Surrounded by a group of people under the solitary tree in his large agricultural field, Sandeep Singh, 28, sat staring at a platform a few metres away, in Moosa village of Punjab’s Mansa district – with a poster of his friend Sidhu Moosewala, and the words “Miss you Ustad”.
Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, popularly known as singer Sidhu Moosewala, 28, within 15 minutes after 19 bullets were fired at him on May 29, according to the autopsy report seen by Newslaundry. The singer had left home with Gurpreet Singh, 32, his cousin, and his friend Gurwinder Singh, 26, to visit his aunt in Jhawahar Ke village in Mansa. As soon as he reached the village, two vehicles which had been following him began firing at his Thar. Moosewala died while his friends survived after the shooting that has since been linked to gang rivalries.
Sandeep, with the singer’s Dobermann Bageera on a leash, is ridden with guilt. “I was supposed to be in that car with him. I just happened to reach his house five minutes late and he had already left…I keep thinking that maybe if I was with him, maybe if I had taken my car and followed him, or maybe if I could have convinced him to take his gunmen, this wouldn’t have happened.”
A day before the murder, the Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party government in the state had scaled down the singer’s security cover from four to two personnel. But it was “common” for Moosewala to go to nearby areas without security, Sandeep said.
“He loved his dog so much…Now we won’t grow crops on this field anymore. We [Moosewala’s friends] are planning to construct a grand structure for people to visit and remember their beloved singer.”
The singer's dog Bageera in Moosa.
It was the singer who made Moosa famous, villagers believe. He, after all, always stayed in his village if he wasn’t travelling, unlike other musicians, said Navdeep Singh*, a villager. He said that the singer, along with Charan Kaur, his mother and sarpanch, was busy constructing a stadium and gym for children in Moosa despite losing the Punjab assembly election which he contested on a Congress ticket this year.
With a literacy rate of 58 percent, Mansa district is known for poor water quality and being under the Malwa belt which has the of cancer patients in the country.
“Before this nobody would even know of our village in Punjab,” said Amarjeet Kaur, 60, and Shindar Kaur, 55, who have gathered at Moosewala’s house – there is a constant flurry of fans, politicians and relatives even five days after the death.
The family has maintained distance from the media, choosing to grieve in private. A pandhal has been set up in the courtyard of the house. Moosewala’s father sat among relatives for most of the day while his mother, whose blood pressure had dropped, rested inside.
Even the villagers are cautious. “Today’s media channels need only one small trigger to make it a big issue…a family lost their son. What does the media expect them to say? We don’t want to participate in the media spectacle,” said Navdeep Singh.
A Punjabi journalist said there was anger against the media among the villagers but the family “just wants privacy”.
Anger persists against the AAP government even as the house has become a political battlefield, according to villagers.
A day after chief minister Bhagwant Mann spent over an hour with them, the singer’s family met union home minister Amit Shah in Chandigarh on Saturday and sought a CBI probe. Shah assured them of justice.
Akhil Jindal, a doctor who was Moosewala’s close friend, told Newslaundry: “Congress is visiting to play their politics against AAP, AAP is visiting for damage control, Akali Dal is visiting because they know the Sangrur by-polls are coming up as the seat was recently vacated by CM Bhagwant Mann. Speculation is that whoever Moosewala’s family will support might help them influence voters against AAP and win the seat.”
Akhil, who now lives in Mumbai, studied with Moosewala for 12 years, from nursery to class 10, at the Sardar Chetan Singh Sarvahitkari Vidya Mandir, an RSS-run school in Mansa.
Akhil, standing next to Moosewala, a in picture from school.
Leaving home, and buying his ‘first gun’
Moosewala was a single child from a family of farmers. His father, Balkar Singh, worked briefly in the military and then in the fire brigade department. On June 4, the singer was set to perform in Gurugram and then fly to Europe for a world tour. He was set to get married to the daughter of an Akali Dal leader in October.
Bhupinder Kaur, 46, a teacher from Moosewala’s school, has fond memories of Moosewala. “If there was a programme, he would run after his teachers until he was sure his name was on the list of performers.”
The shooting on May 29 was not the first attack on the singer. After completing his graduation from Ludhiana, he moved to Canada to pursue music and released the song So High – his claim to fame – at the age of 23 in 2017.
