Reviews TV + Movies

India’s First Documentary On Queer Sikh Folks: Sab Rab De Bande, A Sorely- Needed Film

Sab Rab De Bande showcases the stories of queer individuals who are proud of their Sikh identity. The documentary begins with a narrative of the roots of Sikhism, tracing its path over time and its current status, globally and in India. After a vibrant introduction to Sikhism, we venture into the core premise – What does Sikhism have to say about being queer?

The 28-minute film dives deep into the lives of five Queer Sikhs living in India. Produced with a budget of 2,000 USD, the money was raised via a crowdfunding campaign that met its goal within 10 days of its launch, said Sukhdeep Singh, the director of the film.

The movie provides a peek at the bigotry that LGBTQ Sikhs face. The voiceover guides us through the unique setting in which each of the subjects discuss their gender identity and sexuality. Interviews of other queer Sikhs discussing their experiences are interspersed as well. The individuals appear alone, we are not introduced to their families but focus just on their thoughts and love for Sikhism. We meet Ritika from Delhi, Amolak from Kanpur, Ekampreet from Haryana, Puneet from Punjab, and Sukhdeep himself, from Kolkata.

One of the topics discussed is the image of the quintessential Sikh man – macho, brave, muscular, long-haired. Such stereotypes are a battle for many LGBT folks to disrupt as the default idea of being a part of the Sikh community.

Sukhdeep added that he had grappled with the issue of not knowing any other Sikh gay man while exploring his sexuality in college or other individuals from the queer community.

As the years progressed, he joined apps like Grindr, where he experienced discrimination even within the LGBTQ community. He got random messages that called him a hypocrite for practicing Sikhism and being gay. This in turn triggered his self-critical anxiety.

Like many Sikh men Sukhdeep embraces his turbaned head and stache, but as metrosexual appearances are considered more in vogue on such apps… it made him doubt himself. However, sharp comments online asking him to cut his hair and not wearing the turban did not stop him from expressing himself.

I believe this indicates how tough it would be for any queer Sikh person to let dynamics of sexuality and religion co-exist. Amolak and Ekampreet’s stories elaborate on this dichotomy of being themselves as well as practicing their religion.

The widely-accepted image of a Sikh man leaves little room for effeminacy. Amolak and Ekampreet challenge the radical conceptions of their faith, garnering hate from their own community. As a gay person, Ekampreet finds this hegemonic notion restrictive because it doesn’t represent or embrace his sexuality.

Describing childhood encounters with his family, he speaks about how any sign of “femininity” was scrutinized. He too encountered religious discrimination when checking for dates on apps. He said, he was welcomed well when men received photographs of him below his face while revealing his turbaned hair and bearded face often turned them off.  

“I think that gay men are especially racist against the Sikh community,” he asserted. But with the right people he feels accepted for who he is, not just for his appearance.

The Sikh community is tough to navigate for its queer women and trans-women as well. Patriarchal traditions often treat daughters as a burden and women are hardly given any agency to live as they want. However, after being engaged to a friend, Puneet realized she wasn’t attracted or drawn to him in anyway. She broke it off and came out as a lesbian years later. Surprisingly, her parents were understanding about it.

Ritika spoke of being “a misfit” and the abuse she endured when her family did not want to embrace her as a trans woman. She was forcibly sent to a drug de-addiction camp for three months where she was sexually and mentally harassed. Her family has disowned her but still expect her to give them their monthly allowance. Despite their actions Ritika has chosen to be humane in her values, which drew her closer to her faith.

Sab Rab De Bande effectively captures the struggle that queer people go through when considering their faiths and religious identity. The lack of clear representation of Sikh queer persons in regional as well as popular media poses the difficulty of feeling included in their community. Even though Sikhism and its teachings state nothing queerphobic, the gatekeepers of the faith often misinterpret absence of it as refutation. 

Albeit, all the queer folks featured in the film are the ones who are proud of their Sikh identity as well as their sexuality… I wonder about Sikhs who feel conflicted about where they stand trying to embrace them both.  I also felt intrigued by the queer women and was curious to know more about their twin challenges of religion as well as systemic patriarchy, and whether they felt included in broader LGBTQ+ spaces.

After learning about their lives, I was eager to understand the beliefs of those held in esteem wjthin the paradigm of Sikhism.

The film captures this through an interview with a Sikh priest who states that homosexuality is an offshoot of other wrongful vices, deriving from lust and selfishness. He goes on to say that marriage is only meant for a man and woman. However, Ekampreet argues against this by pointing out that, in Sikhism, marriage is between souls, and Queer Sikhs are included because “souls are genderless.”

The 5 queer Sikhs featured definitely portray the main idea that the faith accepts and embraces us all. The beauty lies in how all of them have taken refuge in the same faith in its truest form and manifested Sikhism’s main teaching that all are equal, enabling them to be as they are.

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I am an art dilettante, into bilingual poetry, learning to philosophize and comprehend spaces for differences to coexist.

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