Thursday, July 5

Bhangra Nation and Punjabi Identity

The collective experience of Punjabi nationness may be negotiated in the interstices, in the overlap between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim difference, writes Anjali Gera Roy in Journal of Punjab Studies 

Those of you who do not belong to my generation will live to see Punjab’s identity overcome the effects of the religious divide of 1947 and enjoy the fruit of a prosperous and happy Punjab which transcends the limitation of a geographical map.
(Khizar Hayat Tiwana, one of the staunch critics of the two nation theory, was the leader of the Punjab Union as the Indian subcontinent was being divided, speaking in 1964)

Several attempts to carve out a distinctive Punjabi identity have been made before and after the 1947 Partition, including ethno-linguistic constructions such as Azad Punjab and Punjabi suba movements or ethno-religious ones such as the movement for Khalistan or the Sikh Nation. This paper examines the new global imaginings of punjabiyat and the Punjabi nation to propose an ethnocultural and ethnospatial definition of the Punjabi nation by examining the new meanings of punjabiyat and communities produced in relation to Bhangra performance. BhangraNation is similar to the Sikh Nation in being a deterritorialized transnational topos of community that invokes primordialist objects to interrogate nationalist cartographies. But it is an inclusive narrative, which not only erases but also extends boundaries to transform the meaning of punjabiyat in the global village. My contention is that the self-fashionings in BhangraNation cross national, linguistic and religious boundaries to converge on cultural contiguity. At the same time, they point to future elective identities where commonality of concerns and interests rather than birth will be community producing.
The homepage of Punjabi Network, a Punjabi website, appears to voice the shared Punjabi nostalgia for the ethnolinguistic community splintered by nationalist cartography in 1947. The collectivity invoked on the site is disengaged from territory and made to converge on an ineffable primordiality located in speech, consciousness and customs in turns. Language and culture are privileged over location and religion in a desire to recover the undivided Punjabi memory prior to its compound fractures.
Punjab - is a state of mind.
You may live in any part of this earth but if your mother-tongue is Punjabi you are a Punjabi. Punjab is wherever a Punjabi lives! It has nothing to do with any religion or belief.
Having defined Punjabi in quasi mystical terms, the website continues by inviting Punjabis of all hues, classes, castes, nations and sects to reconstruct the lost ethnocultural community.
Global Punjab?
Global Punjab has more than 150 million people worldwide with majority living in Pakistan and India and rest scattered over in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.
In Global Punjab - all are welcome. There are no biased restrictions nor any fundamentalist ideas about life. Punjabi culture is so ancient that having seen so many invasions, so many heavy mistakes and tragedies, Punjabis have become more global than any other community. Their globalness may not be very apparent at first, but inside every Punjabi is a global citizen, striving to make it in this life.
We are attempting to unite all Punjabis and not dividing them by classes, castes, religions or nationalistic systems, which have been means to screw us up[sic] in last thousands of years. Enough of all that! That has only made us poorer, ignorant and a rural lot.
Senior Punjabis lament for the lost homeland, invariably expressed as a question, mourn the multiple fissures suffered by the region eponymously named after its five rivers (Punj five aab water). The rhetorical question, Punjab reh kithe giya? (What remains of Punjab?), interrogates Indian history’s unfathomable silence on the Partition experience. If taxonomy could be used as a guideline to Punjab’s sacred cartography, how can the region retain its name with two rivers left behind in another nation? Only three of the rivers (Sutluj, Beas, and Ravi) remain in the territory of present day Indian Punjab, the other two having gone to Punjab Pakistan. But traces of the old Punjabi place, superscripted by national cartographies, are still clearly visible in Punjabi markings of the homeland. Unlike the self-imaginings of other Indian regions, these homeland memories are disloyal to national borders as they follow the passage of the five rivers flowing in total contempt of national barriers. The imagery of overflowing rivers washing down frontier checkpoints and controls connects these primordial attachments to the contemporary globalizing wave that has put the national constellation into question.
