The recent killing of the Sikh Separatist leader Harjeet Singh Nijjar has sparked off renewed tensions between India and Canada. The Khalistani movement found its roots in the 70’s early 80’s India among the Sikh diaspora mainly based in Punjab.It later died down but has developed momentum in the recent years.
Khalistan is the idealized, independent Sikh state envisioned by the Sikhs and it would comprise of mainly the Indian state of Punjab and certain regions of Pakistan. The reasons as to why the Khalistani movement is getting support in Canada is rooted in several causes, the role of pop culture being one of them.
The influence of pop culture on society, especially on the youth cannot be denied.
The influence of the Khalistani movement on the Punjabi music industry dates back to 1988.When popular singer Amar Singh Chamkila (also known as the Elvis of Punjab) was assassinated by separatist leaders as they felt that his songs went against their ideology.
The rise of the Davinder Bambibhia gang and the Lawrence Bhishnoi gang exerted a lot of influence on the Punjabi music industry. Their music reflected the words and ideologies of the gangster Bambibhia, a man affiliated with the Khalistan Tiger Force. Bhishnoi has been actively against the the Khalistan movement.
Popular singer Sidhu Moosewala, through his songs, has been accused of glorifying Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh terorrist killed by the Indian government during Operation Blue Star.Moosewala’s song ‘Punjab (Motherland)’ also opened with a scene that showed Bhindranwale walking with his followers in an old footage.
This is also another instance of the influence of the movement on the music industry, trying to rectify past injustices against their community by inciting insurgency. Sidhu Moosewala was murdered in May last year and he was a victim of the gang wars very much prevalent in North India, especially Punjab.
The Lawrence Bishnoi gang killed him to avenge the death of a closed one by the Bambhia gang. Moosewala’s killing also raised suspicions over his alleged Khalistani links.
Canada-based popular Punjabi singer Subh is another personality whose career is suffering the impact of the recent ongoing tensions regarding Khalistani movement.
A flashy black car, 32 bore gun on hand, his gang by his side and the police on his back…are the lyrics from Subh’s hit song ‘We Rollin’ which has over 2million views on Youtube since its release two years ago. But his popularity suffered a hit as prominent Indian celebrities like Virat Kohli and KL Rahul unfollowed him on social media, major brands withdrew their sponsorships and his multi-city India tour was cancelled.
A few months earlier, Subh had posted a distorted map of India with the caption ‘Pray for Punjab’, hinting at a pro Khalistani view, which he deleted later. Other Canada based singers who have played a part in the spread of Khalistani propaganda, especially through rap music include AP Dhillon the ‘Brown Munde’ singer who has a huge following had also shared a similar post which he later deleted.
I will empty my gunshots in your city, my jeep is parked at the polive station…is the english translation of lyrics of the song ‘Daku’ by Inderpal Mogga and Channi Nattan, this song is also speculated to be about life of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Throughout the song it can be seen that a gangster is being idolised and his actions being glorified, like lyrics that translates to, your whole city considers me a hero.. Why do you call me a criminal?
And then, court considers me guilty my face looks like a murderer…
The US government has also condemned the practice of violence by pro-Khalistan anti-Indian elements.The state department spokesperson has said Washington condemns all forms of extremism and violence in response to a question regarding the Khalistani threat to Hindu temples in the West.
The accusations against the Punjabi music industry of promoting violence and glorifying gang culture and weapons isn’t something new. Canadian journalist Renu Bakshi, explains how “Punjabi boys grow up in a testosterone fueled environment run by an iron-fisted patriarch”.
This deep rooted patriarchal culture and society also seems to exert a significant amount of influence on and provide an explanation as to why violence is so much glorified in Punjabi pop culture.
Even though it is commonly believed that the reason for the influence of Khalistani leaders on Punjabi singers is foreign funding, power and foreign citizenships no direct link between them and a prominent separatist leader has been established.