NEW DELHI — “There is only one thing that I have to say,” said Varun Bahar, a Bhojpuri and Hindi singer, whose recent song, Jo Na Bole Jai Shri Ram, Bhej Do Usko Kabristan, has people baying for his arrest.
“I’m a bhakt of Jai Shri Ram,” he said. “This is all about Hindutva. It is only about Hindutva.”
In a phone conversation with HuffPost India on Thursday, 35-year-old Bahar said that he had written the controversial song, which sounds like an open call for violence.
It goes like this: “Jo na bole Jai Shri Ram, bhej do usko kabristan. Jitne bhi hain ab Ram virodhi, unko ab dafnayenge. Poore Hindustan ke andar Ram Rajya phir layenge. (Those who do not say Jai Shri Ram,send them to Kabristan. Let’s bury those who oppose Ram. We will get Ram Rajya in Hindustan again).
Kabristan, in common parlance, is used to refer to a graveyard used by Muslims and Christians.
An image of a graveyard with crosses appears in the video.
Bahar, who is presently in Gonda in Uttar Pradesh, said, “Sometimes it takes me ten minutes to write a song, sometimes a day, but it depends on the song. This one took me two days. I’m from a Hindu family. I’m a devotee of Shri Ram. I will not stop singing.”
Earlier this week, 49 filmmakers and activists wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing concern over lynchings in the country. In it, they said that the religious chant of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has become a “provocative war cry today that leads to law and order problem, and many lynchings take place in its name”.
For a while now, there have been reports of songs with chilling lyrics targeting Muslims being played on the streets during the celebration of religious festivals. There is little that the police can do to stop it.
The milder content ranges from praising Modi and bashing Pakistan, while the harsher ones threaten Muslims with violence.
This song isn’t Bahar’s first track exhorting violence. Earlier this year, he released “44 ke badle 444 sur lana hain,” (Instead of 44 heads, get 444 heads), which calls for Pakistan to be wiped off the world map. 44 is a reference to the number of CRPF personnel killed in the Pulwama attack earlier this year.
When he is not championing “Hindutva” in his songs, this “Ram bhakt” makes misogynistic and raunchy music videos.
One track, Mummy, Mummy Chillaogi (You will scream Mummy, Mummy), features a woman getting harassed by a group of men as he sings, “Jab UP, Bihar aaogi, Mummy Mummy chillaogi. (When you come to UP, Bihar, then you will scream Mummy Mummy).
The worst of the lot is Pakistan ki beti hai, border par aakar deti hai. This track is so offensive that HuffPost India has decided not to repeat any of its lyrics.
When this reporter asked Bahar what he was trying to convey with this song, there was a long pause before he said, “I really don’t want to talk about it.”
This song is no longer available on YouTube.
In fact, Varun Bahar’s channel, which was populated with music videos till Thursday afternoon, is no longer available.
There is just one video with a three-minute statement from the singer. “I have not mentioned any caste or religion. I’m in love with my religion, and this song is for my religion. Reporters of big media, the small media, who are after my life... threats are coming in from desh and videsh... I request my Hindu brothers, the Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini, this younger brother badly needs your help.”
He continues, “Please listen to this song and tell me if there is something wrong with it. Its full title is Jo Na Bole Jai Shri Ram, Bhej Do Usko Kabristan… It was launched just a week ago, but it has received over two lakh views.”
Varun Bahar’s channel, which was populated with music videos till Thursday afternoon, is no longer available.
In the video, he introduces another man, Santosh Yadav, as his right-hand man and the songwriter.
While Bahar adjusts his sunglasses and his hair in the background, Yadav says, “Brothers, those who oppose Ram are saying arrest them, hang them. But we are also ready, even if they hang us, we will keep saying Jai Shri Ram.”
They go on to repeat the title of the song a few times. Bahar adds, “Like the video, share the video and search the video on YouTube.”
While speaking to this reporter on Thursday, Bahar was clearly aware of the growing outrage against his latest song, and calls for his arrest.
Journalists from Delhi, he said, had traveled to Gonda to speak with him. Local reporters, too, were contacting him.
Several attempts to reach the producer and director of the music video, Rajesh Verma, failed. Both his phones were switched off on Thursday.
Verma’s music company, Lucknow-based Janta Musical and Pictures, tweeted out an apology on 23 July.
During the phone conversation, Bahar sounded worried, claiming that his song wasn’t targeting Indian Muslims.
“Madame, please listen to me,” he said. “I meant everyone, Hindus and Muslims. Actually, it is about Pakistan, only about Pakistan. It is not against Indian Muslims.”
When it was pointed out that the word “kabristan” was generally used to refer to graveyards used by Muslims and Christians, while Hindus are cremated, Bahar insisted that unmarried Hindus were buried.
He was not anti-Muslim, Bahar said, while claiming that he had “many Muslim and Christian friends.”
Then, in what appeared to be a moment of frustration at not being able to speak his mind, Bahar said, “Anyone who lifts a finger against Jai Shri Ram, I will not stand for it. I will not step back.”