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The Silence of The Brains:
Hindutva’s Onslaught on ’Nanak Shah Fakir’






Sikhs are one of the most successful and patriotic minority groups in the United States. Yet Sikhs here have been known to be harassed, humiliated, abused, beaten up, and even fatally shot, because of mainstream ignorance of Sikhi.

And whose fault is it? According to a Stanford University study, 70% of Americans don’t know what a Sikh is. Surely this ignorance is not completely the American educational system’s fault. Do we blame the victims, the Sikhs themselves, for not spreading the word effectively about their incredible religion? Consider the current dust-up.

It seems that most of the Sikh world today, both in India and across the diaspora, find themselves tied up in knots over a film looking for an audience. One could say that, “At last, the vast majority of Sikhs are united in a common goal.”

What a rare thing!

But that goal, sadly, is to ban a film.

Not a film full of sex or blood and gore, but a loving film about the Founder of Sikhism. The ground-breaking, courageous, eye-opening, slow-moving, endlessly pious 140-minute 'Nanak Shah Fakir' about the life of Guru Nanak finds itself a target of wrath and more.

The Indian Government - itself certainly behind the machinations and the stupidity - has purportedly followed the demands of the calcified, corrupt and functionally illiterate members (who in turn somehow find themselves compromised and beholden to the Hindutva gang) of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee (’SGPC‘), and has banned the showing of a re-tooled 2015 bio-pic on Guru Nanak.

This latest onslaught was on March 28, 2018.

A mere fifteen days earlier, on March 13, 2018, the same SGPC had endorsed and approved the film and given it their blessing. One of the SGPC’s more enlightened and literate members, Chief Secretary Roop Singh, emailed one of the film’s producers, Harinder Singh Sikka:

“... you are requested to inform all Schools and Colleges through a circular so that the film can be shown to largest number of students in order to make the younger generation well aware of the Sikh history.”

If Dr. Roop Singh’s logical thinking and his noble hopes to educate Sikh youth, had been honored and respected, there would be no controversy, and no edict to ban the film.

What changed?

Hindutva-driven politics stepped in.

What is this politics? Ask Prakash Singh Badal, ex-Chief Minister of the Punjab, and the de facto dictator of the SGPC. He has the answers because he is behind the well-orchestrated mischief. His minions and those who are easily influenced in a society of lemmings, willingly do his bidding.

Keep in mind, Badal pals around with politicians even more powerful than he: I.e., Hindu politicians in New Delhi who are part of the bigoted, xenophobic and hegemonic movement known as Hindutva. Falsifying history to erase hundreds of years of contributions of Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and others, including making up lies out of whole cloth in children’s textbooks, Hindutva followers claim that India is a Hindu country - contrary to the very Constitution of the land. Nobody but a Hindu can be a true Indian, they say. No way of life is worth a paisa, other than the Hindu way, they preach.

While national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who had preached secularism, now roll over on their eternal funeral pyres, extremist Hindus are dragging Christians out of churches and beating them up and even killing them. The fate of Muslims is just as tragic. Meanwhile, the Hindutva propaganda machine mischievously paints Sikhism as a sect of Hinduism, a claim that goes 180 degrees counter to the teachings of Sikhi.

Prime Minister Modi supports this violent Nazi-like suppression of all things and people who are not Hindu. A film like ‘Nanak Shah Fakir‘, if it became a hit - they worry - could seriously undercut the incessant propaganda of Hindutva. Badal knows this, and knows how to play footsie with the Hindu-supremacists in the Central Government. It would not be out of character for an ambitious man like him, though he be a Sikh, to support a ban on the film, to pre-empt any enthusiastic growth of pro-Sikh sentiments in the Punjab or around the world.

Whether Badal was involved or not in the reversal of Dr. Roop Singh’s approval of the film, it is the dark cloud of politics, plus death threats to owners of cinemas, predictions that the filmmakers will go to Hell, which have combined with the Government’s dictatorial powers, to effectively ignore Dr. Roop Singh, and block the film’s release for a second time.

The 2015 version avoided showing Guru Nanak’s face, but did employ an actor to depict his body. That was blasphemous, according to the thought police at the SGPC. So the filmmakers spent years and no small amount of funds, to use special effects to turn the body into basically a glow of light in every scene.

However, the SGPC once again banned the film.

What would Guru Nanak do? In protecting His image as too precious, too unknowable, and too holy to physically depict in a film, Hinduized mobs seem to be  deifying him - again, in direct contravention of Sikh teachings. They have turned him into God. Which he expressly forbade!

