India’s ‘patriotism pop’ songs urge Hindus to claim Kashmir

A screenshot of a patriotic music video on YouTube that appeared after India's Hindu-led nationalist government revoked the statehood of Kashmir on Aug. 5. (YouTube via AP)
Updated 23 August 2019

India’s ‘patriotism pop’ songs urge Hindus to claim Kashmir

  • The songs delivered a message to India’s 250 million YouTube users about moving to the Muslim-majority region, buying land there and marrying Kashmiri women.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has revoked Kashmir’s decades-old special status that was guaranteed under Article 370 of India’s Constitution and sent thousands of troops to the region

NEW DELHI: The music videos began appearing on social media within hours of the announcement by India’s Hindu nationalist-led government that it was stripping statehood from the disputed region of Kashmir that had been in place for decades.
The songs delivered a message to India’s 250 million YouTube users about moving to the Muslim-majority region, buying land there and marrying Kashmiri women.
It’s the latest example of a growing genre in India known as “patriotism pop” — songs flooding social media about nationalism and the country’s burgeoning right-wing ideology.
Earlier songs were limited to the rise of Hindus in India, defeating regional rival Pakistan and hoisting the Indian flag in every household. Now, they include settling in Kashmir — a rugged and beautiful Himalayan region claimed by both Pakistan and India, although both countries control only a portion of it.
On Aug. 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Kashmir’s decades-old special status that was guaranteed under Article 370 of India’s Constitution and sent thousands of troops to the region. The move has touched off anger in the Indian-controlled region, which has been under a security lockdown that has seen thousands detained to prevent protests there.
One of Modi’s revisions allows anyone to buy land in the territory, which some Kashmiris fear could mean an influx of Hindus who would change the region’s culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
The patriotic songs are mostly shared on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the fast-growing app TikTok, which in June had about 120 million active users in India. Despite their low production values, poorly matched lip-synching and repetitive techno beat, many of these soundtracks have gotten millions of hits on YouTube.
The songs are a hit among youthful followers in northern and eastern parts of India, and their creators don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Nitesh Singh Nirmal identifies himself as a producer, songwriter and composer for his Rang Music studios in the eastern state of Bihar. A Modi admirer, Nirmal claims to be the first to produce a soundtrack on the revocation of Kashmir’s statehood, completing it in three hours.
The song, “Dhara 370,” or “Article 370,” starts with visuals of an Indian flag fluttering atop New Delhi’s famous Red Fort, followed by old footage of Modi from a previous Independence Day ceremony. The singer thanks Modi and his government for keeping his promise to remove Article 370 from the constitution. The video then cuts to the map of Kashmir, along with words that roughly translate to how Pakistan has lost to India.
The song has gotten more than 1.6 million hits on YouTube since it was posted there by Nirmal, who has no musical background. He said he only found his calling when Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party resoundingly won the 2014 election.
That’s when Nirmal thought he could write songs about nationalism.

“I am doing service for the nation. People dance to these songs,” he says.

The Indian media — from news to entertainment — has left no stone unturned in portraying Kashmiri women in the racist trope of ‘coveted fair-skinned ones’ (and) at the same time being helpless and needing saving from their own men — all this while demonizing Kashmiri men.

