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The Death and Subsequent Investigation of Moosewala's Murder

Who Killed Moosewala? is a deep dive into the world of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala, and his murder last year.

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(Extracted with permission from Who Killed Moosewala? by Jupinderjit Singh, published by Westland non-fiction, an imprint of Westland Books, in 2023.)

29 May 2022. It was a sultry summer evening. Punjabi rap singer Sidhu Moosewala left his home, a sprawling haveli in his village, Moosa, in his Mahindra Thar SUV. He was accompanied by his cousin Gurwinder and friend Gurpreet. The three were close. All in their late twenties, they had studied and had many an escapade together. Twenty-eight-year-old Moosewala was the only one not yet married. At six feet and three inches, the strapping young man was the tallest of the group. In stature as well, he far surpassed the other two. A rap sensation, he had amassed fame and wealth and was loved by millions of fans.

Sidhu was at the wheel and Gurwinder sat beside him. Gurpreet slipped into the rear seat. ‘Guard le ja, putt,’ Charan Kaur, Sidhu’s mother, insisted. ‘Nahi ta Fortuner le ja. Mera dil ghatda.’ (Take the guard along, son. Or go in the Fortuner. My heart sinks in fear otherwise.)

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Following several threats to his life by gangsters, the Punjab government had provided four gunmen to the singer for his security. Two of the four men, however, had been inexplicably withdrawn just a day earlier, a decision that would turn out to have far-reaching consequences. Of the two remaining police guards, one had fever and could not accompany him. Moosewala asked the other to stay back and rest since he hadn’t slept much the night before. ‘Bas chhoti jehi ride leni Guri te Gurwinder naal ne. Thar de pichhe jagah ghat hai chhothe bande layi,’ he reportedly told the guards. (It’s only a short ride in the Thar with Guri and Gurwinder. The rear seat does not have enough space for a fourth person.) To his mother he said, ‘Maasi de ghar hi ja reha haan. Jyada door nahi.’ (I am only going to Maasi’s house. Not too far.) He was referring to his aunt in the village of Khara Barnala about 8 km away.

His mother wanted Sidhu to take their Toyota Fortuner. It was bulletproof. The singer had spent nearly Rs 22 lakh on its modification, converting it into a tanklike fortified vehicle. The windows had 40mm thick glass to block any bullet from breaking in. Iron sheets had been added to the door frames and other places. The fuel lid was protected too, something that even bulletproof police cars often didn’t have.
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Just a short geri, Mummy. Sah ghutda mera andar. Tuhanu pata hi hai. Apne pind ki hona mainu? Thar le jaan da mann hai,’ Sidhu placated his mother. (It’s a short drive. You know how caged I feel indoors. What can happen to me in my neighbourhood? Let me take the Thar today.)

If only Sidhu Moosewala had paid heed to his mother’s warnings.

A CCTV camera hooked to the boundary wall of the haveli recorded the Thar leaving the house at 5.15 p.m. ‘Golgappe khawaange,’ Gurwinder recalls Sidhu whispering to them as the car left the safety of the haveli. (We will feast on golgappas.) ‘Sidhu was fond of eating chaat from a shop in Mansa city. Though we had been warned not to make a habit of visiting one place regularly because of the threats,’ Gurwinder would state later.

‘He was humming as he drove,’ Gurwinder recalled. ‘We usually didn’t chat much when he hummed. That was his zone of creativity.’

They had barely left the gates of the haveli when they were greeted by expectant fans. Sidhu slowed down and people thronged the SUV, clicking selfies and screaming about how much they admired the rap star. Amidst this crowd were two men, later identified as Kekda and Nikku, who took selfies with the star. Nikku even walked ahead of the rolling Thar and seemed to be shooting a video on his phone.

In reality though, Nikku was not shooting a reel for Instagram or Facebook. He was on a video call with someone through the Signal app, sharing real-time intel on Moosewala’s movements. Nikku would confess to this after his arrest, but the police would never recover the phone he had used. Nikku had destroyed it according to plan.

