Some of us think that 30 years is a long time. That, sitting in the diaspora, June 1984 is something that happened in a distant world to “extremists” that entered Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar. That the pogroms of November 1984 were riots that only affected the Sikhs of Delhi as a reaction of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. We believe these things because that is what the media wants us to believe. It is the only narrative that is allowed to exist in the mainstream.
I believed all of it too. Until, I heard the story of my uncle who “disappeared” for five months during the 1990s. He was dropped back home—thrown off–by the police and was in such a bad shape that he couldn’t move for six months. Hearing this account from my family member, hit home for me. It is then, that I realized that I am not removed and thirty years ago is not a long time. I realized all the manufactured information that had been fed to me until then and the well-crafted excuses that were given for the atrocities. For June 1984, “If Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had not taken arms into Harmandir Sahib, then the army wouldn’t have gone in”. However, they failed to mention the reason about forty other Gurdwaras were attacked on the same day. For November 1984, “People were angry because Indira Gandhi was killed and therefore there were riots”. They failed to mention that only Sikhs died all across India, even though “riots” indicate two groups of people fighting each other.
Thousands of Sikhs died, thousands of Sikh women were raped, thousands of Sikh children were orphaned during 1984. And what continued after is a story seldom heard. It is because we are not speaking that the rehearsed propaganda is becoming our narrative. 1984 is not a long time ago, it is not a thing that happened in the distant land of Panjab and Delhi. It was not just a physical attack. It was an attack on the Sikh spirit and psyche. Every Sikh is a survivor, a soldier. It is time we took back our history and wrote our own narratives.
Whether in Panjab, Delhi, Melbourne, California or Singapore, every Sikh old enough to remember 1984 has a story to tell. The 1984 Living History Project seeks to document and archive these stories of strength and resilience. The project seeks to build awareness of state-sponsored human rights violations, suppression of information & social trauma.
Making a video is easy and does not require any great technical skills. If you use a Smart Phone, you can make a video!
To conduct a “1984 Memory Studio” in your city—a low-investment event to conduct lots of interviews during one day in your Gurdwara or during a local event–contact the Project. A group of sevadaars—no one organization—has taken it upon themselves to make a 1000 videos. This can’t happen unless more folks make and submit videos!
Ever since the founding of Sikhi, every time some outside power has tried to destroy our history, it has failed. So talk to your parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents- record their experiences and help write our own history, so this time too, the propaganda efforts fail, finally.
Last night, I went to a showing of Punjab 1984. Writing when you’re emotional has its place, but I chose to step away from my immediate feelings after walking out of the theatre last night and reflect on how I actually felt after I was able to separate myself from that experience somewhat.
I stepped into that theatre not entirely knowing what to expect, but not expecting something like Sadda Haq (which I thought was really well done). And then the movie started and I was taken aback by the realness of the images before me, by the humanness of the families being portrayed and by the storyline that was developing. It drew feeling out of you.
Just to get you up to speed, Shivjit Singh (Diljit) is a kharku singh who is moved to join the Khalistan freedom movement after his father is killed in the 1984 attack on Darbar Sahib (his death justified by Panjab police with a baseless allegation that he was a terrorist) and he himself is tortured in police interrogation. Experiencing firsthand the brutality of Panjab police and injustice within India’s judicial system, he takes up armed resistance against the state. Were I to have walked out of the theatre before the end of the first half, I would have had trouble writing a coherent review encouraging you to watch it because I was truly moved by the humanness of the story that was being depicted.
But then comes the second half. For those who have seen it already and those who are going to see it, you may have different reactions to this portion. The second half of the film is largely dedicated to portraying the film’s perception of the actions of kharku singhs. Emphasis on the word ‘perception’. The first major depiction is of Shivjit Singh placing explosives on a bus full of innocent people, which his “higher-ups” demanded of him. The next was imagery of kharkus lining up innocent Hindus, even those who were Khalistani sympathizers, and shooting them with as much discrimination as Panjab police. After that came the killing of a rehatvaan (spiritually disciplined) kharku singh by corrupted “kharku singhs”. Suddenly I was no longer teary-eyed and emotional over the film, but aware that I needed to analyze the content with a sobered sense of detachment.
