behest of a relative with whom the family had a land dispute……the story of a son who…is
determined to return to his home openly, in broad day light and with
India is the best country in the world. Where else you will get this million strands of thought which will drown out all your preconceived notions about everything? Imagine a pastel color box with 300 color shades, India has all of that from extreme right to extreme left (speaking of politics only).
India is the worst country in the world. Where else do you have the most beautiful words set side by side the most ugly actions against men and humanity? Thousands of people are massacred and we move on, it is always another community, another time, another place. Perhaps because most of us are so poor and leading lives filled with so much indignities that we can barely reflect on what it means to be a part of a civilization that has been enriched by people from almost all corners of the earth.
There is no accountability and no justice. The victims of 1984 (and their families) deserve nothing less from their brothers and sisters.
Punjab 1984 is less of a commentary on the
crimes of 1984 and beyond and more of a love story (interview clip of
director Anurag Singh below). One of the best movies of 2014, excellent
direction, acting and music. However the storyline is controversial. Khalistanis claim that the movie portrays the freedom movement in a negative light.
Certainly there is no open pro-Khalistan sentiment else the movie would not have been released in India (for example, Sadda Haq which was also released recently). That said it is true that every movement becomes infected with corrupt, opportunistic people over time.
There is also no question that huge numbers of Hindus were killed (though this does not justify a single Sikh killing). Incidentally, Amarinder Singh, a Sikh and Congress MP from Amritsar has claimed that a total of 35000 hindus were killed (see link below).
Simran Kaur is a Sikh AND a leftist (one more color shade) – she has previously published in Kafila!!! Her review of P-1984 seems to be quite sensible though. Now the review itself is a matter of controversy as the freedom fighters are upset!!!
The review below has a few spoilers so please proceed with caution.
I had the opportunity to see the film Punjab 1984. I almost
decided not to go based on the reviews I saw online which claimed the
film defamed the Khalistan movement and made Sikh fighters look like
villains. I’m glad I went anyways. I found the film to be thoughtful and able to present a nuanced picture of what took place.
I feel that those who found the film to be offensive perhaps haven’t
lived through those days or aren’t familiar with what happened and how.
It could be a case of looking at the Movement with rose-colored glasses
or trying to understand it as a simple binary of Good Guys-Khalistanis,
Bad Guys-Punjab Police & Indian Government.
Things were never so simple.
Punjab 1984 isn’t a propaganda film for the
Khalistan Movement, nor should we have expected it to have been. That
having been said, I believe the film is positive towards the Movement
and Daljit’s character, Shivjit Singh (Shiv) is a strong protagonist.
Like the main character in the film, many of the young men who joined
the Movement were initially not particularly ideological or often even
all that religious. They were pushed into taking up arms by
circumstances and the fact that there were few alternatives available to
The story in Punjab 1984 is one that happened all across
Punjab. Family disputes, land disputes and other business disputes
became thrown into and interwoven with the ongoing insurgency. Some
people joined a Jathebandi to ensure their security or because a rival
had joined another Jathebandi. In many disputes about money or land,
one side paid the police to frame their rivals in order to get rid of
Shiv is one such young man. A neighbor takes advantage of the
situation in Punjab to use the Punjab Police to intervene in a land
dispute. Shivjit Singh is tortured and sent to be eliminated in a fake
encounter by the corrupt police officer.
After escaping police custody Shiv joins a Kharku group whose leader
(Sukhdev Singh) is fiery and speaks passionately about Khalistan but in
his personal life he clearly is not a Gursikh. The leader, Sukhdev,
engages in some actions which are clearly not justifiable according to
Sikhi. In a scene depicting a meeting of Kharku leaders, there are
serious disagreements and internal bickering.
