First they were questioned for their silence. Then for their activism. For Punjabi singers and artistes, who sprung a surprise by quickly mobilising people against Centres three farm legislations, the battle is continuous and one that they have now decided not to abandon till the ‘victory is achieved.’
After some farm leaders questioned their mode of protest and “seriousness”, now 31 farmer unions have formed a seven-member panel to coordinate with a committee of artistes in Punjab over a campaign against the Centre. Here’s how it all began
Silence not golden
In early September, there was a flurry of social media posts questioning the alleged silence of the Punjabi artistes community vis a vis farmers’ agitation that was warming up in state.
Slowly some artistes started expressing solidarity with farmers on social media. It, however, led to naming and shaming of those singers and actors who were still silent on the issue.
Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala was the prime target especially as his songs often portray him as a village boy. Later, Moosewala clarified that he had sought permission from a farmers’ union to attend their protest, which was declined on the ground that his presence could create distraction in gathering.
Moosewala then went to create his own outfit and organised a huge gathering in Mansa on September 25, the day a call for Punjab Bandh and Bharat Bandh was given. To get protesters to his gathering, he had given a call on social media.
Another gathering, biggest on the day of Bandh, was organised at Shambu border for which the call was given by politician activist Lakha Sidhana and Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu. Moosewala also led a protest march to Chandigarh on September 27.
Another group of Punjabi singers, guided by Harbhajan Mann, attended a farmer union’s protest at Nabha where they were not welcomed warmly. The same group of artistes organised a massive gathering at Batala Monday to support the farmers protest.
Why are they active?
On why artistes have suddenly taken active interest in farm protests, Harbhajan Mann, who had a brief inning in Punjab politics with Shiromani Akali Dal, said, “Punjabi culture and economy revolves around agriculture. We artistes have also earned our bread indirectly from this economy. Now it is time for us to pay back by supporting the farmers. Most of our singers come from the agriculture background and it is also the reason that they feel attached with this issue. This issue is about survival of Punjab.”
He further said that the protest by artistes was not limited to September 25 Bandh or to gathering held in Batala on the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh. “We will remain active till the victory is achieved. We will remain associated with the protest”.
Punjabi singer and actor Ranjit Bawa, who was the main force behind Batala gathering, said, “If we don’t speak now, then we will have no moral authority to sing about Punjab.”
Another Punjabi Singer, Ammy Virk, cites a personal reason. “My father sold a part of his farm land to support my singing and acting career. Now it is my turn to support him.”
Questioned over activism
While initially their silence was questioned, the artistes are now facing flak for their activism, especially from farmer unions and cadres supporting the Left organisations.
Earlier, Punjab Kisan Union president Rulda Singh released a video criticizing the gatherings by singers as congregation of misguided youth. Artistes are also being accused for using their popularity to sway the youth away from farmers’ protests.
Among those facing criticism is Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu, who has been organizing protests against the farm laws. Deep Sidhu had campaigned for actor Sunny Deol (BJP) in Gurdaspur during Lok Sabha elections last year. Now his photographs with Deol and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are being used to question his agenda on farm laws.
Deep Sidhu, who often speaks on social and political issues, doesn’t shy away from criticising farmer unions.
“Our political, social, and farmer union leadership would never digest sentiments of our people. We are asking farmer unions to lead us. But I am very clear on this issue that no decision should be taken behind the closed door meetings by farmers unions. All the decision should be taken in the sangat (gathering). I will stand by whatever decision you take in open house,” said Deep Sidhu during a protest at Batala.
Ranjit Bawa agrees. “Singers and artistes have also played a key role in creating awareness on the farm legislations. We have nothing against the farmer unions, but at the same time, it has become a culture in Punjab to criticize anyone for anything. We are not looking at any personal gain from these protests. We are here to extend support. If some artistes are coming forward, then at least they should not be insulted. We have no problem with farmer unions leading us,” says Ranjit Bawa.
Harbhajan Mann too says that the artistes are not competing against farmers and are, in fact, out to support them. “We are not doing it to remain in limelight. In fact, I have decided to not inform public in advance about our participation in any protest. We will go to protests organised by farmers’ and sit with them to extend support,” he adds.
Have they read the Acts?
Harbhajan Mann says he tries to keep himself updated. “I try to read as much as possible. (Based on what I read), I try to make posters on the farm agitation and upload them on my social media accounts to inform the youth about it,” says the singer.
Ranjit Bawa, who is a masters degree holder in political science from Khalsa College Amritsar, says he has read the legislations. “If you say all of Punjab has read the laws, then it is not true, but everyone in this state understands that it is long-term plan to capture our lands and make us landless. You don’t need all the technical details about the legislations to protest against it,” he adds.
Actor Deep Sidhu too says that the masses don’t have to know everything about the laws. “A journalist asked a young boy at Shambhu protest about what he know about Bills. The boy replied that Modi wants to capture our lands. This information is enough,” says Deep Sidhu.
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