Gurpreet Singh: Why an Indian ban on a movie glorifying Sikh militants is unacceptable

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      A  ban in India on Sadda Haq (Our Right), a controversial Punjabi film about Sikh militancy, is highly undemocratic.

      The film is showing at Cineplex Odeon Strawberry Hill Cinemas in Surrey. Sadda Haq is based on a decade-long armed struggle for a separate theocratic Sikh homeland in Punjab, India.

      Despite India being the world’s largest democracy, state governments in Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu and Kashmir have banned this film, which exposes police atrocities and state repression during the militancy.

      The prohibition came after protests by Hindu fundamentalists who complained that the film glorifies Sikh extremists.

      Earlier, India’s censor board also tried to block the film.

      Ironically, the ruling Akali Dal party in Punjab was the first to impose ban, even though it has celebrated Sikh militants in the past and continues to do so. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has said that he won’t let the peace in Punjab be disturbed.

      In fact, the film indirectly glorifies assassins of the former Punjab chief minister, Beant Singh, who was killed in a 1995 car bombing.

      Of course, the names of the characters have been changed to produce a work of fiction, which is based on real events. It reveals how police indulged in torture, rapes, and extra-judicial killings to pocket rewards and gain out-of-turn promotions.

      During those turbulent times in Punjab, the Akali Dal mostly sided with Sikh militants.

      Being a party popular among the majority of Sikhs in the state, Akali Dal leaders often attended funerals of slain extremists and spoke passionately against police barbarity.

      Badal himself supported the militants' cause during those dark days.

      Today, Akali Dal is running a government with the Hindu nationalist BJP as its coalition partner. And the state's director general of police, Sumedh Singh Saini, has shared blame for gross violations of human rights during a war on terror.

      His actions in that era have been likened to those of U.S. actor Clint Eastwood's legendary Dirty Harry character.

      Another contradiction regards the Punjab government’s decision to seek clemency for Balwant Singh Rajoana, a Sikh militant facing a death sentence for his involvement in Beant Singh’s murder.

      It’s a shame that parties like the Akali Dal and the BJP have stooped to this level after stoutly opposing the state of emergency and censorship once imposed by the Congress government in New Delhi.

      Although there is a difference between hate speech and free speech—and under no circumstances should films spreading hatred should be allowed to go unchecked—there is nothing in Sadda Haq that suggests hatred against any community.

      It is a separate matter that the film has its own weakness and is one-sided propaganda, but this does not justify a ban.

      Sadda Haq only shows half the truth as there is a complete silence about atrocities committed by militants. It’s more about the separatists' rights and says nothing about their assault on the rights of civilians and political opponents, whom they murdered.

      A few prominent human-rights activists in Punjab acted in the film, conveying a message that it is propaganda rather than a work of art.

      A note of thanks appears in the begining of the film bearing names of the Canadian-based media outlets supporting a Sikh homeland.

      The film also wrongly portrays religious separatists as fighting against the system.

      In fact, they actually assassinated those leftist activists who were fighting both against the system and against fanaticism. Among those killed by Sikh militants were progressives, including the celebrated poet Paash.

      Sikh fundamentalists also need engage in some introspection. They have also shown intolerance on many occasions by opposing films and dramas for one reason or the other. By doing so, they have proven themselves no different from Taliban and Hindu extremists.

      Sadda Haq also tries to create confusion by bracketing Sikh extremists with heroes of the freedom movement of India.

      The two struggles cannot be equated because Sikh militants were seeking a theocratic state whereas the freedom fighters were secularists seeking social equality for everyone.

      Yet everyone, and particularly westerners, should go and watch this film (it has subtitles in English) to understand the psyche of Sikh militants being blamed for violence in mainstream-media reports.

      Seeing the movie might help the broader Canadian population understand how state repression partly contributed to the separatist movement in Punjab.

      If people in India can watch a play based on the confessional statement of Nathu Ram Godse—a Hindu extremist who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation—why is there such a hullabaloo over Sadda Haq?

      The play about Godse has been enacted number of times in India, where crowds cheer him as a hero. Has this really belittled Gandhi? Obviously not.

      The ban on Sadda Haq therefore needs to be reviewed. Until that happens, nothing can really stop people from watching the film at theatres in Canada and the U.S.

      Thanks to the curiosity generated by the ban, the film has proven to be a crowd puller in this part of the world.

      It has established beyond doubt how a ban can sometimes be counterproductive.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.



      A Punjabi

      Apr 7, 2013 at 9:22pm

      Move on. No one wants Punjab as a separate country today, except few people like you, who are still living in some medieval times.


      Apr 7, 2013 at 10:51pm

      Gurprit appeared to have leaning towards communists who not only openly sided with forces of government but also formed gangs to kill families of alleged militants. They were given protection against prosecution and weapons . There is no proof Paash was killed by militants but to defame militants and getting money from government was the purpose of promoting this killing as done by militants. Many freedom fighters or so called freedom fighters before 1947 which are hailed as hereo were actually racist people against white population. Mangal Pandey regarded as pioneer of freedom struggle against British was an extremist Hindu Brahman who killed his white officer and as a result a rebellion broke out in 1857 which killed thousands of British including women and children. There is nothing wrong in creation of state which is religious based particularly when Sikhism recognises rights of all religions and gives equal rights to women. When a religious minority is prosecuted because of their beliefs, they have every right to get separation from that state even United Nations accept this. South Sudan has got approval of UN. It appears Gurprit is still promoting pro regime strategy.

