Written by: Bikram Singh Bal
The much-anticipated film “Sadda Haq” was set to be released on April 5, 2013 across the world. However, one day before its release, the Punjab government, led by Shiromani Akal Dal (Badal) leader Prakash Badal, decided to ban the film in Punjab. The neighbouring states of Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh have also banned the film. The Punjab government cites “maintaining communal harmony” as the reason for the ban on the film.
On April 8, 2013 a video surfaced on YouTube showing people in New Delhi were also being prevented from watching the film. The movie patrons had pre-purchased dozens of movie tickets; however, upon arrival to the cinema, they were told that the police had called the theatre and informed them that the film is banned. The patrons asked to receive something in writing; however, the manager said he had nothing in writing to substantiate the fact that the film was banned in New Delhi. When police arrived, they had even less of an explanation regarding the ban on the film. Ultimately, the cinema manager wrote a letter stating that the producers of the film “Sadda Haq” had failed to deliver a print of the film and therefore, the film could not be shown.
India’s Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) had previously reviewed the film and granted it a U-Certificate, which is analogous to a G or PG rating in North America.
The film itself, which I have seen, is inspired from the lives and stories of many individuals who took part in the violence of post-1984 Punjab. The film is also inspired from the life of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a human rights activist who was killed by the Punjab Police after uncovering and publicizing the cremation of thousands of innocent Sikhs.
Ultimately, the message in the film is one of peace and accountability. It insists on learning from the past and ensuring that such systemic missteps do not occur in the future. It encourages today’s youth to use all forms of media to advocate for change and government accountability.
Regardless of one’s viewpoint on the post-1984 violence in Punjab, the banning of the film is an affront to freedom of expression, democracy, and the basic principles of dispute resolution in a post-conflict community. Banning the film, after it received a U-Certificate from India’s FCAT, does more harm to communal harmony than good.
By banning the film in Punjab and unjustifiably preventing people from watching the film in New Delhi, the government and police are once again reinforcing the widely held belief that Sikhs’ freedom of expression is suppressed in India. Indeed, India’s history is fraught with examples of minority rights being ignored and violated.
As India promotes itself as the world’s largest democracy, freedom of expression should be upheld and governments should not arbitrarily impose bans on artistic expressions, especially after those artistic expressions have been granted a U-Certificate by the Indian FCAT. Such actions are characteristics of dictatorships, not democracies.
The basic principles of dispute resolution in post-conflict communities require recognition of the harm done to the victims and accountability of those responsible for the harm. The banning of the film “Sadda Haq” prevents the recognition of the harm done to the thousands of innocent victims in post-1984 Punjab. The wounds of the Sikh community are still open and unhealed, due in large part to the reluctance of Punjab and India to recognize the harm done to the victims during that time. Jaswant Singh Khalra’s murder by the Punjab Police was an example of India’s unwillingness to recognize and acknowledge the harm done to the innocent victims in Punjab, and the banning of “Sadda Haq” is just another example of the same.
True communal harmony can only be maintained if we are able to reveal the past, learn from the past and collectively heal the wounds that the past has inflicted. Insisting that we should not talk about the wounds, that the wounds do not exist, or that they ought not exist, is not a path towards communal harmony, rather, it is a path towards further systemic problems – which is exactly what the film Sadda Haq aims to teach us.