Updated: August 5, 2020 2:46:47 pm
He was toasted by the Punjab Police when he released a song criticising the first Covid-19 fatality in state — a 70-year-old man who had returned from Germany via Italy and died on March 18.
“Main Gurbaksh gawacha, Italy ton aya haan…si mainu jedi bemari, oh gayi pote nu…hun saare pind te ghumda phirda maut da saaya haan…(I am Gurbaksh, the lost. I came from Italy. The disease that I had, I passed it on to my grandson. Now I am loitering around the village casting shadow of death),” went the lyrics of the song that was also re-tweeted by Punjab DGP Dinkar Gupta.
However, Punjabi artiste Shubdeep Singh Sidhu, identified by the moniker Sidhu Moosewala, now finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And for several reasons too.
Hailing from Moosa, a village in Punjab’s Mansa district, Moosewala has had a great run ever since he released his first track — ‘So High’ — on his YouTube channel in 2017. The 27-year-old electrical engineering graduate now has 52 lakh subscribers on the YouTube — the platform he uses to release new songs — and over 84 crore views so far.
Over a period of time, he has been hitting the headlines regularly over controversies, especially over glorifying gun culture and violence in his songs. Moosewala, who writes his own lyrics, also glorifies caste and the rawness of village life, something that has made him darling of ‘Pendu’ boys who take pride in their identity.
Unlike the songs of his contemporaries in Punjabi pop and rap scene, there is hardly any objectification of women and there’s no glorification of liquor and drugs.
The artistes is in a habit of coming up with songs as his way of replying to controversies. He remained in tussle with some rival singers and came up with songs to humiliate them. Critics, journalists and ‘haters’ also remain on on target. One of his songs also took a dig at relatives such as maternal and paternal uncles.
At a time when he was being accused of behaving like a police puppet, he displayed a photograph of Khalistani militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in one of his songs, leading to a fresh controversy.
It was on February 2 this year that Moosewala was booked under sections 294, 504 and 149 of IPC by Mansa police for allegedly promoting violence through his songs and videos.
However within one-and-a-half months, Moosewala turned into a blue-eyed boy for the Punjab Police as he joined the Covid-19 campaign and wished a doctor in Mansa on latter’s birthday with a cake in hand. He did that on the invitation of the local police.
Hos controversial song ‘Gurbaksh Gwacha’ was released carrying the Punjab Police logo and the link was tweeted by the state top cop. DGP had to later delete the tweet but no case was registered against Moosewala despite several complaints over the derogatory song.
Later Mossewala joined #Main_bhi_harjit_singh campaign of the Punjab Police in support of an ASI whose hand was chopped off in a clash with a group of Nihangs in Patiala.
It was followed by viral video of Moosewala in which he was seen firing with AK-47 under patronage of Punjab Police officials. Again, Police registered an FIR but Arms Act was invoked only after the complainant reached Punjab and Haryana High court. Police officials have been accused of facilitating Moosewala in getting bail.
Two days after getting getting bail, Moosewala released a new song glorifying the Arms Act case registered against him and comparing himself with actor Sanjay Dutt who too had been booked under the same law. A fresh case was registered under sections 188, 294, 504, 120-B of IPC at State Crime Punjab Police station in Phase 4 of Mohali.
Cultural panel a non-starter
In 2018, then Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had announced to set up a Cultural Commission to check glorification of weapons, violence and vulgarity in Punjabi movies and songs. Sidhu had said that if needed, the commission would also be empowered to get an FIR registered against those indulging in vulgarity. CM was to be the patron-in-chief of the panel. However, the commission never saw the light of the day following objections that it would impede upon the creative freedom of artistes.
Renowned Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, who was announced as chairman of the commission, however was not happy with it. “Government shouldn’t have the direct authority to book any creative person. Such powers can be misused. There are allegations that (central) government is misusing (its) authority in case of poet Varavara Rao. However, I have view that action can be taken against a writer or a singer if there is pressure from the society. If FIR against Moosewala is on the basis of a complaint, then we can’t say that government has used its authority,” Patar said.
In his songs under scanner, Moosewala hasn’t targeted any real person or community. He has been booked under Sections 294 and 504 that relate to obscenity and intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace.
In law, obscenity is a matter of subjective interpretation and seen as material, which is morally unwarranted (like porn).
Glorification of guns, violence not new
Whether it is qissa of Mirza Sahiba, religious text ‘Shastar Naam Mala’ said to be written by tenth Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh or the photograph of Shaheed Bhagat Singh with pistol in hand, weapons and violence have remained widely glorified subjects in Punjabi text and literature.
A song by Kuldeep Manak, ‘Goli Marro Eho Jehe Bnauti Yaar Nu’ (Kill the friend, who turns traitor) still remains popular among youth. The song is associated with Qissa Sucha soorma, a famous Punjabi folklore of last century, which justifies violence and glorifies weapons to take revenge.
Moosewala is not new to glorifying weapons, but this time, he has been accused of shunning morality while writing and singing about weapons.
“Yes, there is glorification of weapons in Punjabi society. But at the same time, this glorification comes with morality. The good is encouraged to pick the weapon to take on the bad. But in today’s songs, we see glorification of weapons with no morality. Flaunting weapons with no moral purpose is problematic,” said Patar.
“Also in old Punjab, everyone didn’t have the access to every song. It is also a reason that there were less controversies on song promotion, violence, or vulgarity. But now song reach everyone — from a child to a senior citizen,” he added.
Glorification of Liquor less on target
While disposing off a related writ petition in July 2019, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the police chiefs in Punjab, Haryana and Union Territory Chandigarh that no song glorifying liquor, wine, drugs and violence is played even in live shows.
These directions were the basis of the first FIR against Moosewala. Incidentally, Moosewala is not accused of promoting liquor in his songs, which is otherwise the case with most of the Punjabi singers who are also accused of glorifying drugs through songs.
Behind Moosewala appeal’s his rural connect
Moosewala’s mother is Sarpanch of the their village Moosa. The singer prefers to live in his village and is accessible to any person who wants to meet him. His songs have references and glorification of rural life.
Slowly, an unorganised army of Moosewala fans have formed online which would troll and abuse anyone criticising the singer.
“Interests of youth would be different depending upon how they saw their future. Mass following doesn’t mean that the performer is a good artiste. Such songs, however, may be helpful in catharsis of youth with hidden anger facing issues and struggling to establish themselves according to materialistic expectations of society. So, popularity of such songs and behaviour have certain psychological issues due to certain circumstances. Youth in villages have no medium to spend their evening purposefully. There is lack of culture in which energy of youth can be channelised in right direction,” said Patar.
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