Punjab 1984: An Opportunity for Discussion

Guest blogged by Shahe Kaur

 On June 27, 2014, Punjab 1984, directed by Anurag Singh, was released by White Hill Production and Basic Brothers Productions. Kirron Kher and Diljit Dosanjh play the starring roles in the film as mother and son. This is not the first movie released which discusses issues related to the events of 1984, and hopefully it will not be the last. Like those movies before it, this movie has evoked mixed reactions from its audience.

Many Sikhs have criticized the movie with claims that it distorts facts and is nothing but State propaganda that negatively portrays Sikhs. However, It is important to watch these movies without preconceived notions so that we don’t read our own personal bias into the message.

The film is not meant to be a film about the Khalistan Movement nor is it meant to be a historical documentary. In an interview with Anurag Singh, he states that the film was intended to paint the picture of a mother’s udeek for her son and the struggles and atrocities she had to endure at the hands of law enforcement when inquiring about her son’s whereabouts. This is the first time that this subject has been discussed in a movie from the point of view of a mother. Women are often left out of discussions about ’84, even though it is widely known that many Sikh women were attacked, tortured, and raped, often in front of their families. Rape was used as a weapon of war (as it often is), and many of the victims and their families remain silent today out of the misplaced shame that is associated with those atrocities.

The film showed the main character, like many Sikhs who joined the movement, taking up arms because of his family’s tragic circumstances, corrupt law enforcement, and a government that did not provide him with any other alternative. The film truthfully illustrated how local police officers engaged in lodging falsified evidence against innocent Sikhs, incarcerating them, and then later shooting them in “encounters” where officers falsely claim that those Sikhs tried to escape from custody.  Instead of enforcing laws to protect those who were being oppressed, law enforcement protected the oppressors and increased persecution of Sikhs to gain promotions and preserve their own self-interests. It also showed Sikh revolutionaries reciting Waheguru’s prayers and standing against attacks on innocent civilians.

Yes, the film also portrayed elements of the movement in a negative light, depicting Sikh freedom fighters drinking alcohol and killing indiscriminately.  But if you look beyond the surface, it quickly becomes clear that the intent was to shed light on how self-interested and politically corrupt elements of the movement undermined it, with the support of the government.

There were definitely gaps in the film, like why the revolutionary movement started and what specific role the government played. But the film was not a documentary on jathebadniyan (organizations) and/or Khalistan.

I respectfully disagree with the calls of our community to boycott this film.  It is important to watch these movies and take the time to discuss and critically analyze them. If we don’t, we are missing out on a crucial opportunity to increase awareness and engage in much needed conversation. Our support of films like this increases interest in these very important issues and can possibly encourage others to create films in a way that paints the entire picture with greater historical accuracy.

Inaccuracies or half-truths in a film should be motivation for those who have critiques to pool resources, engage others, and think about new ways to share the untold truths. For those who feel this film lacks realistic and important stories that need to be told, I invite you to engage and become active with the 1984: Living History Project, which provides a real opportunity to document your own story.

As a final note, at the end of the movie, families were shown holding real pictures of Sikhs who are missing or were murdered. It was hurtful and quite telling of the state of our community to see the theater start to clear out once those pictures started rolling—maybe because they are difficult to watch or make the film too real.  Whatever the reason, I found it very disrespectful. We all say #neverforget84 any chance we get to anyone that will listen, but many of us couldn’t sit for five minutes to give those families impacted by 1984 a moment of respect.

I hope that you take the time to watch the film (including the closing credits) for yourself without preconceived notions of its content.  At the very least, we as a community need to watch these films so we are knowledgeable about what information is being disseminated to the masses regarding our history.




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76 Responses to “Punjab 1984: An Opportunity for Discussion”

  1. fliqi says:

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  3. Anuraag sharma is a amezing director and nice blog you shared with us. This is fantastic blog on punjab.

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