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'Bilqis' Presented a Snapshot of the India I Saw: Musician Rabbi Shergill

Rabbi's song 'Bilqis' asks, 'Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Pe Woh Kaha Hain?'

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Camera: Shiv Maurya and Ribhu Chatterjee Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

Rabbi Shergill wrote the song 'Bilqis' over a decade ago to present a picture of modern India – one that crushed many under its wheel. The song is about Bilkis Bano, who was gang-raped during the Gujarat Riots of 2002, and whose 14 family members, including her three-year-old daughter, were killed in front of her eyes.

On 15 August this year, the 11 men convicted of gang-raping her and murdering her family members, were released from a sub-jail. Rabbi's song 'Bilqis' assumes significance again, as it asks: 'Jinhe naaz hai hind pe woh kaha hain?'

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What Is 'Bilqis' About?

One morning in Mumbai, while travelling in an auto, grim thoughts of the murder of an Adivasi activist, Navleen Kaur, clouded Rabbi's mind. Navleen Kaur was stabbed 19 times and murdered in Mumbai's Thane in 2002.

They just didn't want to murder a person; the intent was to tear down their ideas, thought Rabbi, shaken by the brutality of the killing.

Belonging to a generation that saw the 1984 riots first-hand, he could no longer ignore the injustices that he witnessed around him. He wanted to take a snapshot of society at that point and write about the things that bothered him.

"My father was beaten up and left to die on the streets of Delhi in 1984. What happened to one girl, Nirbhaya, happened on an epic scale in 1984. So, Bilqis became a vehicle, a medium for me personally to marshal a lot of these unresolved emotions that stirred up inside me as well as a lot of Indians."
Rabbi Shergill, Musician
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'Bilqis' not only has mentions of Bilkis Bano, but three others:

Whistleblower Satyendra Dubey, an Indian Engineering Service (IES) officer, who was murdered in Bihar's Gaya in 2003 for his anti-corruption actions in a highway corruption project.

An officer at Indian Oil Corp, S Manjunath, who was shot dead for sealing a corrupt petrol station in UP's Lakhimpur Kheri in 2005.

Human rights activist, Navleen Kaur, who worked to protect the rights of Adivasis in Maharashtra.

"Thematically, these four people didn't match. For me, the theme was to show how four bright, effulgent souls were crushed under the wheels of modern India. Three of them, in some ways, were activists and were aware of what they were getting into. But Bilkis Bano had done nothing. She was a victim."
Rabbi Shergill, Musician

Upon hearing that the 11 men convicted of gang-raping Bilkis Bano and killing 14 members of her family were let out of jail, Rabbi said it made him realise that there was something still alive inside him, which further went numb.

"I wish there were other young artistes right now who said, 'Okay, I will say something. I will stick my neck out.' We don't see too many people critiquing the government. Art has become a lackey of powers that be."
Rabbi Shergill, Musician
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'The Coldness Is Surreal'

Rabbi remembers the protests that erupted during the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, when the whole of Delhi took to the streets, as one of the greatest memories of his life, as it reminds him of a society that cared for each other.

"We haven't kept up the promises that we started with when we built this nation. I have come to the point in my realisation that we are all we have. If the government won't take care of us and won't take care of the marginalised, we have to."
Rabbi Shergill, Musician

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