Most Bollywood stars have been busy defending the Indian government as it faces international criticism for mistreating agitating farmers. A famous Punjabi actor, however, has stood up for the underdog.
Undeterred by the threats, sexism, or fear of losing film career, Sonia Mann has been helping the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since last November. They're protesting against controversial farm laws passed by the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.
The government's critics believe that these laws were adopted without due consultations. Moreover, they say that the laws will hurt the livelihood of farmers and increase corporate control over agro-based economy.
Not only have scores of farmers laid down their lives during the struggle, some also faced police brutality.
Mann, who comes from a family involved in farming, has been acting in both the Bollywood and Punjabi film industries.
She has not only been giving monetary support to female protestors at the campsite of the ongoing agitation, but has been sitting with them to raise her voice against repression. This has led to a backlash from the supporters of the ruling BJP. She's been warned that she might lose some film offers.
This is in sharp contrast to what many Bollywood stars did when the BJP government came under global condemnation for ignoring and humiliating farmers. These celebrities sided with the government and described the international criticism as propaganda.
For doing the opposite, Mann also endured sexism from right-wing trolls and a section of the farming community mostly aligned with reactionary elements and agent provocateurs.
Notably, her father, the late Baldev Singh Mann, was a revolutionary communist, who was assassinated by Sikh separatists in 1986.
Sonia Mann was merely 16 days old when he was murdered. Since she was away at the time with her mother, her fatherwrote her a highly emotional letter, which became an important document of literature.
The father warned his daughter against patriarchy within the Indian society and honestly acknowledged that some within the family were also unhappy at her birth. He prepared her to face many barriers for being a girl in a male-dominated world.
He advised his daughter to grow up as a good human being, rather than with any religious identity. Although born into the Sikh faith, he wasn’t a die-hard religious person—and being a communist, he strictly practised pluralism in his real life.
He was killed for challenging the ideology of Sikh militants who were fighting for a separate homeland and were targeting their political critics, as well as Hindus in Punjab. This was despite the fact that he had also denounced state violence against Sikhs in the name of a war on terror by the Hindu Right. He was also in the forefront of farmers’ agitations in his times.
Years later, Sonia Mann is facing similar challenges.
Having been raised singlehandedly by her mother, who often took her to political and cultural events, she chose to work in film.
Nevertheless, the farmers’ agitation has given her an opportunity to carry forward the mission of her father. She has confessed on several occasions about how the letter from her father became a guiding light for her life ahead. And today, she feels great standing up for his values, such as social justice and secularism.