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Moosewala reached the main road that connected his village to Mansa in the southeast and the Barnala town in the north. He turned west towards his aunt’s village. He drove towards the sun, which was still shining brightly even as it gradually slid down towards the horizon. In an hour or so, the rays of the setting sun would form a necklace of orange light along the western horizon, illuminating and encircling the earth.

Did Moosewala think about the setting sun at all— symbolic of the end?

The rap star’s twenty-ninth birthday was just fourteen days away, and his wedding about a month.

Always in a maroon turban, worn in the comfortable shahi Patiala style, Sidhu Moosewala was a symbol of hypermasculinity for his listeners and fans. He was a Jatt-Sikh from the dominant Sidhu clan. The Sidhus, according to historians, came from the Bhatti Rajputs, who descended from the Yaduvanshis of the erstwhile Rajputana sometime in the thirteenth century. They moved to Punjab in the sixteenth century and settled in Bathinda. They later established the Phulkian dynasty in Patiala, Nabha, Faridkot, Malaudh and Jind. The village of Mehraj in Bathinda was their central settlement. The former chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, and his forefathers belong to this village.

With the passage of time, Sidhus spread to other parts of Bathinda, including Mansa. In the modern context, the Sidhus are referred to as the firebrand farmer community of Punjab, and at 21 per cent of Punjab’s population, they are amongst the most influential ethno-religious groups in the state.
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Sidhu Moosewala’s music videos were often criticised for their violent content. In them, he brandished guns as luxury cars flew past in the background. The aggression and hypermasculine behaviour that he exhibited in his videos was not an entirely alien concept. In the region where he came from, it was considered a show of strength. His public persona was in line with his position in the caste and class structure of the state. His videos consolidated his image of a rebellious young man unafraid of confrontation. The singer often challenged his enemies to come face to face. ‘I can surely handle many of you,’ he said in a video while responding to those making threatening phone calls to him.

The Thar moved along the road. Moosewala placed his pistol, a .455 bore Chrome-plated US-made Ithaca, in the accessory pocket of the driver’s door. He had bought this weapon a year ago and had an arms licence to carry it. He drove past rows of keekar, tahli, neem and eucalyptus trees that lined the road on either side.

The keekar tree can survive without much water and is found all over Punjab, especially in the birs, the local name for a small forest. It is more common in Malwa, especially in the Mansa and Bathinda districts. It is a tree with its own story of resistance in Punjab, where it nearly went extinct two decades ago but then bounced back to a large extent.

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Tahli or sheesham is the state tree and is grown for its wood while the neem tree is known to be a natural cleanser of the environment. The eucalyptus is the odd one in the group. A tall tree, it is almost three to four times higher than the others that remain under 15 metres. A water guzzler, the eucalyptus is often referred to as the villain of Punjab forestry. Yet, farmers and the government grow it for high returns yielded by its wood.

Beyond these trees, most of the fields that the Thar passed lay vacant. Farmers had harvested the wheat crop more than a month ago and the paddy-sowing season was still about two weeks away. Some of the fields had a layer of black soot and ash after farmers had set the wheat stubble on fire. The cheapest option for farmers to eliminate the wheat stem and roots and clear the field for the next crop, this common practice has come under much criticism in recent times. Not only does it kill the nutrients in the soil, plumes of thick smoke rising from the burnings engulf the sky and, backed by winds, travel eastwards, 300 km away, towards the national capital of Delhi. Especially towards the last months of the year, this smoke from stubble burning in Punjab adds a lethal touch to the existing smog in Delhi, leaving the residents of the city gasping for breath for weeks.

At this point though, a different kind of fire had been ignited somewhere—a fire that perhaps no one had noticed but the flames of which would soon engulf Delhi.

(The above is an edited excerpt. Paragraph breaks have been added for readers’ convenience.)

(Jupinderjit Singh is Special Correspondent, The Tribune, Chandigarh bureau. He has over 25 years of experience in reporting from Punjab, Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir, and specialises in crime reporting. He is the recipient of the Prem Bhatia Young Journalist Award and is also a fellow at the Centre for Science and Environment on Tribal Rights in Jammu & Kashmir. He has previously authored four books and has the unique distinction of discovering Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s pistol which had been missing for 85 years.)

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