Teer Kaur: Sidhu Moose Wala, And To Live And Die In Punjab (Mansa)
Moosewala and Deep Sidhu both represent aspects of what it means to be young, Punjabi, Sikh, and live fractured lives.
May 31, 2022 | 7 min. read | Opinion
As a Quam, mourning our young has become integral to our being from the 1980s to the present day. Now, we collectively mourn Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, commonly known as Sidhu Moosewala, whose unique voice and sound connected the diaspora and those in Indian-occupied Punjab.
It is nearly impossible to reckon with this most recent death without thinking about Deep Sidhu, who died in February 2022. Regardless of the facts around Moosewala’s death, some of which we may never know, how people make sense of his death matters as it alludes to the mistrust in electoral politics, corruption, and the underlying consciousness about Punjab.
Shubhdeep Singh’s death calls us to action to reconsider the conditions that come to produce deaths of our naujawan and how we mobilize with those who share similar visions of liberation, but may have different paths for that pursuit. He rose to fame as a Punjabi artist and played on beats inspired by the sounds of hip hop, which connected Punjabi audiences across borders.
Although controversial, most people fail to acknowledge that Shubhdeep Singh was a 28-year old who, like most of us, was trying to make sense of what it means to exist as a Sikh confined to a fractured existence between borders and empires.
Shubhdeep Singh arrived in Canada as an international student in his early 20’s, like other naujawan who face an uncertain political and economic future in Punjab. He arrived to Brampton after graduating from Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College in Ludhiana. He was the only child from a small pind of Moosa, located in the Mansa District in Punjab.
His arrival to Canada as an international student must be acknowledged, as it speaks to the plight of international students and others who related to his music and also navigate difficult conditions to find some sense of political and economic stability.
From interviews, music, and lyrics, it is evident that he was utilizing music as an outlet to think through his political and Sikh praxis in this moment where Sikh existence is precarious globally, raising questions about Punjab, referencing Sant Ji and Panthic discourse. His song, Punjab (My Motherland), with over 20 million views, speaks to how, regardless of one’s success even as an underdog, Punjab and the fight for sovereignty never leaves our bones. The fight continues.
In 2021, he joined Congress and faced immense backlash. It could be argued that his involvement in Congress speaks to the need for more organizing spaces that cater to naujawan who speak about Punjab and Sikh sovereignty; otherwise, the state and electoral politics will continuously infiltrate our discourse.
Allegedly, he left Congress to support Simranjit Singh’s party before his untimely death. This suggests a shift in his political and spiritual praxis; however, we are left with questions as we can never know what his future could have held. This has become a haunting, yet integral aspect of our discussions in light of untimely deaths of many naujawan, including Deep Sidhu.
While Shubhdeep Singh and Deep Sidhu are two young naujawan with celebrity status, many young Sikhs are confined to other forms of carceral existence as they advocate for sovereignty, liberation and an existence that challenges the current oppressive structures of so-called India.
In light of Shubhdeep Singh’s unfortunate death, this moment calls on us to reconsider how we mobilize and inspire others with whom we share similar visions of liberation, especially as it relates to Sikh sovereignty.
As suggested by his music, Sidhu Moosewala was deeply inspired by Sant Ji and the Khalistan Sangarsh, yet like others, was navigating systems and structures that are not made to deliver that form of liberation. While we honor and celebrate his life, we must reckon with the immense backlash he experienced after joining Congress.
In these moments, how could his fanbase, mentors, community leaders and others respond in a way that sheds light to those who are seduced by the state’s optics for change?
As Sikhs, it has become impossible to mourn the loss of our young without questions about state-sanctioned violence produced by India on occupied Punjab lands. This is inherently violent as each community and people deserve to die and mourn with dignity and in their humanity. As Indian media circulate propaganda to reframe this most recent loss around gang culture, law and order, and so-called gangsters, our community is not allowed to mourn or process. India does not allow us to mourn, but continuously perpetuates cycles of death, reactionary responses, and continual trauma.
Similar to Deep Sidhu, whose death’s details we also may never know, we must acknowledge that Punjab has lost two young men who embodied and represented something greater than themselves to naujawan who live across borders and oceans. Although we only received glimpses of their spiritual and political praxis, through interviews, music, and speeches, their celebrity and explicit use of that celebrity status to speak about Punjab and sovereignty represents the underbelly of Sikh resistance.
Now, his death is being framed around rhetoric of law and order. This comes as the Jathedar of Akal Takht recently called for arms, Indian propaganda about gun “glorification” in Punjab ramps up, along with increased police surveillance and presence in Punjab as Sikhs remember June 1984. One cannot go to Harmandir Sahib without facing Punjab Police and military, which is inherently violent as it rearticulates the violence of June 1984 and we cannot truly honor our Shaheeds.
