YouTube has removed a viral music video in India, released posthumously by murdered Sikh rapper Sidhu Moose Wala, following a complaint by the government.
The song “SYL” talks about the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal which has been at the centre of a long-running water dispute between the late Sikh rapper’s home state of Punjab and neighbouring Haryana.
The track, released posthumously on Thursday, also touched on other sensitive topics such as the deadly riots targeting the Sikh community that broke out in India in 1984 and the storming of an important Sikh temple in Amritsar by the army the same year.
The video had garnered nearly 30 million views and 3.3 million likes on the singer’s YouTube page before it was pulled down on Sunday.
“This content is not available on this country domain due to a legal complaint from the government,” said a message posted on the song link.
What does govt want Moose Wala's song silenced? pic.twitter.com/CGRVAZR6Hj
— Aditya Menon (@AdityaMenon22) June 26, 2022
The song is still available in other countries.
In an email to the AFP news agency, a YouTube spokesperson said it had only removed the song in “keeping with local laws and our Terms of Service after a thorough review”.
Moose Wala’s family termed the removal of the song “unjust” and appealed to the government to retract the complaint, local media reports said.
“They can ban the song but they cannot take Sidhu out of the hearts of the people. We will discuss legal options with lawyers,” uncle Chamkaur Singh was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times newspaper.
Al Jazeera reached out to spokespersons of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for their comments, but they did not respond.
Meanwhile, internet rights activists have raised concerns about censorship of online content by the government in “an opaque manner”, calling it a “concerning situation”.
“We don’t know when they (government orders) are issued and we only find out when someone is affected,” Prateek Waghre, policy director at Internet Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for digital rights in India, told Al Jazeera.
“In this case, it was a high-profile account that was affected and it was noticed. In many cases, users don’t even find out when action is taken against their content.”
Waghre said there is a “continuous and progressive degradation” in “space for dissent” on the internet in India.
Shot dead in his car
Moose Wala – also known by his birth name Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu – was shot dead in his car in the northern state of Punjab last month.
The 28-year-old was a popular musician both in India and among Punjabi communities abroad, especially in Canada and Britain.
His death sparked anger and outrage from fans from across the world.
Last week, Indian police arrested three men accused of murdering Moose Wala and seized a cache of weaponry, including a grenade launcher.
Media reports said the men had allegedly acted at the behest of Canada-based gangster Goldy Brar and his accomplice Lawrence Bishnoi who is currently in jail in India.
Moose Wala rose to fame with catchy songs that attacked rival rappers and politicians, portraying himself as a man who fought for his community’s pride, delivered justice and gunned down enemies.
He was criticised for promoting gun culture through his music videos, in which he regularly posed with firearms.
His murder also put the spotlight on organised crime in Punjab, a major transit route for drugs entering India from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Many observers link the narcotics trade – mostly heroin and opium – to an uptick in gang-related violence and the use of illegal arms in the state.