South Asia | Sikh militancy: Indian films start to glorify ex-Khalistan leaders

Sikh militancy: Indian films start to glorify ex-Khalistan leaders

September 23, 2015 1:32 PM (UTC+8)

 

Cinema has, since time immemorial, been used as a political weapon. Hitler and Mussolini had movies made to propagate fascism, and the Venice Film Festival, the oldest such event in the world which started in 1932, served as an effective mouthpiece for these two dictators. In India, the Dravidian political parties actually came under the limelight  in the southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu through the power of the moving medium. Writers and actors were part of many, many Tamil movies that spread the Dravidian ideology. And one of the Dravidian parties, All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), is now ruling  in the state.

Indian army assault on Golden Temple in Amritsar, June 1984
Indian army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, June 1984

While the Dravidian parties never used cinema to further unlawful political orientation, hardline Sikh groups — who in the 1980s demanded Khalistan, a separate “nation” for the community within the northern Indian state of Punjab — have begun to incite masses through films.

The Khalistan movement, spearheaded by  Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was finally crushed by the government in a ruthless army-led Operation Blue Star in 1984. Many Sikhs — even those who had not been in favour of Khalistan — were unhappy because the  security forces had marched into the community’s most holy shrine, Golden Temple, in Amritsar (Punjab). The government had no choice but to send its troops into the Golden Temple, because the militants were holed up there, and had converted the place into some kind of fortress.

In what seems like a wily move, some movie makers are now making cinema that glorifies erstwhile Khalistan leaders. The films also appear to be attempting to radicalize a younger generation of Sikhs.

Mastermind2222The latest movie to kick up dust is The Mastermind Jinda Sukha. It was to have hit theaters on September 11, but the Central Board of Film Certification, which had given the film public screening rights, suddenly banned it.

The movie glorifies two Khalistan extremists, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha — who murdered army general Arun Vaidya in 1986. He had commanded Operation Blue Star. Jinda and Sukha were also guilty of other high-profile assassinations.

Regrettably, The Mastermind Jinda Sukha does not look at these killers as terrorists, but as martyrs “who had fought for their community.”

There have been six other films that lauded Khalistan rebels, some of whom have been responsible for the murder of India’s former prime minister Indira Gandhi and  ex-chief minister of Punjab Beant Singh.

Gaddar (2015) was based on the life of Ajit Singh Sandhu, a top cop in Punjab who shot innocent people under the pretext of fighting terror. Quom De Heere (2014) commended Satwant Singh, Beant Singh and Kehar Singh —  Indira Gandhi’s assassins. These are but two examples. These movies have been banned.

Shaheed-Bhai-Sukhdev-Singh-Sukha-Harjinder-Singh-Jinda
Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda

What is even more worrying is that these films have been funded by radical Sikh organisations outside India. They feel that these movies are “educative” and place the Khalistan movement in the right perspective. Sukhjinder Singh Shera, who directed The Mastermind Jinda Sukha, decried in a recent interview that his work did not by any means glorify terrorism. “The Central Board wants to throttle the Punjabi voice. The community has been suffering for 30 years,” he added.

As much as one has been advocating doing away with movie censorship — and having it replaced with a rating system of the kind seen in the USA and UK — films like The Mastermind Jinda Sukha force one to pause and ponder. In a country as diverse as India with extremely radical views, censorship may be the only answer to check cinema that fuels rebellious thoughts and ideas.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.

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