What accounts for the appeal of this originary narrative of an organic community? Edward Shils’  answer is that social bonds such as those of blood, religion, language, and race are taken as ‘given’ and natural and evoke stronger emotional loyalties than the instrumentalist ones mobilized in the formation of civic nationalisms. Clifford Geertz concurs that the ‘overpowering’ and ‘ineffable’ coerciveness of ties believed to be primordial creates ‘conflicting loyalties between primordial ties and civic sentiments’ threatening the unity of the nation state. Anthony D Smith testifies to the persistence, change and resurgence of ethnies in the nation state and mentions the emotional appeal of the ethnic past in shaping present cultural communities, particularly in the formation of post-colonial nation states in non-western societies. What role can primordialist self-definitions play in the postmodern, post-colonial constellation? While some see little space for sub-national identities in the postindustrial nation state, others discern a distinct resurgence of sub-national and ethnic movements fostered by electronic networks. What are the factors propelling the new ethnolinguistic or religious ‘tribes’ in the postnational constellation? Whether primordial identities will have a place in the global world and whether they would provide fixity, as Melucci maintains, or create further fragmentation, it seems unlikely that the ethnic myths of descent and ethnic heritage will cease to have impact. If it is true that ethnies have always been fissured and have permitted multiple identities, does the representation of Punjabi difference in postmodernity require the mobilization of a monolithic ethnic essence or can it accommodate conflicting narratives and accretive identities? Will Punjabi difference be articulated in interstitial diasporic spaces or would it be translated in the sending areas through hybridity to reinscribe the metropolis and modernity? Arguing that the shared performative cultural heritage of the Punjabi speech community including music and dance remains the sole resisting space for interrogating the multiple splintering of  Punjabiyat, the Punjabi identity, this paper will focus on the reconstruction of a new punjabiyat in relation to the Bhangra revival of the eighties. Bhangra was rediscovered and appropriated in the articulation of two forms of cultural difference, the one signaled by what Hall calls ‘the end of the innocent notion of the essential black subject’ and the second by the end of, what one might call, the essential Indian subject. Ethnic loyalties to village, family, place, or clan subsumed in the symbolic construction of ‘a people’ in the making of the nation-state returned through the hyphenated, in-between spaces of British Asian music groups splitting the marginal space of blackness in Britain and the dominant narrative of Indianness in India. The musical production of British Punjabi youth reintroduced ethnicity into the identity politics of the marginalized, destabilizing identarian constructions based on nation and race in Britain as well as India. In the process of producing a unified Punjabi identity to oppose an essentialist blackness with Asianness, Asian youth subcultures helped to produce global punjabiyat.
Though the punjabiyat so produced was appropriated in diasporic Sikh separatism, it paradoxically enabled the reconstruction of a unified Punjabi space. The linguism of the Sikh demand recovered the Punjabi speech community from the palimpsest of Hindi and Urdu. Similarly, the summoning of ‘core’ Punjabi values in the constitution of the Sikh diaspora made them available to the entire ethnos. This happened for the simple reason that the pastoral Punjabi past that was mobilized in the construction of punjabiyat has never been exclusively Sikh. The dancing Bhangra body, consecrating the Sikh nation’s primordial wholeness in the amritdhari bodily iconicity, also put together the unbroken Punjabi body. The performance of Punjabi identity through shared cultural rituals like Bhangra released the Punjabi ethno spatial space for reclamation by Hindu and Muslims in addition to Sikhs. As Punjabi harvest ritual, Bhangra revived the unified ‘village’, bioregional identification before its sectarian and nationalist cracks. A separatist movement, invoking a pre-given ethnic essence in its self definition, therefore, inadvertently led to ethnospatial restoration and reunification.
Arjun Appadurai, in Sovereignty without Territory, examines new nationalisms in relation to the problematic of sovereignty and territory and concludes that ‘territory is still vital to the national imaginary of diasporic populations and stateless people of many sorts’. It is interesting that Appadurai should cite Khalistan as an example of the ‘new postnational cartography’ of the post Westphalian model, which borrows the spatial discourses of the nation. This view of the Sikh nation as a ‘deterritorialized’ nation without a state is shared by Verne A. Dusenbery, who maintains that ‘the Sikhs, in managing to maintain a collective ethno-religious identity without a sovereign homeland, have come to constitute almost a ‘paradigmatic example of a transnational community’. Though the nation might be imagined differently from the territorial nationstate, calls to solidarity in postnational constellations continue to be made in the name of the nation.