      Zen Cat

      Apr 8, 2013 at 2:22am

      Man cannot hide from the truth. Films are only one medium that presents an opportunity to possibly learn another point of view. Shedding light on the subject can help others learn. Knowledge and information must be free and available to everyone who wants to learn more to the picture and the events behind the picture. Why try and hide?

      ? Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. ? ~Buddha


      Apr 8, 2013 at 6:10am

      It is know that the biggest fear governments have, is facing the "Truth", well any government in this matter. All the evils done by Indian and Punjab government is show in a small film version. Just like governments fear Wiki leaks, people around the world need to know the truth about what happened back in history and films are the best medium.
      Well they say Truth shall set you free.


      Apr 8, 2013 at 10:53am

      This is simply one sided Hate Propaganda.

      Sure the Governments committed atrocities but so did the Militant Terrorists.

      In Canada we Ban Hate Speech so this was deemed Hateful and promoting Hate so the respective Governments including the Sikhs.

      Who are we to question their Democratically elected Governments in their internal Affairs?

      And if your so concerned about Punjab why don't you go live there?

      By the way I support all Free Speech especially here in Canada.


      Apr 8, 2013 at 12:44pm

      Are you kidding me? If you have been reading the Straight you know that Gurpreet Singh is no fan of violence whether conducted by the state or by rebels. This editorial is about whether or not it is right to ban seeing a MOVIE.

      Without having seen the film myself, I have no idea whether it is hate propaganda and therefore outside the norms of lawful speech. I take it from Gurpreet's synopsis that it is partisan but not hateful.

      The question that I would have for Gurpreet is whether he thinks that there could ever be a legit argument for banning a movie because it could inspire violent unrest.

      Myself, I am divided on this. Emotionally, I tend towards erring on the side of permissiveness and lack of censorship even for very offensive speech.

      Practically, however, I understand why a government would take steps to prevent violence, although censorship is extremely heavy handed.

      Navtej Singh

      Apr 8, 2013 at 1:59pm

      In 2 hour 13 minutes the director and producer of the movie as shown an untold tragedy what people have to endure because of the ruthlessness of Indian state. As indicated by the writer it is one sided which is not true. Even if we agree the state and its agencies including the media on its payroll have done totally fabricated one sided depiction of the whole tragedy. Yes true, it needs more of the investigation by credible journalists, writers and international agencies to know what have happened and whats happening today. If this is not done the nuclear state controlled by right wing controlled pseudo democracy will show its color one day which will pale Hitler. Still Gurpreet Singh being credible journalist failed to justify an effort by few persons to challenge the mighty immoral state which commits genocide and covers it up for the last 29 years.

      Rakesh Kumar Liddar

      Apr 8, 2013 at 2:01pm

      Whatever happened in Punjab was one sided crime by Indian government, fully supported by media, administration, police and judiciary. Sikhs are honorable people, wherever they have gone, they have worked hard, donated considerable amount for community including donating blood for others. You throw a ball with force and then blame it for jumping back is actually the real question, can we, yes, only dumb one. It can be possible if a ball does not have air in it but sikhs are full of air, air of sacrifices made by their Gurus and fellow brothers for the sake of humanity. To remove this air all competitors have joined but Sikhs got history of fighting against odds. They will win. There is nothing wrong in seeking separation if you are prosecuted and because of this hate is being spread among brothers.

      Maybe it's for the Best

      Apr 8, 2013 at 4:33pm

      As an Indian being born in the Lower Mainland, I've come to really value the saying "when in rome, do as the romans". I feel that movies such as Saada Haq or any controversial issue within the Indian community gets manipulted, distorted and becomes one sided. Quite often it is the Sikhs taking offense to one situation or another. There will always be controversy, and while it is great to hold on to your culture and religion, there must be a point where we amalgamate into the culture that we are surrounded by now.

      The Sikhs are a very united and pride filled religous group, but I do believe that boasting about it and continually creating propaganda around it is doing more harm than good. One of the worst results of these controversies, is the indian youth taking extremist views on issues they don't have complete knowledge about.

      If you want to inform people and educate them about the past, don't make it one sided.


      Apr 8, 2013 at 11:25pm

      I agree...move on. There is a Sikh Indian PM,Sikh State government, and people in Punjab are enjoying life, smiling, and doing what they want...a far cry from those days of keeping gates locked for feet of attacks by terrorists on your family and women walking with their heads down. No dancing, no partys, no walking alone and definately no feeling of religious enlightenment.
      To young Sikh people born and raised in Canada, I urge you to visit Punjab...speak to your villagers, uncles and aunts there about what life was like under the terrorist rule. It was not a utopia the terrorists imagined...please reference Taliban rule.