Photo by Jaskaran Singh
I don’t think I had much of an intention of Spice on the Beat becoming a political outlet when I first started it. However, over the last few years, we have seen the fine line between politics and human rights diminish as acts have been passed that make you question the morality of the government. After a while, I felt like there was something more that I could do; an interesting way to get people involved and tuned in to the issues that have been suppressed over decades. I have a platform and a knack for writing, and to use the two to stand up for injustices felt like a no-brainer. Nevertheless, I would be doing a disservice to my blog, my culture, my people, my family, and my roots if I didn’t find a way to talk about the Farmer Protests that were currently occurring in India. In what has become one of the biggest protests in the country, tens of thousands of farmers have set up camps outside of New Delhi to fight India’s newest laws. The laws, which were once used to protect the farmers and their profits by guaranteeing at least the minimum price for crops, are now being changed to “modernize” them. Rather than working with the farmers to come to an agreement, the people were met with barbed wire fences, police brutality, water cannons, tear gas, internet outages, and unlawful arrests.
India claims to be a democracy. However, under Prime Minister Modi, we have seen a rise in toxic ‘nationalism’ that has resulted in calling for genocides and bans against other religions. This issue has had a large impact on Sikh farmers from Punjab, connecting directly to my roots. My grandmother belonged to a farming family with land in Haryana, which is one of the two states that started the Dilhi Chalo movement; the call for farming union members to travel to Delhi and fight for their rights. My grandfather wore a turban similar to those in the photographs taken at the protests, and what at first was a symbol of respect and stoicism is now being associated with terrorism, a misconception that has already led to so much bloodshed around the world out of fear and ignorance. I see my beloved grandparents in these farmers. I see my Punjabi roots that have given me the strength and ferocity that I harbor today. Sikhism, which is a fairly newer religion, relies on kindness and community service. Unfortunately, this religion has been targeted for several reasons, and this is just another as Hindu Nationalists fight against their rights. Those who are staunch supporters of Modi get rewarded with things such as election tickets and extra security, exposing the corruption and nepotism that has flooded the Indian government. It’s not only become a financial issue but a human rights and political issue as well. The saddest part? These protests have gone on since September. I remember someone mentioning them to me in November, and I couldn’t have been more clueless. Even now in February, the protests have only made national headlines because celebrities such as Rihanna and Mia Khalifa and activists such as Greta Thunberg have spoken up, finally helping the events gain international traction. However, their support resulted in even deeper-rooted issues that the country faces coming to light, such as threatening women with horrific violence. Their faces decorated signs with X’s and flames as Modi supporters such as Kangana Ranaut (who sadly used to be my favorite actress) attacked them for speaking up about issues that didn’t regard them.
Since the protests began, farmers have died from suicide, stress, and violence. On top of the tragic losses, two major issues that have plagued the country have finally started gaining recognition internationally; corruption and censorship. These concerns are nothing new. I remember being in the car with my parents, brother, and grandfather when we got pulled over while driving around Mumbai. My grandfather sneakily handed the police officer a note, the amount I wasn’t able to see. I knew that it was wrong, but my mom told me to keep quiet. That was just how it was there. Money got you what you needed. When this same grandfather passed away, my parents had to pay off everyone to get the affairs in order. Imagine having the process of your grieving diminished in such a manner. When we think of income gaps in the US, they cannot compare to India. The rich throw lavish parties, inviting the biggest celebrities over, while the poor live on the same street, one on top of the other in the dirt. Some were born into these lives, others forced. If you have money, you don’t have to worry about right and wrong. That’s how Prime Minister Modi got into power. Another issue is censorship. The Indian Constitution grants the people the right to Freedom of Speech under Article 19. And yet, in the same breath, the government is allowed to restrict it, essentially for the sake of public order, decency, and security of the land. So it’s really not that free. And that’s become extremely apparent throughout the protests, as Twitter users were suspended, news channels spread lies about the violence, and the internet was cut out.
