Represent Sikhi...not just Sikhs.

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਗਾਖੜੀ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਆਪੁ ਗਵਾਇ ॥: 
It is very difficult to serve the Satguru; to do so one must surrender their head (physically through shaheedee and/or spiritually through the eradication of haumai)

The last few months have been hard for many amongst the Sikh community, I am not one of them though. For 20 years I have witnessed the Indian government use propaganda through its channels within the Indian media to periodically raise an issue of Sikh extremism in an attempt to thwart Sikh political activism from the diaspora Sikh community. This response from the Canadian media when it comes to Sikhs in Canada speaking about human rights, political change (domestic or international), and Khalistan is the standard approach of “lazy journalism” that many self-declared experts on Sikh issues and Khalistan portray. This is nothing new and nothing shocking. For some of us, it has always been the norm. The idea that this country is ours has been foreign to me for a very long time and therefore the expectation that white media, with all its privilege, would want to understand me and represent the truth of what I say is also foreign to me. 

When I explain this line of thought to other Sikhs I get a response of “then what are you?” as if I need a nationality to identify myself. I am a human being and a Sikh of the Guru Granth and Guru Panth. That is my identity and when it comes to my nationality, what I am is homeless. My home is Khalistan/Punjab and it has been occupied by foreigners from the time of the British in 1849 to the reins of power being handed to the Brahmin and India in 1947. Decades of colonial rule have turned into centuries, and the only thing that changed for us was the color of the hand holding the chains we are enslaved by. Punjab/Khalistan is my home because my Guru created a vision for what it was to become and that revolution started for us when he asked for one of us to come forward, head in hand, and has continued through every Sikh generation since. To serve the Guru is to serve and reflect on Naam/Shabad and in doing so, to truly live the sach (truth) we ought to speak:

ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਜਿਨੀ ਨ ਸੇਵਿਓ ਸਬਦਿ ਨ ਕੀਤੋ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ 
ਅੰਤਰਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਨ ਆਇਓ ਮਿਰਤਕੁ ਹੈ ਸੰਸਾਰਿ ॥: 
Those who have not served the “Satguru” no Divine Wisdom has dawned in their Heart; 
they may appear as alive but they are dead in the world (spiritually dead-ਆਤਮਕ ਮੌਤ)

If Punjab/Khalistan is my home then why am I or others like me here you might ask? Well, where should we go? I live on the unceded traditional territories of the Katzie, Kwantlen and Matsqui First Nations and am still learning and coming to terms with my settler history here. Should I go back to the occupied and oppressed territories where my brothers and sisters remain in silence caused by the psycho-trauma of genocidal campaigns inflicted upon them by the Indian government? Should I go back to the villages where Jaswant Singh Khalra found thousands of young boys disappeared and extra-judicially murdered so perhaps one day I could be added to that list just like he was? Or should I go to the capital of Delhi and await another genocide of my people like in November 1984 when thousands were burned alive in the streets with no justice being provided after almost 35 years? I have every right to be here and I have every right to raise my voice for the people of Khalistan/Punjab. We are colonizers, occupiers, and settlers here on this land and I can agree that my existence here is somewhat of a hypocrisy in itself, but until I have somewhere to return to, I fully intend to build solidarity with the traditional rulers of these unceded territories and use this space for the betterment of people here and elsewhere. I have a passport, social insurance number, etc. for as long as I need it to survive. I have no ill-will towards Canada as the land and society has provided me with a platform to engage the Indian government’s violent and genocidal agenda; although I fully understand the need to do better in the treatment and acknowledgement of First Nations and their legitimate claims to their territories. Personally, I would love to see every single human being succeed in life and be safe from discrimination, exploitation and oppression and that is why my advocacy for Khalistan is completely legitimate from this land. It doesn’t matter if you came here in the 1600s or came here last week, you still came here from somewhere and nobody has true “ownership” of the land here aside from those whose unceded territory it is. Therefore, the trauma and wounds some of us carry from the sufferings of the multiple identities (racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, etc.) we see ourselves through will always be with us.

