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Attacks On Punjabi Artists A Sign Of Deeper Indian Insecurities
"India’s treatment of popular Sikh and Punjabi artists is a sign of an 'inherent inferiority complex'"
October 5, 2023 | 4 min. read | Original Reporting
The Punjabi music industry’s international growth has been significant over the last few years. Between Diljit Dosanjh’s performance at Coachella and AP Dhillon’s documentary on Prime, many artists have earned worldwide stardom as Punjabi culture takes global centre stage.
However, observers share that the growing popularity of the genre and culture, which also links Punjab with its diasporic communities in the West, has attracted hate and Anti-Sikh rhetoric from certain corners, most prominently from Hindu Nationalists, exposing deeper Indian insecurities.
The recent attacks against Shubh by the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, a youth wing of the Hindu Nationalist BJP, is only one example.
During the operation against Sikh activist Amritpal Singh earlier this year, which brought with it the suspension of civil liberties and democratic rights, Shubh shared artwork from Inkquisitive of an Indian police officer pulling the plug on India, in reference to the shutdown of internet services during that time.
“Punjab has recently been hit with a blackout by the Indian Government,” Inkquisitive shared when he first published the painting on March 21, 2023, “The internet and SMS shutdown has also paralysed shops, businesses, colleges and digital payments for everyone in the state.”
Shubh would also share the piece on his Instagram account in March, with the caption "Pray for Punjab.”
Hindu Nationalist critics began to claim that he shared a “distorted” map of India, as the Kashmir region and eastern India was faded out, and he was quickly accused at the time of being a “terrorist,” “anti-national,” or “Khalistani.” The claim was resurrected as Shubh planned a late September concert in Mumbai as part of a larger Still Rollin India tour.
The outrage resulted in the cancellation of his tour after major sponsors withdrew their support amidst threats of violence against the singer. However, he continues to tour in the West and recently sold out his show in London.
“He just prayed for Punjab for what was going on in Punjab [at the time]. There was nothing else,” Jasleen Kaur, a fan who hails from Jeobala village in Punjab, shared with Baaz.
“We don’t see freedom of speech in India as Sikhs,” she added.
Inkquisitive also spoke out in defence of Shubh, sharing there was no hidden agenda in his artwork.
“I don’t shy away from what I want to show. It's viewers who want to see something else,” he wrote.
However, this is not the first time Punjabi artists have been targeted for expressing themselves, especially concerning Punjabi or Sikh causes and issues. A phenomenon that has only increased as Punjabi culture has become one of the most influential coming out of South Asia.
Kanwar Grewal’s song ‘Rihaee,’ which called for the release of Sikh prisoners, was removed from YouTube. “Because of a legal complaint, this content is not available on this country's domain," stated the social media platform.
AP Dhillon also faced controversy when he posted a photo with shoes that had colours similar to the Indian flag. Since the photo was posted just a few days before India’s independence day, many speculated that this was deliberately done by the singer.
During the Farmers’ Protest, Dosanjh was attacked for extending his support to primarily Punjabi farmers and was accused by the likes of Kangana, a Hindu Nationalist actress, of being an “extremist.” Kangana’s Twitter account would be suspended shortly after she called for another Sikh Genocide.
Ranjit Bawa, another Punjabi pop sensation, was forced to delete his song Mera Ki Kasoor from YouTube after legal complaints were levelled against it. The song was released in March 2020 and went viral in a short period. The Dalit community supported this song, which talked about caste discrimination.
Fans of Punjabi music, when talking to Baaz, pondered why there is a constant need for Punjabi artists to justify their actions in India. Why the double standard?
Dr. Harjeet Singh Grewal, a professor at the University of Calgary, told Baaz that Punjabi artists who are involved in activism are more prone to being targeted by Hindu Nationalists and, as an influential yet minority community, face a disproportionate amount of hate and accusations from Indians.
“It shouldn't be surprising that our artists at this particular moment who are sharing things and trying to create awareness will be targeted,” Grewal said, alluding to ongoing attacks against Sikhs and Punjabis by the BJP government. Canada has also recently alleged that India was behind the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian, on Canadian soil.
He said the internet in India, especially social media where the BJP IT Cell is active in attacking minorities, has an important role in spreading this hatred.
“And one of the things is that as a minority, we don't have the ability or the platforms to be taken seriously [by authorities],” Grewal shared, “and so these are very real threats we have to face largely alone [In India] as a Sikh community.”
Mankamal Singh, a well-known UK Sikh activist, tweeted that India’s treatment of popular Sikh and Punjabi artists is a sign of an “inherent inferiority complex,” a sentiment expressed by others who also spoke to Baaz.
What Shubh experienced was just an “excuse,” Singh shared.
The issue here, he adds, is that “any kind of popular public assertion of a Sikh-Panjabi identity is now perceived a threat by India’s elites, particularly when cultural influences crossover into their mainstream.”
Upkar Singh Dhillon is a Content Writer and a second-year journalism student at Humber College. He is currently based in Brampton and hails from Teja Singh Wala, a small village in Punjab. He is passionate about reporting on social issues and international news. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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