Ideally, I would have loved to highlight Punjabi rappers who are speaking out about the issue. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Punjabi and I barely speak Hindi, so this was proving to be a bit difficult. However, I will be finishing this post up with two simple calls to action: please, if you have the means, donate to Khalsa Aid. They provide relief for people all over the world, and right now, the farmers in India need help. Khalsa Aid is right there with the protestors, providing food and water. While they are not currently seeking donations for the farming protests, the money is going towards Farming communities in Punjab. I am additionally providing a list of petitions that can be signed and other places to donate.
For this post, I’ve decided to show ways in which Hip-Hop has mentioned corruption and censorship, as well as how these two problems impact the idea of ‘democracy’. Neither of these issues is anything new for the culture of Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop has been censored for years, as demonstrated when 2 Live Crew was arrested for performing extremely obscene lyrics in concert. They documented their experiences in the song, “Banned In the USA,” which talked about the case. Similarly, as I mentioned in Do You Feel the Same Weed High That I Feel? artists have had their lyrics used against them in court as incriminating evidence. And yet, these high moral standards seem to apply specifically to rap music. Similarly, Hip-Hop is fairly antigovernmental, so it makes sense that they would discuss issues such as corruption and the disregard for the poor. Both corruption and censorship are influencing why other countries aren’t talking about the events taking place, and it shows that it can happen anywhere no matter what type of government is in power.
Corruption is something we see in every country to a different degree. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer to keep the power within the same few people at the top. A Tribe Called Quest stressed the importance of money in their song, “Word Play.” They rapped about the correlation between money and power by stating that, “power, people really get caught with this on different levels. Power controls your life. Money: the companion of the first, some people tend to worship, and we know this ain’t right.” In this situation, the Indian government wanted to assert its dominance by ‘modernizing’ these laws that were perfectly fine the way that they were for years, removing farmers of their protection from the government. India shows that as long as you have the money, you have the power to control those around you. Ice T puts the severity into perspective with his song “Power.” In the song, he emphasizes that “the laws are full of bull. Prey on the lame, release those with pull. Power! I know you wanna try it. Well, check out money can buy it. Control and mold the world to do your wishin.” Essentially, these laws are set to only serve the big power players with money to spend. It completely disregards the farmers and their profits and instead focuses on fueling big corporations by taking away the rules to cheat the system and control it. E-40 and Master P’s “Back Against the Wall” claims that the “crooked politicians [that] run the country/play a game called process to eliminate.” India’s government never really took much concern with the slums and the poor, and this is only further highlighted by the fact that the farmers saw a huge loss in profits as soon as the new laws were implemented. And yet, even that coupled with the protests have not been enough to revoke the new acts put into place. What more could it possibly take? Just like Jeezy said in his song, “Just Win,” “it’s a dirty world but that bitch still spin, and we don’t trust the preachers or the crooked politicians. The mothafuckers always talking, they don’t ever want to listen.” In this situation, there isn’t much difference between the preachers and the crooked politicians, and the last thing they are doing is listening to the people. Instead, they are turning the people against one another, ignoring their pleas to make an honest living simply so that big corporations can monopolize the industry and destroy the innocent lives of farmers who were born into this livelihood.
