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India: Why are Punjab Singers Under Attack by Criminal Gangs?

The murder of rapper-turned-politician Sidhu Moose Wala has drawn global attention to the dark side of the Punjab music industry and the criminal networks operating within India and abroad.
Sidhu Moose Wvala, 28, had a massive fan following abroad, particularly the UK and Canada

Sidhu Moose Wvala, 28, had a massive fan following abroad, particularly the UK and Canada

Rapper-turned-politician Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, popularly known as Sidhu Moose Wala, was shot and killed by unidentified people on May 29 in a crowded marketplace in the Mansa district in Punjab state, a day after his security was downsized by the state government.

The 28-year-old had a massive fan following both in India and abroad, especially in Canada and the UK, which have a sizeable Punjabi diaspora population.

According to Punjab police, Canada-based gangster Goldy Brar, and gang member Lawrence Bishnoi, currently in a Delhi prison, were behind the attack. Initial investigations suggest that Moose Wala's death was the result of an inter-gang dispute.

Artists shared condolences online following the death of Moose Wala. Some also expressed concerns over the safety of artists in India's entertainment industry.  

"Most people will never know the extent of what you have to deal with as a Punjabi artist behind the scenes on a daily basis," Amritpal Singh Dhillon, an Indian-born Canadian singer and rapper, and a close associate of Moose Wala, wrote in a post on Instagram. "With constant judgment, hate-filled comments, threats and negative energy directed towards people like us, who are just doing what we love."

Singer Mika Singh also shared his fears about celebrities becoming easy targets.

"Singers in Punjab often get such threats from gangsters. I am telling you from personal experiences, dealing with threats is very difficult," Singh said, while currently filming a reality show in Rajasthan. He has beefed up security measures as a precaution following the killing of Moose Wala.

Punjabi artists under attack

Citing fears for his life, singer Mankirt Aulakh has also increased security. He said he requested Punjab police to step up security measures after receiving threats in April from the Davinder Bambiha gang.

The gang is reportedly engaged in a turf war with associates of Lawrence Bishnoi. Industry insiders say scores of Punjabi singers are being threatened and attacked by gang members, and that extortion calls are seldomly reported.

"Many of the successful Punjabi singers or actors have linkages with Canada. Many of them have either permanent residency permits or have citizenship," Jaideep Sarin, a political commentator told DW, adding that Punjabi singers who have had success abroad are at increased risk of being targeted by gang members.

In 2018, unidentified persons shot Punjabi singer Parmish Verma in Mohali. He sustained a gunshot in the thigh. Gang member Dilpreet Singh, who is wanted on the account of numerous criminal cases including murder, claimed he shot Verma on his Facebook page.

In the same year, the bullet-riddled body of budding singer Navjot Singh was found in an empty plot of land in Dera Bassi. Investigations are still ongoing.

During this time, actor-singer Gippy Grewal said he had also received extortion threats via video call from Dilpreet Singh, seeking protection money. Jalandhar-based Punjabi singer Rai Jujhar, meanwhile, said he received threats by an unknown person over the phone.

A booming industry

Punjabi music is one of India's fastest-growing music industries, according to Ghaint Punjab entertainment news.

The current value of the Punjabi music industry is around seven billion Indian Rupees (€84 million) and is growing at a pace of over 10% annually. The industry has more than 400 registered music labels that release around 15 to 20 songs every day. In 2019, the industry alone released more than 4,000 music videos.

"What we are seeing in the Punjabi music and film industry is what was witnessed in Bollywood years back. Extortion and protection money is now a given and the underworld is now wanting a share," Pramod Kumar, director of the Institute for Development and Communication in Chandigarh, told DW.

"These young musicians also seem to normalize violence through their genre of gangster rap and this is promoting a culture of violence," Kumar said.

A vicious cycle'

Despite numerous arrests and police encounters in recent years, it has become difficult to rein in gang members, especially those who operate from abroad.

The Indian government has flagged concerns to Canadian authorities over the involvement of gangsters operating violent crimes in Punjab from Canada.

Last year, a team from the National Investigation Agency, India's primary counter-terrorist task force, visited Ottawa and met with Canadian officials to inquire about multiple extradition requests it had put forth related to serious crimes and terrorism.

Punjabi-Canadian criminal gangs are formed of a community based in Canada and primarily made up of young individuals of Punjabi ethnic origin, the India Times reported.

An intelligence official, who requested anonymity, told DW that India's "many instances of singers threatened and at times killed" is "a vicious cycle."

"Some of these singers initially want patronage and meet bad characters. After a while, these bad elements morph into a Frankenstein monster," the official said.

Edited by: Sou-Jie van Brunnersum

Courtesy: DW

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