TW: Sexual assault, accounts of verbal harassment.
The reckoning for sexual violence survivors in the South Asian community is long overdue—in part because many of the “Me Too” stories in our community have long been forced into hushed whispers and behind closed doors.
Moving matters into the open means no longer ignoring what is hidden in plain sight.
Recently, a young woman came forward on TikTok outlining her experience with popular Punjabi singer Mickey Singh in 2019. In her video, the woman explained how she was working as a background dancer and model in one of Singh’s music videos in Los Angeles. 5XPress has chosen not to repost the video at the request of the woman.
After shooting, the woman and her friend went to a bar where she said Singh made unsolicited sexual comments towards her, including telling her that he wanted to “lick her belly button piercing.” Despite expressing clear discomfort and lack of reciprocity, she said Singh slipped his hands underneath her jacket and touched her inappropriately.
Later that night, they went to her friend’s apartment (approximately a two hour drive from where she lived in Santa Barbara) along with Singh and two other Indian artists. The woman started falling asleep at her friend’s house after a long day, when Singh started assaulting her by kissing her face and body without her consent. When another artist at the party noticed, he apologized and instructed her to go to another room and lock the door.
Despite her repeatedly saying no, she said that Singh continued to kiss her and lick her face and body.
After going into the other room, Singh followed her once again and climbed on top of her and continued touching her. Though she was not sure what happened next, she was somehow able to get out of there. The next morning, she said Singh didn’t acknowledge what happened and she wasn’t sure if he remembered the events of the previous night.
The woman explained in her video how her friends who have worked with Singh have had similarly uncomfortable experiences with him.
While most responses to the woman’s story were supportive, she simultaneously faced backlash and scrutiny in regards to her claims. On April 11, the woman’s experience was reposted by The Kaur Movement, a network and charity to support sexual violence survivors in the South Asian community.
According to Gurpreet Kaur, a community organizer and advocate and founder of the Kaur Movement, up to five women have come forward regarding their experiences of sexual assault and/or misconduct by Singh.
Kaur says the incident shared on TikTok was not the first allegation against Singh. Over the past year and a half, she adds that four women have come forward with similar stories about Mickey Singh—including a minor.
“There was an underage girl that he messaged she was 16 years old, on [Snapchat], and he was talking to her in a sexual way,” she said in an interview with 5XPress.
“The other ones are like, ‘well, he was at a party and he was being really touchy and not appropriate.’”
Kaur has established protocols to verify and corroborate information prior to publishing it on her platform.
“We don’t expose unless we have more than two victims coming forward, and there’s some sort of evidence of something that shows like hey, this person is 100% wrong. And that’s why there’s really little exposing that happens on my platform.”
For Kaur, this means the survivors must be from separate incidents, and they need to file a police report, in order to expose an abuser.
“People that don't report it, I won’t post it. We still need it legally that you have reported it so in the future, if something about him does come up, at least there's a track record,” she said.
A police report has also since been filed in relation to the incident that was shared on TikTok.
Since the allegations, Singh has been virtually inactive on social media, with his last post on March 30, 2022, promoting one of his latest tracks.
According to Kaur, three people affiliated with Singh have reached out to her via Instagram DMs, asking about any information she has in relation to the allegations.
“I have mentioned it to [his friend] several times for a lie detector test as well. I mentioned it at the very end and his answer was, ‘I'll let him know,’ and I haven't gotten any response.”
The Punjabi music industry’s long overdue reckoning
This is not the first time Kaur has been at the forefront of holding abusers in the Punjabi community accountable.
Notably, the recent case of Sukh Sanghera—a Punjabi film and music director who was accused by over 30 women of leveraging his power to pressure women, many of whom were actresses and models who worked with him, into going on dates and having sex with him—was exposed by Kaur on her platform.
In 2020, singer Dilpreet Dhillon was publicly accused by his now ex-wife Aamber Dhaliwal, and four other women of domestic violence and infidelity. Both artists’ careers have been left virtually unscathed despite the controversies, and have continued to collaborate with other popular artists in the industry.
Predatory culture is also pervasive in other parts of the Punjabi music industry, as reported by Rumneek Johal and Monika Sidhu and in a previous article published by 5XPress in collaboration with Baaz News. In the piece, various members of the Punjabi music industry cite unprofessional, even misogynistic working conditions created by male artists and crew members.
Joty Kay even shared her experience of artists inviting her to hotel parties after shooting music videos and her own discomfort in those spaces.
But predatory patterns do not exist within a vacuum. These environments act as a mirror to what our community considers acceptable.
If we fail to hold artists who we don’t know personally to account for their sexual misconduct, what happens when the men in our very own communities do the same?
If men in the public eye are able to brush past allegations like these without changing their behaviour, what about the stories happening behind closed doors?
This is precisely what the Kaur Movement was created to address—to give survivors a network of support and resources, to raise awareness and to hold perpetrators accountable.