BhangraNation is the name of the most prestigious Bhangra event held in Toronto every year with Bhangra bands from the world over competing for the first position. A Punjabi folk dance competition conducted in a diasporic location, boasting of participation from groups from the homeland and the diaspora, might well serve as a metaphor for the collectivities clustered around Bhangra performance in real and virtual places. BhangraNation’s topos of national identity resembles that of the Sikh nation in being a topos of community that contests the topos of the nation and national cartographies. But BhangraNation is as an inclusive, ethnospatial narrative permitting porous, intersecting boundaries opening out to all Punjabi and non-Punjabi ethnies in opposition to the exclusivist, reactive, ethno-religious Sikh nation. Imagining Punjab as an ethnospatial rather than ethno-linguistic or ethno-religious complex conforms to Harjot Oberoi’s notion of the ethno-territorial community in The Construction of Religious Boundaries.
I view BhangraNation as recalling the memory of the Punjabi ethnospatial complex overwritten by religious and scriptural identifications. Oberoi’s definition of Punjab as a geographical as well as a cultural area, which he opposes to humanly constructed political and religious boundaries, meets the postmodern concept of the bioregion conceived by Peter Berg and Larry Dasmann in the 70s, referring to ‘both a geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness.’ Emphasizing the interpretation of the Punjabi places of culture, healing and worship at the level of popular village religion and everyday practices, Oberoi shows how they were overwritten by formal religions. Peter van der Veer places this rupture at the turn of the twentieth century in the emergence of tomb cults signaling the region’s Islamization, which were followed by the birth of Islamic and Hindu nationalism. While the intersection of Sikh with Hindu boundaries was fairly common knowledge, the collapse of Sikh and Hindu with Islamic boundaries uncovered by Oberoi adds new dimensions to the understanding of Punjabi identity.
John Connell and Chris Gibson, in examining the relationship of music with space and identity, show that musical cartographies cannot be read outside political and social cartographies. Bhangra’s generic classification reflects the fluid, porous boundaries of the old Punjabi place. Bhangra performance illustrates the complex interweaving of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh strands in Punjabi identity, which were separated in the emergence of sectarian and linguistic nationalisms. Though certain genres might have a sectarian provenance in being attached to specific Sufi, Sikh or Hindu practices, participation is dictated by the rules of performance rather than by concrete identities. Like all other aspects of Punjabi identity, Bhangra is not the exclusive legacy of any particular group but forms a part of that shared ethnospatial past, which resisted sect, language and nation based boundaries. The contemporary Bhangra space retains Bhangra’s traditional boundary crossing feature though it collapses further boundaries to enable non-Punjabi participation. A visit to this performance space returns one to Oberoi’s Punjabi pastoral insensitive to nationality, geographical location, religion or class. Even where visible markers might provide a clue to location, their porousness prevents the fixing of identities. Performing on a transnational network in a music album produced by a local company, the Bhangraplayer could be located on any site on the BhangraNation. The alphabetical arrangement of Bhangra artists on a Bhangra website crossing several boundaries illustrates the transnational character of the contemporary Bhangra map. Neither the artists’ names, nor those of companies can provide reliable clues to their sectarian, national or locational coordinates.
A.S. Kang, Abrar Ul Haq, Achanak, Alaap, Amar Arshi, Amar Singh Chamkila, Amrit Saab, Anakhi, Apna Sangeet, Atul Sharma, Avtar Maniac, Babbu Mann, Bally Sagoo, Bhinda Jatt, Daler Mehndi, Didar Sandhu, Dilshad Akhtar, Gurdas Maan, Hans Raj Hans, Harbhajan Mann, Harbjan Shera, Hard Kaur, Heera Group, Inderjit Nikku, Jagmohan Kaur, Jasbir Jassi, Jassi Premi, Jaswinder Kaur Brar, Jazzy Bains, K.S. Makhan, Kuldip Manak, Kulwinder Dhillon, Malkit Singh, Manmohan Waris, Mohammad Saddiq, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pargat Bhagu, Parminder Sandhu, Premi, Punjabi MC, Ranjit Kaur, Ranjit Mani, ahotas, Sangeet Group, Sarabjit Cheema, Sardool Sikander, Satwinder Bitti, Satwinder Bugga, Shamsher Sandhu, Shazia Manzoor, Silinder Pardesi, Sukhbir, Sukhdev Sukha, Sukhshinder Shinda, Sukhwinder Panchi, Surinder Shinda, Surjit Bindrakhia, Surjit Gill, XLNC, Yamla Jatt
As Urdu names are as common in Punjab as Hindi, how is one to conclusively prove if an artist is Hindu, Muslim or Sikh? Even if Sikhs dominate the Bhangrascape, the beard and the turban do not function as definitive identity signifiers for there are as many clean shaven Sikhs as there are bearded Hindus.