“Canada in the twenty-first century exists as a country enriched by immense human and natural resources. It is a nation filled with majestic beauty beyond compare, populated by talented individuals attracted from all corners of the globe in recent years and generations past in search of better lives for themselves and their families- all of this occurring with little regard to its illegitimate and immoral beginnings.”
- Bradford W. Morse, "Reconciliation Possible? Reparations Essential," ed. Mike DeGagne, Marlene Brant-Castellano and Linda Archibald (Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2008), 235.

Currently, some Sikhs who are responding inadequately to media coverage in Canada are doing so from an ideologically and politically confused position of weakness. There are two things happening simultaneously; the first is this position of being “shocked” that this is happening to them in what they consider their “home” and the second that they are trying to respond in a manner to fit into this “home” by misrepresenting Sikhi to satisfy needs that stem from their own personal position of weakness. Putting the interests of individual Sikhs over Sikhi itself has been problematic in the past for Sikhs and a well-known example is the case of Ram Rai. Ram Rai misrepresented Sikhi (changed a shabad) out of fear to the state/political power (Aurangzeb and the Mughal Empire) in order to avoid harm. By doing so Ram Rai was accepted by the Mughal Empire and then rewarded with a Dera near Dehradun; a similar need for acceptance and possibly “rewards” is manifesting itself currently as well. Ram Rai was excommunicated by Guru Har Rai Sahib from the Sikh Panth for this misrepresentation and where some may not consider the misrepresentation of Sikhi occurring right now through media engagement at the same level, there is no denying that the misrepresentation itself is occurring. If the only issue for us in this misrepresentation is the degree of Ram Rai (full or partial) we want to become, then I will say without a doubt, we have failed as Guru de Sikh.

The context of sangarsh and patshahi is missing from all media coverage and as stated already, it is to be expected. The unfortunate thing is that this same context is missing from virtually all Sikh responses within Canada as well. There is a desperate need to represent Sikhs amongst the Sikh sangat in Canada and everyone wants to #AskCanadianSikhs while unfortunately, Sikhi is being misrepresented due to the fear and weakness of those being “asked.” Even this is going to be hard for many apologetic types to digest, but how can you condemn all forms of violence as a Sikh? Using terms like struggle, defense, resistance and revolution are completely fine, yet these terms all depend on the mode and means adopted in order to carry them out. They can all be carried out with non-violence like Guru Arjan and Guru Tegh Bahadur and when necessary, they can all be carried out with the use of arms and violence like Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh. 

As a Sikh, you cannot and should not run from this. To condemn this is to condemn your Guru. The Guru gave clear instruction as to when and where there was justification for their Sikhs to take up arms and the moral and ethical code a Sikh must abide by in doing so:

ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਨਾਮ ਜਪ ਕਰੈ ॥ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਮਲੇਛ ਪਰ ਚੜ੍ਹ੍ਹ੍ਹੈ ॥ (੫੧)
Khalsa is the one who remembers the divine name; Khalsa is the one who charges at the invaders.(51)

ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਨਾਮ ਸਿਉੁਂ ਜੋੜੇ ॥ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਬੰ ਧਨ ਕੋ ਤੋੜੇ ॥ (੫੨)
Khalsa is the one who is permeated with the celestial entity; Khalsa is the one who destroys bondage.(52)

ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਜੋ ਚੜ੍ਹ੍ਹ੍ਹੇ ਤੁਰੰਗ ॥ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਜੋ ਕਰੇ ਨਿਤ ਜੰਗ ॥ (੫੩)
Khalsa is the one who charges (into a righteous war); Khalsa is the one who is ever ready for righteous war.(53)

ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਸ਼ਸਤਰ ਕੋ ਧਾਰੈ ॥ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਸੋਇ ਦੁਸੰਟ ਕੋ ਮਾਰੈ ॥ (੫੪)
Khalsa is the one who adorns the arms; Khalsa is the one who exterminates the vicious.(54)

-Bhai Nand Lal, Tankhanama (conversations with Guru Gobind Singh)

