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As the boundaries between literature and the popular blur, what remain of significance are stories- be it in the form of poem, a book, a lullaby, a play or a fusion of mediums. Songs and their lyrics hold powerful narratives that not only influence the listeners but are a source of power, resistance and assertion. In my paper, I hope to explore the growth of ‘Chamar pop’ on the Bhangra-pop scene in contemporary Punjab. The land of five rivers has been talked about for Green Revolution, dark period of “militancy,” and its drug glut. However, its Dalit population, the largest density across states in India[1], has often been ignored in the popular conception of Punjab. The 1980’s marked the beginning of a ‘structural crisis’[2] in agriculture in Panjab. While, agriculture became less lucrative, the Dalits especially Chamars who had taken advantage of education opportunities, or moved to Gulf and North America in search of better future, began their rapid rise in economic mobility. The Jat dominated lyrics and songs are being challenged by songs by Dalits who seek to glorify their identity and elevation due to economic success, with the diaspora playing a major role in producing these albums such as ‘Bibe put Chamaran de’ or ‘Fighter Chamar’. The paper uses the work of Mark Mattern[3] to analyse the role these songs play in helping assert Dalit identity, which itself is fragmented on sub-caste lines in Punjab. On one hand, there are some serious attempts at building a strong culture of resistance such as Sufi singer Has Raj Hans’ ‘Boota Mandi Mela,’ to end all caste divisions; or popular Dalit singer Rajni Thakkerwal’s attempt to subdue both “caste and gender hegemonic structure,” and rise of Ginni Mahi singing songs eulogising Dalit assertion and Ambedkar. However, on the other side, there are also a majority of songs like those by Tejpuri that focus on “good sons of Chamars” driving in Land Cruisers and Ferraris. While these songs may be a symbol of the arrival of Dalits in positions erstwhile enjoyed by the dominant castes, Jacobsen and Myrvold[4] write how these songs “call upon Dalits to abandon their former submissive postures and respond to their humiliation by lifting arms against their oppressors. In doing so, they attempt to appropriate the same qualities of the warrior” that had once been used in constrain them. This raises questions about “Neo-Sanskritisation” and a form of “Cultural Imperialism[5].” My paper seeks to explore the deeper meaning, narratives and emotions behind the songs and tries to understand the experience of Dalits in Punjab. By engaging with the socio-political nature of music, it reveals a subtext of social movements, an attempt at reading between the lines to grasp the complexities of Dalit identity and mobility in Punjab as envisaged and propounded by not merely the leaders but also the masses (consumers and reproducers of this music) which often remains unsaid or misunderstood in conventional writings and theorizing. [1] According to 2011 Census Punjab has a Dalit population percentage of 31.9%, highest across India. [2] Chandoke, Neera and Priyadarshi, Praveen; ‘Electoral Politics in post-conflict states- The Case of Punjab’ [3] Mattern, Mark; Acting in Concert- Music, Community and Political Action; Ch-2 (New York, Rutgers University Press, 1998) [4]Jacobsen and Myrvold; ‘Young Sikhs in a Global World: Negotiating Traditions, Identities and Authorities’ (Routledge, March, 2016) [5] Young, Iris Marion, ‘Five Faces of Oppression’ in ‘Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance’ ed. by Heldke, Lisa and O’Connor, Peg ( Boston, McGraw Hill, 2004)  

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Prerna Trehan (India) 13682
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