The young women lined up in an awkward half circle, six of them pulling at their long tunics, fidgeting with their scarves. For pants, they’d chosen jeans over the baggy shalwar trousers favored by India’s traditional society—a tiny rebellion. But it mattered, for girls who’d come of age in a southeast Delhi slum. As a journalist, I’d been following their progress in a program that was supposed to raise awareness of women’s safety in urban India, and now, in early 2019, I’d brought some foreign visitors to see what these Gendering the Smart Safe City participants had to say.
“Can we sing our song?” one asked.
Of course, we said. We watched as their stance changed—feet apart, faces lifted, no pretense at smiles. They stared right at us. They made their own hip-hop beat, with knuckle beats, claps, finger snaps—and they started to rap. Rapping in Hindi sounds extra tough: