Indian Film Art: A Vehicle To Humiliate Sikhs

Sarabjot Kaur (

India proclaims to be a secular country. "Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai , hum sab hain bhai bhai"?meaning Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are all brothers and therefore, equal, is a slogan I have been hearing from Hindu politicians since I was a young child. I have had the realization many times that these lines are a part of a larger propaganda initiated by the Indian State. I have found repeatedly that India is a Hindu country and it treats its minorities as second-class citizens. There is a serious disparity between precepts and actions.

All minorities have suffered in India; since Sikhs have fought back, they have been victims of the worst oppression and humiliation because they are easily identifiable.

My Sikh friends and I have had several bewildering experiences while living in India. Wherever we have gone, we have been victims of stereotyping and discrimination. Initially, such a feeling had never cropped into my mind. This was because of the fact that from the very beginning I lived in a town inhabited by many Sikhs. However, when I went to pursue post-graduate studies at Haryana Agricultural University in Hisar, an area predominantly Hindu, I could sense the feeling of prejudice towards Sikhs in most of the people around me. A very few Sikhs live in Hisar, which is considered the political capital of Haryana, a state bordering the Punjab.

In my university, I had good relationships with many Hindus, who extended hospitality and helped me when needed. However, whenever they received a chance to crack a joke, they would almost always tell a joke degrading the Sikhs. I used to protest and they reply would be, "So what? We also tell the jokes on Haryanavi Jats." These responses were unsatisfactory; you can't correct a wrong by doing another wrong.

All Sikh males were victims of name-calling and derogatory jokes. The Sikh presence, how insignificant it might have been, provided them with a nefarious opportunity to implement new and unique ways of ragging innocent Sikh men and creating new jokes. What to talk about students, even teachers did not hesitate from cracking a joke or two on the Sikhs during college gatherings.

The Sikhs are humiliated even in areas where they are in large numbers. Some time ago, my cousin came home from school with his distorted patka, an article of faith that covers the hair of young Sikh boys. Upon inquiry I was informed that he was a victim of a hate crime by a Hindu who made fun of him by singing a Hindi film song that maliciously shows that Sikhs become mentally unstable at twelve o? clock. The song in Hindi contains the following degrading remarks against the Sikhs: "Ae Shivani, Tu Flop Hai Kahani. Thobre pe Barah Kyon Baje Hain Bol." This song is from a film Khoobsoorat. When the line "Thobre pe barah" (making mention of twelve o? clock) is sung, small Sikh boys nodding their heads all around the so-called Shivani are seen on the screen. The scene is disgusting and becomes unbearable. The film Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai mocks the Sikhs in the same way. Since I saw this movie in a theatre, I can still hear the sounds of clapping and laughter in entire theatre during those scenes. Although those scenes were banned after great deal of resentment but it was of no use when everyone had watched the movie, not to mention that use of pirated, banned versions is more previewing in India that what laws sanction.

In another movie Badal, a similar scene where an actress, Rani Mukerjee, keeps on asking the time from a comedian, Johny Lever, who plays the role of a Sikh and performs actions that humiliate the Sikhs throughout the movie.

On a cable channel V, I saw a program, Line Lagao, in which love messages were provided on the screen. South Indian, Gujrati, Maraathi and many couples belonging to predominantly Hindu states were seen before each section sipping coconut milk together with two straws; however, a Sikh male was shown without a female partner. He alone took a sip from a coconut from one side and then he then moved to the opposite side to take another sip. A caption, "Lonely Heart" was displayed on the screen while the Sikh was mocked. The British and Mughals, who ruled India, have noted on many occasions that Sikh marry the most beautiful women, most of whom come from the Punjab. The Indian media has been making successful attempts at destroying the Sikh sense of pride and sovereignty, what the Indian State had been unable to eradicate through genocide of the Sikhs in the last two decades.

One day, I was watching movie awards on the television. An actress, Shilpa Shetty, was performing a group dance on stage. She climbed at the back of two Sikhs as if she were riding a bullock cart and the two Sikhs were swinging their heads and she was dancing above them and all other participants were dancing around them.