Political anthropologist Ather Zia

Nirmal’s claims about their popularity aren’t far-fetched. TikTok, which lets the user lip-synch to music and make short vines, is flooded with images of Hindu nationalists declaring plans to go to Kashmir and marry women there. Most of the videos have music similar to the kind produced by Nirmal.
In April, TikTok was removed from Android and iPhone app stores after an Indian court ruled it was “encouraging pornography.”
The rising appeal for songs that promote nationalism and talk about reclaiming Kashmir have paved the way for lesser-known artists to join in.
Salman Siddiqui, who is in his 20s and studies science in the state of Uttar Pradesh, wanted to showcase his musical writing prowess and contacted Nirmal. They collaborated on a song about a man who is seeking a Kashmiri bride and wants to be the first to have a wedding procession that travels from India to the region.
Nirmal and Siddiqui insist the songs are not sexist.
“It’s the desire of a young man’s heart to marry a Kashmiri woman,” Siddiqui says.
The idea was boosted Aug. 6 by lawmaker Vikram Saini, who told members of his Bharatiya Janata Party “eager to get married” to go to Kashmir, adding that his party has “no problem with it.”
Critics say the idea of marrying Kashmiri women to “reclaim” the region is rooted in a patriarchy that objectifies and dehumanizes Kashmiris.
Political anthropologist Ather Zia calls this a “fetishization in the Indian imagination.”
Such songs are a “culmination of a toxic misogynistic nationalist thinking that draws validation from humiliating Kashmiri women,” Zia said.
“The Indian media — from news to entertainment — has left no stone unturned in portraying Kashmiri women in the racist trope of ‘coveted fair-skinned ones’ (and) at the same time being helpless and needing saving from their own men — all this while demonizing Kashmiri men,” she said.
Some artists oppose writing such songs, but they say the audience demand is strong.
Singer Nardev Bainiwal, who lives in Haryana state and owns the Jawan Music Co., has a song on Kashmir that got 1.9 million hits on YouTube.
“We write songs about things people want,” Bainiwal says, noting his main audience is from smaller cities and towns in northern India where Internet penetration has picked up in recent years.
Google Trends has shown an increase in Indians using search terms like “marry Kashmiri girl” and “buy land in Kashmir.”
“I am personally against such declarations, but if we don’t make these songs, someone else will and we will lose out on money,” Bainiwal says.
Nirmal says that since he published his song Aug. 5, he has earned nearly $100 for work that cost him about $20 to produce.
He says the key is to keep abreast of the news and gauge the public mood. He has songs ready if India’s Supreme Court allows a Hindu temple be built on a site where hard-liners in 1992 attacked and demolished a 16th century mosque, sparking deadly Hindu-Muslim violence.
“Songs about building of the temple could be my next hit,” he says.
Apart from the online revenue, the artists also perform concerts. Nirmal has had 10 shows in the last two weeks.
“The business,” Nirmal says, “is booming.”


A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

Updated 29 min 21 sec ago

A nonprofit group strives for zero hunger in Bangladesh

  • Bidyanondo provides food to needy under-12 children and men and women 60 years or older
  • In the last three years, Bidyanondo has distributed more than 2.5 million meal boxes to the needy

DHAKA: The time was 2:30 p.m. Small knots of children were loitering around the main street in the Mirpur area of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Suddenly their faces lit up as a brightly painted rickshaw van appeared. The vehicle, bearing the words “Bidyanondo,” was stacked with food packets.

About 60 children from a nearby slum quickly formed a queue, each holding a one-taka coin that would enable them to buy their day’s lunch. For most, this was the only proper meal they could afford in the entire day.

“I come here every day so that my two granddaughters, Raina and Ranisa, don’t go hungry,” said Rajia Begum, 51, as she collected two food packets for the twins.

Volunteers distribute ‘one taka meal’ boxes to children in Dhaka’s Mirpur district. (Supplied photo)

“My son, who is a driver by profession, does not make enough to feed all six members of our family. So the children wait for their Bidyanondo meal every afternoon.”

A pioneer of the cheap-meal concept, Bidyanondo charges children under 12 as well as men and women older than 60 a token one taka ($1 is equivalent to 84 Bangladeshi taka) for each meal.

The volunteer organization, whose mission is “to foster philanthropy domestically and internationally by designing innovative programs,” spends 28 Bangladeshi taka to prepare the meal it gives away for one taka.

INNUMBERS

370,000 - Bidyanondo’s Facebook follower count

2,000 - Daily recipients of a Bidyanondo meal

84 - Bangladeshi taka equivalent to $1

300 - Total number of Bidyanondo volunteers

The “one taka meal” is the brainchild of 38-year-old Kishore Kumar Das, a Peru-based Bangladeshi who said it was his life’s dream to feed the poor in a way that, unlike begging, did not diminish their sense of self-worth.

