Tag Archives: South Asian Diaspora

Films on South Asian Muslims and Islamophobia in the Diaspora


Written by Randeep Singh

In much of post-9/11 cinema, a “Muslim” is someone whose identity is defined fundamentally in terms of religion rather than nationality, culture, class or ethnicity. Indeed, South Asian Muslims in post-9/11 American cinema are usually portrayed either as religious radicals or terror suspects in films like The War Within (2005) or as exhibiting a bipolar Muslim disorder in The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012).

Thankfully, there have been attempts to understand the more nuanced shades of South Asian Muslim diaspora identity. In The Muslims I Know (2008)Mara Ahmed speaks with Pakistani Muslims in upstate New York on questions of cultural identity and being American while also interviewing others on what they think of Muslims.

Films from the U.K. have also tried to portray the experiences of South Asian Muslims humanistically. One such film is Yasmin (2004). The story of a spunky, young British girl from a Pakistani family in West Yorkshire, Yasmin (played by Archie Punjabi) is forced to choose her identity after the Twin Towers come crashing down.

Another film is Bradford Riots (2005), a film about Karim (Sacha Dhawan), a young university student also from northern England. When Bradford burns in riots during the summer of 2001, Karim finds himself on the wrong side of the mob and the law.

The third film, Brick Lane, is the story of Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young woman who moves from Bangladesh to East London. The film looks mostly at her life against the backdrop of her family and the British Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets, before and after 9-11.

With respect to identity, Yasmin and Karim are the British-born children of working class immigrants. They are, at most, “Muslim” in an ethnic sense. Like many from working class backgrounds, they are tough, proud and street smart. Yasmin wears a hijab when she has to but otherwise lets her hair down. Karim has his white mates at college and dosses around with his boys back in the pool halls of Bradford.

In contrast, Nazneen is a first-generation immigrant who came to England to get married. Her memories are those of the paddy fields back home with her sister as she adjusts to her life in England and to raising a family. She prays to God, but writes to her sister more often.

There’s a difference in how these characters experience racism and Islamophobia. Yasmin and Karim are labelled Muslim by a society and system. Karim is sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the Bradford riots, raising the question of whether he received a fair trial at a time of such heightened racial tension and the public call for retribution.

Yasmin meanwhile is detained on suspicion of harbouring a terrorist in her husband. Not having gone to the mosque in five years, she is given a copy of the Quran in prison and told which direction Mecca is in. Having suffered taunts at work, she is subjected to the gaze of a police constable who threatens to charge her for withholding information which she doesn’t have.

In Brick Lane, Nazneen’s lover, Karim bears the brunt of racism and Islamophobia. After facing harassment from racist gangs, Karim and starts holding meetings on how the local Bangladeshi community can defend itself after 9/11.

For Yasmin, Karim and Nazneen, being Muslim is only part of their larger identities which are based on culture and nationality. The Bradford riots and 9/11, however, make Karim and Yasmin themselves and whether they’re different after all. Whereas Nazneen takes her religion for granted, for Karim and Yasmin, the Muslim part of their identity is something that won’t let them be.



The Muslims I Know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PPBbIzq_0E

Yasmin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjzg1PC0QjM

Bradford Riots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJYBX64PdV8

Brick Lane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hbd7m00oW6c


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Filed under Cinema, Diaspora, Islam, Randeep Singh, Religion, Uncategorized

Nanak Shah Fakir


Written by Randeep Singh

In April 2015, Sikhs in India, UK and the United States, forced the withdrawal of the film Nanak Shah Fakir from cinemas. The film, a biopic on the founder of Sikhism, was objected to by Sikhs and Sikh organizations on the grounds that filmic representations of Guru Nanak are prohibited. I became aware that this film was banned just a few days back when I was speaking with an old acquaintance about the current state of cinema in India.

I doubt that the depiction of Nanak was prohibited given that there was no film in Nanak’s day, and given how he is depicted with abandon by Sikhs in paintings and images obviously not sanctioned by him.

Jesus has been depicted in films like The Passion of Christ. Muhammad has been depicted in films like The Messenger. Why prohibit films on Nanak? It is so that Sikh religious institutions, and members of the Sikh community, can maintain a particular, sanitized image of Nanak for themselves. They refuse to admit Nanak was a human being or anything less than divine.