That too is not an unusual story. Many prominent leaders of the
Khalistan Movement such as Dr. Sohan Singh or Wassan Singh Zaffarwal
have now been accused of being government moles who derailed the
movement. It is a also an unavoidable reality that the Khalistan
Movement was internally very divided and many leaders did not get
along. The repeated formation and division of the Panthik Committees
and the formation of countless splinter groups is a illustrative of
The plight of Shiv who does not agree with the way in which his
leadership is taking the movement is also not unusual. In my discussions
with families of young Sikhs who joined the Khalistan Movement for
ideological reasons, I have been told more than once that the young
Singh’s felt disappointed that not everything they saw was what they had
expected or in accordance with the principles of Sikhi.
While many of us automatically assume that anything that went wrong
in the Khalistan Movement was a result of government infiltration, the
reality is not as simple. While government agencies heavily infiltrated
the Khalistan Movement, there were many individuals who got involved
for self-interest. There was a criminal element who took on the mantle
of Khalistan to continue their pursuits. And there were those who may
have got involved with good intentions but were corrupted along the way.
Not every Kharku was a Gursikh or behaved in a way that was consistent
with the principles of Sikhi. This element of the Movement cannot be
dismissed simply as a fringe, but played a major part and was also
instrumental in its failure. Punjab 1984 shows some of that reality.
Some commentators have expressed outrage that the film showed Hindus
being killed by “kharkus”. In fairness, the killings in the film are
carried out by goons who are clearly not ideologically motivated
fighters. Such incidents are also unfortunately a reality of what
happened in Punjab.
I have read some commentary which claims no innocent Hindus were ever
killed by the Movement. I think that sentiment is actually a positive
reflection, if not a misguided one, as it shows that Sikhs continue to
abhor the killing of innocents.
In reality, the killing of Hindus and non-Punjabi laborers was not a
one-off occurrence. Those involved in these killings were sometimes
blinded by hatred and the argument that “Hindus” had killed Sikhs in
Delhi and other cities in November 1984. There was also a strain of
thought among some that driving Hindus out of Punjab would speed the
formation of Khalistan. This angle has been covered by several books,
including the novel Kundliay Sup by Amardeep Singh Amar, a very well known and respected Khalistani writer.
There have also been objections to the scene in which Shivjit Singh’s
group’s boss is seen drinking with a politician. That scene is in fact
quite powerful and reflects an important reality. The politician is
connected to both the police and the kharkus and says that those who are
too ideologically committed to Khalistan make the best fighters but the
worst politicians. He says that even if Khalistan were to become a
reality, it would be people like him who would make the government. The
fact is that such politicians existed in the Sikh community in 1984 and
continue to exist today who manipulate the community and Panthik
sentiments for their own benefit.
The fact that these corrupt elements were drinking is hardly a shock.
Finally, some commentators have lamented that only the negative
aspect of the Khalistan Movement has been shown and none of the
spiritual Gursikhs who were involved were given any prominence. I would
agree that the movie would have benefited from a character who was
ideologically motivated to join the Khalistan Movement and was a
spiritual Gursikh. That having been said, the absence of such a
character is not a fatal flaw. This film cannot be expected to show
every angle of the Movement in 2.5 hours.
Overall, the character of Shivjit Singh is a powerful one. It shows
how young Sikhs were pushed into a fight that they had not wanted. It
shows the confusion they felt, the obstacles they faced and the truly
complicated world of the Khalistan Movement.
Rather than criticize this effort or trying to boycott it, it would
be better for the community to take this film as an opportunity to
reflect on the Movement and learn more. We should not be incensed when
we are presented with the weaknesses of the Khalistan Movement. Not
every personality involved in the Khalistan Movement or every incident
that took place is one we need to defend. If we are to move forward as a
community, we need to confront what went wrong and ensure we don’t
repeat those mistakes.
Punjab 1984 is a thoughtful film. It requires reflection and
nuanced analysis to fully appreciate. There is even some subtle
symbolism and gentle nudges by the director if you are looking for them.
If you are looking for a pro-Khalistan propaganda film that presents only one side of the story, you may be disappointed.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sadda Haq but I enjoyed this film as well. Go to
see Punjab 1984 with an open mind. It certainly cannot reflect the
entire reality of the Khalistan Movement but it does an admirable job of
showing some important features of it. Features that we may not feel
comfortable confronting but will have to in order to progress.