You can question what the purpose in these portrayals was. Perhaps, in the film-maker’s eyes, it was to reflect the human reality of those placed on all spectrums of the Panjab struggle. Perhaps it was to appease those in Panjab who have an interest in preventing outright sympathy with the Khalistan movement. Perhaps it was the film’s attempt to make everyone happy. The practical implication, however, was that most Khalistani freedom fighters are self-interested, manipulative and corrupted.
The implication of this portrayal of the Khalistan movement was that if you are not the type of person to critically analyze the media that you are viewing, or do not have a solid base of knowledge on 1984 and the freedom movement to begin with, or were simply drawn into the emotional roller coaster that the film was attempting to take you on, you would leave with the perception that the struggle for Khalistan was obsolete because the only kharku who can remain true to his cause is a fictionalized, idealized character played by Diljit.
This is where it should start concerning you that one of the main characters who you can sympathize with and believe in throughout is a famous, well-known celebrity. Celebrities are different than real people, right? Only someone so plainly exceptional could have come out of the movement so morally unscathed, right?
Where Sadda Haq acted as a well-written argument for the relevance of the Panjab freedom movement, Punjab 1984 was an emotional trip that attempted to humanize a political struggle while forgetting (perhaps conveniently) to build a factual base for the emotional content that was being showered upon the audience. For someone walking into that theatre with limited background knowledge to see the main portrayal of a kharku jathebandi as being succumbed to corruption and openly opposing Sikh values, a judgement is going to be made about the overall sincerity of the Khalistan movement. If this film was packaged as a reflection of the Khalistan movement, the producers should have spoken to actual freedom fighters and those central to the Khalistan movement before attempting to create a script. Creating judgements from the sidelines about a movement with deep complexities was plainly irresponsible on the production team’s part.
By no means am I saying that every individual involved in the Khalistan movement was a reflection of Sikh values. That is the humanness of any freedom struggle. Humans don’t come pre-labelled as good or bad – it is a spectrum. But for this film to portray the steadfast and morally true kharkus as the rare minority was backwards and harmful. It is not a reflection of the ideological roots of the Khalistan movement and serves to undermine the validity of that struggle.
This film did little justice to the ideology of the Khalistan movement. No doubt, it left you feeling emotional and charged up, but I question whether the emotional build-up was actually a good thing. Without proper context established for 1984 and without proper explanation for the purpose of Khalistan, (other than what you can infer through emotion) the audience is left with dangerous gaps. Yes, it’s important to feel and to experience through emotion, but hasn’t our community been doing that for long enough? What we are missing is dialogue and critical analysis. To charge up an audience and leave them ultimately feeling disillusioned to everyone in this film but an idealized celebrity figure is wrong, in my opinion.
I would not encourage someone with no background information about the Khalistan movement to watch this film and accept it as a remotely accurate portrayal of Khalistani freedom fighters or the ideology of the Khalistan movement. I think the primary benefit in viewing this film, however, is for the purpose of analysis and critical discussion. If you watch the film, take out the time to really analyze the content that’s being presented to you. It’s easy to see through the lens of emotion and lose sight of the problematic content being represented.
Share your thoughts below.
January 26th, 1986 marked massive response to India’s massacre of Sikhs during the invasion of and the assault on the Golden Temple Complex in 1984.
Despite the Indian governments attempts to intercept and prevent a democratic gathering with army road blocks and sweeping arrests across the state, the people of Punjab attended a peoples assembly known as the Sarbat Khalsa to self-determine their fate. With estimates ranging from 500,000 to 1,000,000 the people of Punjab made a declaration.
The Sarbat Khalsa in a state that had suspended democracy, illustrated how Khalistani activists could self-govern with a massive demonstration of democratic force. With unanimous consent of upwards of 1 million attendees, the people of Punjab passed a resolution to fight for an independent state and the flag of Khalistan was hoisted onto Sri Akal Thakt Sahib – Political Institution of the Sikh people.
