“Meri umar 62 saal hai par mainu lagda main Sidhu da sabot vadda fan haa/ I am 62 years old, but I think I am the biggest fan of Sidhu”. It was related by an aged man surrounded by a couple of youngsters who came to attend the Bhog ceremony of Punjabi artist Sidhu Moose Wala who was recently assassinated. The sea of people mourning the sudden demise of Sidhu Moose Wala was noted at the grain market, Mansa in his Bhog ceremony on 8th June 2022, where people from different states, ages, gender, caste, class, political affiliations, and ideologies participated.
His death has captured the attention of daily newspapers, television news channels, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. The gathering at the Bhog ceremony of Sidhu can be marked as the 7th important gathering in Punjab and one of the highest gatherings on any death. But here, the sociology of grief trumped the politics of death. Constructive grief erased all possibilities that could have diverted the attention from justice for Sidhu Moose Wala.
Sociologist NR Jokeby described grief as a social emotion rather than a disease. Of course, it cannot be separated from guilt, aggression, yearning, anxiety, or fear. Still, grief is a subjective emotional response to loss with mental, physical, and social manifestations, which are usually felt. In contrast, mourning is the expression of this feeling in the form of any action.
Sidhu was shot dead on 29th May, soon after the Punjab Government had trimmed the security of 424 VIPs, including Sidhu. This development meant a lot when this confidential document of trimming security was made public, and it was highly publicized by the officials of the Punjab government and the Aam Aadmi Party – AAP, the ruling party of Punjab. Though the trimming of security around this period is an essential exercise, the Punjab government needs security persons for deployment at several places in Punjab from 1-6 June every year. This period is considered sensitive as the supreme chair of Sikhi, the Akal Takht, was attacked, and Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was assassinated in first week of June 1984.
On 6th June 2022, the Punjab government cited only this reason in their response to Punjab and Haryana High Court. So the routine work of reducing the security of VIPs was advertised as a ‘war on VIP culture,’ which was far from reality. It marked a beginning of the politics of death on this issue which started with the debate around security issues but touched upon many other aspects.
Soon after the news of Sidhu’s death, people started questioning and blaming the ‘stupidity’ of the Punjab government for highly publicizing their decision to make the list public. Even the opposition parties and their leaders blamed the same for this loss. In response, the AAP and Punjab government lashed out at these allegations and blamed the victim. They alleged that Sidhu was not accompanied by his two regular security and he was not using bullet proof Thar vehicle at the time of his murder. An atmosphere was being created where the social media handles started victim-blaming, albeit the dead body was still to be cremated.
His death is also linked by many with gang war culture. In hindsight, this theory was getting close attention as some of the gangsters had taken the responsibility of killing. Many presumed that Sidhu was killed for the same thing which he had been promoting throughout his life – the idea of gun culture. However, the gang war and gun culture were not the core issues in villages of Punjab and Punjabis worldwide. This discourse was taking place among a handful of Punjabis and the ‘outsiders,’ but it was also a significant subject around Sidhu’s death.
Sidhu Moose Wala had joined the Congress party in December 2021 and unsuccessfully fought the 2022 Punjab Assembly election from the Mansa constituency. He had good relations with current Punjab Congress Chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and was also a strong voice against the politics of BJP and AAP. Even after joining the Congress party, Sidhu showed himself to be an honest follower of Bhindranwale, and recently he pledged to support Simranjeet Singh Mann in Sangrur by-polls of Loksabha. Just two days before Sidhu’s murder, his song named Levels was released, which was a response to AAP’s Vijay Singhla, who had defeated Sidhu in the Punjab elections. Now, that candidate was punished on corruption charges. Sidhu stated that people should not compare Sidhu with those not of his level.
The bustling environment of allegations after his death created conflict among followers of both these leaders. Though the followers of Singhla did not celebrate this death, they blamed Sidhu only for not focusing on real issues. Though this was not a highly engaging debate, but since the anger among all the parties was high, the supporters politicized this death as everyone was eager to put the blame.
Soon after Sidhu’s death, leaders of political parties started visiting the Moosa village and meeting his family. Punjab Congress chief and other influential party leaders were with Sidhu’s family for three straight days. None from the ruling AAP party attended the funeral ceremony, fearing people’s anger. Sidhu’s father had also written a letter to Punjab CM where he directly blamed Punjab CM for Sidhu’s death.