Representing Sikhi in its mool form is the issue, not representing Sikhs and yes, there is a difference. A Sikh like me carries many weaknesses and in moments of uncertainty and potentially fear, I may want the problem to just go away and be accepted. If that means changing the mool (origin) of who I am and what I am supposed to represent then I may go along with it. But Sikhi is from the Guru and represented and manifested within Gurbani, Gur-itihas, and Gurmat. It is clear that the approach a Sikh must take in the most difficult moments must be gauged through Sikhi based on the examples of those who have represented it through action in our itihas. Almost every media piece written with some “context” as to the Indian government’s bloody campaigns against minority communities came at a price, but they were widely shared by panthic Sikhs nonetheless. So desperate were some of us for any half-decent representation that we let the very best of us, like Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, be sacrificed in the process. Sandy Garossino wrote a piece titled “The Truth Behind the Story Engulfing Canada’s Sikh Politicians” and even though it had the following in it, far too many Sikhs treated it as some kind of victory:

“India in the early eighties saw the emergence of a ruthless and charismatic Sikh nationalist, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Then-prime minister Indira Gandhi had once cultivated the religious zealot for her own political purposes. Now Bhindranwale directly challenged her authority by violently seizing and occupying Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar… 
The Golden Temple assault electrified the entire Sikh faith. By slaughtering innocents along with Bhindranwale, Gandhi legitimized his cause and gave a face to Sikh religious persecution...
Bhindranwale's transformation from ruthless thug to religious icon and the face of Sikh religious persecution was complete.”

The highly derogatory language used against Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in this piece and many others is being forgiven or even purposely cast aside in order to use the remainder of the story to protect “Sikh politicians” like Jagmeet Singh in Canada. This is an unacceptable position for Sikhs to take from purely a Sikhi-sidhant perspective. 

The issue that Jagmeet Singh faces is highly problematic in and of itself. Jagmeet Singh is being forced to explain himself for attending events where Sikh sovereignty is on full display, much like Prime Ministers, Premiers, MPs, MLA’s and Mayors of various municipalities and political parties and leanings across Canada have as well. The stark difference in media coverage however, illustrates the difference in how he is talked about compared to his White counterparts. The issue seems less about the venue or context and more about the legitimacy of the person himself, speaking frankly, a young brown man with a full beard and round turban who represents a very visible minority in this country. If Jagmeet Singh spoke about the events of 1984 and mass human rights violations the Sikh people suffered at the hands of the Indian government, then so have elected officials of multiple political parties and the former leader of the NDP Jack Layton. If Jagmeet Singh as a MPP spoke about Sikh genocide and put a motion forward in the Ontario legislature, then so did Sukh Dhaliwal a Liberal MP under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership and he did it in parliament in Ottawa. Further, it was Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals that stood for and pushed through the declaration of genocide in the Ontario legislature and not Jagmeet Singh and the Ontario NDP (who did raise it the year before, but didn’t have enough seats to see the motion through). 

For someone like me, who has been involved in Sikhi parchar (with advocacy for Khalistan being a segment of that parchar) for almost 2 decades, I have no issue in stating that Jagmeet Singh is a Canadian political leader; Jagmeet Singh is NOT a Sikh leader. Jagmeet Singh agreeing or disagreeing with Sikh political causes doesn’t make them any more or less relevant and nor has he ever been given any authority to speak on behalf of the Sikh Panth. For any sangarsheel Sikh, Bhai Jagtar Singh Hawara is the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and it is his leadership that we seek since his history, perspective and outlook continue to be centered around the patshahi the Guru bestowed upon us. Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara is in a leadership role because even while wrapped in chains he continues to represent the soch that Guru sahib gave us in the form of Sikhi. Jathedar Hawara doesn’t and nor should he ever, represent the fears and weaknesses of Sikhs who become unhinged because they no longer know how to justify their mool and existence in the diaspora. Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara re-ignites in panthic Sikhs a never-ending and never-wavering inspiration to put the strength of Sikhi before the maya-infested weakness of Sikhs:

ਡਗਮਗ ਛਾਡਿ ਰੇ ਮਨ ਬਉਰਾ ॥
Stop your wavering, O crazy people!

ਅਬ ਤਉ ਜਰੇ ਮਰੇ ਸਿਧਿ ਪਾਈਐ ਲੀਨੋ ਹਾਥਿ ਸੰਧਉਰਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Now that you have taken up the challenge of death, let yourself burn and die, and attain perfection.

Our position is clear, we wish to represent Sikhi to the best of our ability. Sikh Liberation Front (SLF) penned a piece a few weeks ago which best captures the state of the apologetic Sikh today who either knowingly or unknowingly are distancing themselves from their mool by representing and defending their personal weaknesses and defining it as “representing Sikhs.” 