Is the clean shaven Gurdas Mann a Sikh and the bearded Hans Raj Hans a Muslim? The popular cultural compulsions of creating powerful brand images complicates bodily semiotics further. Apache Indian and Jazzy Bains use Punjabi lyrics but, with names evocative of the Wild West, they could be from anywhere. Sikh Muslim imbrication occurs even in Sikh names through the appendage of the ustad’s name as in Daler Mehndi’s case. Not only concrete identities but also their discursive representation reflects the interpenetration of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh boundaries. Since Bally Sagoo’s remix of Malkit Singh’s gud nalon ishq mitha inserted the inimitable Sikh in the visual narrative of a Hindu wedding, it has become customary to dissolve Hindu Sikh boundaries in Bhangra music videos. Jassi Sidhu’s virji vyahon chalya with the Sikh performing at his Hindu brother’s sehrabandhi is particularly evocative of the Hindu Sikh kinship destroyed by separatism. Similarly, Hans Raj Hans’s adoption of the Sufi idiom in the julli genre has the bearded Hindu rehearsing the Muslim gestures at the pir’s tomb resurrecting the shared spaces of Punjabi worship. Despite their deep commitment to the Sikh cause, Sikh Bhangra artists have reserved their commitment to sikhi in their devotional rather than Bhangra albums. Given such frequent border crossings, it comes as no shock when the Muslim Sabri brothers compare the beloved to God, using the Punjabi term rab (not Allah), or when the Sikh Harbhajan Mann invokes His Islamic name, Wallah, to warn against lovesickness.
BhangraNation’s character as a transnational virtuality was brought home at the first Punjabi popular music award in 2004. A young Sikh, Jassi Sidhu, received the Best Newcomer award at the first ETC Channel Punjabi Awards in 2004 for his Punjabi album. His location was revealed only when he peppered his pure Punjabi ‘thank you’ speech liberally with Cockney asides. When pure Punjabi is as likely to be found in Birmingham and British Columbia as in Jallandar and Lahore, punjabiyat ceases to be anchored to geography. I see the Bhangra cartography as reinscribing the geographies of nation states to construct a translocal Bhangrascape with specific local inflections. While studies of specific Bhangra ‘scenes’, particularly from Bhangra’s new British capitals, have been particularly helpful in illuminating Bhangra’s participation in local cultural politics, I wish to call attention to the translocal identity spaces formed in relation to Bhangra that reveal a complex negotiation with local identities.
Steven Grosby, in ‘The Inexpungeable Tie of Primordiality’, explains that though primordiality might be socially constructed and largely ‘an affect issue’, human beings ‘do make classifications of the self and the other in accordance with such criteria’. Grosby holds that ineffable attachments and ties to certain objects depend on beliefs about these objects. Bhangra participates in the construction of global punjabiyat through the activation of cultural resources to which ‘primordial sentiments’ are attached. Whether the primordial return is possible or not, Bhangra texts celebrate an apriori Punjabi ethnicity in romanticized narratives of the Punjabi homeland. The objects mobilized in the construction of Punjabi ethnicity include consanguinity, religion and language but also common territorial origin, conspicuous biological features as well perceptible differences in the conduct of everyday life. In my opinion, the attachment of affect in Bhangra texts to territorial location, customs and culture rather than to religion rescues it from the ethnic absolutism and exclusivism of the Sikh nation.
