When the women mourned Modi

Read in Gurmukhi

In every aspect of our lives especially the ones which are emotionally important to us, songs play a crucial role. These songs are born in our minds in moments of extreme happiness or sadness. Wedding functions, “teej” festivals, occasions like birth, death, heartbreaks, nothing is complete without songs. So it’s natural to sing against oppression and injustice in the society. 

Today not lakhs but crores of people are involved in the peasant movement. The joys, sorrows, fears and dreams, the history and the future of these millions of people are all tied to the same demand - reversal of the three black laws. Not surprisingly countless new songs have spawned the trend. Punjab is a land of artists; perhaps more than any of India's other states. In the language and folklore of Punjab, songs beat like heartbeat. Songs for this movement have been written, sung and recorded by every major and minor Punjab artist. Other states are also producing their respective cultural content, but Punjab is at the forefront. These songs have contributed immensely to the movement's propagation. From folk songs to modern ones, you can find all kinds. Songs in favour of the movement have been made & released in every genre, Jugni, Boliyan, Tappe, Dhadi, Rap and Pop. Songs are also a way to express oneself, and you can find all sorts of meanings in these songs, from rebellion, zeal, swag to demand, meditation, spirituality. As per his/her understanding, every singer speaks to the public.

Apart from professional musicians, a significant number of poems and songs have been written by the general public. New works are composed by small drama troupes, choirs and young students. At night, there is a beautiful atmosphere of songs and poems around the bonfire or “dhooni”. 


A significant portion of the peasant movement consists of women farmers, who are increasingly participating in it. What songs are being written and performed in the campaign by women farmers? Are women's songs different from men's songs? While it cannot be said that music has two separate worlds of men and women, however it has some forms of songs are specifically attached to women.

A video of a group of women farmers singing "Modi Tu Mar Ja" went viral a couple of days ago. The woman in the lead is beating her breasts and singing.... "Modi you die ... education is sold, rails are sold, banks are sold, Modi go die" Instantly, a BJP spokesman proclaimed it an embarrassment, the opposition also lamented it, and the media tried to make it an issue by picking up the video. They tried to project the protest as inhumane, one that is telling the opponent to die, and that level of politics has stooped low.

The search also turned up other videos from various places in which women were singing about the death of Modi. These women are, in fact, mourning Modi. These are ritualised performance genres traditionally enacted by women: Pitt-Siapa and Kirne.

The ritual of women to mourn a death is called Siapa.   Most cultures have a gendered division of emotional labour that it has to collectively perform to cope up with life and death.  In this, women have to bear the primary to sustain an emotionally balanced society. Crying is an essential part of such work. When the society loses a member, an important step in the process of coping with it emotionally is to mourn the loss. There is a significant body of research in the discipline of psychology studying the role of mourning.

The demise of the body or death is a truth that human beings have difficulty in accepting and struggle with it all their life. After death, there are two ways of continuing your legacy and keeping your identity alive: progeny and fame. People want to be immortal. Generally, Pitt Siapa mourns the death of the deceased and weeps in their memory.

But when the women mourn Modi in and as protest, they stage his symbolic death by targeting the prestige that will potentially perpetuate his legacy.

In fact, there is nothing new in it. In the tradition of protest, there is a long history of using the trope of death. Effigy burning, mock funerals with elaborate procession, ravan dahan- there is an entire repertoire of protest genres that is organised around the death trope. A similar socio-symbolic process underlies the ubiquitous slogans of zindabad/murdabad in which people wish death to somebody/some ideology (as in “Death to imperialism”) or wish them a long life (as in “Long live socialism”). Hence in the moral economy of a society, honour and prestige are important factors.

The value of the life of a person is assessed by society after their death. Siapa is located as a genre at this significant stage. It gives the women an opportune stage to adjudicate upon the life of the deceased based on their wisdom and as protest perform the act of negative memorialising. When they sing, "Modi sold education, you die Modi, you sold the train, Modi you die", there's simultaneous presence of an accusation and a verdict. In such expression of aggression against a dominant figure, the women are subverting the authority.  Through their creative performance, the women mediate a simultaneously hopeful and hopeless relationship between los and history. In a clever reversal they turn the weeping their fate into weeping (the symbolic death of) the ruler.

Kirne is another women specific invective genre. These are censure and complaints in the form of a song. In “teri aagi ve mukaan Modiya,Badalan da bhog pai gaya”, the women are announcing the political death of both Modi and his allies, the Badals. This sharp political commentary also carries the folk function of cursing and denunciation. This insult song-poetry genre often overlaps with satire and lampoon and works to directly damage the credibility and reputation of the authoritative figure. 

It is to be noted that both these genres are sung by those who are weak in the balance of power. These are lodged in the space of powerlessness and betray a stance of weakness. We curse only when we are not in a position to do anything. The powerful never curse. They do not need to curse The state makes laws for them, these laws are implemented by the administration, and the communication media garner support and legitimacy for these day and night. 

When your own existence and survival are under grave danger, to enact the symbolic death of your opponent is to valiantly fight against your fate. When you are faced with seemingly indomitable power and the entire establishment is busy with glorifying the ruler, then the culturally marginal and gendered genres of invectives and defamation become the songs of dissent and resistance.

It is true that no mass movement will succeed merely on the basis of negative emotions and representations alone. Politically mature and experienced movements avoid invectives and put forward optimistic slogans and songs. The success of a movement lies beyond just protesting and resides also in its ability to imagine an alternative. Nonetheless, protest is the first step toward any change. Hence, instead of being quick to dismiss the women specific cultural forms of pitt siyapa and keerne as unsophisticated, crude and politically immature, we must recognise these as important protest genres.