Logistics has a public cultural life in Indian media that is particularly regionalized. The state of Punjab is a major site of the nation’s agricultural production, and its name is synonymous with domestic and diasporic trucking, farming, and festive music. Recent nation-wide protests of a bill that would deregulate crop prices--and thereby endow agricultural logistics brokers the balance of power in the marketplace--are estimated to be the largest public demonstrations in human history. These protests have also been portrayed within Indian mass media as particularly Punjabi. Farmers in protest, truckers joining the farmers, and songs about both sets of workers in revolt are all depicted in both regional popular media and international news media as particularly Punjabi phenomena.
Though much of the burden of COVID falls on those staffing the supply chain, COVID throws political divisions seemingly detached from the exigencies of supply in sharp relief: it is widely rumored that India’s ruling party, the BJP, is attempting to lift lockdown restrictions in order to reduce the number of specifically Punjabi protestors, and, conversely, that the Congress Party and “local goons” are backing the farm protests. Yet, these issues of both intra-Punjabi and national party politics make for a complex admixture when considered in light of the inter-regional labor flows under COVID. Laborers in Punjab’s fields, factories, and SEZs come from poorer eastern provinces, are compelled to remain working in these sites under lockdown conditions, and risk death as a result.
Under COVID, the regionally extractive politics at the heart of Indian national federalism, which send Punjabi resources abroad and Bihari laborers to Punjab, both suffuse the theaters of regional musical media and national political media, and are in turn are shaped by the rhythms and pressures of transnational supply. Please see this accompanying listicle for some of the musical media in question.
Davindar Singh is a PhD candidate and Presidential Scholar in Ethnomusicology at Harvard. He studies the transnational spread of Punjabi trucking (and its attendant financialized urbanization) in songs and music videos.