There’s not a word in the Guru Granth Sahib that could, by any stretch, agree with the protesters.

As a child, growing up in the Punjab in the 1960’s and 70’s, I saw some Sikhs, under the influence of the majority Hindus who surround them, bow to “portraits” of Guru Nanak that hung in every home. I saw Christians bow to a Cross and a crucified Christ, Muslims bow to Mecca. Hindus, of course, themselves bow to anything and everything under the sun, including the sun!

Sikhs are not permitted to worship Guru Nanak. Only to revere him. But to my young eyes, all the bowing looked the same. So when I learned later on in life that Sikh tradition did not allow for Guru Nanak’s likeness to be shown, I became confused.

Didn’t every Sikh home hang such a likeness, often with garlands, in a prominent place?

I’m not alone in my confusion. Sikh scriptures do not contain a single admonition against showing Nanak’s likeness. They only forbid idolatry. So what is an artist to do?

In the 17th century, while there was living memory of the Gurus and long before Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera, artists in Punjab and across the subcontinent were paintings of all the Sikh Gurus, and those frescos survive to this day. So what is the problem?

Today if you walk into the holiest of Sikh shrines - Darbar Sahib, popularly known as “The Golden Temple” -- you will see an image of Guru Nanak embossed directly into the gold.

The argument being bandied about by ignorant mobs today is that showing Guru Nanak’s face in film is a violation of “the fundamental beliefs of Sikhism,” yet nobody can point to a scriptural edict forbidding such an image. As with the Muslim ban on showing Mohammed -- a ban which does not exist in the Koran --the ‘Sikh’ ban seems to have garnered support amongst the lemmings.

The ban raises a few questions: is India not a democracy? Is a free press not a fundamental and integral pillar of democracy? Where are the outcries and indignant editorials from the educated ones or the Sikh intelligentia publicly condemning the ban? Where are the Sikh comics ridiculing this ridiculous ban?

A deafening silence has fallen across the world of Sikhism, succumbing to the terror being doled out freely in India by Hindutva.

Of course, the bigoted and xenophobic leader of India, Narendra Modi, will always stand behind any movement or cause that suppresses all religions other than Hinduism. So in this instance, the supression of India’s freedom of the press, falls smack into the centre of his party’s and RSS’ agenda.

So consider the fate of ‘Nanak Shah Fakir‘. Three years ago, when the film appeared briefly before first being banned, I saw it. My Hindi is not very good, and the English subtitles were not very legible. So, I was bored to tears for 140 minutes.

My Sikh friends who understood the dialogue perfectly, however, were transported into a spiritual state. They loved the film and became emotional afterwards talking about it.

Therefore, if this film isn’t a fabulous vehicle to spread Sikhi to a new generation, and to the mainstream audiences, what is? When will the community enter the  21st century? The so-called leaders -- the SGPC, for example -- are not going to lead the way. They are a mega-powerful clan of faux-spiritual connivers who control vast sums of money without divulging how much comes in, and whom it goes out to, and why. They have no interest in changing their status quo.

Change can only come from the panth. And perhaps the least intimidated segment of the panth, free from coercion and influence from Hindutva, is the one in the diaspora. It will come in small steps, with articles, books, plays, and yes, films.

If anyone out there is brave enough to make a 3-minute film about Nanak, and show the actor’s face, I hope he will be faithful to the truth: Guru Nanak was not a slow-moving precious glowing force of nature, lifting his hand to bless everyone, and speaking in weird poetic couplets.

No. Instead, he was a rabble-rousing trouble-maker who created a revolution by rejecting the status quo of Hinduism’s inhumane caste system, its partriarchal structure, and its denigration of women and the poor. His mission included very earthly goals: justice, peace, and equality of all men. And women.

Now, THAT would be a film worth watching. Till then, the sluggish, respectful and sentimental ‘Nanak Shah Fakir‘, with its ultra-pious depiction of Guru Sahib and his stories, will have to suffice in its noble role of educating young Sikhs and
mainstream non-Sikhs, about the wonders of Sikhism.

If indeed an outcry from the Sikh intelligentsia persuades the SGPC to lift the ban.

Remember … who owns Sikhi anyway? Under whose authority does the SGPC issue edicts? Guru Nanak himself would surely be against the SGPC; one of his messages was that no religion ought to put priests between a devotee and Waheguru, the Lord of all creation.