“The apologists choose to project the Sikh jujharoo lehar (rebellion) as an anachronism of the past—an irrational (“extremist/terrorist”) outburst of violence that has no place in the liberal democratic “present” of their imaginations. They choose to latch on to a clear-cut division of time in order to banish Sikh existence and resistance into the realm of the “Other” in order to maintain their image as obedient, non-threatening citizens. .. The ignorance of these claims overlooks the legacy of genocide and the ongoing structures of repression which inhibit discourses of Sikh sovereignty from the political space in Punjab (52 Khalistani activists have been arrested in Punjab between April—December 2017 alone). Secondly, these claims ignore widespread political movements in recent years which centre around the movement for Khalistan. This includes massive mobilizations against the pending execution of Sikh political prisoners and for their immediate release—all of whom are in prison for waging an armed struggle against the Indian state in the pursuit of Khalistan. The symbolism and discourse underlying this movement clearly focused on the necessity of the armed struggle these prisoners were imprisoned for.”
-Prabjot Singh (SLF), “Confronting Race and Rejecting the Politics of Apology”

My appeal is to all those Sikh jathebandees, organizations, Gurdwara Sahibs, and any other individual or collective Sikhs that are currently speaking on this issue, ensure that we represent Sikhi in its mool form rather than giving in to fear or weakness in those difficult moments. As a Panth we have each other in the form of sangat and the Guru; if we are not able to perform this representation then we must look for and utilize those amongst our sangat that can. Our misrepresentation today will set unfortunate precedents for generations of Sikhs and how they interact with shastars, Gur-itihas and Khalsa Mahima. We cannot allow this to happen.

As stated in Panth Parkash by Rattan Singh Bhangu, when Bhai Taru Singh was arrested the Sikh sangat came together and did ardas and it was in the hopes that Sikhi would be represented until the last breath so that it would continue to exist in its mool roop as the Guru intended:

ਸਿੱਖੀ ਸਾਥ ਨਿਬਾਹੀ ਸਾਸ ॥
(May Bhai Taru Singh) Represent Sikhi until the last breath.

When news of Bhai Taru Singh’s shaheedee came to the sangat they once again performed ardas:

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪੈਜ ਖਾਲਸੇ ਰਾਖੀ ॥
ਰਹੈ ਜਗਤ ਮੈਂ ਜੁਗ ਜੁਗ ਸਾਖੀ ॥
Satguru has honored the Khalsa (through Bhai Taru Singh’s representation of Sikhi until his last breath); this example (representation of Sikhi) will remain until the end of time.

This is who we are and must time Bhai Taru Singh and at least for now, the sangat that believed death was preferable to misrepresentation of Sikhi.

Moninder Singh
Sikh Liberation Front (SLF)

Walking in the trail-blazing footsteps of Guru Nanak Sahib

This week the Sikh world will celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, an enlightened and profound thinker who not only challenged injustice and falsehood, but initiated a revolutionary movement to emancipate the world. He resisted crooked politics and unjust social orders to pave a new reality which gave rise to Sikh psyche.

Having studied many languages including Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic from an early age, young Nanak quickly surpassed renowned scholars in wisdom and spiritual prowess. His use of Sanskrit and Arabic terminology, to express some of his theological views found in the Guru Granth Sahib, shows he had mastered the vernaculars of ancient scriptures and contemporary governance.

Circa 1499 Guru Nanak describes how, as an unemployed bard/musician[1] he was bestowed with the task of propagating divine truth and thus spent the next 25 years travelling across modern day regions of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, South West China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Wherever he travelled, in addition to spreading knowledge of the Creator, the Guru heavily criticized the political powers that ruled, and questioned the superstitious rituals of self-proclaimed religious leaders that had led people astray.

Guru Nanak's world vision was based on the notion that a leader must be guided by divine light for him/her to be of real service to the people. Such an authority should not be swayed by material pleasures but should create conditions in which love for the Almighty and spiritual values flourished.

On his trip to the South, Guru Nanak commended the Queen of Ceylon for her love of her subjects; "you gather your revenue and return it for the benefit of your subjects. The Chief who does not appropriate everything for oneself but gives to others in the name of the Almighty, is blessed".[2]  

Where the Guru praised those, who honoured their office and performed their duties conscientiously, he equally condemned those who indulged in corruption. When referring to the Pathan administration, he said "The King administers justice if his palm is greased".[3]  The assumption being that the whole paraphernalia of government is corrupt if officials at every level indulged in such acts.

