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Pali Kaur: Punjabis Are Here, Deal With It
"Dosanjh’s ascension to Coachella this weekend proves his strategic game is on point."
April 17, 2023 | 2.5 min. Read | Opinion
It takes a talent like Diljit Dosanjh to truly challenge and expose Bollywood’s and India’s Anti-Sikh paradigm.
Bollywood and Indian media, with their considerable influence in South Asia and beyond, have often displayed either wilful ignorance or malicious intent regarding the Sikh identity and the Sikh experience in its cultural production.
They insidiously promote an assimilationist erasure or maligning of minority communities. These attempts to eliminate Sikhi as a separate or unique entity in India are widespread and help the Indian government create a genocidal political culture in its push for a Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu Nation.
Bollywood also allows non-Sikh actors to profit off of our identity when convenient. People like Akshay Kumar pretend to be Singhs, while also upholding the Hindutva project. When it is time to defend Sikhs against state oppression, actors like Kumar are safely allowed to be Hindus again.
Most Punjabi Sikh entertainers, however, do not have this luxury or support networks, keeping them vulnerable to the wrath of the Indian state if they do not fit the paradigm.
However, Dosanjh is so successful that even people who want to erase his existence have no choice but to deal with his stardom. He has created a unique lane for himself, in spite of Bollywood and Indian elites (something he states himself in various interviews), that could serve as a lesson for others on how to subvert the genocidal propaganda produced by Indian media.
One way Dosanjh succeeds is by staying true to his Punjabi roots. He is proud to be Punjabi, and he has made many efforts to bring Sikh and Punjabi stories to the forefront. His success comes from the community, his foundation is steady, and his popularity in the diaspora makes him a force in Western mainstream media, irrespective of what India may think of him.
The problem with some Sikh celebrities is they ditch their identity to avoid alienating others. While Dosanjh stays apolitical in a larger sense, he often draws the line when Punjab or Sikhs are threatened. While he is not infallible, he usually reacts to things we care about and openly supports our struggles.
Dosanjh has infiltrated the Bollywood elite. His comedic charm, timing, and musical talent make him a “safe” Sikh celebrity for Hindu stars to support. By taking a multi-faceted approach to his celebrity, Dosanjh can create work centred on the Punjabi and Sikh identity while using his pop music and movies to mitigate any tension it may cause.
Dosanjh’s ascension to Coachella this weekend proves his strategic game is on point. Only weeks after openly praying for Punjab to get through the ongoing human rights crackdown, Diljit performed at the biggest festival in the world. He proudly proclaimed that the “Punjabis have arrived,” much to the ire of Indian nationalists angry he did not say “Indians have arrived” instead. Another example of India’s assimilationist project and attempts to erase the unique Punjabi and Sikh identities.
Many in Bollywood have and will attempt to co-opt his moment at an event they wished they were invited to. They will say they are proud of Diljit. But where were they when Dosanjh was supporting the Farmers’ Protest or being called a terrorist by BJP trolls for supporting Punjab? During these times, his non-Sikh supporters were silent and weak, but Dosanjh carried on regardless.
Dosanjh’s success speaks for itself. Surprisingly, in this moment of trial and tribulation for Punjab and Sikhs, he is turning out to be one of our greatest assets.
Pali Kaur is a blogger and educator based out of California. She works with immigrant communities, focusing on Spanish and Punjabi speakers. You can find her on Twitter at @wittypunjaban
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