Well-spoken, charismatic, and armed with the knowledge of his forefathers, actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu was able to light a fire in the hearts of the youth in Punjab and the diaspora. That is why his untimely death on Feb. 15 sent shockwaves across the state of Punjab and the Punjabi community around the world.
Prior to his death, Deep Sidhu had become a symbol for the youth of Punjab, especially those looking to secure national rights and independent statehood against corrupt practices in India. However, it was precisely this image that had molded him into a controversial figure on the national political scene. Instrumental in mobilizing the younger generation in the fight for their rights, the news of his death hurt, even more, when it was clear he was only beginning his journey as an activist. What inspired me was his emphasis on the struggles of his ancestors, which also served as a catalyst for the youth to seek out and understand the fight for justice and sovereignty.
Deep Sidhu rose to prominence during the 2020-2021 Indian Farmers’ Protests, where he joined hundreds of thousands of people in being vocal advocates against a government looking to strip the rights of farmers by taking away the right to manage their crops along with seizing control of their ancestral lands.
His status grew as he emphasized a larger agenda by the Indian state against the Sikh community, harkening back to the 1984 Sikh genocide as an example of the suppression of Sikh political dissent. This passion reached its peak when he was implicated in the Indian Republic Day protests, where he was said to have instigated the violence that led to the raising of the Nishan Sahib at Red Fort, a triangular flag that symbolizes the inherent values of the Sikh faith. Despite being an important symbol to the Sikh community, its hoisting at one of India’s major landmarks led to backlash across the country, with many feeling it was an attack against the unity of the country. From this point forward, he continued to grow in popularity and became famous for his impassioned speeches supporting the Sikh Separatist Movement, known as Khalistan, and his references to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale Ji, who backed the Khalistan movement.
Even after the end of the farmers’ protests, he continued to work to advance Sikh values and rights. This led up until his death, which in and of itself has caused major controversy, with many believing it was a political assassination due to the mysterious circumstances, such as crime scene inconsistencies and failure to get proper autopsy or toxicology reports before his body was cremated. In a society riddled with corruption and violence against its minority population, it is not out of the question for such actions to be orchestrated.
Regardless of the events behind his death, his actions during his life serve as a reminder that to fuel a revolution, it’s necessary to be bold and outspoken. To be the voice of a nation is not an easy responsibility. It is a job that is dependent on the feelings and attitudes of millions of people. However, there comes a time when a leader can accomplish this task, someone that is able to change the course of history.
Was Deep Sidhu that individual? No, not necessarily. He was a man with a controversial history, creating divides based on issues of faith and nationalism, along with being caught making casteist remarks. Nevertheless, he was still someone that was able to ignite the flame within India’s youth, something which is crucial for any movement to advance. His actions served as a light for a population that has historically been discriminated against. No matter how intruding or suffocating it is for Punjab, or indeed the Sikhs, to exist within the stranglehold of the Indian state, Deep’s timely appearance is a flicker of hope amongst the darkness that has engulfed the land of Punjab.
His story should serve as an inspiration to USF students who dare to speak out against injustice. It has personally inspired me to do more research regarding the history of my people to understand the struggles we have gone through. By familiarizing myself with these struggles, I can help inspire others with the knowledge that I gain.
As USF students, if we are looking to change the world, we must be able to change ourselves to emulate those that have come before us and paved the way to make a difference in society. Individuals like Deep Sidhu, who chose to stand true to his beliefs, even if it led to backlash from seemingly all sides, is a testament to the courage needed to fight for what you believe in.