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"Sadda Haq" Opens Everywhere

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013 | 01:13 am

"Sadda Haq," a Punjabi film that portrays the brutal counter-insurgency during the mid 1980s to mid 1990s, releases in all previously banned locations in India, including Punjab and Delhi.

Photo Source: OXL Films

Goldie was only 12 when Operation Blue Star happened.

Devastated by the Indian Army’s attack on Darbar Sahib, he left his home in Amritsar and went to Damdami Taksal, whose jathedar, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was now dead. The army had killed him, his supporters and hundreds of worshipers inside the gurdwara. And the Akal Takhat lay in ruins.

Goldie took Amrit and told his mother: “You only have two sons now. I have given everything to Guru. I will fight for Guru.”

The attack on the Sikh nation turned him into a militant, ready to take revenge and fight for the homeland. But he was only 12. No militant organization would recruit him.

Goldie was somewhat of an intellectual, even at such a young age. He knew the ins and outs of Punjab’s trouble history, since Partition. And he had his father, a journalist, to thank for his knowledge of current affairs. He carried a scrapbook full of news clippings.

Goldie was committed from the heart, ideological. The Sikh freedom movement was a struggle against the Indian government. But when militants killed innocent people he became very upset.
Goldie discussed these and all other issues with his younger brother, who became an observer of the history they were living. They were very close. Their teenage years were filled with turmoil.

Then, in 1992, Goldie was killed. He was 20.

Goldie’s real name was Arvinderjeet Singh Sidhu. His younger brother, Kuljinder Singh, 18, and their youngest brother, 12, survived the violent militancy period of Punjab.

Kuljinder Singh graduated from Khalsa College, in Amritsar, and went into filmmaking. This year, he released a motion picture that portrays some of Goldie’s experiences.

In "Sadda Haq," Kuljinder Singh wanted to explain why youngsters joined the struggle, and how they lost their lives, he said.

“It was a political problem that demanded a political solution,” he told SikhNN. “Instead they (government) just presented it as a law-and-order problem, and were ruthless” in fixing it.

The film portrays the state and federal government’s campaign to crush the militancy at all cost, and the impunity with which the Punjab Police and government officials carried out the campaign. Their brutal counter-insurgency strategies relied heavily on rape, torture, staged shootouts, killing of human rights activists, police promotions and rewards for abuses, and disappearances and secret cremations of tens of thousands of innocent Sikh men and boys.

The film's “depiction of mass state crimes in Punjab… all portray the reality of the Decade of Disappearances (1984-1995),” said Jaskaran Kaur, co-founder of Ensaaf, a California-based group advocating for justice for the families of the disappeared.

In the film, Kartar Singh Bazz is a young farmer and hockey player who finds himself wanted by the Punjab Police.

Unlike the tens of thousands of Sikhs who were in the same situation and ended up disappearing in extra-judicial killings, Kartar Singh manages to escape police capture.

Following the deaths of his father and uncle at the hands of the police, he joins the militancy movement.

"Sadda Haq" is the story of how and why Kartar Singh ultimately lands in Tihar Jail, the most notorious prison in Punjab. Each twist and turn of his grand schemes and battles is unraveled by a doctoral student from Canada, Sharon Gill. And, in turn, this little-known period in Punjab’s history is revealed to the world.

Sharon Gill’s character was inspired by Jaskaran Kaur and her work. Kuljinder Singh said he read her book, Reduced to Ashes, and Ensaaf reports published its Web site.

“(I) appreciate the role of the lead character and her boyfriend trying to separate the truth from the portrayals in the media, in family histories, and in popular discourse,” she said. “The film sheds light on the issues of the time, and we appreciate that the producers took on these issues.”

But the use of non-keshdhari characters, Sharon and her boyfriend, perhaps implies that, over time, the government’s campaign ultimately succeeded. Young Sikhs are losing their identity and faith.

Showing Sharon in Sikh saroop may have made the film seem like Sikh propaganda, Kuljinder Singh said. A filmmaker has to strike “a certain balance.”

“The whole thing damaged religion in India,” he said of the counter-insurgency. And our leaders “don’t have the guts to stand for the truth. They should say Bhindranwale was right and was fighting for cause.”

The other characters in the film also parallel many public figures and their experiences during that period.

One of those public figures is Devenderpal Singh Bhullar, a young college lecturer who found himself wanted by the Punjab police. After his father and uncle disappeared, the police accused him of conspiring in a Delhi bombing. He was sentenced to death based on a single confession and is now awaiting execution.

Another character is based on Jaswant Singh Khalra, a banker who, while searching for missing friends, discovered secret mass cremations, by Punjab Police, of thousands of Sikhs that they secretly killed. He then also disappeared.

Another resembles former Chief Minister of Punjab Beant Singh, who was killed in a bomb blast, in 1995. He was accused of condoning mass human-rights violations during the counter-insurgency.

Two more are similar to Dilawar Singh Jaisinghvala, the Punjab Police officer turned suicide bomber who assassinated Beant Singh, and Balwant Singh Rajoana, a Punjab Police constable who was the stand-by bomber. He is still on death row.

Another character can be linked to Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, the head of the Punjab Police, who was credited with crushing the insurgency but at the cost of mass human rights violations, and genocide. The resemblance was so obvious, he told the news media that the producers should be arrested.



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