Bhangra texts repeat a rap like nostalgia for a primordial punjabiyat captured in the trope of return. The myth of return undergirding Bhangra texts grows stronger in inverse proportion to the impossibility of return, literal and metaphoric. The text invariably opens with the protagonist’s returning home, often accompanied by a westernized partner, and concludes with his reintegration into an exoticized Punjabi sociality. Though the return trope underlies most texts, some articulate it more unambiguously than others. The unofficial anthem of the BhangraNation by the Punjabi poet laureate Gurdas Mann needs to be quoted in detail as an introduction to the objects to which primordial sentiments come to be attached though the use of the conditional might hint at the impossibility of return.

Apna Punjab hove To be in our own Punjab
Ghar di sharaab hove Where homemade liquour flows free
Ganne da danda hove A sugarcane
Baan da manja hove A string cot
Manje ute baitha jat And the peasant reclining royally
Oye Banya nawab hove on the string cot
Pehle tod vari vichon In the very first gulp
Duja peg lava hoye downing the second peg
Gandala da saag greens
Vaddi bebe ne banaya hove cooked by grandmother
Muhn de vich rakhde e The taste of raw spices
masale da swad hove tickles my tongue as I put it in my mouth
Saron de saag vich main To mustard greens
Ghyo te ghyo paayi javaan I keep adding dollops of butter
Makki dian rotiyaan noon Countless homemade maize corn bread
Bina gine khayeen javaan I go on eating
Khoon te jaake ganne choopan I saunter across to the well suck fresh sugarcane
Oye ghar da kabaab hove Oh for homemade kebab

The rap remix of the song translates the song’s centrality to Bhangra’s ‘return to roots’ identity performance in the diaspora. A deep male voice announces ‘We are now returning to the roots’, before playing the soundtrack peppered with Jamaican patois. Other Bhangraplayers share and repeat Mann’s ‘makki di roti’ nationalism revealing an emotional attachment to everyday items and rituals. Malkit Singh’s new album echoes Mann’s homeland yearning, once again translated as food.
Vekh Li Valait I have had enough of foreign lands
Yaaro Vekh Li Valait Friends, enough of foreign lands
Mera Maa De Hata Diyan
Pakiyan Rotiyan Khaan Nu Bara Hi Dil Karda
I ask for nothing more than bread made by my mother’s hand The song trails off with the protagonist being escorted back to India by family.
Other examples of homeland nostalgia abound.More often than not, this mystical, elusive Punjabi essence translates into a female iconicity comprising the mother, the sister and the beloved. As in Indian nationalism, the Punjabi woman’s body becomes the site for the negotiation of Punjabi modernity. The female body is draped or undraped to inscribe quintessential Punjabi values. The veiled Punjabi woman apotheosized as virgin or mother is set in opposition to the mem or the westernized urban or diasporic woman, whose journey back home must parallel the male protagonist’s for her to transform into the beloved.
Br-Asian Bhangra artists first apotheosized the virginal Punjabi woman to tease Punjabi difference out of essentialist blackness. Since Apache Indian’s romanticization of the ‘gal from Jullundar’ in Arranged Marriage, the sohni kudi has fed reels of Bhangra homeland nostalgia. The village belle, or jatti Punjab di, has conquered many an urban male heart as much by her fabled beauty as by her personification of a valorized Punjabi rusticity. The fetishization of the sohni, virginal but coquettish, sublimates the Punjabi male desire for the homeland.
Alternatively, the homeland may be visualized as mother. If the sohni is made to serve the Punjabi male fantasy of pristine sexuality, the bebe, or ma, is made to conform to the idealized image of the selfless, nurturing mother who nourishes the male without demanding anything in return.
Eis Duniya Vitch Jine Risthe All worldly relationships
Sab Juthe Te Beroop Are false and ugly
Maa Da Rishta Sab To Sachcha The only authentic bond is with the mother
Maa Hai Rab Da Roop Mother is the very image of God
While the representation of the homeland as maternal is characteristic of romantic nationalism in general, the Punjabi male’s mother fixation invests the image with a particular emotive appeal. Both the sohni and ma, embodying the primordial tie with the rustic homeland, are contrasted with the westernized temptress or the mem who must be socialized into essential punjabiyat before being accepted into the Punjabi fold. It figures directly as place as well, albeit a place constructed as much by ecology as by practices of everyday life. Bhangra’s originary location in the doabas, or deltas, of Punjab’s five rivers, customarily invoked in the boliyaan, enables Punjabi subjectivity to be grounded in concrete, material reality. Along with reconstructing Punjabi topography by retracing Bhangra genres to their originary doabas, Bhangra texts also rebuild the cultural and sacred geographies of undivided Punjab around built spaces.