Sikhs and non-Sikhs should welcome films and literature that furthers understanding of historical figures like Nanak. Surely the life of the subcontinents great historical personalities – whether Nanak, Amir Khusrao or the Buddha – deserve to be known better.

The director of Nanak Shah Fakir, Sartaj Singh Pannu, stated in November last year, that he would release the film with amendments. It makes me wonder just what protestors in cinemas like those in Wolverhampton found so objectionable in Nanak Shah Fakir? The refusal to conform to officially standardized representations of Nanak?  The nerve to ask questions? Surely, Nanak, someone who in the traditional accounts, traveled far, encountered new ideas and debated vigorously against religious leaders, still has a lesson to teach to today’s self-appointed guardians of faith and culture.

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Filed under Cinema, History, Nanak, Randeep Singh, Religion, Uncategorized

Modern Punjabi Poetry – The Revolutionary and Anti-Colonial Poets: Ustad Daman, Diwan Singh and Ghadar Poetry

Inquilab Zindabad

Translated by Randeep Singh


Ustad Daman (1911-1984) was born Chiraagh Deen in Lahore. A tailor by profession, he was schooled in poetry by Ustad Hamdam. Ustad Daman soon began reciting nationalist poems at public gatherings. He wrote against British rule in India before 1947 and, after 1947, against military and political leaders in Pakistan. Latterly, he was arrested under the governments of Ayub Khan and Bhutto. His poetry, was compiled and published after his death in 1984.

Russians have Russia … (Rūs rūsīāñ dā cīn cīnīāñ dā)

Russians have Russia, China’s the Chineses’
Japan is the country of the Japanese
Conquering country after country
The English have England on top

The French hold France
Iranians take their seat in Tehran
As Afghanistan belongs to Afghans
So Turkey belongs to the Turks

So what a surprise it should be
That India belongs not to the Indian

Rūs rūsīāñ dā cīn cīnīāñ dā,
Ēdhar mulk jāpān jāpānīāñ dā.
Jagah jagah ute mall mār baiṭhe,
Inglistān nāle inglistānīāñ dā.

Hoiā hai frāns frānsīsīāñ dā,
Toṛe nāl tahirān tahirānīāñ dā.
Afgānistān hōiā hai afgānīāñ dā,
Turkistān nāle turkistānīāñ dā.

Ih kiḍī hai gall hairānīāñ dī,
Hindustān nahīñ hindustānīāñ dā.


Zindābād o Pakistān  (Long Live Pakistan)

Long Live Pakistan
As the petty child screams for a sweet
The elders watch on as it’s put in his mouth
We listen to qawwali on the radio
The one about God and the five saints
Wherever you look, cigarettes and paan
Long live Pakistan!

The hemp and opium stores open
Drink, eat and plunder in puffs!
Throw water onto your hearths
Sleep soundly under your quilts
Wherever you look, chickpeas and naan
Long live Pakistan!

The doors of the mosque are closed
The Mullahs lecture on intentions pure
Quarrels break out over rite and ritual
The pure and corrupt mingle and mesh
The common man ekes out his days
Long live Pakistan!

The Sunnis issue their edict
The whole world goes Wahhabi
Who is looking at us in the mirror?
Whoever speaks, it is in commands
New tunes there are on the breeze
Long live Pakistan!

Our country’s strapping youths
Weakened by hemp and hashish
Fashion has become their life
Singing songs of going afar
Our glory rolls in the mud
Long live Pakistan!

Zindābād ō Pākistān
Cījī mangaṇ bāl añāṇe,
ñh vich pānde vēkh siāṇe
Reḍīō utōñ suṇō kavālī,
Allāh rākhā panj tan vālī.
Jidhar vekho sigraṭ pān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.

Charas afīm de ṭheke khulhe,
Pīo khāo luṭo bule.
Pāṇī pā dio āpṇe culhe,
Sauñ jāo lai ute jule.
Jagah jagah te chole nān.
Zindābād o Pākistān.

