The plains of Agro Pontino are overwhelmed by the phenomenon of mass immigration from Punjab, India. Numerically, the phenomenon is largely underestimated, as most of the immigrants live here illegally (without living and working permit). The presence of Sikh/Punjabi immigrants is quite apparent when one takes a tour of the area between Aprilia and Sabaudia. Many summer resorts have turned into Sikh/Punjabi colonies in all respects. In the province of Latina only, there are an estimated 30,000 Sikh/Punjabi, most of them without a permit to stay.

The journey of a Sikh/Punjabi immigrant mostly starts from a middle class family. The immigrant’s family invests a major part of their savings for the journey of the chosen son (pyara), in the hope that he’ll make a fortune in the West. It is a terrible mistake they are going to regret and that can cost their favourite son his life. The money ends up in the pockets of greedy Italian landowners, who aren’t truly interested in having more employees, and of cynical Sikh smugglers. Once in Italy, the immigrants are sucked in a spiral of illegality and slavery, kept under threat because of their illegal status (without a permit to stay and work), and the debt of the loan taken from the local money lender.

Most of the immigrants somatise the slavery in which they have fallen. Many loose 20-30 kilos in a few months, others get depressed and think of suicide as the only way out, almost everyone curse their decision of going to the West. Going back to the homeland is difficult: lack of money and being illegal are major hurdles, but even more so is the feeling of pride and shame towards their families. For this reason Sikhs and Punjabis hold on, hoping the day will come when they’ll have their papers, so that they can visit their families and possibly bring them to the West. So far, just a regular story of migration, you may say. However, when numbers become names, when passions and suffering become real and tangible, the usual story transfigures into a modern Odyssey.

The Odyssey of the Sikh/Punjabi immigrant will be told in 5 chapters: the departure the arrival in Italy the slavery the struggle to obtain papers the return to the homeland Each chapter will have a different protagonist, who with his narrative and situation will exemplify the various stages in the typical journey of the Punjabi immigrant. At the same time, there will be supporting characters to give a fuller picture of the phenomenon, including the profound mystic dimension present in all the immigrants.

In fact the Punjabi/Sikh culture is permeated by a profound spirituality which seeks to create harmony between different religions and ways of thinking. The sacred pervades the green fields of Agro Pontino, it walks with the gurus who travel along the roads of the plain, it resonates in the chants of the gurus teaching transcendence. Maybe, a new Italy is being born, and we are witnessing in awe.

Winner of the La Stampa Digital Media

Si aggiudica il primo premio della giuria tecnica per la qualità giornalistica a tutto tondo il video «Tan Kosh» dedicato alla difficile vita della comunità Sikh nell’agropontino, un documentario collettivo che porta la firma di Saverio Paoletta, ma anche di Harvinder Singh (Sikh trapiantato in Italia) e Giordano Coss

Source La Stampa