‘You ban our songs, we’ll make new ones’: Kanwar Grewal won’t stop singing of farmer protests

The Punjabi singer has released a second version of ‘Ailaan’ after YouTube took down the original on the Indian government’s direction.

ByDiksha Munjal
‘You ban our songs, we’ll make new ones’: Kanwar Grewal won’t stop singing of farmer protests
Anubhooti Gupta
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“If you can spare time to listen to our songs in order to ban them, you might as well listen to the demands of the farmers instead.” This is how the new version of the song Ailaan by Kanwar Grewal starts.

The original version of the song is no longer available online. It was removed from YouTube, after the social media giant received a legal demand from the Indian government.

Sequence of events

On February 1, Twitter promptly catered to a legal demand by the ministry of electronics and IT and law enforcement agencies and “withheld” 250 accounts in India, including those of a farmer organisation, activists, and the Caravan magazine.

The government cited the law and order situation amid the farmer protests as a reason to block the accounts. When Twitter restored the accounts later in the day, the ministry of information technology issued a series of notices to block over 1,100 accounts, several tweets and hashtags, and threatened action if the company did not comply.

The government’s digital clampdown did not end here. In the first week of February, it asked YouTube to take down two Punjabi songs about the farmer protests. The songs, Ailaan by Kanwar Grewal and Asi Vadangey by Himmat Sandhu, are no longer available on the platform.

The video of the original song is no longer available.

The video of the original song is no longer available.

Voice from the ground

Grewal, 35, is a Punjabi singer from a farmer family in Bathinda. He has become a popular voice at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders, where the protesting farmers welcome him with roaring applause. He has released many popular songs on YouTube in support of the farmer protests over the past few months. The first version of Ailaan was viewed over six million times before it was taken down.

The song’s chorus, “Faslaan de faisley kisaan karuga”, meaning “decisions about farming will be taken by the farmers”, has become a rallying cry for the protesting farmers. It is ever present, from being on the lips of old and young protesters, to being painted on tractors and banners across protest sites.

What was it about the song – released on October 10, long before the farmers arrived on Delhi’s borders – that the government found objectionable and asked YouTube to remove it?

“Firstly, the song was taken down without giving us any intimation. We sent a mail to YouTube and were told that it violates the government’s guidelines,” said Harjinder Laddi, the producer of the song and Grewal’s brother. “After that we mailed them multiple times but got no satisfactory answer. We even asked them to specify which department of the government contacted them and what they said the violation was.”

Newslaundry asked YouTube for details of the legal complaint, specifically what part of the video was deemed to have violated the law. A YouTube spokesperson replied, “We comply with valid legal requests from authorities wherever possible, consistent with our longstanding policy and act quickly to remove identified content.”

The spokesperson added that they could not reveal the specifics as some orders under the IT Act come with confidentiality clauses. Newslaundry also wrote to the information technology ministry for details of the complaint. This report will be updated

“If it violated something in a specific country, as per YouTube’s drawback rules, it would not have got uploaded in the first place. Either you give a specific answer or you don’t ban it, this just means YouTube is taking it’s orders from the government,” Laddi said.

While awaiting an answer from the company, they made and released the new version of the song on February 13, which calls out the government for seeking to censor it. “You ban our songs, we’ll keep making new ones. That’s what we do for a living. If they take down this one, we’ll have a third one ready to be released,” he said.

A legacy of protest

Vari Rai, the lyricist of the song, grew up in the village of Harnalpur in Mohali, Punjab. He juggles working at a bank and writing. Ailaan was his first project with Grewal.

“Democracy has gone for a toss in its most basic form. We writers figure much later in the line. They have brazenly made a joke of their own rules.” he said. “They talk about protesters damaging public property, but they’ve dug up trenches, erected walls and hammered down nails in the roads to block their own citizens. Caring about the rights of artists seems like a stretch.”

Laddi claims Grewal is carrying forward a tradition that has existed since colonial times. “Songs have been part of the fabric of peoples’ movements. The song ‘Pagdi Sambhal Jatta’ had become the anthem of the 1907 peasant movement.”

An image from the video of the song.

An image from the video of the song.

The song by Banke Dayal, launched at a peasant rally in Lyallpur in 1907, went on to become an anthem that defined the agitation. The 1907 peasant movement of Punjab, led by Bhagat Singh’s uncle Ajit Singh was organised against three British laws – the Doab Bari Act, Punjab Land Colonisation Act, and the Punjab Land Alienation Act.

The song’s legacy lives on. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a united front of 40 farmer unions which is leading the ongoing movement against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws, has declared that February 23 will be marked as “Pagdi Sambhal Diwas”.

“If making and performing such songs boosts the morale of our farmers and gives momentum to the movement, why should anyone have a problem with that?” Laddi asked. “If you can ban something like that, then it clearly looks like we’re living in a dictatorship.”

‘We live in trolleys now’

The new version of the song, filled with visuals of crowds at the protests, talks of how the masses of protesters swelled just when the government expected the momentum to wear down.

There is a line in the song, “Pind rehnde si, trolliyan wich rehn lag paye. Hone lagi panchayat, te matte pain lag paye”. It translates as, “We lived in our villages once, but we live in trolleys now. We started holding panchayats and sending more people to protest.”

“The government is trying to put pressure on us in all possible ways. But in reaction, we got more people from every family in our villages to sign up for going to Delhi and they are going to keep coming,” Rai said.

He also said how the new song tells the youth to not crack under the pressure. “God has bestowed us with the gift of the pen, and we will keep using it to tell the truth and to support causes of great virtue.”

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