Ice-T’s track “Freedom of Speech” is the perfect example of India’s take on the right to say what you want. In his song, he raps that “Freedom of Speech, that’s some motherfuckin’ bullshit, you say the wrong thing, they’ll lock your ass up quick.” India has numerous examples of arresting those for speaking up, including a comedian who allegedly made a joke against the government, only to be thrown in jail. This proves to be no different in the case of Disha Ravi, a climate activist in her 20’s who was arrested on the grounds of sedition for creating and sharing a ‘toolkit’ that shows ways in which people could assist the protesters and farmers. During the Black Lives Matter protests, several documents similar to this were shared in hopes of spreading information and ways that people could donate to release protesters or provide them with safety. Imagine if every single one of those people got arrested on the grounds of trying to incite a riot? Since then, Disha has finally been released on bail after spending 5 days in police custody. Likewise, in his track “Violent,” Tupac rapped that “they claim that [he’s] violent, just ’cause [he] refuses to be silent. These hypocrites are havin’ fits, ’cause [he’s] not buyin’ it. Defyin’ it, envious because [he] will rebel against any oppressor, and this is known as self-defense.” Disha was arrested with the premise that she was dangerous, conspiring against those at the top. What was she doing? She was sharing resources, and she harbored an opinion that what was occurring was wrong. How does that make her a terrorist, and how is that enough to arrest her? She wasn’t violent, she didn’t assault any cops. She spread knowledge about the situation, and arresting her was an attack on democracy. The government is also working to vilify these poor farmers, despite a majority of them being older. According to the nationalist platforms, these men and women are dangerous, inciting violence and riots, simply because they want fair payment for their hard work. Although I disagree with quite a few of Nas’s conspiracies, I can’t help but cite his song “Sly Fox.” In the song, he asks the question, “what’s a Fox characteristic?” He responds with the lines, “slick shit, censored misinformation. Pimp the station, over-stimulation. Reception, deception.” This runs parallel to the biases of nationalist news platforms and the way that they manipulate the perception of the protests so it seems as if the protesters are violent and the police aren’t the ones inciting the aggression. While it is difficult to find a completely unbiased news channel in any country, it’s important to pay attention to who is completely altering the truth and reporting ‘fake news’ so that the elitist government appears completely innocent. Revolutions occur for a reason.
Immortal Technique commented on the First Amendment in his song, “Freedom of Speech.” He explains that his sponsors were “asking [him] to tone it down during the interview, tryin’ to minimize the issue. But [he’s] keeping it large, [he loves] the place that [he lives]. But [he hates] the people in charge. Speakin is hard when you got strings attached.” Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of big-name Bollywood stars remain quiet on the issue. One of the biggest critiques of the situation at hand is that Bollywood loves to appropriate Punjabi culture, romanticizing Punjabi farmers, clothing, food, and music, but when it comes to lending them a helping hand during their fight, the big name actors have remained silent. They’re more concerned with pissing off Modi supporters and his cabinet than doing the right thing. And then there are the other celebrities who are speaking up. Numerous people slammed Rihanna, telling her to stay in her lane since she had no idea what was going on and it didn’t concern her. Others told Bollywood celebrities who were willing to stand up for reasons other than gaining popularity that they were pawns, or that they didn’t know the reality of the situation. The frustrating thing about that is just how influential Bollywood is. In his song, “Wednesday Morning,” Macklemore rapped that he fights “for the people that haven’t had a voice. Fight for the first amendment, fight for freedom of choice.” Huge Indian names like Shah Rukh Khan are completely silent over the issue, even with old videos circulating of him calling farmers the real heroes. People literally pray to this man like he is the God who can bring them wealth, and when it comes to speaking out for those who need help, he has nothing to say. As much as I can’t stand him, even Nav went out of his way to raise constant awareness about the issue, tweeting that he stood with farmers as far back as November.
The more research that I did for this post, the more upset that I got. I’ve always been quite open about my relationship with my culture. I’m a bit more disconnected than I would like to admit, and it’s caused a lot of confusion for me growing up. There are quite a few beliefs and mindsets that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, I love where I’m from. The unity and strength that has gone into these protests are truly inspirational, and I admire every single person who is out there fighting for what they deserve. It makes me proud that they haven’t backed down. However, with that being said, the toxic ideas that I’ve read out of the mouths of some Modi supporters are truly terrifying. I’m not exactly sure if there is an end in sight, and what exactly that entails, but I hope that these protesters and farmers continue fighting while remaining safe and protected. It breaks my heart to hear about all of the farmers who have taken their own lives just because the rich want to keep themselves fed. The income disparity in India is something that needs to be tackled. I really hope that all of you will at least take a minute to share this post. It is something that I’ve become very passionate about, and this really feels like the least that I can do to raise some bit of awareness around it. I’ve compiled a list of petitions that can be signed as well as additional resources. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.