Anti-Hindu or Pro-Dalit? Punjabi Song Riles Some, Inspires Others

‘What’s my fault if I was born in a low household” - this song by Ranjit Bawa on casteism is being called anti-Hindu

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India
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‘Mera ki Kasoor - this Punjabi song by Ranjit Bawa on casteism is being called anti-Hindu
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Je Mai Marhe Ghar Jammeya te Mera ki Kasoor Aa” (What’s my fault if I was born in a ‘low’ household?) - This song by Punjabi singer Ranjit Bawa has stirred up a debate in Punjab. The song primarily deals with caste discrimination and the plight of the poor, as is evident from the title.

However, some have accused the song of being “anti-Hindu”.

Several Hindutva organisations - from BJP to Shiv Sena Punjab and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are attacking Ranjit Bawa.

At least two BJP youth leaders Ashok Sareen Hicky in Jalandhar and Piyush Manchanda in Kapurthala have filed cases against Bawa, accusing him of “hurting religious sentiments of Hindus”.

On the other hand, Bawa is receiving praise for highlighting the plight of Dalits and challenging religious hypocrisy through this song. Several people trended #IStandWithRanjitBawa on Twitter in support of the singer.

What Does the Song Say?

The part of the song, whose lyrics are by Bir Singh, that has riled the Hindutva side are:

“Bhukhian layi mukiaan te Pathraa layi dudh aaa. Ohh je mayi sach bohtaa boleyaa te mach janaa yudh aaa. Gareebde di shoh madi gaau daa moot shud aaa”

(You beat up the starving but offer milk to stones. If I tell the truth, there will be a war. The touch of a poor is impure but cow’s urine is pure).

This is being interpreted as an insult to Hinduism.

Some of those attacking Bawa even ended up threatening a “repeat of 1984”, the year of the ghastly anti-Sikh pogrom.

Bawa, however, apologised for the song and said that he “never meant to disrespect any religion”. The song was taken down from all of Bawa’s official platforms but it continues to go viral despite that.

A Critique of Casteism

Despite the criticism from the Hindutva side, many see Bawa’s Mera Ki Kasoor as a strong critique of caste discrimination and not an attack on Hinduism. #IStandWithRanjitBawa trended on Twitter with many tweeting in his support, often sharing stanzas from his song.

The song also targets casteism among Sikhs through the lines:

Gotan anusaar gurdvare vi banaa laye
Dhane bhagat ravidaas di bani nuu nakaro pehlaan

(You have built Gurdwaras along caste lines. First deny the teachings of Ravidas.)

And another line is a criticism of people of all religions.

Ohh gatre jenau te cross gal pa laye
Vichar apnaaye naa te bane apnaa laye

(You wear Janeu and cross on your necks but you never adopted the principles).

A Politically Minded Singer

At a time when many Punjabi pop singers are facing flak for promoting alcoholism and gun-culture, Bawa’s Mera Ki Kasoor is a major departure. Partly, this may stem from Bawa being a politically conscious artist.

Unlike many others, Bawa hasn’t shied away from dealing with the traumatic political events of the 1980s and 1990s, which form the subject of many of his songs like Jatt Di Akal or Punjabio Jaagde Ki Sutte.

One of the films featuring him as the lead - Toofan Singh - was banned by the censor board in 2016. It dealt with the life of militant Jugraj Singh, better known as Toofan Singh.

Mera ki Kasoor is a departure in another respect. By directly attacking casteism, it goes against one dominant theme in Punjabi pop music - the constant invocation of Jatt pride.

According to lawyer-activist Jasjit Dhanoa, who also came out in support of Bawa, Punjabis need to stop writing songs promoting caste privilege.

The popularity of Mera ki Kasoor despite Bawa taking it down, could open space for more Punjabi songs dealing with the issue of caste.

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