Būhe band masītāñ de ne,
Mulāñ māre nītāñ de ne.
Jhagṛe pae hoe rītāñ de ne,
Pākāñ nāl palītāñ de ne.
Ḍagōñ ḍaga hoe insān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.

Sunīāñ valōñ hōiā ailān,
Vahābī ho giā kul jahān.
Kithe tur gaī aj pahchāṇ,
Jo bole so nā farmān.
Vakharo vakharī lage tān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.

Sāḍe mulk de naujavān,
Bhangī charasī te bhalavān.
Faishan hai ihnāñ dī jān,
Gīt hijar de gāundē jāṇ.
Miṭī rōldē apṇī shān.
Zindābād ō Pākistān.



Diwan Singh (1894-1944), wrote free verse critical of religion and the colonial state. He earned the epiphet “kalapani” (‘black waters’) after being stationed in the Andaman Islands (traditionally a place where the British sent Indian prisoners and exiles) as part of the Indian Medical Corps. He remained on the islands until his death in 1944, after the Andamans had been conquered by the Japanese during World War II.

He published two books of poetry, Vagda Pani (‘Flowing Waters’) and Antim Lehran  (‘Winding Waves’).

O’ India (‘O’ Bhārat’)

Giver of the Buddha, Ashoka and Nanak,
Abode of Gods incarnate
Land of the gentle
What happened?
The die rolled out of turn
The wheel turned out of kilter
Who recognizes this new garb?
Having died, you still live
Having fallen, while still standing!

Fled is thine life, shame but remains
This weakness of a servant enchained
In superstition, touchability and caste
In illusion, in ghosts
Foes of reason, this foolishness and folly
How they’re stuck to you…
How did such power fall
To brahmins and mullahs?
To wastrels and free-loaders?
Those hungry are dying
Over crumbs fighting
For centuries you’ve slept
Serving at others’ beck and call
Rise, O’ India…

Budh de, ashok de, nānak de janam-dātiā ilmāñ
Avtārāñ dī janambhūmī
Sāūāñ diāñ desāñ
Kīh ho giā?
Ulṭ giā pāsā,
Giṛ giā chakkar ulṭā,
Pachātā nā jāndā terā ves,
Mar giā hai, phir jīndā hai
Gir giā haiñ, phir kharā haiñ!

Zindagī gaī terī, sharmindagī rahī bāqī
Ih gand balā qaid ghulāmī dī
Vahmāñ dī, chūtāñ dī
Bharmāñ dī, bhūtāñ dī
Akalāñ de dushmanāñ, ulūāñ, ūtāñ dī
Kiveñ chanbaṛ gaī tainūñ
Bholā bhāle tere bande
Brahman de, mulāñ de
Vehle muft khorāñ de
Jo bhuke pae marde ne
Tukṛiāñ te laṛde ne
Sadīāñ toñ sutiā
Chākarīāñ kardiāñ
Naukrīāñ bhardiāñ
Uth, o bhāratā

A Storm (‘Hunerī’)

A storm’s brewing, a storm
Its dark speech, dense, swift fog
The night shall remain, encircling, dense
The sun, moon and stars all obscured
The light of our worlds burnt out
A storm is brewing, a storm
Whatever came until now
No one saw, no one recalls

A storm’s brewing, a storm
Of revolution, destruction, change
Beyond the storm, there’s naught to see
No one will recognize anything
The worth of all things changing

Fruits, blossoms, boughs, branches, arms –
Even their dust shan’t abide
Sheds, shacks, mansions, all swept away …
The earth shall crack, the stars will fall
The planets into one another collide
Oceans shall take the mountains’ stead
And from the oceans shall rise mountains
The earth will be beyond recognition
The cloud shall spread a new sky

Hanerī ā rahī hai, hanerī
Kālī bolī, andhā dhundh, tez
Bas rāt ho rahengī, haner ghup ghare
Sūraj, chand, rāt, sabh kajje jāvsan
Sāḍe sāmān raushnī de sabh gull hovsan
Hanerī ā rahī hai, hanerī!
Ajehī agge āī hosī
Vekhī nahī, yād nahī

Hanerī ā rahī hai, hanerī
Inqilāb dī, tabāhī dī, tabdīlī dī
Hanerī ute jo jaegī, disegā kuch nā
Siān nā rahegī kise nūñ kise dī
Qīmatāñ sabh badalīā jāvsan