Many leaders who had labelled Sidhu as a gangster now started quoting him as a passionate youth and demanding justice for him. SAD leader Sukhbir Badal, BJP leader Tarun Chugh, and former Punjab CM Capt Amrinder Singh had tagged Sidhu Moose Wala as a gangster when he had joined the Congress party. Still, except for Amrinder, both Sukhbir and Chugh met Sidhu’s family.
Local people led by villagers opposed their own CM Bhagwant Mann, who was coming to meet Sidhu Moose Wala’s family. They all were questioning Punjab government’s decision to trim the security of Sidhu and then publicize it. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also visited Sidhu’s parents on 7th June and blamed the state government’s poor law and order situation.
Contrary to all the people, including the politicians, Union Home Minister Amit Shah did not visit the Moosa village. Instead, he called the parents of Sidhu Moose Wala to Chandigarh and expressed his condolences. The people criticized this move of Amit Shah that he should not have called Sidhu’s parents to Chandigarh in this pathetic situation.
Young journalist Rohin Kumar in his book on Kashmir “Lal Chowk” talks about the sociology of grief in which he mentions how women join the grief and final rites of the Kashmiris killed in conflict zones. They make it more constructive and productive, rather than just an event of mourning and healing the pain.
The agrarian community of the region, from where Sidhu Moose Wala belonged, has been in deep economic and social crises. The financial burden and the ‘ontological insecurity’ have been forcing them to suicide; the rural youth are leaving agriculture as a profession and the village as the site of living. The essential crowd of Sidhu’s music was this agrarian community, and the songs and ideas Sidhu gave a sense of confidence and self-respect. This is why the agrarian youth were in the highest number at his Bhog ceremony. They brought their tractors, wore turbans and Kurta Pyjama, and used the 5911 tractors symbols.
Women across all age groups joined Sidhu’s Bhog in large numbers in Mansa. They had been carrying the ‘plants’ for planting in memory of Sidhu, as requested by Sidhu’s mother. These women reclaimed their space in this social emotion where they demonstrated active participation.
Sidhu’s mother has asked people to plant a tree as an authentic tribute to Sidhu. Punjab Government has announced to build a stadium and a cancer hospital in memory of Sidhu Moose Wala. This is a unique way of expressing grief wherein the state government is trying to control the damage done as a consequence of their negligence over Sidhu’s security. But in both these cases, there is no opposition, so the grief can be considered productive and constructive.
The grief also unites the sentiments of ‘eastern Punjab’ and the ‘western Punjab.’ A BBC Punjabi story also shows how Sidhu was being celebrated in Pakistan. After Sidhu’s death, they have also been mourning. One of the videos showed that a man was going to the Indian high commission to get a visa to join Sidhu’s Bhog. Sikka Khan and Sadik Khan,who are real brothers but were separated during the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, also came to Sidhu’s home to pay condolences.
Sidhu’s death has touched many souls so profoundly that several condolence meetings were organized in foreign countries where Punjabi diasporas gathered in a similar manner as if they were organizing events supporting farmers’ protests. A tribute was also given in New York’s famous Times Square on Sidhu’s birthday on 11th June 2022. The municipal council has decided to build a memorial for Sidhu Moose Wala. A viral video on social media shows a young female scholar getting a degree in the convocation by showing the gesture of slapping own thie, which was one of the famous gestures by Sidhu Moose Wala.
Several young boys from Haryana arrived at the Bhog ceremony after walking on foot directly from their village. A physically disabled person also reached the Bhog without using any cycle or vehicle. In an unfortunate incident, a 22-year-old boy committed suicide while watching the hearfelt scenes of Sidhu’s Bhog ceremony. It also shows how people sacrifice to express their grief.
A statement has been issued by Sidhu’s family that no one should use Sidhu’s name for upcoming Sangrur Loksabha by-polls. Before this, leading Punjabi intellectual SS Johl had recommended that Sidhu’s father should be made a consensual candidate and should be elected unopposed, but Sidhu’s father denied this offer or any possibility of joining politics.
Sidhu’s father has asked people to be patient giving time to the Punjab Government for investigation. Sidhu’s fans and activists have been demanding justice and trending the #JusticeForSidhuMooseWala through Twitter storming. But, what is this justice? Probably it lies between the politics of death and the sociology of grief. Marking constructive grief and an essential politics to punish real culprits according to the law can relieve Sidhu’s parents.