The recent Punjab Government order to ban Punjabi film ‘Sadda Haq’ is a most unfortunate decision as it comes from a party which prides itself on being the sole representatives of Punjabis and Sikhs. The film-makers fought a long battle to gain clearance from the central censor board and after receiving the support of the SGPC they were granted this with certain amendments. This was back in January and since then the production team arranged promotional shows all over Punjab and in Delhi too. The response was tremendous and worldwide release was set for 5th April until this ban on the eve of the release.

As the name ‘Sadda Haq’ signifies, this film has tried to bring out a period of troubled times that affected the Punjab state and Sikhs generally during the eighties and early nineties. To an extent, the film shows the massive violations of people’s rights that took place and the ensuing protest against the policies of the Government of that time. Ironically, this struggle was led by the very same political party that is today in power in Punjab and which has banned the screening of this film. Back then Mr Parkash Singh Badal, the leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Chief Minister of Punjab, took a stand against the central Government demanding the right to free expression for Sikhs and the people of Punjab. Under pressure from certain groups, he has last week banned the film citing law and order concerns.

The line taken by the Government to curtail this freedom of expression is that a vocal, furious fringe group’s feelings will be hurt. But the very same Akali-led Government also controls the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and this main body of the Sikhs supported the film, honoured the film makers and wrote a strong letter of support to the Censor Board for clearance. The present chairman of the Press Council of India, honourable retired Supreme Court Justice Mr Markande Katzu has recently commented that India has become a republic of intolerance. Mr K S Duggal a head of department of journalism and mass communication in one of the prominent universities in Punjab has duly commented that a film deserves better treatment; the decision makers should be the audience who should be allowed to watch the film and then form the opinion on its credibility.

Tickets for this film were sold out a day before its release wherever it was set to play. The film has tried to raise the question of State wrong-doing during the troubled times in Punjab which engulfed the psyche of the Sikh youth of that time. It shows the pain of that time suffered by Sikhs and the Punjab and has laid bare the State’s role in a factual manner. Through art it is now being brought out in a meaningful way. It should also be noted that in the past, a few films have been released depicting the era of troubled times from the alternative perspective, but they were never banned.

Although this film has been banned for now in Punjab and other regions, as it has been released outside of India, news coming in about the response is positive and might sway the Government of Punjab to reconsider its decision. If so, people through art will see a part of history that has been hidden for so long in Punjab paving the way for more films and better ones too that can depict the sufferings of Sikhs. The right-thinking people should come out now to help remove this ban and let people watch this meaningful film.