A few days before Shubhdeep Singh’s death, an article attempted to discuss guns and violence in Punjab, utilizing Sidhu Moosewala’s images, and caused an uproar on social media as the writer attempted to connect white supremacist mass shootings United States to Punjab. By drawing these parallels, media commentators and influencers fail to locate the root of violence in India -- Hindutva. Hindutva continuously produces different forms of violence that affects people’s lived realities from economic deprivation to caste, gender, and state-sanctioned.
A few days later, we are now seeing Shubhdeep Singh’s death framed around terms such as gang culture, gangsters and gang rivalries. His death is being weaponized to deepen the carceral state in Punjab that will work against the very naujawan who are trying to survive on occupied lands in India and abroad.
While the Indian state media and narrative is concerned about gun violence, it is important for us to consider the structural and state violence that comes to produce our lived realities. What do we consider violence in Punjab? What conditions come to produce farmer suicides, debt and displacement and why is that not deemed as violence in our consciousness? What conditions produce a sense of hopelessness where drugs become a coping mechanism and why is that not deemed violence?
It is easier and simpler to demonize and point fingers at our people who are attempting to survive in these neoliberal, capitalist structures under the occupying hands and rules of the Indian State. It is more difficult to reconcile how the Indian State has produced many forms of fracturing for Sikhs: physical fracturing and displacement from our lands that has dismembered our way of life and being, subconscious fracturing of our spirit that leaves us open and vulnerable to the seductions of the state with what seem like opportunities to change the system from within, and the list continues.
How many more young naujawan have to die? How many more young naujawan will lose life in other ways, facing prison cell walls for simply reading literature?
His death calls us to action to reconsider how we engage with each other when there are fundamental disagreements in the course of action, but we carry similar visions of liberation. His death calls us to action to think about the death and loss of our naujawan -- the everyday young Sikh whose name we will never know. His death calls us to action to think about how quickly the Indian media reframes these losses into spectacles of violence to push their own narratives about Sikhs as inherently violent, dangerous and criminals.
The Indian State utilizes rhetoric about an inherent Sikh “criminality”, terms like gangs, thugs, law and order, which is similar to the language utilized in the West to incarcerate and penalize marginalized people. As referenced in his music, Shubhdeep Singh was deeply moved by 2Pac who also reckoned with oppression of marginalized people and the role of the police in that subjugation. With music inspired by artists like 2Pac and NWA, who actively spoke against police and state violence, we must be wary of the seductions and coercion of the state.
It is not that Shubhdeep Singh glorified gun violence, he spoke about shastar and Patshahi in a way that threatens and challenges the occupied status of Punjab. Moosewala and Deep Sidhu both represent aspects of what it means to be young, Punjabi, Sikh, and live fractured lives. They utilized their celebrity status to take two different approaches to understanding Sikh sovereignty with attempts to center the Shaheeds, which directly agitates against the Indian State’s narrative and imposed reality.
Beyond these moments of sweeping reaction, many more layers exist that speak to the underbelly of Sikh resistance in which those, without celebrity status, are confined and murdered for speaking up, agitating and resisting the Indian State. Our collective outrage must also include the countless naujawan who are surveilled, criminalized and murdered by the Indian State. Our Quam has resistance that embodies Sikhi in profound ways and our attention must hold them.
The brutal conditions and Sikhs’ relationship with India was revealed to us by Khalistan Sangharsh Shaheeds. Their embodied struggle remains relevant with each confining breath that we take, as a collective displaced from Punjab, searching for home, sovereignty, and liberation. That embodiment was echoed by Sidhu Moosewala in his music.
To live and die in Punjab is to have your death weaponized by the Indian State to create false narratives about gang culture and law and order in Punjab. To live and die in Punjab is to neglect the structural and state violence of confinement, but to instead, create new narratives to further subjugate your people. To live and die in Punjab is a dream for so many that embrace these conditions and would rather live and die in Punjab in the pursuit of azaadi. To live and die in Punjab is to pay homage to the Gurus and Shaheeds.
ਜੇ ਜਿਊਣਾ ਤਾਂ ਅਣਖ ਨਾਲ ਤੇ ਜੇ ਮਰਨਾਂ ਤਾਂ ਧਰਮ ਵਾਸਤੇ - ਸੰਤ ਜਰਨੈਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਜੀ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਭਿੰਡਰਾਂਵਾਲੇ
“If you are going to live, live with ankh (courage, honor)
If you are going to die, die for dharam”
- Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwale
Teer Kaur is a Ph.D. Candidate who studies the criminalization of space and state violence. You can find her on Twitter @bikethewind
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