What to talk about the young boys and girls, even small kids are effected negatively by India's stereotyping of Sikhs. My nephew, who is in Nursery school, inquired from his mother, "Mamma, do Sikhs go crazy at noon?" When his mother asked him from where he had heard this, he replied that his friend had told him in the class. Such is the grave impact of media in a country that calls itself "the worlds largest democracy."

With such stereotyping and insult, many Sikh males are renouncing their identity but I think this is no solution because they won't feel any better when they see such scenes on the screen even after obtaining a haircut. The Indian media and the India state is responsible for the rampant apostasy that has resulted among the Sikh youth in the last two decades. There are certain families, although miniscule in numbers, who inculcate Sikh values in their children from early childhood. They explain to them the importance of the five kakars, the Sikh articles of faith, bestowed by the Sikh Prophet, Guru Gobind Singh. These children accept Sikhi as a gift from the Guru. Majority of families, however, keeping hair tell their children that they have to keep them without making an effort to explain the Sikh doctrines. They occasionally take their children to Gurudwaras during Gurupurabs and other religious occasions but do not familiarize their children with all the Sikh heritage and Sikh values. When children from these families watch such Indian television, it leaves a deep negative impact on them. They develop an inferiority complex and begin to waver in their faith.

Attempts to ban these scenes from films showing minorities in poor light are feeble and generally an action is not taken. On the other hand, if a movie contains details about Hindus that might be offensive, a ban is imposed immediately. For example, when the film, "Fire, " was launched, its director, Deepa Mehta, was badly criticized by Mr. Bal Thakre, a Hindu fundamentalist, for use of names "Sita" and "Radha," both of which are common names stemming from consorts of Hindu Gods. Shooting of the film "Water" was not allowed by the R.S.S, a fascist Hindu group because the film exposed the horrific practices of subjugating devdaasis, who were females enslaved to satiate the sexual desires of Brahmin priests and yogis in the olden days. It was believed that such a movie might hurt Hindu sentiments. As you can see sentiments do not matter when they are not Hindu sentiments. Can India be characterized as a secular democracy when Hindus are the only religious group with rights?

There are the Sikhs who say that we should boycott Hindi movies. It is easy for the Sikhs inhabiting outside of India to boycott Indian film art all together but I don't think it is possible for Sikhs in India, where a majority of television programs are in Hindi and influenced by the Indian State to a large degree. Most common people, including children, derive their entertainment from television and a movement to stop them from watching television seems unrealistic. Furthermore, it would not stop Indian State's media from making movies that mock the Sikhs, although it might begin a movement like the one brought about by the Boston Tea Party. There, however, are some good directors, although certainly a small minority, still on the scene who make movies such as Maachis and Border, the former giving a small peek at the Indian genocide of the Sikh youth in the Punjab and the latter based on a true story showing the bravery of a Sikh soldier. Their true character was even introduced during the movie awards.

Something urgently has to be done in India to stop the Indian film industry and media from continuing its oppression. When the film Bombay containing some anti-Muslim elements in it was released, at once it faced a great deal of criticism from Muslims who took out processions and did other things to ban the movie. All those scenes were deleted from the movie and now Muslims have not been subject to such humiliation in the media as we are. It, however, must be noted that more Muslims reside in India than the Muslim Pakistan. So, there is no comparison between Muslims and Sikhs, if we strictly go by sheer numbers, even though they are both minorities in India.

To some extent, the fault lies with the Sikhs, who lack strong leadership. Without proper leadership, nothing can be done. We, however, should not wait around for a leader to manifest itself. Perhaps, as individuals we should make a concerted effort and file a class-action lawsuit against the Indian film industry. Such a suit would require a great deal of money and probably will never win in Indian courts, but it would be used as an instrument to bring about awareness in the Sikh masses. Educational campaigns in all sectors need to be initiated on issues that are resulting in our strangulation in India. The question of all questions is: What are you going to do about it?  

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