Tank Girl: Anarcha-feminist Nepali Punk

August 12, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, 2 Comments
Tank Girl: Anarcha-feminist Nepali Punk » My Dreams Mag
Tank Girl had been representing the true spirit of punk before most of us even knew the word. This DIY punk band was formed by two wildly talented musicians: Sareena Rai (of Rai ko Ris) and Sampreety Gurung, with drummer Olivier Bertin (also from Rai ko Ris). Their anarcha-feminist ideals are reflected well in their songs about the exploitation, domestic violence, and inequality faced by Nepali women.
Most discussions on female musicians have this congratulatory undertone which I find extremely irritating. There are actually far more female rock musicians and enthusiasts than the media make out to be; instead they seem to say “well done rare female musician” for filling up the quota and making the music scene look a tad bit diverse. Granted, there is so much negativity towards female musicians, especially in the rock scene, that the initial response to such media coverage is immense gratitude.

But it’s a funny ol’ world when you have to be grateful to be recognized for what you helped build. In any field you can think of, the role of women has been integral. All the more so in the history of punk music where female musicians, promoters, artists, community organizers and venue owners contributed to this music that was supposed to spearhead diversity and inclusivity.

And yet, such less visibility is given to female punk musicians that it perpetuates the cycle, as less and less young girls have any role models to inspire them into music. The musicians that do get visibility are the ones that conform to stereotypical feminine ideals. Society is much more comfortable with the sex-icon pop singer, or the frail and dreamy acoustic type. Any affiliation with “manly” genres and you will be called, at best, a “wannabe” and at worse “a shame to your family”. Society finds it hard to understand why a woman would want to be in a rock band (hint: because it’s awesome!).

If the lack of visibility has left you thinking that women don’t have the aptitude for it, it only goes to show how less you know about punk music and art in general.


And if you think that the music scene would be liberal enough to treat women fairly, you have overlooked the rampant sexual objectification on stage and in media, constant threat of sexual harassment and rape, especially in the late hours when gigs take place, and being blamed for your own rape because you were out late and “asking for it”. Going on tour with male band members? Samaaj le k bhancha?

Around the world, it is these odds that face female musicians who have had to prove that they are just as talented, technical and tireless in their music as men. Indeed in our own Kathmandu, Tank Girl had been representing the true spirit of punk before most of us even knew the word. This DIY punk band was formed by two wildly talented musicians: Sareena Rai (of Rai ko Ris) and Sampreety Gurung, with drummer Olivier Bertin (also from Rai ko Ris). Their anarcha-feminist ideals are reflected well in their songs about the exploitation, domestic violence, and inequality faced by Nepali women. Grim as the subject matter might be, Tank Girl’s music makes you want to jump around and join them in rebellion against the infuriating reality of sexism. To top it off, they include distinctly Nepali allusions like “Kids with Guns and Choco fun” and a dohori for the intro of “Love Talk vs Bad Talk” effectively indigenizing punk.

Here we talk to Sareena Rai, who is elusive on social media, but keeps the revolution alive running an infoshop with albums, books and pamphlets, frequent gigs, and a hearty welcome to musicians who need a practice space or want to learn more.

Could you give us a bit of history on how Tank Girl came about? Please include your inspirations and influences.

Tank Girl began in the first months of 2005 when I was running the Infoshop in Kathmandu and Sampreety walked in to buy some cds and check the place out. I asked her if she played guitar and she said she did a little. So I had a bunch of new songs I’d written and asked her to come along to practice with me. I wanted so badly to play with other women, and it was definitely rare to meet somebody that actually played. I took the bass and we worked out the songs together.

In Nepali society, what does it take to be a female rock musician? In what way is it different from male musicians in general?

It’s got nothing to do with being a female in the beginning; it’s got to do with interest. If you are really into music, you will naturally just play every day. That’s what I’ve been doing since I was ten years old. If I don’t play music, I don’t feel like living. As you get on and want to form a band, that’s when things get tough in Nepali society. You are always going to be hanging out with men so people don’t view you as a ‘good girl’. You won’t get much encouragement from your family as a result, and just like any man, you will be viewed as a wannabe-kid all your life just because you like rock n roll.

Then there’s the aspect of doing gigs. It’s always mostly men in the audience coming to check out how well the “chicks” play and you’re judged mostly by your looks instead of the message you’re trying to convey. And in punk shows the worst part is getting snide sexist comments or having boys push and shove everyone around as part of the ‘mosh pit’, which can be fun (believe me, I love it!) if everyone is on the same level and there’s a camaraderie about it, but when it just turns violent and macho and boys are just high or drunk and don’t care about who else is dancing with them; it just becomes a place to show off how ‘hard’ you are on the dance floor.