And God knows that the SGPC today is nothing if not a band of mahants and pandits, bishops, cardinals and a pope. If ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ remains banned, the ignorami amongst us will continue to win the battle of what is allowed and what is forbidden. And continue to reject efforts to bring the genuinely inspiring and amazingly relevant tenets of Sikhi to the mainstream. And continue to push the Sikhs down a slide towards Brahminism, a curse which the Gurus fought against so vehemently.

So, speak out, intelligentsia! Speak out, young Sikhs. Demand that the suppressors in the Indian Government and the SGPC lift the ban. Confront Badal!

Failing that activism, perhaps somebody can pirate the film and set it loose on the internet … and nevertheless make it a success!

*   *   *   *   *

The author is an LA-based documentary filmmaker. His latest film, "Valentino’s Ghost: Why We Hate Arabs and Muslims,” has played in over 100 countries, although not in the United States, where it is considered too politically ontroversial. It made its world premiere at La Biennale (The Venice Film Festival), where it received a standing ovation. It is designated a New York Times CRITICS’ PICK. Michael is currently raising funds to complete “Riding the Tiger,” his personal eye-witness account of the massacre of Sikhs in New Delhi in1984. He can be reached at

Vaisakhi Day, April 14, 2018


Conversation about this article

1: Subhas Bannerji (Kolkata, India), April 14, 2018, 11:40 AM.

Recent days have shown how mobs can be created out of thin air to protest against or in support of anything the government has on its agenda. Currently, if you read the news, you'll see how massive mobs have been concocted to oppose any justice over the rape of a Muslim child by a gang of Hindu priests inside a Hindu temple! Dig a little deeper and you'll discover how easily protesting mobs against the Guru Nanak film have been manufactured.

2: Ira Wilkins (New York, USA), April 14, 2018, 11:46 AM.

In a 1982 biopic / documentary titled 'Manufacturing Consent', "linguist and liberal political activist Noam Chomsky presents his thoughts on how the mass media works against democracy's best interests." In India today, the government uses the same methods, and worse, to manufacture dissent in order to achieve its criminal goals!

3: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, USA ), April 14, 2018, 11:59 AM.

I agree with Michael Singh. Once Akal Takht approved this movie in 2015 and now SGPC in 2018 after watching it so many times, and after the Producer had made all the suggested changes and spent more than 56 crores Rupees of his own money, and now they banned the movie and excommunicate the Director/Producer without asking him to explain himself. This is nothing less than dictatorship. When SGPC and others have already said that they do not have any problem with Gurus' pictures, etc., and those of Bhagat Kabir ji and Bhagat Ravidas ji, it is shameful that they are acting like children by contradicting themselves. Nowadays, movies are the only media which can teach Sikhs and others. Sikhs need some good scholars and intellectuals to lead us out of the mess we are in.

4: Aaruni (Fullerton, California, USA), April 14, 2018, 3:58 PM.

I live in California. I did not know about the film before I read this article. I agree with you: Show the film!. Perhaps you and others can arrange a screening in Southern California with good subtitles?

5: R S Shergill (California, USA), April 14, 2018, 9:20 PM.

Your comments mirror my views. I, too, was lucky enough to see it in 2015 before it was withdrawn by the producer under threat of violence. The film is not perfect; it's main flaw being only that from a secular point of view it appears too reverent. But, for heaven's sake, there is nothing offensive against Guru Sahib in it. This is a classic case of the religious orthodoxy unable to deal with the technological change that allows the depiction of Guru Sahib with computer-generated imagery. I'm afraid my religion's caretakers have taken a big step in joining certain other religions that are stuck in some ancient centuries. Sikhs are supposed to be open minded. Guru Nanak would not approve.

6: Manbir Singh Banwait  (Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada), April 15, 2018, 3:20 AM.

Even this whole thing about using a moving light to depict Guru Nanak is ridiculous. Use a real actor, so emotions can be seen, so facial expressions as simple as a smile can be seen. Are there not movies about Jesus? Or Hindu gods and goddesses? Are Sikhs really that bent out of shape and need to resort to violence and threats? The Sikh faith was and is ahead of its time ... sadly it seems some of our people are hopping backwards due to poor leadership and a misinformed public.

7: G. Singh (USA), April 16, 2018, 1:02 PM.

