"Sadda Haq" Opens Everywhere

By Anju Kaur | May 10, 2013

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.
The world has been presented with one side of the story, the government’s point of view, said Kuljinder Singh, 37, who now lives in Chandigarh. The Indian government and the Indian media consider them villains.
“We should know, the younger generation should know, these people were fighting for cause,” he said. “They were fighting for our betterment.”
In the film, Kuljinder Singh challenges the term "terrorist," which is widely used by the government and media to label all the Sikhs who fought for civil, political and human rights, he said.
But everybody made mistakes, he added. “Not all militants were good. And not all police were bad.”
India’s censor board had cleared "Sadda Haq," but several state and local governments, including Punjab, Harayana, Chandigarh and Delhi, banned it the night before its international release, on April 5.
In the United States, the film was financially supported and distributed by the Sikh Youth of American, said Simran Singh, a spokesman. “We ran the show in the USA.”  
“The resounding response of the diaspora to the film, demonstrates the need for an end to impunity,” Jaskaran Kaur added. 
"Sadda Haq" is still running in the US but India was a different story.
Punjab government officials screened "Sadda Haq" with Kuljinder Singh, the film’s writer, co-producer, and actor, inside the Punjab assembly, Simran Singh said. But they then decided it was too controversial and would cause communal tension.
“They can’t even let Sikhs tell their own story to Sikhs,” he told SikhNN. 
The case went all the way to the Indian Supreme Court, whose judges watched the film and listen to arguments from both sides, he said. 
Amar Shergill, a California attorney and activist, also was in Delhi for the Supreme Court hearing. The film’s producers, along with many spectators and at least one attorney for the defendants, attended the hearing. 
“Clearly, it was an important day,” he told SikhNN from Delhi. “I was only there to support their efforts.”
The ban was lifted on April 26.
The Supreme Court decided there was nothing objectionable, said Dinesh Sood, the film’s co-producer and actor, in a phone interview from Chandigarh. “If a law-and-order problem arises, it will be the responsibility of the state to address the situation.” 
“At the end of the day, we need even more films that portray all the different narratives of the Decade of Disappearances,” Jaskaran Kaur said.
"Sadda Haq" opens May 10 in all the previously banned location.