“As a child, I had to face extreme poverty because my father could not manage to feed seven members of his family. I used to walk several miles to find free meals distributed at temples,” said Das, who is also the chief of volunteers at Bidyanondo.

“People from different corners of society take the same meal in a temple irrespective of class or caste. This unique idea inspired me to do something in the same way for underprivileged members of Bangladeshi society.”

Besides Dhaka, Bidyanondo — Bengali for “Learn for Fun” — operates the “one taka meal” program in four Bangladeshi cities: Chattogram, Narayanganj, Rajshahi and Rangpur. It also provides food, accommodation, education and medical care to about 300 residents of five orphanages.

“Charging one taka for a single meal is a symbolic approach through which we want to create a sense of ownership in the recipient’s mind,” said Salaman Khan, coordinator of Bidyanonodo’s Dhaka branch. “We want to convey a feeling that people are buying the food from us, not begging for it.”

Bidyanondo’s journey began in June 2016 when it began feeding 30 children in need in Chattogram, in southeastern Bangladesh.

Meals and food packets are prepared at the Bidyanondo Foundation office for distribution among Dhaka’s needy. 
(AN photo by Shehab Sumon,  Arab News)

Within a year, the group was providing food to 800 needy people every day. By 2018, the number of recipients had risen to 1,200. This year, almost 2,000 people every day across Bangladesh are receiving at least one square meal a day, thanks to Bidyanondo’s determination to “relieve the pain of hunger.”

“From cooking to distribution of food, we do everything by ourselves,” Khan told Arab News. “We have a special team of five or six members who cook. All of them are doing the job as volunteers.

“We operate our food program 365 days a year. Our volunteers work even on Eid days to feed needy people.”

Bidyanondo relies on crowdfunding for funds to support its programs.

“We have a Facebook group through which we organize the funding,” Khan said. “Bidyanondo has more than 370,000 followers on its Facebook page. All our benefactors are Bangladeshi and most prefer to remain unidentified.”

In the past three years, Bidyanondo has distributed more than 2.5 million meal boxes to children and older people in need. It has a workforce of 300 registered and non-registered volunteers across the country comprised mainly of students.

The 40 full-time staff members are stationed in the nonprofit’s offices across Bangladesh. A small number of housewives also volunteer at local branches of Bidyanondo.

The idea of selling cheap meals has spread to other countries through Bidyanondo’s network of overseas Bangladeshi volunteers. Das said that pilot programs are being tried out in Peru, Italy, Turkey, Nepal and India.

“Soon we are going to introduce a vending-machine system for food distribution so that recipients will not have to interact with any donor or volunteer. They will simply insert one taka into the machine, which will dispense a food packet in return,” Das told Arab News.

He said Bidyanondo welcomes assistance and contributions from aspiring philanthropists at home and abroad. The aim is not to make benefactors feel proud of donating or volunteering for social causes, but rather to make them realize that such activities are “part of the social responsibility” of the well-to-do.

Volunteers count one-taka coins generated from the distribution of meal packets. 
(Photo by Shehab Sumon,  Arab News)

“We want Bidyanondo to inspire others to commit some of their time and energy to social causes,” Das said. “If everyone does their bit, there will be no huge disparity in society.”

Among those doing their bit is Asma Akter, a 31-year-old physician employed in a government-run general hospital in Manikgonj, 40 km from Dhaka. On her days off, she turns up at Bidyanondo’s local branch to offer free medical consultations to the needy.

“I have my full-time government job for earning money. But I can’t have mental peace with the money,” she said. “Bidyanondo is a platform where I can look after the people who need my support the most.”

Akter added: “Words cannot express the kind of joy I get from performing this social service. It is a very good example of teamwork. Every day I learn from my colleagues here how to spend my time in the service of others.”

Back in Dhaka’s Mirpur district, among the children waiting to collect a meal box that afternoon was eight-year-old Mohammad Solaiman. “My father is a day laborer and mother works as domestic help,” he said.

“At noon they both are busy at work. With my two brothers, I collect food from the Bidyanondo rickshaw van every day. It is very convenient for us.”