Although I agree with Michael Singh about Modi and his Hindutva gang’s genocidal agenda against minorities, but some of his arguments are completely naive, ill informed and lack foresight for what is in store for Sikhs if we go this ill advised path of portraying Gurus and their family members in movies. This movie is inimical to the basics of Sikhi; it reduces the great Gurus as a marketable commodity. This is just a beginning salvo and the worst is still to come. Why do we want to go this slippery slope when in future under the guise of so called “artistic freedom" and "creativity" Bollywood actors will portray the Gurus or an item girl as their family member? Harinder Singh Sikka has wittingly or unwittingly become the tool of the enemies of the Sikh Panth. As per reports which he is yet to respond to, he has been financed by the Piramal group and others close to the RSS and he has acknowledged on record that Modi has helped him in all possible ways in making this movie.

8: Brig Nawab Singh Heer (Retd) (USA), April 16, 2018, 1:20 PM.

Dear All: Please consider the following and then decide for yourselves. 1) In Sikhism all Gurus forbade us from calling their form as Guru, but only bani as Guru. 2) All Gurus advocated they are nirgun and preaching will be done through Sakhi (i.e., via Scripure), not by Jhaki (Guru's form). 3) Yes, nowhere in the Guru Granth Sahib is there any admonition against a human being acting as Guru. But in 2003, SGPC had passed a resolution: "Characters of Sikh Gurus, their family members and Punj Pyarey will not be enacted in human form. Even other Sikh characters will be played by amritdhari Sikhs. 4) Despite above, SGPC and Akal Takht Chair holders allowed this movie to be made and then banned it, then lifted the ban ... and banned it all over again. 5) Fear is that we Sikhs, if we do not lay down a line, we may end up in MOORTI PUJA and BUT PUJA (idol worship) which all our Gurus vehemently opposed. 5) I am not advocating for the movie or against it. But I am suggesting that let us North American Sikhs form a committee of Five Eminent Sikhs. Three members from USA and two from Canada. They be requested to see the movie and opine on it; also for future, give recommendations on calendars, paintings and animated films. Then we send these recommendation to the SGPC for consideration. If SGPC does not act, then we Sikhs of North America take decisions as per their recommendations. At NO stage I am suggesting to confront SGPC or Akal Takht; under present circumstances we have to move ahead to decide issues concerning Sikhs. 6. Request you all to comment.

9: GC Singh (USA), April 16, 2018, 3:20 PM.

The Hindutava gang, by cultural appropriation and through direct and indirect control of Sikh institutions - including SGPC and Akal Takht Sahib, has been a overzealous proponent of using all means at its disposal to institutionalize idol worship, Brahmanical rituals and baseless magical/occult stories. The latest diabolical assault on Sikh values through the medium of TV and films is an extremely dangerous move and will have far reaching consequences. The short term withdrawal of this movie in 2015 was a classic RSS strategy - test the waters and retreat and wait for the appropriate time to come back and continue with its nefarious agenda. I urge everyone to watch a very informative video on this issue by Sikh scholar Bhai Kewal Singh.

10: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), April 16, 2018, 10:05 PM.

I have had the great pleasure of watching the film 'Chaar Sahibzaade' multiple times. Growing up I always saw pictures of Mata Gujri and her beloved two grand-children. After watching the film I now have a new appreciation for those pictures that I did not have before. I now consider what those two little babies and their grandmother were going through as they were trying to avoid the Mughals. I do not think I would have those thoughts if the film did not help me connect on a personal level. Although I cannot say that 'Nanak Shah Fakir' will invoke the same feelings for me, I can at least acknowledge that it's possible. I think it's reasonable that Sikhs will be upset if Guru Nanak is represented in the wrong way. However, I think it would be better to have a rational critique of the film rather than taking a reactionary position.

11: AJ Singh (San Francisco, California, USA), April 17, 2018, 7:42 PM.

I saw the film at its premiere in Los Angeles a few years back. The film has plenty of inconsistencies with history, but none of them merit a ban on the film. What I find amusing is the title of the film itself -"Nanak Shah Fakir" - Nanak was by no stretch of imagination a "Fakir" - he was a man deeply involved with his social surroundings and lived a regal life, steeped in the service of humanity. He worked as a farmer till his last breath. To call him a "fakir" is ignorance of the highest order, and this ignorance shines through in the soft handed approach of the film.

12: Bimal Kaur (New Jersey, USA), April 17, 2018, 7:43 PM.

For me, the issue over the screening of the film is a relatively small one. The real concern, actually an overriding one, is why are our religious institutions monitored, supervised and controlled by polticians and agencies of the State? No other religion in India has its governance interfered by the State - through direct involvement, including in the elections which are monitored by members of another religion! Sikhs are demanding that non-Sikh Indians be removed from the decision-making in Sikh affairs. Once that is done, we will be fine ... even if we make mistakes. Then, the mistakes will be ours, not created through the mischief of our enemies.

