It is sad that Satnam chose to walk away. After writing a book like Jangalnama and translating a novel like Spartacus into Punjabi, Satnam finally resigned from his own life. In Sanjay Kak’s film Red Ant Dream, Satnam reads out Paash’s poem, looks into the camera and expresses his agreement with the seditious poem. He grins and looks straight into the camera while talking about sedition. His frame becomes a representation of disobedience against authority. Satnam addressed life through this very resistance. Satnam’s suicide unveils the covert and the overt violence of our times when questions arising with every kind of resistance are labelled seditious. That is why it becomes essential to ask why someone like Satnam commits suicide? Who is responsible for this suicide and who owns the responsibility to evaluate its genesis?
For four long decades Satnam remained a full time revolutionary. He contributed towards the mobilization of resistance and inspired a lot of young people to walk the path of revolution. He motivated those who walked the path and maintained sincere relationships with those who chose to step out of the path. His friends, compatriots and even his opponents praise his warm and amiable nature. His friends will tell you that he presented his views with extraordinary clarity and listened sensitively to the views of his opponents. His writings are evidence of his curiosity and clarity. There is no doubt that staying active in revolutionary politics for so long demands conviction and courage. It demands a thorough review of the system. It demands a review of the political, class and caste structures of society. It also demands a deconstruction of the social and the emotional aspects of society.
The revolutionary dreams are shaped through these reviews of the system. Fearlessly, the revolutionary activist, upon reviewing the system, changes his or her own self as per the principles of revolution. Every activist has to balance heavy odds: on the one side one has to live in a current unequal patriarchal world and on the other side one has to nurture the dream of the revolution. Balancing these becomes a cause for conflict between many activists and organizations. In such situations, a revolutionary activist comes face to face with his or her own organization. At times these conflicts result in splits of organizations and disillusionment among activists.
This is the most complex and painful aspect of revolutionary movements. When one seeks to change the times, one also experiences inner change. The associations with other revolutionaries inspire these inner changes, the change of preferences; the changes in the social sphere and the emotional universe. If an activist abandons the ranks, the question of settling down in another way of life arises from the very place where the abandonment takes place. The route, for someone who chooses to turn back before the revolution, is not paved and decorated – the question of resurrecting one’s life becomes important. When activists return from long jail terms, the manner in which they engage with the organizations – the earlier alignments – change. These changes rupture the activist’s emotional and social life. The experience is similar to clashes between activists and organizations when, due to ill health, the organizations leave the activists back home at the mercy of their families. Or when organizations give activists time off to take care of their family members. In such times complicated familial relationships come to the fore. Relations that the activist once rejected or neglected, now seek new terms to establish themselves. The inevitable conflict between that imagined and actual patriarchal family puts revolutionaries under tremendous pressure. Such experiences of rupture and resettling are never pleasant.
When these happenings are frequent in revolutionary politics, who has the responsibility to take required initiatives? When the revolutionary activists return home before the revolution, only an exceptional one has the skill to negotiate with the new life-style. While some fall victims to disappointments and decadance, many struggle to create a healthy engagement and a warm sphere around them. The claims of and on organizations recede and it is quite difficult to retain confidence in a new social scanerios. This is also when an activist addresses what has broken within and realises how his or her intellectual, emotional and human side has developed: at times the emotional development has not reached the level of intellectual development and at other times the human development has fallen short of the intellectual development. Current social systems and medical practice fail to understand this. No amount of advice or comfort talk soothes the one who is drowning. The activist does not find resources to change his or her environment and is unable to find an engagement that occupies the mind.
It could seem that such a person cannot be saved. In fact, saving such a person is not the responsibility of the current system because the ‘powers that be’ seek their importance in the death of such people. That is why a case is being made out that Satnam’s death was for the advancement of spirituality and religion. This argument is similar to that of the system which links every question to the idea of sedition and seeks to cover every failure of a revolutionary with the banner of devotion. The irony is that the so called ‘spiritual ones’, who speak of the well being of the human race, are making such arguments. These are the ones who celebrate such deaths.
No establishment has an interest in saving people like Satnam. Rather establshments find vindication in his end. Facebook and social media is replete with the claims of vindication by radical right wingers and advocates of spirituality. Satnam’s decision is definitely a failure of the revolutionary politics and their social structures. In the shadow of this dejection it is incumbent upon us to realise that the current socio-political reality of our times cannot assuage the heart of activists. The question arising from the suicide might be asked from any point of view but must be addressed. Satnam who gave the Punjabi audience a classic like Spartacus and Jangalnama has resigned from life so the review of his life must start with an apology. After Rohit Vemula, we had Navkaran and now we have Satnam. All three are linked to each other and breaking this chain of suicides by activists is not any less a matter than a revolution. We must confront Satnam and respond to his questions. We need to address his seditious silences. He is speaking to us through Paash. When he has frozen in time, his eye contact with the camera defines him and that needs to be deciphered.
Daljit Ami is an independent documentary filmmaker and pursuing PhD in Cinema Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. This article has been translated from Punjabi by Amandeep Sandhu.
Amandeep Sandhu is the author of Roll of Honour, translated by Daljit Ami into Punjabi as Gawah De Fanah Hon To Pehlan.
The article was published by Counter Currents