Jagjit Singh: "Sardar Udham" Erases Udham Singh's Sikhi
"Where filmmakers try to repurpose or deny Shaheed Udham Singh his faith, they dishonour his memory."
October 26, 2021 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion
I initially hesitated to watch Sardar Udham. Why was the name Singh removed from the title? However, as I saw other Sikhs recommending it, I decided to give it a chance.
Having read about Shaheed Udham Singh, I was curious to see how accurate the movie would be. I hoped it would not be your usual Bollywood rewrite of history. With Netflix and Amazon playing a bigger role in producing movies geared towards diverse markets, like India, it is nice to see cinema geared beyond white European and North American audiences.
Overall, I thought the movie had a slower start, but a very powerful second half.
Previous movies on Jallianwala Bagh have tended to quickly cover the massacre and the background events that led to that fateful day in Amritsar. However, in Sardar Udham, they appropriately show the deep brutality of the incident and the impact it had on Udham Singh - to the point that it brought my children to tears. The details should also act as a wake-up call to those UK Sikhs who continue to praise and celebrate Queen and Country. The true oppressive history of the British Raj needs to be covered.
The first half of the film shows his amazing fortitude in reaching the UK, but erases much of his Sikhi. Indian and communist narratives have rewritten much of Punjab’s pre and post-independence movement.
We know Udham Singh cut his kesh. However, in reality, Udham Singh never stopped doing Nitnem till Shaheedi. He also regularly did Seva at the Gurdwara, and as was shown in the movie, wore his kirpan when arrested. He went to Khalsa School in Amritsar, and as shown, choose his path when the Granthi Ji at the school asked him if he was going to die from old age or with a purpose to the Panth.
Bhai Gurpreet Singh Anand is Secretary-General of Sikh Council UK and Mukh Sevadaar of Khalsa Jatha, Shepards Bush Gurdwara, UK’s oldest Gurdwara where Udham Singh also used to attend. He shares the following about Udham Singh:
“Where filmmakers try to repurpose or deny Shaheed Udham Singh his faith, they dishonour his memory. The movie shows Udham Singh on a hunger strike. However, the reason he went on hunger strike for 42 days was his demand for a Nitnem Gutka for his daily Nitnem (Sikh prayers).
On the day of the assassination, before going to Caxton Hall, Shaheed Udham Singh went to the Khalsa Jatha Gurdwara in Shepards Bush, London, and did Ardas (Sikh prayer).
To buy a gun, Shaheed Udham Singh took money from The Khalsa Jatha, leaving a note that this money will be used for the Quam di Seva (Service of the Sikh Nation) and that he may not be able to return it.
Shaheed Udham Singh was a regular member of the Gurdwara Sangat and close to committee members, like Shiv Singh Johal who supported him.
In reality, the Punjab restaurant featured in the movie started after 1947, all the meetings actually happened in the Gurdwara.”
It is common for Indian communists to portray Sikh Freedom fighters as drinkers or smokers, as this breaks them from Sikhi.
They had tried to do this with Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Babbar Akalis as well, in the many books they wrote post-1947, often funded by the Indian Government.
The HSRA mentioned in the movie only came into existence after 1947, it was HRA before. However, evidence exists of Udham Singh’s membership in the Ghadr movement.
Sikhs have a rich history of Shaheeds, which communists in India lack. This is why they in turn try to own individuals like Udham Singh and others. However, communists cannot deny how Bhai Maharaj Singh, Kuka Movement, Babbar Akalis, Bhai Kartar Singh Sarabha, Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh, and the Ghadhr movement inspired Shaheed Bhagat Singh and then Shaheed Udham Singh.
The consistent Sikh inspiration for the freedom struggle, for an Azaad Punjab, is obvious and clear. However, the Indian and communist narrative replaced the Sikh narrative in the movie.
Another example of that appropriation - Udham Singh wrote Mohammed Singh Azaad, Ram was added later by Indian and communist writers.
Shaheed Udham Singh was never a perfect Sikh, few of us are. He deserves respect for delivering justice and so does the inspiration of Sikhi throughout his life. A tradition from Banda Singh Bahadur to Bhai Sukha Singh to Mehtab Singh to Bhagat Singh to Beant Singh and Satwant Singh to Bhai Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha to Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara to Dilavaar Singh, and the countless Fauj with them.
Jagjit Singh hails from the UK and is a well-respected Sikh educator for the last 25 years. He is an award-winning healthcare professional and sevadaar at 15 different Sikh organizations including World Sikh Parliament, Khalsa Foundation, and Share Charity. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram at @jagjitvaheguru.
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