"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Father's Day Special : Sonia Mann carries forward the struggle of her slain father by becoming voice of Indian farmers Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh

While most Bollywood stars have been busy defending the Indian government which faces international criticism for mistreating agitating farmers, a famous Punjabi actress has stood up for the underdog.

Undeterred by threats, sexism or fear of losing her film career, Sonia Mann has been helping the farmers who have been camping near New Delhi since last November in protest against controversial farm laws passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.

The critics believe that these laws, which have been adopted without due consultations, will hurt the livelihood of farmers and increase the corporate control over the agro-based economy. Scores of farmers have laid down their lives during the struggle as they face police brutality.

Sonia, who comes from a family involved in farming, has been acting in both Bollywood and Punjabi film industry.

Not only has she been giving monetary support to the female protestors at the camp site of the ongoing agitation, she has been sitting with them to raise her voice against repression. This has led to a backlash from supporters of the ruling BJP, while also being warned that she might lose some film offers.

This is in sharp contrast to what many Bollywood stars did when the BJP government came under global condemnation for ignoring and humiliating the farmers. They rather sided with the government and described the international criticism as propaganda.

For doing so, Sonia had to also endure sexism from both the right wing trolls, and a section of the agitating farmers, who are mostly aligned with reactionary elements and agent provocateurs.

Notably, her father, the late Baldev Singh Mann, was a revolutionary communist, who was assassinated by the Sikh separatists in 1986.

Sonia was merely 16 days old when he was murdered. Since she was away with her mother, her father had written her a highly emotional letter which became an important document of literature. 

The father had warned his daughter against patriarchy within Indian society. He honestly acknowledged that some within the family were also unhappy at her birth, and prepared her to face many barriers for being a girl in a male-dominated world. 

He advised his daughter to grow up as a good human being, rather than with any religious identity. Although born in the Sikh faith, he wasn’t a die-hard religious person, and being a communist strictly practiced pluralism in his real life. He was killed for challenging the ideology of the Sikh militants who were fighting for a separate homeland and targeting their political critics, as well as Hindus in Punjab. This was despite the fact that he had also denounced state violence against Sikhs in the name of war on terror and the Hindu Right. He was also in the forefront of farmers’ agitations of his times. 

Years later, Sonia is facing similar challenges. Having been raised single-handed by her mother, who often took her to political and cultural events, she preferred to choose film line. The farmers’ agitation has given her an opportunity to carry forward the mission of her father. She has confessed on several occasions that the letter from her father became a guiding light for her life, and today she feels great by standing up for his values, such as social justice and secularism.

 

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