Further, the people, demolished the state-built Sri Akal Thakt Sahib, after it had been restored with government resources and money (after the army itself had destroyed it). By doing so, they rejected the occupying states resources and instead re-established the sovereignty of Punjab by rebuilding the Akal Takht Sahib through the traditional practice of Kaar Sewa; a Sikh tradition of selfless-service and volunteerism for the betterment of humanity.
The 1986 Sarbat Khalsa also passed numerous resolutions including the establishment the Five Member Panthic Committee to steer the way towards self-determination and self-governance.
As of date, a Sarbat Khalsa has not taken place to over turn the decision of the 1 Million Strong. Through the traditional democratic practices and institutions of Punjab, Sikhs vowed to struggle for the self-governance on this day 28 years ago.
Today, many continue to do so, peacefully.
Written with files from: www.neverforget84.com
Jagmeet Singh an MPP in Ontario, Canada was recently honoured with the ‘2013 Sikh of the Year Award’ in recognition of his tireless contribution for the protection of Human Rights and presenting Sikh Personality at Provincial Parliament.
The event organized in recognition of great personalities that have contributed to the promotion of Sikhism by SEWA at the International Fateh Academy and was attended by the Panj Sahiban, including the Jathedar of the Akal Takht.
Unable to attend, Jagmeet Singh accepted his award via Video Conferencing during the ceremony and in his speech he dedicated his award to Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh Khalsa, the human rights activist.
Other recipients and awards included:
Dr. Rajwant Singh Ji of USA who was honoured with the ‘Sikh of the Decade Award’ for his endeavour to create awareness regarding the conservation and preservation of environment, promoting Sikhism at international level and celebrating Sikh Gurupurabs in White House, USA.
Dr. Raghbir Singh Ji Bains of Khadoor Sahib was honoured with ‘Life Time Achievement Award’ for authoring the ‘Multimedia Encyclopedia of Sikhism’ a valuable contribution to the Sikh Faith.
Bhai Davinder Singh Ji Khannewale and Bhai Baldev Singh Ji Wadala (Hazoori Ragi Sri Darbar Sahib) with the Bhalo Bhalo Re Kirtaniye Award.
S. Jarnail Singh Ji of Delhi and S. Raja Singh Ji of Jalandhar were recognized for their contribution to promotion of Sikhism, Service to the Faith and protection of Human Rights with the ‘Dedicated Sikh Award’.
S.Satdeep Singh Ji of Delhi was recognized for his creativity in producing animation films relating to Sikhism with the ‘Creative Sikh Award’.
Sources: Sikh Channel + Punjab Spectrum]]>
In news reported by Punjab Spectrum in Punjabi – Gurbaksh Singh is enroute to Akal Takht where he was expected to end his strike, but instead has claried his position by reaffirming his resolve to continue his strike.
Gurbaksh Singh indicated that his Hunger Strike will continue until all 6 prisoners in his original demand have been released.
Gurbaksh Singh is now completing Day 42 of his Hunger Strike.]]>
In an article published by the Hindustan Times, journalist Pawan Sharma paints an entirely one-sided picture. From labelling Gurbaksh Singh a radical and militant to calling him a liar to questioning the authenticity of his fast, Mr. Sharma provides an unbalanced piece that disallows anyone from Gurbaksh Singh’s team an opportunity to voice their concerns.
Mr. Sharma attributes his claims to an “anonymous” government source that suggests the hunger strike by Gurbaksh Singh is a “miracle” or as Mr. Sharma suggest a farce and a lie.
Fortunately, in a video posted on facebook, when confronted by a Canadian medical practioner, Dr. Avtar Singh from British Columbia, the journalist is asked how he can verify the validity of his claim that Gurbaksh Singh has only lost 4 kg’s of weight, without knowing his starting and current weight.
Mr. Sharma who initially refuses to answer the question after being asked repetatively finally concedes that the information he received has come from the Government Agencies and Doctors.
In India, the term agencies is often used to describe the secret service and intelligence bureaus that work diligently to suppress minority rights and movements.
Have a look at the article and listen to a recording of the conversation below.