These texts close in to fix a specific locus with the result that the homeland they return to is an extremely small place, a province, a town or a village reflecting the longing for the face to face community displaced by the new imaginings of collectivities in nationalism or globalization. Though a few Bhangra texts name a specific region or city, the locus of punjabiyat in contemporary Bhangra texts is the Punjabi village, a pind, illustrating the mapping of transnational Punjabi identity on a rural Punjabi imaginary. They retrace the topography of the five rivers and their deltas to recount the history of multiple erasures and recoveries older than those affected in the making of nations.
Eh Punjab vi mera e This Punjab is also mine
Oh Punjab vi mera e That Punjab is also mine
Eh sutluj vi mera e This Sutluj is also mine'
Oh chenab vi mera e That Chenab is also mine
Sara jism Of the broken body
Tukre jod deyo Put together the pieces
Hatthan jod deyo Join hands
Sarhadaan tod deyo Break all borders
Biological difference is recognized another object of primordial attachments. The body has turned into a key codifier in the iconicity constructed to produce Punjabi identities. From the stereotyped portrayal of the Punjabi in the popular Indian imagination as all brawn but no brain to the materialism ascribed to Punjabi core values, the body comes to acquire a centrality that might be useful in the understanding of the production of Punjabi subjectivity in the present. Bodily icons and signifiers construct a particularly masculine ethic centered on labour, battle and pleasure. The beautiful virginal or nurturing maternal female body is juxtaposed against the laboring or warrior male body. Punjabi subjectivity has traditionally employed the body and bodily signifiers as the site for representing difference. As Brian Keith Axel has pointed out, the iconicity of the male Sikh body was constructed to separate Sikh identity from other Punjabi ethnicities. Similarly, the female body has inevitable served as the site for marking or invading boundaries between different Punjabi groups. The celebration of physical strength and energy in jatt self-definitions converges equally on the body and bodily signifiers. An imagery is generated in relation to the body in Punjabi ascriptions and self descriptions equating the body with the body politic. Bodily markings and coverings, such as hair, beard, or headdress merely signify Punjabi identity-indifference before the rupture. The rupture is signified through images of the bruised, dismembered broken male bodies and violated female bodies in narratives of Partition and of anti-Sikh riots. The Partition violence, the nightmare of burnt, torn, bleeding, dismembered bodies, aids the representation of the division of Punjab as a physical rupture. The images of bleeding, wounded broken bodies return post 1984 in Sikh nationalism but are now contrasted with the wholeness of the amritdhari Sikh body.

The dancing Bhangra body returns against the backdrop of the bleeding Punjabi body offering glimpses into the vision of wholeness before the fragmentation. In Bhangra performance, the body stands unadorned and unburdened by visible identity markers signifying difference. Shorn of facial or head hair, or other identificatory marks, the body signifies similarity rather than difference. Casting away divisive identity markers, it dons the peasant Bhangra costume to return to the Punjabi life-place. But the dancing Bhangra body plays on differences of caste, class, region or gender without unifying them into an unchanging Punjabi essence. In performing Bhangra moves, Punjabis cast aside all other identity markers to reclaim the habitus they were dislocated from to perform a punjabiyat, located in body language and movement.
Bhangra is the harvest ritual that Hindu, Sikh, Muslim Punjabis may perform to reenact a peasant memory. Bhangra belongs to the living-in-place habitus, to particular ways of doing or saying things, which bind members of the community together. Bhangra body and bodily movement, embedded in the tribal Punjabi place, offer an elusive unifying moment in which a shared punjabiyat might be performed transcending all barriers. The body and its movements, ritualized in Bhangra performance, mark out individuals as Punjabis. In performing stylized Bhangra movements, shared across differences, Punjabis reinhabit the lost place. Through the performance of shared kinesics, it attempts to resist the splitting of the Punjabi memory further. The shared knowledge of the rules of performance about when to say what, where, to whom, in what manner, reaffirms a tribal solidarity enabling them to shed, at least during the performance moment, their new identifications overwritten on the older bioregional memory.