“The same year, due to his rapidly acquired fame, he was attacked in Canada. He was shot but he escaped with minor injuries,” said Akhil.
The next year, Moosewala returned from Canada and acquired his first licensed gun, Akhil said. “He started collecting guns because he was paranoid as well as because he loved them. But he would never use it to scare or threaten anyone.”
In May 2020, the singer was for violating Covid norms and under the arms act when photographs of him firing an AK-47 rifle at a firing range, during the lockdown, in the presence of police officials, went viral. Two months later, he was again booked under the arms act, for promoting violence and glorifying the gun, in one of his songs called .
Jagdeep Singh, principal of the school Moosewala attended, said that the singer would often visit his institute and speak to teachers after being nominated for the assembly elections. “On one such visit, I thought I would tell him that he should not be singing so much about guns and violence,” Jagdeep said. “Every single student in this school knows his songs and it’s not nice to hear them singing about violence.”
Two other upcoming singers hail from Mansa: R Nait and Korala Maan. While both refused to speak to Newslaundry, Jagdeep said Moosewala had given them “hope”. “He became world famous at 28 and made youngsters feel like it was possible even if you came from a place like Mansa.”
However, the principal said the Mansa-Bathinda border area is strife with gang activities. “Extortion from the music industry and threats towards musicians is common.”
Gippy Garewal, the Canada-based music producer who gave Moosewala his first break, complained of receiving . The same year, Punjabi singer Navjot Singh was and singer Parmish Verma in Mohali in separate incidents. Several other artists, such as Balkar Sidhu, Karan Aujla, R Nait, Mankirat Aulakh and more, have complained of receiving threats.
At a school reunion on Lohri following his candidature for the assembly poll this year, Moosewala confessed to Akhil that he was receiving a lot of threats, said the doctor.
“He had received threats on the phone previously as well, but this time he seemed a little worried and preoccupied,” said Akhil. “Sometimes while driving, he would even change his route out of paranoia.”
The singer frequently visited his school after his nomination for the assembly polls.
Nitin Singh*, who runs a puncture shop near the spot where Moosewala was murdered, said he was alone when the murder took place.
“The moment I took my phone out, one of the men saw me and yelled out to ask if I was taking a video. Before I could respond, they fired in my direction. I dropped my phone and ran for my life,” he said. The bullets have left holes on the walls.
In a Facebook post, Canada-based gangster Satinder Singh aka Goldy Brar has claimed responsibility for the attack on Moosewala, along with Sachin Bishnoi Dhattaranwali and the Lawrence Bishnoi group. Punjab DGP VK Bhawra has also pointed to gang rivalry behind the murder.
Bishnoi – who is in Tihar jail with 13 cases against him and is said to have at least as part of his global extortion syndicate – has reportedly the police that his gang had an old rivalry with Moosewala. According to the accused, the anger against Moosewala stemmed from the August 2021 murder of Vicky Middukhera, a youth Akali Dal leader who was earlier accused of being part of the . Moosewala’s name had cropped up in a Delhi police probe into the murder.
Meanwhile, two social media posts under the names of gangster Neeraj Bawana, who is in jail, and Davinder Bambiha, who was killed in 2016, vowed to avenge Moosewala’s death within . Bawana is a history sheeter with a vast criminal network while Bambiha, whose gang is still , was a wanted criminal for a long time until he was killed in a police encounter.
The Bishnoi and Bambiha gangs are known to be arch rivals.
According to unverified social media posts by another gang linked to the Bambiha network, Moosewala had no connection with them but his death will be since he has now been linked to them.
In June 2020, Moosewala released a song titled which many saw as a sign of him pledging allegiance to the Bambiha gang. “No, this does not mean he is part of or supports the Bambiha gang. The bambiha is a bird whose voice has far reaching effects and Sidhu was merely singing about the bird,” said Akhil.
Akhil claimed that his friend is yet another victim of the problem of extortion that exists within the music industry in Punjab. “I cannot name names but everybody knows about it here,” he said, explaining that very often gangs reach out to musicians, production houses or lyricists and demand money. “Musicians have to comply because otherwise they’re killed or will always live in fear of it.”
“Right now everyone is scared of getting dragged into gang politics and so they do not want to get involved. That’s why they do not want to speak to the media much,” he said.
*A few names have been changed to protect identities.
Pictures by Nidhi Suresh.
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