What’s so special about the tearjerker song ‘Pir’ that created a national debate in Nepal?

Screenshot from the song Pir on YouTube (fair use). The song was edited and reuploaded following criticism.

It is not a regular song. Sixteen minutes long, the song ‘Pir’ composed and directed by singer Prakash Saput, is more of a melodrama showcasing the plight of Maoist cadres who supported and fought the 10-year-long insurgency in Nepal. Not only the song makes you empathize with the characters but in places, it makes you cry.

The song reached 10 million views in the week after Prakash uploaded it on YouTube on March 11, 2022, but it had to be edited and re-uploaded after a fierce debate. Premiering again on YouTube on March 19, 2022, the song has already garnered around 5.6 million views at the time of writing.

‘Pir’ shows how some of the Maoist cadres made it to power and reached the government while others had to resort to doing menial jobs and even leave the country to work as migrant workers.

From insurgency to the government

The Maoist insurgency started in 1996 with the aim of abolishing the monarchy and establishing a people's republic in Nepal. The war left more than 13,000 dead and 1,300 missing between 1996 and 2006, according to the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a leading Nepali human rights organisation. The war ended when the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Accord on November 21, 2006.  In 2008, Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda,” chairperson of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was elected the prime minister. In 2011, another Maoist leader, Baburam Bhattarai, became the prime minister, and Prachanda returned as prime minister in 2016.

Screenshot from the song 'Pir' on Youtube. Fair use.

Screenshot from the song ‘Pir‘ on YouTube. Fair use.

Accused of undermining the people’s war

In the song (in Nepali), viewers can see and feel the anguish of a former Maoist fighter couple. The man makes a little money selling meat and is unable even to pay rent. So, his wife heads for foreign employment leaving their daughter with him. However, she is held captive and appeals for rescue. The man reaches out to a minister who had fought the civil war together with him. But the minister refuses to recognize him and throws away his application.

While most of the Nepali audience loved the song, Maoists accused Saput of undermining the people’s war and some of them warned him there would be consequences if he didn't take it down.

Nepali Twitter user Prakriti Khadka mentioned:

Nepal’s former Prime Minister and a former leader of the civil war, Baburam Bhattarai tweeted:

Marxist philosophy says ‘seek truth from the facts’. During the research, I’ve directly understood – that women are forced to sell their bodies for their children and husbands’ treatment. Who fought for people’s liberation yesterday are selling their bodies to earn bread and butter! Let's accept the bitter truth; seek solutions; not curse @PrakashSaput!

The earlier version showed the man, after his wife leaves for foreign employment, meeting with a woman fighter who fought the war with him leading a life of a sex worker.

Journalist Sudarshan Khatiwada tweeted:

A man (conscious Marxist) hurries to have sex with another woman just a few months after his wife leaves for a foreign country. Nobody questions this. So many questions over a fighter’s compulsion to take up prostitution for her child’s education and bringing up. This might be due to patriarchy.

This scene showing the protagonist meeting a former comrade compelled into prostitution, which led to a serious national debate, now has been deleted in the current version. Talking to National News Agency, Nepal (RSS) Prakash Saput said the scene had actually overshadowed other beautiful aspects of the song.

Prakash claimed to create characters for the song from his interactions with former Maoist fighters. Before editing and reuploading the song, he posted on Facebook:

…'पिर'बाट मैले युद्धकै जग/ बलमा व्यवस्था परिवर्तन भएको तर अवस्था परिवर्तन नभएको भन्न मात्रै खोजेको हौं। समानताको लागि एकसाथ लडेका कमरेडहरु बिचमा बढ्दै गएको असमान दूरी देखाउन खोजेको हौं।…

…I just wanted to tell through ‘Pir’ that, although the regime changed due to the civil war, the situation didn’t change. I wanted to depict the increasing inequality in the lives of comrades who fought for equality together…

However, ‘Pir’ is not the first video in Nepal that had to be edited and reuploaded. In February 2019, a song ‘Lutna sake lut, Nepal mai ho chhut,’ which translates to ‘Loot if you can; it’s allowed only in Nepal’ had to be removed from YouTube despite its popularity after the singer Pashupati Sharma received threats from the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist). The song hit out at the corruption in the country. Both the singers were accused of being politically motivated and targeting certain political leaders.

With their freedom of expression undermined, it is unlikely they would create songs revealing political and social misdeeds in the future. Other singers and artists too would think twice before creating such songs.

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