The Kaur Movement’s network
As The Kaur Movement Instagram page has documented, countless members of our community have silently suffered from sexual violence and other forms of harm for years on end. In addition to sharing anonymous accounts of sexual assault in Punjabi families, Kaur has also revealed unsettling patterns of sexual assault in Gurudwaras at the hands of prominent community members.
This is the bleak reality of our community which requires a serious shift in attitudes and approach to begin the process of protecting and advocating for survivors.
When Kaur launched The Kaur Movement in February 2019, she had no idea how widespread and robust the network of survivors would become. What started as a platform where Kaur could heal from her own experiences quickly became a space where other survivors within the South Asian community, regardless of gender, could share their own stories and connect with people in similar situations.
“I had no idea the amount of people that were going to come forward and start sharing their stories,” she said.
Kaur became overwhelmed with Instagram DMs, and made an email available for individuals to submit their stories. From there, The Kaur Movement account expanded into a worldwide community with over 11,000 volunteers committed to supporting individuals who have experienced sexual assault, gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and incest.
The team of volunteers, Kaur told 5X Press in an interview, is made up of individuals from professions ranging from doctors and lawyers to social workers. These individuals donate their own time in the name of seva, the Sikh concept of selfless service without expectation of reward.
What makes the Kaur movement so powerful too, is the community’s ability to mobilize and provide emotional, physical and even financial support to survivors all around the world. When an active case is confirmed by Kaur, volunteers are sent from different cities to ensure a survivor’s safety.
“It’s more like, hey, let’s connect you to resources. Do you need a counsellor? Are you not able to afford it? Let me find you one,” Kaur told us.
While perusing Kaur’s page might give you the impression that she’s sharing every story that comes her way, she said that about 70% of accounts that are submitted to The Kaur Movement are handled privately.
But even with proof and an extensive process for verifying information, it is the victims and not the abusers that often face backlash and questioning when going public with their allegations.
Survivors face a lot of scrutiny over the validity of their experiences when they come forward, sometimes even more so than the people they are accusing of abuse. But statistics have repeatedly shown time and time again that only 2-10% of assault cases are false.
When we couple this with the fact that most cases go unreported in the first place, we can see that survivors have high risks when coming forward with their stories.
From Kaur’s extensive experience in this field, an unsettling number of cases of domestic violence and sexual assault occurs within the family unit.
In so many families, Kaur says, the lack of education around sexual assault is glaring.
“There's more that I'm learning. I did my social work background and I have a diploma and whatnot. But actually dealing with this kind of stuff you learn everyday, new symptoms, new signs of like sexual abuse,” said Kaur.
She has also done outreach and connected with survivors and their parents to better bridge the lack of education and understanding in our community around sexual violence. She added how this is imperative in order to create more open dialogue in our community in relation to this issue.
“There's a lot of parents that come on my platform, and they're like, oh, our daughter went through this and this is how we reacted. I'm like, no, you can't react like that. And that there's a reason why victims don't come forward, ” Kaur said.
The way our community performs masculinity, too, plays a role in how so many men respond to survivors of sexual assault.
“There's also a reason why the men in our society have so much anger built in them because they can't talk about the situations they've gone through,” said Kaur.
Due to their potentially explosive reactions, many sisters, daughters, and partners don't feel safe enough to tell the men in their life about their experiences.
“There are sisters that can't even approach their brothers telling them hey, this is what's happened to me in the family, can you support me?”
“That's why victims don't come forward, or the parents stop the victim— “sadi baisti ho jani, tera viah kiddan ho ga? Tera face saraya nu kidda dekohna? ” (It’ll embarrass us, how will we get you married? How are you going to show your face to everyone?) said Kaur.
But the idea of misplacing shame onto victims instead of perpetrators is what enables this cycle to continue.
“The parents think about others first before they think of their own child, because their image is everything in our society.”
Moving past this fixation on public image also means believing survivors and holding perpetrators accountable, all the while addressing the environments in which sexual violence takes place.
“It is changing. I have parents now that are coming forward saying, ‘I'm teaching them this, I'm not doing any sleepovers, I'm not trusting anybody.’ And to be honest, I tell everybody not to trust everybody around you.”
Kaur advises people in the community to prioritize the safety of their children above all else. Many families in the South Asian community are quick to pass caregiving responsibilities onto family members and neighbours, without considering that they may be placing their children in harm’s way.
“You have a responsibility to take care of them until they're 18 at least,” said Kaur. “Work isn't everything."
“You’d rather live in a basement than a mansion, [than] have to deal with sexual abuse.”
It is why so many keep their stories to themselves, because they know that there is an uphill battle when opening up about their experiences. But predators benefit from the silence, and we owe it to survivors to create more avenues for support and healing in our community, to end this cycle of violence that has impacted so many.
More than anything, whether someone shares their story to thousands or to a chosen few—The Kaur Movement has shown what is possible when we believe and support survivors, and put their well-being above the reputation of abusers.
Whether it’s pop stars on a world stage or a story that remains unspoken within the walls of a home— blame must be placed on abusers and their enablers within our community.
It’s not the survivor’s shame to carry.
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