The Punjabi music scene has long been influenced by a culture of guns and invoking caste pride, and one name that has captured the imagination of the youth in recent times has been Sidhu Moosewala. He carefully nurtures the persona of being daring, unsparing — the ‘Jat who walks’. Like he did as he took the stage, along with several other artistes, during the ongoing farmers’ agitation.
Jat hegemony may have emerged as a successful theme in the Punjabi music and film industry, but caste and identity assertion through songs is not the sole preserve of the ‘dominant’ community.
So, if Moosewala comes up with “Jat da muqabla dass mainu kithe? (Where is the match for Jat?)”, Ranjit Bawa’s song is titled “Je mai marhe ghar jammeya te mera ki kasoor aa (What’s my fault if I was born in a ‘low’ household?)”. The latter, in fact, had to remove a song from his platforms after BJP youth leaders filed cases against him for being “anti-Hindu”.
Veet Baljit, who has written songs for Diljit Dosanjh and Gippy Grewal, says songs are a reflection of society. “We are often accused of glorifying gangsters or promoting the gun culture, but these are the market demands. If I release a religious song, it hardly gets 2-3 lakh views on YouTube, whereas songs related to guns get 25 lakh views. To survive in the industry, one has to write songs which would be liked by the public.”
He also dismisses concerns about glorifying Jats. “It is the dominant caste in Punjab, so it’s obvious we sing paeans.” What Moosewala has achieved, he says, is through hard work and the trend of gangster songs is not his creation.
Mofusion, a music director who has worked with Diljit and Singga, agrees that songs glorifying gangsters are in vogue because of audience demand, but “even if they talk of violence, the songs do not tell them to pick up guns for crime. I think the message they give is to stand up for what is right”.
Punjabi University Associate Professor Dr Dharamjeet Singh says the fascination with singers and gangsters is because of the want of better role models.
“There is an intellectual vacuum in the state as there are no contemporary youth leaders, writers or poets who have a connect with the youth. So singers like Moosewala become symbols instead of role models of the past like Gursharan Singh, a stalwart of theatre, or Pash, one of the major poets of the Naxalite movement in Punjab in the 1970s, or Shiv Kumar Batalvi,” he says.
He feels it is important to understand that there are singers like Satinder Sartaj, who sings about Punjabi culture and has a dedicated following, “but their influence isn’t as wide, and their voice gets lost in the commotion of loud lyrics”.
Lyricist Manish Singh Dhanjal says youngsters see gangsters as influential and “you can’t make high tempo and beat songs without such lyrics, so this trend will continue”.
National award-winning Punjabi film director Rajeev Kumar has an interesting contrary take. “Punjabi singers have created a caste hegemony by only talking about Jats. Their coming out in support of farmers is also part of that ecosystem,” he says, “as they want to keep their Jat audience, that is the farmers, intact and their support is a mere eyewash.”
People like Master Ram Kumar, who has a singing mandli in Bhadour village, Barnala, or Swarn Singh, a Kavishar from Rasulpur village, Jagraon, “have been raising farmer issues through their songs. Such people should be the real role models,” feels Rajiv.
But trust Moosewala — who is first and foremost an artiste with creative impulses — to see a song here too. As he came up with one after being booked for firing an AK-47: “O gabru te case jehra Sanjay Dutt te, Jat utte case jehra Sanjay Dutt te (They came up with a case against the strapping young me, the Jat, like they did against Sanjay Dutt).”