So we’re known for stopping the gig, kicking out people at shows if they go too far. Some think this is too much. All we’re saying is, you’re not the only one on the dance floor. Don’t dominate the space; let everyone in instead of shutting them out. As a result, people come to our shows and are literally drop jawed and amazed when they see total strangers of all kinds – men, women, kids, queer, bi, old and young, are all jumping around together. It’s a unique thing that we are able to do because we are all on the same line and make sure everyone is safe.


What has been the response from Nepali society to your band? And the response from within the music scene?

Well you can’t generalize about Nepali society. This is Kathmandu, which does not represent the whole of Nepal. However, if you’ve been doing this for over 16 years like I have, people start to take notice and the response is great. People want to see more women rocking out, and it encourages everyone to want to pick up a guitar and say what you want to say. The music scene here is extremely divided like everywhere else in the world. The blues people stick to their scene, the metal heads (mostly men) stick to theirs, mainstream rockers stick to theirs and as far as I know only one woman is really out there; the punk scene has to be commended for having at least four women playing instruments and rocking out in different bands. And there’s a reason for it. Because we do care about the socio-political nature of things – we aren’t into fame and gain – we’re more into how the process of actually organizing a show or a movement from bottom up involves women more, not just addressing issues in song lyrics, but actually doing something together as women and men to fight sexism, homophobia, capitalism, etc.


How should young female rock musicians deal with the discriminations they might face in a predominantly male area?

They should just keep fighting. If you really love what you do, use that love, turn it into your strength and just keep going. Don’t keep quiet about it, address it and include other women and men to do the same. Most of all, keep playing even when you’re alone behind closed doors. You may lose a friend or a lover, or family, but you will never lose music.

How important is it for musicians and artists to make a political stand?

I don’t believe everyone has to make a political stand. That’s just what interests me because I have some things that are personal in my life that I have to fight for so naturally it becomes a political statement, the personal is political – we’re not talking about leaders and mainstream parties here.

We’re talking about everyday life and the choices we make and whether we should just keep quiet and go along with the status quo or make some noise about it to change things.
What can anarcho-feminism offer to Nepali society?

All the above. Absolutely nobody, male or female should be dominated by anyone else. That is what anarcho feminism for me is about. Equality, freedom, and the wisdom to take responsibility for ones actions so that we are not putting anybody down in anyway. Men and women, no matter what gender, race, class – equally sharing responsibilities with one another.

Please tell us about your operations at The Infoshop.

We distribute radical material e.g. books, pamphlets, music, patches, t-shirts. We organize shows. In the recent past I was teaching music to three girl bands in the village where I lived for 8 years in Bishnumati Budhanilkanta and organizing self-defense classes. Just doing stuff that’s fun and I like to do. Making zines about how we feel in society.

Tank Girl’s current/ future projects?

I don’t know if you know, but Sampreety left Tank Girl and went abroad to study way back in end of 2005. However she kept coming back for holidays so we’d do reunion shows when she was in town. A label in Germany released a beautiful vinyl/LP of Tank Girl and sold all 500 presses. The label just reprinted a bunch more (check out Riot and Dance records from Hannover, by the DorfPunk Gang crew) because it was in such demand in Europe in the DIYpunk scene.

Now Tank Girl as a trio is finished, and Sampreety’s based in Europe. My main band since the past 14 years Rai Ko Ris also ended February this year. Everything has its time limit! I am now playing bass and writing crust punk songs in the band Youth Unite with a husband and wife couple and another drummer. However I have plans to keep Tank Girl going as a solo thing in the future. Let’s see what happens next. Personally, my anarco punk life continues till death.

To find out more about Infoshop and keep updated with Tank Girl gigs: earthseaskies@gmail.com
In Conversation with Jerusha Rai.
Photo courtesy: Tank Girl.

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Categorised in: Arts, Interviews

2 comments on “Tank Girl: Anarcha-feminist Nepali Punk

  1. Jason R says:

    Hi there! I saw an all girl rock band in 2001 at the Shiva Ratri festival in Feb/March. I’m trying to find out who it was because I’m writing a book about my travels there. Do you have an email for Tank Girl? I’m hoping either it was them or they know who it was. Thanks! Jason

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