Phal, phul, shākh, ṭunḍ, ṭahnī
Kakh nā rahisī
Chappar, kule, koṭhe kul uḍ vahisan
Panchī, manukh, sher, hāthī
Uḍange, ḍigange, ṭuṭange, dhahinge,
Zamīñ phaṭegī, tāre, ḍigange
Garih bhiṛsan, āpe vich
Samundrāñ dī thāñ pahāṛāñ thāveñ samundar ho nikalsan
Dhartī de parkhare uḍ jāngeNawāñ akāsh-chandoā tanengā ghaṭ dā


GHADAR POETRY – “The Echo of Revolt” (‘Ghadar Dee Gunj’)


Ghadar Dī Gunj was a compilation of poetry composed by members of the Ghadar movement. It includes nationalist, anti-colonial and revolutionary poetry. The poems were published in San Francisco in 1913-14. Ghadar poetry ranks amongst the most fervent of revolutionary and anti-colonial Punjabi poetry of the time and is an early example of Punjabi diaspora poetry.

Coolies we’re called by the world
A flag-less nation are we
Are we slaves forever?
Why don’t we master politics?
A few birds laid siege to our pasture
Who will cultivate Hindustan?

Better to die than live as slaves
This saying may we never forget
China has awakened from slumber
The drums of India’s waking roll
What need of Pandits and Qazis have we?
What fondness have we for a sinking ship?
The time for prayers and meditation are past
The time to raise the sword draws nigh
The Ghadar paper proclaims so
The time for revolt has arrived

Kūli kūli pukārda jag sānūñ
Sāḍā jhuldā kithe nishān kiyon nahin
Kikūn bachānge sadā ghulām rah ke
Sānūn rājniti wālā giyān kiyon nahin
Dhāi ṭoṭrū khā gaye khet sādā
Hindustān dā koi kisān kiyon nahin

Marnā bhalā ghulāmī dī zindagī toñ
Nahīñ sukhan eh man bhulāvne dā
Mulk jāgāyā chīn jo ghūk sutā
Dhol vajāyā hind jagāwāne dā
Sānūn loṛ nā panditāñ qāziāñ dī
Nahīñ shok hai berda dubāvane dā
Jap jāp dā waqt batīt hoyā
Velā ā gayā tegh uthāvne dā
Paṛhke ghadr akhbar nūñ khabar lagī
Velā ā gayā ghadr machāvane dā

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A Gay Guy in a Turban

South Asian GLBT Protest (2)

Written by Randeep Singh

On December 15, 2013, Kanwar Anit Singh Saini attended the Global Day of Rage in Toronto to protest the Supreme Court of India’s upholding of Section 377 of the Penal Code of India which criminalizes homosexual sex.  He kisses another gay man at the protest. Another protester holds a poster above them with two men and the word “pyaar” written in Urdu. The photo was posted on his Facebook page with the caption “proud to be illegal.”

It’s interesting that while many in the diaspora have condemned what has happened in India, fewer have bothered to reflect on homophobic prejudice and intolerance within their local communities. The photo of Saini kissing another man generated hateful comments on Facebook from within the diaspora. Saini recalls on his Facebook page how his uncle once said the family would’ve killed Saini as a boy had they known he was gay.

South Asian GLBT persons like Saini continue to fight hate and intolerance within (and outside) their ancestral communities, including from “progressive” Indians, Pakistanis etc. Recently, I received a statement issued by a local South Asian group to the Indian Law Commission condemning the Supreme Court ruling. I was surprised to see the statement being lauded by people whom I have experienced homophobia from personally. I asked the group’s President that while I welcomed the statement, we’d do well to challenge prejudices in our backyard.

The openly gay former Indian prince Manvendra Singh Gohil said recently in an interview on CBC Radio that challenging Section 377 in India’s courts is one thing, but challenging Indians to open their hearts and minds is the greater struggle. That too is true here in Vancouver, as well as in Toronto, London, California and Queens. Saini has helped us all in that struggle by reminding us that GLBT South Asians are here and will keep up the fight.

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