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Protesting Vikram Chandra's "Mission Kashmir"

C.J.S. WALLIA, Ph.D., Stanford, has taught at U.C. Berkeley and Stanford. His editing experience includes major publishing houses, high-technology corporations, and fiction and nonfiction manuscripts. He is president of the Society for Technical Communication, Berkeley Chapter, author of two books on computer-assisted publishing, and edits and publishes an online literary magazine, IndiaStar Review of Books.

Gurdeep Singh's portrayal appears to be somewhat more balanced than what is conveyed in this letter to Ian Duncan. One, Gurdeep Singh is shown as taking considerable risk (as a bullet grazes him) to save the life of his superior (Sanjay Dutt's character). Two, Gurdeep Singh is shown as someone who refuses to harbor bitterness toward Hindus in general despite what a few misguided Hindus did to him and his family during the 1984 Sikh massacres in Delhi. He reinforces the magnanimous Sikh image. Granted that anyone who contends that Sikhs have overall been wronged by India has a perfectly valid case. Also, C.J.S. Wallia did well to voice his concerns about this movie. However, there are many other matters that are much more important than protesting this relatively benign movie. In the fall of 2005, Vikram Chandra was eventually appointed to the position of lecturer at Berkeley. -- The Sikh Times

The Sikh Times, Mar. 13, 2005

Photo: Vikram Chandra

Professor Ian Duncan
Chair, English Department
University of California, Berkeley

Dear Professor Duncan,

Respectfully, I would like to bring to your attention my comments about Mr. Vikram Chandra, whom, I understand from the announcement at the showing of the film and the question-answer session, you are considering as a finalist for a faculty appointment position to teach creative writing.

Last evening, I attended the event at the suggestion of a member of the Sikh-Diaspora (Yahoo! Groups) list to observe Mr. Chandra's representation of Sikhs in the film Mission Kashmir.

Mr. Chandra's script of Mission Kashmir opens with a servile, blundering, Sikh assistant to the police chief. The Sikh assistant (Gurdeep Singh) is immediately shown as a coward who pisses in his pants. The Sikh assistant to the Muslim chief of police is shown not only in the opening scene but also throughout the film as a servile and blundering one-dimensional character. This is a shameful misrepresentation of a tiny minority (less than 2 percent of India's population).

At the beginning of the question-answer session, I stood up among the audience of about fifty people, and asked him why he chose to depict the minority member in such a disgraceful role. Mr. Chandra had no answer other than mumbling.

I pointed out the fact that the Sikhs despite being a tiny minority have been major players in nineteenth and twentieth century history of the Indian subcontinent. I asked him if he was aware that the Sikhs conquered Kashmir in 1819 and permanently pushed out the Afghans back into Afghanistan and that the only reason Hindu India has any claim at all over Kashmir Valley today is because of the Sikh conquest over Muslims, who had ruled in Kashmir for over five centuries and constituted 95 percent of the population. Mr. Chandra could only nod.

I further asked him if he could name a single contemporary American film or novel that depicts a blundering, piss-cowardly African-American assistant to a white chief. Mr. Chandra had no answer other than he has Sikh friends, of which there were none of the turbaned variety to be seen in the audience. (I assumed the sophisticated Berkeley audience didn't need my pointing out the analogy to an anti-Semite saying some of my best friends are Jewish.)

The sensitive representation of minorities is a central concern in contemporary American cultural studies, which Mr. Chandra seems to have not learnt at all.

Under the assumption that the committee might not have knowledge of the political implications of Mr. Chandra's hate-mongering characterization of a Sikh soldier as a blundering, piss-cowardly subordinate, please allow me a few more paragraphs.

In modern history of India, Sikhs are renowned as warriors. (An objective source: A Modern History of India by Stanley Wolpert, who has been teaching the subject at U.C.L.A. for forty years.) Sikhism arose in the fifteenth century as firm rejection of abhorrent Hindu practices of idol worship, caste-system, and gender discrimination. Because of these fundamental rejections of Hinduism, the Hindu priestly caste, the brahmins, have long hated Sikhism and sought to absorb Sikhs within the Hindu fold. This has been vigorously resisted by the Sikhs. Sikh males are distinct in appearance because of the customary turban and to show a Sikh in the above repugnant role cannot be taken as a random choice made by a Hindu script writer. An analogy would be a script about on-campus sexual harassment showing a yarmulke-wearing professor overtly harassing young female students: who would condone this choice as merely random?

In November 1984, four thousand innocent Sikh men, women, and children were murdered by rampaging mobs of Hindus in Delhi, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards. This assassination occurred because Indira Gandhi had sent army tanks to destroy a Sikh political figure whom she had herself initially installed, as a political ploy to divide the future Sikh vote, in the Golden Temple, the Sikh equivalent of the Vatican. The invasion by the army, ordered by Indira Gandhi, resulted in the massacre of thousands of innocent Sikh pilgrims in June 1984 and near-total destruction of the Golden Temple.

To this day, none of the top-tier politicians of Indira Gandhi's party, identified by numerous eye-witness reports as having led the killer-mobs, has been convicted by the government of India for the four-thousand murders in November 1984. (Objective source: Who Are the Guilty? by Rajni Kothari, a Hindu professor of sociology at Delhi University.)

Sikhs were the first immigrants from the subcontinent to the United States, the earliest to California in 1896. Many young Sikhs graduated from U.C. Berkeley; the best-known among them being Dalip Singh Saund, (Ph.D., 1924), who went on to become the first Asian-American elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served from 1956 to 1962. Today, the largest percentage of immigrants from the subcontinent in the Bay Area are Sikhs.

In closing, let me add that I do not know Mr. Chandra personally. (I read his novel some years ago and remember it as an entertaining, derivative work in the vein of John Barth.)

Given Mr. Chandra's demonstrated contempt for Sikhs, he will influence many future writers with his prejudiced, distorted attitude. This film was shown as the last item to help him win the appointment.


C.J.S. Wallia