13: Mohkam Singh (Singapore), April 17, 2018, 7:55 PM.

Thank you, Michael Singh, for this article. It has got all of thinking on this issue, and looking at the pros and cons. Which is what an intelligent and thinking community does. Pity that the Indian press will not entertain or allow any such dialogue at a healthy level. India is a society where the decibels are purposely high to the point of being deafening, freedom of thought and expression is absent, and things continue to deteriorate at the expense of the general populace. Again, thank you, Michael Singh ji, and thank you,, for providing an open forum for this.

14: Harmeet Singh (Chicago, Illinois, USA), April 18, 2018, 3:55 PM.

Regardless of what we disagree with or not regarding the depiction of Gurus, freedom of expression is a basic right and should not be opposed. Doing so is antithetical to Sikhi itself.

15: Davinder Singh Kochar  (Australia ), April 19, 2018, 9:57 AM.

The custodians of Sikh institutions have got it all wrong. Their conduct in educating and promoting Sikh philosophy and Sikh way of life to people at large has been abysmally poor and has remained stuck in thinking of dark age orthodoxy, something that Guru Nanak and all other Gurus opposed. The closed mind mentality is totally opposite to teachings contained in Guru Granth Sahib. For years I have been hoping to see some change.

16: R Singh (Canada), April 21, 2018, 6:44 PM.

The way we have disinvested Guru Nanak from humanity is shocking. Guru Nanak was affectionately referred to as Nanak Shah Faqir - Hindu da Guru, Musalmaan da Peer. Now we have people objecting to the word faqir. By the way, The title of 'Faqir' was conferred upon the Faqir brothers and their families - the most loyal and intelligent of his subjects - by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

17: H . S. Kohli (Alberta, Canada), May 03, 2018, 11:10 PM.

I do not think that the problem is this movie for which the time has come. I personally believe that uncontrolled spread of pictures should not be there. If our controllers do not mind pictures, animated movies showing Gurus and family members, then how come they have objected to a movie that does not even show faces. It could have done a great service to spread the message which has gone missing from our discussions. We are fighting to manage our property assets without spreading the essence. 'Nanak Shah Faqir' is an excellent vehicle to show to the whole world, something our panthic leaders have failed. Why punish a producer of a film who did it to spread the message? No one is blaming the jathedars who allowed it in the first instance and the committee which praised it the second time. Shouldn't they be taken to task as they do not know their own Sikhism. SGPC has failed all of us which resulted in Ram Rahims and hundreds of babas who have gathered thousands of chelas. Regarding the movie, it should be available without fear. We will welcome anyone who could make available the DVD in North America. Akal Sahai!

18: Manvir Singh (London, United Kingdom), May 19, 2018, 7:40 AM.

Storytelling is as old as man himself and has been one of the primary ways to retell deep seated values of the human experience. Stories capture the nuances of our deep rooted unconscious. This is a universal tool we share with every human being and Sikhs are no different; we have plentiful supply of stories in the form of Janamsakhis and other retellings in texts such as Panth Prakash by Rathan Singh Bhangoo. A story isn't always historically accurate either and this must be understood. The obsession to critique and censor will put off future Sikh film makers. Trying to please a board or audience is a first failing for the artist. Trying to prevent the creation of artistic thinking is the biggest sin in the Sikh field of art and in time will prevent any renewal and retelling of our great Gurus. The west has retold the great stories of their heroes and allowed full expression from the artists, albeit some controversial. None of the endeavours however have destroyed Christian thought and instead has allowed a creative plethora of ideas to progress the generations from one to the next. Maybe we're a long way from this, but the ideas behind stories and artistic expression must be understood. Our extremist censoring is akin to ISIS and their heavy critiquing of any iconography which on the heavy side has led to the destruction of 3000 year old carvings in Syria. The insecurity and finitude of their thinking seems to be filtering into our community and it's not something we should take lightly. It is quite easy to lose an entire generation to alternative religions, communities and groups who can fulfil their artistic expressions and consumption of great stories. It's a sad time that we cannot see the power and need of good storytellers. Rather than welcome artists in the field of this discipline; we cast our shadows, demonise the intention and prevent further development in the field. If we don't allow film makers to do their job, our community will find inspiration elsewhere. We should instead become patrons for such endeavours and any unhappy portrayals should be met by motivated film makers to go above and beyond to create something awe inspiring. Only then will we see our stories live on.

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Hindutva’s Onslaught on ’Nanak Shah Fakir’ "

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