On the 16th of January 2015, Bapu Surat Singh of village Hassanpur, Ludhiana took charge of ensuring that the dignity of an Ardas, made for the betterment of the Panth, be rightfully upheld. An Ardas was initially made by Gurbaksh Singh who on two separate occasions failed to deliver on his word. He originally made an Ardas to commence a hunger strike in protest of the illegal detainment of Sikh political prisoners who had long served their prison sentences in India. Gurbaksh Singh maintained that he would remain on hunger strike until the Sikh political prisoners were released or until he breathed his last. The Sikh political prisoners were neither released nor did Gurbaksh Singh breathe his last; opting instead to end his hunger strike prematurely.
Bapu Surat Singh then stood up and came forward to complete the Ardas. As someone who was active during the Dharam Yudh Morcha that took place in the 1980s, Bapu Surat Singh is fully aware of the historic and current political situation in Panjab. His decision to commence the hunger strike is reminiscent of the course of action taken by Darshan Singh Pheruman, who similarly took up the mantle after another Sikh failed to uphold an Ardas, which is inviolable. In 1969 when Sant Fateh Singh violated his Ardas, that he would rather die than live in a subjugated Panjab where Chandigarh and certain other Panjabi speaking areas were broken away from Panjab; Darshan Singh Pheruman announced that he would fast unto death in the place of Sant Fateh Singh as an Ardas cannot be reneged upon. Darshan Singh Pheruman was arrested but continued his hunger strike in jail until the 74th day when true to his word, he fulfilled his pledge to the Guru and embraced martyrdom.
In his Will, Shaheed Darshan Singh Pheruman stated, “those who had played up the drama of undertaking solemn vows before the Akal Takht to immolate themselves have, by taking recourse to lies and cowardice, captured the decision-making centres of power…the traitors of the Panth and the pious frauds, called sants, have successfully hatched an ugly conspiracy to eliminate every vestige of the wholesome influence of Sikh religion from Sikh politics with the purpose of making Sikh people slaves of others”. He continued to express how this would only be corrected with a genuine and pure martyrdom, which he successfully achieved.
Bapu Surat Singh has encapsulated the same spirit by acting to reinvigorate the Panth; showing that the Khalsa is as resilient as ever. He has remained steadfast throughout his 176 day hunger strike, maintaining that the Ardas is one of the most potent weapons a Sikh has. An Ardas has the power to spark a revolution and awaken the Kaum. This is the reason why Bapu Surat Singh is protesting in the manner he is. Furthermore, he understands that the Panth has digressed from the decision it collectively made in 1986 during the Sarbat Khalsa when the overarching mandate for the Panth was waragainst the State. Today many have adopted an approach which contravenes that Panthic mandate.
It is plausible to suggest that the methods deployed by the Sikh Diaspora are a genuine attempt to highlight Bapu Surat Singh’s hunger strike. However such methods give rise to ineffective measures of nurturing actual change. For example many Sikhs in the diaspora have been advised to write to their MPs and Councillors in hope of them urging their government to investigate India’s treatment of Sikh political prisoners; the purpose of which is a global condemnation of the way India governs its minority communities. Herein lies the futility of such efforts. India is an independent country and has a track record of introducing draconian laws to quell the Sikhs. Most of the political prisoners currently languishing in Indian prison cells were arrested under TADA, a law which amongst other unjust provisions, virtually criminalised free speech. This Act was purposefully brought in to provide the Indian establishment with a means of violently silencing the political voice of Sikhs in Panjab. Although it lapsed in 1995, those arrested under TADA remain imprisoned.
Surely we’re not that naïve to think the UK government, or any other foreign power for that matter, is unaware of how India treats Sikh political prisoners. The UK government will only act in ways to serve its own interests and with the billion pound trade agreements in place between the two countries, it is very unlikely that we will ever see the UK exert any pressure on India let alone force India to release Sikh political prisoners. The MPs may acknowledge letters of complaint and respond in kind, however the reality of the situation is that that’s as far as they will and can go. Ultimately this matter will only ever be resolved by the Sikhs themselves.
It is Guru Nanak who tells us that we should resolve our own affairs with our own hands. That is why we have a duty to ensure our actions today fall in line with the Panthic agenda, which as it stands is encapsulated within the resolutions passed at the Sarbat Khalsa of 1986. In lobbying foreign governments to intervene and pleading with them to launch enquiries, we as Sikhs undermine the sovereignty of the GuruPanth. We have accepted the methods of democratic countries because they are perceived in the west to be the most effective ways of governance. However we only have to take a look at the outcome of previous attempts made by the Sikh Diaspora of relying on their host nations to intervene on humanitarian grounds. Governments in the west are not charity organisations; they are corporate infrastructures with set objectives to ensure their capitalistic needs are met under the guise of democracy. The British Empire, after all, is thriving.
Let us also consider the trend of taking to social media as an attempt to raise awareness. On the surface of it, social media is a good platform via which information can be disseminated to the wider public. However, as illustrated by the Arab Uprising, awareness alone will not resolve the problem at its core. During the Tunisian Revolution in 2010, as well as the civil unrest in Egypt, Yemen and Libya during 2012, thousands took to social media in an attempt to raise awareness. However the real change came on the ground by the people through grass roots activism, civil disobedience and ultimately armed resistance.
The risk therefore is an over-reliance and dependency on expecting the world to stand up and unite with the Sikh cause because we furiously tweet photos of Bapu Surat Singh. The danger of social media lies in the superficial creation of digital revolutions which may appear to gather momentum, but will not accurately represent the situation on the ground and more importantly fail to retain the crux of the original objective. A prime example of this in the case of Bapu Surat Singh is the recent emergence of the hashtag “#indiasavebapu”. This hashtag is a compromised attempt to raise “awareness”, it only serves to divert the Sikh political movement. The Sikhs are now not only begging foreign governments, but they’re now begging India to intervene and “save” Bapu. Imagine the erroneous euphoria India would create by releasing all Sikh political prisoners. The same people would then laud India to be a wonderful, democratic country that listens to the cries of Sikh people. In light of India’s barbaric regimes; where would the justice be in that?
As stated above, social media can be utilised as an effective means of sharing appropriate campaigns that serve to raiseawareness regarding Sikh affairs that are in line with the Sikh narrative. The focus should be on Bapu Surat Singh’s endeavour to reawaken the Sikh Nation. He knows full well the Indian establishment will not release political prisoners and thus is willing to give his life for Sikhs to understand that as long as we refrain from delivering on the mandate created from the 1986 Sarbat Khalsa, a Sikh will continue facinginjustice and suppression.
The success of Bapu Surat Singh’s hunger strike will come with his martyrdom for it will show Sikhs in the diaspora that no amount of petitioning, lobbying, and pleading with any foreign judicial system will free us of our suffering. We are a sovereign people and must realise our only means of ending the suppression will arrive through the realisation of Khalistan. When Bapu Surat Singh completes his journey of walking the Guru’s path, the responsibility to continue the resistance will land on our shoulders. How we choose to act will either defeat us or spark a revolution that defines us.