ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Caste Question and Songs of Protest in Punjab

The popularity of “mission singing” and Chamar songs in recent times, in response and retaliation to Jatt pop music, in Punjab harks to the larger caste conundrum of the region and its complex historical location as a frontier society. The lower castes that migrated from Hinduism to new faiths, attracted by the latter’s textual claims of egalitarianism and non-hierarchical world views, over the centuries found that there was a huge gap between its theoretical premises and everyday practices. Dalit singers who produce songs valorising their history and heroes emerge as powerful expressions of rebellion against entrenched caste hierarchies.

The author would like to acknowledge the anonymous referee’s comments and inputs on the article.

The recent media coverage of Dalit singers from Punjab has understandably elicited much attention and interest. While Punjab has always been known for its peppy music and boisterous sociocultural life, the rise and prominence of Dalit singers harks to the state’s caste conundrum in its wake. Celebratory occasions in Punjab have hitherto seen the predominance of a particular kind of music, locally known as “Jatt pop” music, highlighting and valorising the Jatt culture and its heroes. This was expected given the almost absolute monopoly of the Jatt Sikhs, an upper caste of Punjab, over both religious and temporal matters, most crucially landownership. The Jatt Sikhs own roughly about more than 80% of the state’s land. Hence, the emergence and popularity of say Ginni Mahi, a 17-year-old singing sensation, hailing from the lower caste Jatav community in Punjab signifies a larger trend and a reconfiguration of the sociopolitical milieu of Punjab. Mahi, however, is only a recent addition to the tradition of what is being referred to locally as “mission singing.”1 The phenomenon of mission singing, which became prominent particularly post-2009 in the Doaba region and gradually spread to other parts, has a lot to do with the contested caste history of Punjab.

Caste in Punjab

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Updated On : 18th May, 2021
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