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.
Check out her work below, and if you like what you see, be sure to vote.
Don’t forget to always support local, grassroots talent! Choose a video, whether or Kiran or another beautifully talented Sikh activist and let’s keep building, fostering and encouraging our community!
VOTE FOR ‘KES’ HERE
‘Kes’ showcases various Sikh women on their own unique journey in Sikhi. It allows Sikh women to feel empowered about the diversity of their appearance regardless of societal pressures they constantly face from all corners. The film gives a different perspective of what our Kes means to us. It also integrates the western culture of self-expression through fashion and art. Rupi Kaur, a spoken word artist from Toronto performs a poem in the background to explain the idea of a sisterhood where we can openly discuss what it means to be a Kaur. It is a powerful piece that showers acceptance on all and hopes to create a sisterhood full of love.
VOTE FOR ‘THE CANCER TRAIN’ HERE
‘The Cancer Train’ showcases Rupi Kaur up front, discussing the cancer crisis in Punjab. The reason this piece is so valuable to women is because Rupi expresses herself through an art form that is so heavily male dominated within our community. We want to empower other women to share their creative work, and make bold female expression in our community the new norm. The film takes the audience through a woman’s emotional journey of dealing with her father’s cancer. It is raw and gut wrenching. The simplicity of the film allows the audience to immerse themselves into her words and wrap themselves with pure emotion (Rupi actually performed this piece at the When Lions Roar festival this year and had the entire audience in tears!).
VOTE FOR ‘THE WARRIOR PRINCESS’ HERE
‘The Warrior Empress’ shows four radiant women performing the Sikh Martial Art of Gatka. There is nothing more powerful than watching Sikh women in their most natural state. The film was made to show viewers how strong and resilient women in the Khalsa Panth truly are. Some may feel intimidated to take up a sport of art that is seen to be heavily male dominated, so the film works to break that stereotype and bring back the culture of the warrior empress that is in us all.
Biography: Deep Hundal currently resides in the small farming town of Abbotsford, BC. Currently, he is working on several photo essays of immigrant workers in BC and several mini-documentaries on the Panjabi community.
Website: More of Deep Hundal’s work can be seen at www.singhsdoingthings.com/mywork
Film Description: An old man. A young history. A haunting legacy of the Panjab Police’s brutal regime of torture and death.
Nina Chanpreet Kaur is a social & cultural change leader, entrepreneur, writer and educator. She is on the editorial board of the Sikh Love Stories Project and blogs regularly for The Langar Hall. Her writing has been featured in a range of publications including the NY Times, Harlem Times, SikhChic and Yoni Ki Baat. For more information:www.
I saw SAN’s call for submissions and sat down to do writing practice starting with the words “on rape in India.” This poem is what emerged. Rape in India and the diaspora come as no surprise. India was born of rape and violence. As Sikhs, we have experienced the brutality of the real India for centuries. As Sikh women, we have silently fought as survivors of sexual violence. And yet, the epidemic of violence against women in our own community is so prevalent I always feel objectified. Women are the silent warriors, taking the brunt of violence everyone is complicit in yet no one wants to speak about.
A sacrificial lamb
Her blood runs dry at the bottom of a river
Cleansing the land
The tip of my soul
My constellation of stars
Drip drip dripping
Blood seeps into earth
One quick slice from the neck
Less painful that way
More fertile that way
Mothers, sisters, daughters
We bury red splashes
I step into bare earth
My fate I cannot escape
Someone else’s territory
A prisoner of war
My body the battlefield
A game of russian roulette in my vagina
Who will be next
A sexual slave
The world my cage
If I am not a slut
I am a religious object
If I am not a religious object
I am not religious enough
If I breathe deeply into the sun
My bare shoulders touching the sky
You do not see me
You see an opening between my legs
1984 I make my homage to you
1947 I cut my body in half and give it to you
India born by death of women raped
1957 my mother born
Protect me, dear mother
Hold me again in your womb
Where life and death merge
I will meet you there
Together we will reemerge
Free download: http://noyzhiphop.bandcamp.com/
Directed by Mad Tatter Films
Artwork by Inkquisitive Illustration
Produced by Satnam Singh Chatha for 5 Rivers Entertainment Inc.
Co-produced by Noyz
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Bhaar: Unthinkable Burden
A real life story through the eyes of young Sikh male depicting the dark chapter of state-sanctioned violence in Punjab. This story takes you through the life experiences of Maninder Kaang who was subjected to torture at the hands of the Indian police.
Releasing January 12th and 13th in Surrey B.C. at the Surrey Arts Center (13750 – 88 Ave).
For more details please view the facebook page.
Saturday January 12th – 4:00 pm, 6:00 pm, 8:00pm
Sunday January 13th – 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm, 7:00 pm
Ravi Video – Unit 101 8334 128 St (Khalsa Business Center)
OR Call 604-833-4550
A documentary portraying the lives of the Sikligar Sikhs, the blacksmiths/ironsmiths and weapons makers of the Khalsa Army of the Sikhs. Very little is known about the Sikligars in and outside of India, as they have been displaced through years of colonization and government oppression. Originally named Sikligar by the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, they now live in the slums of Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra, and beyond. Illiterate for the last 300 years, the Sikligars are beginning to empower themselves through different means. Learn about their history, their current state, and what is being done to assist in the growth and development of this community.
To Contribute to the Sikligar Community via A Little Happiness Foundation, please visit:
Filmed on location in Alwar & Agra, India.
Directed, Shot, & Edited by: Mandeep Sethi
Produced by Sami Brar, Jagmohan Singh, & ALHF:
For more information, & to contribute to the Sikligars and ALHF visit: