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Baaz’s Newsmakers of 2022
The top eight newsmakers from the Sikh and Punjabi diaspora in 2022
From The Editors
December 30, 2022 | 10 min. Read | Editorial Team
It was always going to be hard for 2022 to live up to 2021 from a news perspective. The Farmers’ Protest was a monumental point in Sikh and Punjabi history and caused a lot of spillover energy across the diaspora last year. Baaz itself is a creation of that time.
However, 2022 still saw Sikh and Punjabi individuals and organizations make and create news. We published a wide array of stories, written by an eclectic group of contributors from all around the world, to capture it all.
It is with all of this in mind that we prepared a list of eight newsmakers hailing from the Sikh and Punjabi diaspora (individuals and organizations rooted or based in diasporic communities outside Punjab and India) that stood out over the last 12 months. We tried when preparing this list to reflect a range of themes and backgrounds - from activists to artists - that have left a mark on the Punjabi or Sikh universe this year.
To be clear, this list is not a “power ranking” or a “who’s who.” It is a snapshot in time, of interesting people that made this year what it was as decided upon by the Baaz editorial team. The list is sorted alphabetically by the first name. You can find Baaz’s Newsmakers of 2021 here.
A Rising and Galvanizing Leader - UAE
With the shocking death of Deep Sidhu earlier this year came a lot of questions, and not just about the allegations surrounding his fatal accident. While the facts of the car crash will always be shrouded in mystery, what would come after Deep Sidhu’s departure is now less speculative.
Amritpal Singh’s replacement of Deep Sidhu at the helm of Waris Punjab De (WPD), Deep Sidhu’s organization designed to usher in reform and renaissance in unapologetic Sikh and Punjab-based advocacy, has exceeded many expectations commentators and observers had.
It is never easy to fill the boots of those that come before you, especially considering that Amritpal Singh was residing in Dubai for years before recently returning to Punjab. But, early comparisons of the two have gone the wayside as Amritpal Singh has seemingly stood up to the occasion in continuing to rejuvenate the youth of Punjab through WPD at the ground level, as seen in his ongoing Khalsa Vaheer.
However, his rise has not come without criticism, mostly driven by the Sikh and Punjab political and religious establishments, as well as pro-Indian government voices. His arguably at times abrasive style and unapologetic rhetoric have caught many old political actors off guard, but seem to be touching deep grievances many in Punjab feel with the status quo.
His accounts on social media have also been banned, suspended, and censored, as he continues to rise in influence. There is definitely a sense that the people of Punjab and Sikhs have found a charismatic Panthic leader after decades of stagnation and less than inspiring leadership.
While comparisons to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale have become common, both in imagery and speech, Amritpal Singh is as much his own man as he is also a man shaped by the current social and political climate in Punjab. Where his efforts take him, as he gains prominence amongst Punjabis and increasing scrutiny from Indian actors, will likely be a leading topic of conversation in 2023.
Battle of Amritsar
Novel Story Telling of Sikh History - Canada/UK/USA
Sikh history has seldom been told effectively in film, especially in documentary form. Attempts to do so are also sometimes met with controversy as it becomes more apparent that the community has yet to figure out how to share elements of our history. All of which makes the success of the Battle of Amritsar so special, a project by the British Columbia-based Khalistan Centre. High production value, unapologetic storytelling, and moving accounts from those present during the battle make up what became the film event of the year in the diaspora.
People flocked to sold-out shows around the world to rave reviews. Many past movies documenting the events immediately concerning June 1984 have not been told from a Sikh point of view. Whether it is Indian state accounts or non-government accounts for a non-Sikh audience, the film medium has not been effectively utilized as a tool of education by Sikhs for Sikhs. The Battle of Amritsar changes that and takes it one step further by connecting the events of June 1984 with the struggles of present-day challenges facing the Sikh community.
The documentary has met resistance from Indian state actors, including attempts to force venues to ban screenings. However, these efforts failed for the most part, as cities continue to put up shows.
The documentary is hopefully the first of many that explore Sikh history, and ushers in a new age of high-production and thoughtful documentaries exploring our own story without fear.
Dutch Sikh Association
Representation is No Laughing Matter - Netherlands
Powerful grassroots advocacy and mobilization have always been a strength of the community worldwide, and that does not differ in places like the Netherlands.
In January of this year, Beau van Erven Dorens, the host of a popular talk show on RTL4, one of the Netherlands’ largest TV channels, aired a segment with Timur Perlin. Timur is a local DJ well known for his radio segment ‘Mama Appelsap’ where he plays non-Dutch songs for the purpose of highlighting mondegreens, which in this case would be the mishearing and mischaracterization of non-Dutch lyrics into Dutch for comedic effect.
Beau, as part of his talk show, brought up one of Timur’s more controversial Mama Appelsap segments - the mocking of the Sikh Mool Mantar sung by Satkirin Kaur Khalsa in Lightness of Being.
The DSA, a young advocacy start-up, got to work in challenging the show, demanding both an apology and recording of an episode properly introducing the local Sikh community, explaining what the Mool Mantar is, and why the segment was offensive.
In the end, they succeeded, getting a prime time slot on the show and helping to ensure that the Sikh minority in the Netherlands, and across Europe, get the strong representation it deserves in the media.
Gurdwara Karte Parwan
The Last Afghan Sikh Refuge Attacked and Destroyed - Afghanistan
The situation of Afghan Sikhs has been one of peril for years now. That uncertainty has only increased recently with the rise of ISIS and the return of the Taliban amidst the American military withdrawal.
As Afghan Sikhs faced religious persecution, their numbers dwindled as most fled the war-torn country. The community, which boasted numbers of over 100,000 decades ago, is now barely a hundred or so, with many moving to India as a stopgap and others making their way around the world.
While Canada is a preferred destination, with the local community putting up the money and support to bring them over, most have been waiting in painful bureaucratic limbo in Afghanistan and India.
Many Sikh Canadians, including the World Sikh Organization, have claimed that the Canadian government has not acted with any urgency to save Afghan Sikhs, pointing out that more cats and dogs have been liberated from Afghanistan than Sikhs, and undue government delay is only putting the remaining Sikhs in Afghanistan and India in distraught.
It became clear how precarious the situation is for Afghan Sikhs when in June of this year the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul was rocked with explosions and gunfire by ISIS. Killing many and destroying one of the last refuges left for Afghan Sikhs in Afghanistan.
A reminder of how not all Sikh diasporic communities are thriving.
Jagtar Singh Johal
New Key Updates Amidst Indefinite and Arbitrary Detention - UK
2022 marked the fifth anniversary of Jagtar Singh Johal’s arbitrary arrest and detention. What made this year different, aside from the important milestone, is the new host of updates that pushed #FreeJaggiNow into the mainstream discourse of UK politics and relations with India.
In May, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Jagtar Singh Johal has been detained "arbitrarily" and that India should release him immediately. This came after not being convinced by the Indian government's explanation for his arrest and ongoing detention. The UN would refer the matter to their Special Rapporteur on the issue.
In June, the former UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, admitted in a letter reviewed by Baaz to the UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer that the Indian government was arbitrarily detaining the Scottish national without formal charges. This marked the first time the Prime Minister had acknowledged the detention as such.
In August, a report was released that disclosed that MI5 and MI6 may have shared information with the Indian government that was used for the unlawful arrest and torture of Johal.
In September, Reprieve, a legal action organization in the UK, shared a letter written by Johal to the then UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, demanding that the UK government take a stand for the release of political prisoners in India. Show some “guts,” Johal wrote.
In October, Johal would finally be formally charged on three of eight charges he is facing, pushing the matter forward for the first time in five years and getting us closer to a trial and an examination of the evidence India alleges it has against the Sikh activist.
In December, the Twitter account monitoring and updating the Johal matter, @freejagginow, was permanently suspended on Twitter.
All the while new protests and demonstrations were held worldwide in support of Jagtar Singh Johal. 2023 will likely see the beginning of his trial and the continued evolution of this issue. However, 2022 was the year we saw new and shocking updates after five years of uncertainty.
Ripudaman Singh Malik
A Shocking End - Canada
Ripudaman Singh Malik was a complex character and the brazen daylight shooting that ended his life in July was a shocking end to a life marked by community institution building and controversy.
The media made much of its coverage regarding his death about Air India Flight 182. Malik was acquitted in 2005 concerning the 1985 Air India bombing for lack of evidence. While that case is what he is most known for outside the Sikh community, he was a staple within the community for his grassroots work on the ground.
His work in British Columbia, where his Khalsa Credit Union and Khalsa Schools are a mainstay in the day-to-day lives of Sikhs there, is widely respected. His philanthropic work is also well-documented and recognized.
It is no surprise then his death dominated headlines around the world and also reopened many old wounds. It also triggered poor journalism and media coverage concerning both his life and the Sikh community, a reminder that even in places like Canada, the Sikh community must continue to battle misconceptions and anti-Sikh rhetoric.
The death remains a surprise and continues to be an open case and investigation with no closure yet.
Sidhu Moose Wala
A Year of Contradictions, Death, and Legacy - Canada
Sidhu Moose Wala's assassination in late May was a shocking end to an incredible musical career with interesting deviations, such as his unsuccessful political stint as a Punjab Congress candidate in February of this year. The brazen daylight shooting made international headlines, raising comparisons in western media between Sidhu Moose Wala and Tupac.
His songs and lyrics helped elevate Punjabi music to even greater global heights. Effortlessly combining genres helped usher in a new age of sound in the industry, and continues to put Canada’s and Brampton’s music scenes on the map. An international student to international star narrative arch that speaks to how the diaspora shapes Punjabi culture.
He also ignited debates in political and social circles, as his lyrical commentary and electoral experiment opened up a lens into a young man figuring out his place in the world. Sidhu was seemingly full of contradictions at times, running for the Congress while also singing praises of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The one thing that tied it all together was his love for family and home, trying his best to improve his village.
Even in death, however, Sidhu Moose Wala continues to trend as the posthumous release of SYL reignited debate about Punjab’s water rights and Sikh sovereignty, and Vaar introduced Sikh history and empire to many for the first time.
His parents have also carried their son’s legacy. Refusing to back down in the face of numerous pressures, they continue to advocate for their son and for Punjab in ways that Sidhu himself would, showing that the legacy is as much about the family as it is about the individual. Their tour to the UK was met with much fanfare, and their interviews and events have also been viral.
There may never be justice for Sidhu, but his story will never die.
Sikhs for Justice
A Referendum Shaking the “World’s Biggest Democracy” - USA
Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) has had a year worth remembering, dominating news headlines across multiple fronts, either directly or indirectly, all through 2022.
However, it is the Khalistan Referendum, a non-binding vote on whether Sikhs and Punjabis support separation from India, that has caused major waves. While it was originally planned to begin in 2020, voting started worldwide earlier this year after a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From Australia to Canada, with the latter seeing over 100,000 individuals participate in Brampton, Sikhs have voted in throngs to participate in what has become the marquee event of the year wherever it has gone.
Much to the disappointment of pro-India actors, the referendum has proved that the topic of Khalistan is hardly a dead one or one relegated to the fringes of the Sikh community. Alive and well, conversations concerning Sikh sovereignty remain mainstream and steadfast in the community.
The referendum has not so surprisingly garnered the ire of the Indian government, sending notices to countries that have allowed voting under respective local freedom of speech laws allowing for peaceful political expression. While India has gone as far as using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) to crush all peaceful advocacy around Khalistan and Sikh sovereignty in India, it has had less luck pressuring western states to crack down on the referendum arbitrarily.
India went as far as to request an Interpol Red Notice Alert against the SFJ, on the grounds of terrorism. A meritless request quickly rejected by Interpol, embarrassing the Indian government.
Voting is planned to continue into 2023 in more locations across the world. While many are hoping the referendum will include stops in Punjab, it is believed that India would be unlikely to allow it to proceed, as the SFJ has been banned in the country.
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