Bhangra’s boundary crossing space enables all concrete Punjabi identities to perform their punjabiyat in dance and music. ‘We only have to start singing Heer Waris Shah from our border post at the Wagah and let’s see how the fellow on the other side responds’. Ishtiaq Ahmed, agrees. Bhangra’s performance and speech nationalism enables Punjabis to congregate crossing all boundaries in contrast with ethno-religious nationalisms predicated on scriptural  difference. The Bhangra performance space alone offers a commingling of Punjabis of all complexions, classes, castes, religions, nations, locations and gender that interrogates the imaginings of nations, secular and sacred.
The myth of return to the Punjabi homeland dramatized in several Bhangra texts might suggest organic identifications. But the impossibility of return, literal or metaphorical, disables an uncategorical affirmation of punjabiyat as the Punjabi memory itself reveals deep gashes. Heated discussions on Punjabi culture on the website foreground multiple claimants to punjabiyat speaking in the name of language, religion, culture and class. Most chats conclude in vituperative exchanges nipping the dream of a global Punjab in the bud. As the confusion of categories defining punjabiyat on these website reveals, punjabiyat is still under construction. It would be more pertinent to inquire, therefore, what imaginings of punjabiyat are produced in the mobilization of various identity spaces in Bhangra texts and how the Punjabi subject is transformed in assuming that image. The problem of Punjabi identification can certainly not be the ‘affirmation of a pre-given identity’ but ‘the production of an image of identity and the transformation of the subject in assuming that image’.
Bhangra’s identity politics reveal the negotiation of several aspects, such as religion, nation, class, language, generation or ethnicity, which might overlap as well as contradict. The collective experience of Punjabi nationness may be negotiated in the interstices, in the overlap between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim difference. The Punjabi difference represented at these intersections can be produced in relation to a Punjabi anteriority that accommodates the experiences of invasion, displacement and migration. The ‘unhomeliness’, which Bhabha marks ‘the condition of extra-territorial and cross-cultural’ constructs a Punjabi homeland defined in relation to displacement and migration. Following Anthony D Smith, T K Oommen regards the notion of homeland as the ‘irreducible minimum for a nation to emerge and to exist’. ‘In the case of nation formation, territory is the first requisite’; he declares rejecting the claims of both language and religion to nationhood. The new punjabiyaat destroys the isomorphism between place, space and nation that has been noted in nationalist organizations of space illustrating the non-contiguous places enabled by global connectivity. The absence of an originary Bhangra location in the context of its multidirectional flows interrogates and challenges essentialist, universalized or fixed identities. At the same time, the desire to fix a homeland in a specific locus reflects the pull of primordial ties. In the absence of territorial materiality, the reconstruction of the lived place in the memory can produce only an image. Though the BhangraNation returns to the physicality of place to root itself firmly, the place can exist only in the imagination, corresponding to the real place but not quite the same. The attempt to reconstruct the old place in new lands in changed environments and settings results in recovering the semblance of the place without its sensuality. Arjun Appadurai’s distinction between territory as soil, the ground of emotional attachment, and territory as a civil arrangement shows how post-Westphalian nations can exist without territorial sovereignty. BhangraNation proves that the nation can exist outside the territory but not the soil.
In the process of engaging with the variety of subject positions it unfolds, punjabiyat is transformed. The Punjabi identity constructed in relation to Bhangra disengages ethnicity from nation and religion and returns it to language, region, culture, and the body. Unlike Sikh nationalism, which mobilized religion and language to appropriate punjabiyat for sikhi, BhangraNation manipulates primordial ties attached to the bioregion, biology and everyday conduct and rituals in reaffirming an inclusive punjabiyat. The realignment of the ethnocultural identity along these lines might be disjunctive with allegiance to national or sacral solidarities unless the new imagining of community can accommodate contradictory multiple narratives of the self. The recall of the Punjabi ethnospatial place in Bhangra texts can produce a new nonessentialising imagining of punjabiyat, which enables multiple tenancies of language, religion, caste, gender and location.

(Anjali Roy is Professor, Humanities & Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur)

1 comment:

Ajay Jain said...

I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!….. I’ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work