covers marital rape,Â acid attacks and slut-shaming. FriendsÂ shared it on each other’s Facebook walls,Â grandparents Whatsapped it to theirÂ grandkids and everyone from PopSugar toÂ the BBC were interested in speaking to theÂ poet. “I feel the reason it got the tractionÂ it did is because everyone knows aboutÂ [sexual harassment] but no one talks aboutÂ it in a constructive manner,” Johar says.” It’sÂ become such an ingrained part of our lifeÂ and we’ve become desensitized to it.”
A second viral piece, “A Brown Girl’sÂ Guide To Beauty,” came shortly after in JulyÂ and garnered even more attention thanksÂ to its focus on fact that society does its bestÂ to break men as well. “Personally I’m reallyÂ proud of [it] because I got to talk about howÂ beauty limits women and men, somethingÂ I’ve felt strongly about for really long,” JoharÂ says. “I’ve seen so many of my male friendsÂ and family members having to conformÂ to these standards and no one talks aboutÂ it. It’s not like only women areÂ suffering from the idea that theyÂ have to look a certain way.”
Being a strong female voiceÂ on the frontlines of Indian socialÂ media is dangerous: attacks areÂ personal, spiteful and heinous,Â thanks to keyboard warriorsÂ hiding behind anonymity and memes.Â But Johar is determined to retain a thickÂ skin. “I think the most important thing toÂ remember is when you put art out into theÂ world, you’re not going to be able to appealÂ to every audience. There’s always going toÂ be someone who likes it and doesn’t like it.”Â She adds that she has seen so many strong,Â powerful women like Mirror Now newsÂ anchor Faye D’Souza, Buzzfeed editor-in-chiefÂ Regha Jha, actor Richa ChaddhaÂ receive hate, rape threats and death threatsÂ in their pursuit to do good, but it hasn’tÂ stopped them. In fact, in July, D’SouzaÂ recruited Johar and Jha for a specialÂ panel on Mirror Now to discuss genderÂ inequality and sexual crimes.
“That’s theÂ kind of unity we need right now especiallyÂ considering that every time a victimÂ comes out and talks aboutÂ their harassment, everyone’sÂ first instinctive thing to doÂ is ask them to prove it, orÂ not take it in validation,”Â says Johar. She points outÂ the effect victims’ voices canÂ have is so powerful””Netflix,Â for example, took immediate action andÂ cancelled comedian Louis C.K.’s comedyÂ special and fired Keven Spacey from HouseÂ of Cards after both men were accused ofÂ sexual harassment.
Although Johar is currently in the firstÂ year of her B.A. course with a plan ofÂ majoring in English, she will continue herÂ career in poetry with several upcomingÂ projects. “I do plan to put more piecesÂ out and try writing differently, try writingÂ about different topics. I feel I’m at thatÂ place where I can try new things and getÂ constructive feedback.”