He recognized the fallacies propagated by government officials and religious leaders who were both well-rehearsed in manipulating and exploiting the people for personal gains. He likened them to tigers, and their officials to dogs that went out to awaken sleeping people and harass them. He spoke metaphorically of how public servants inflicted wounds with their nails and the officials licked up the blood that was spilled. At the same time, he forewarned that all beings would inevitably be judged and those that had violated the people's trust would be disgraced.[4] 

He was also outspoken about the discriminatory rituals that were commonplace across South Asia. One such ritual was the wearing of a piece of thread that was tied around one's neck, common amongst followers of Hinduism; the janeo. Hindus believed that without it, one would not be able to break out of the caste system and would forever remain in the lowest of castes. 

When young Nanak was presented with the janeo, he spoke out against such superstitious beliefs and rebutted their claim.[5]  He criticized the Hindu priest, "you buy the thread for a few shells, and seated in your enclosure, you put it on. Whispering instructions into others' ears, the Brahmin becomes a guru. But he dies, and the sacred thread falls, and the soul departs without it."[6]   

Similarly, Guru Nanak was critical of Muslim rituals[7] and refused to accept the misconceptions that had enraptured the masses. He continuously shook the foundations upon which these self-proclaimed leaders stood.

He likened the current Age to a knife in which the rulers are butchers; where righteousness has sprouted wings, and flown away.[8]  Highlighting the hypocrisy of what they preached and what they practiced, the Guru constantly scrutinized their actions. There is no ambiguity in what he wrote; "the sacred marks on their foreheads, and the saffron loin-cloths around their wastes; in their hands they hold knives - they are the butchers of the world".[9]   The Guru adopted a no holds barred approach when exposing the duplicity of the men that abused their positions of power and authority.

Another way in which Guru Nanak challenged social norms was the way in which he championed women's rights. He denounced the ritual of Sudak which was widespread amongst the followers of Hinduism. This was a superstitious belief that having given birth, a woman remained unclean for a specific amount of days, the exact number itself depended on the caste to which the women belonged. Guru Nanak a stern critic of the caste system, condemned this practice.[10]  

Guru Nanak recognized that at its very core the Brahmanical domination was traditionally very rigid, based solely on a hierarchical model where one's rights as an individual were limited to the caste in which one is born.  An unyielding restriction was placed on one's ability to break out of the caste system and further disparities were placed on womenfolk.

Guru Nanak exposed the errors prevalent within the Brahmanical system, in the same way he was outspoken and blunt with his view on the Mughal rulers and their discrimination against fellow humans. His mission remained centred on the idea of uplifting a people from the slums of spiritual blindness and worldly bigotry that had plundered humanity.

In this way the Guru remained vocal and continued to question the cowardice of so called leaders. One such incident occurred during the impending invasion by Mughal Emperor Babur. The Yogis had refused to defend their people, relying instead on recitation of mantras and assuring the people that their efforts to remain passive and chant mantras would blind the Mughal forces.

When the Mughal forces attacked, Guru Nanak states "Millions of religious leaders failed to halt the invader, when they heard of the Emperor's invasion. He burned the rest-houses and the ancient temples; he cut the princes limb from limb, and cast them into the dust. None of the Mughals were blinded and no one performed any miracle". [11]

The Yogis lacked the courage and bravery to oppose the brute of Babur's forces and chose to abandon their people. The Guru thus highlighted the importance of standing up against injustice and oppression, which when the time came, was the same philosophy adopted by successive Gurus and later the Sikh themselves.

He condemned empty rituals such as fasting and other forms of penance adopted to achieve enlightenment. The austerities of which the Yogis were so proud, were of no value to the Guru, like the counterfeit coin, which may appear genuine but is ultimately rejected as it does not contain the necessary properties. The Guru was astute when he held discussions, whether he was in the heat of Baghdad or the cold foothills of the Himalayas.

Having exposed the falsehood that was flowing throughout the world around him, Guru Nanak set up a base in Kartarpur from where he initiated the Sikh Panth.  The Guru removed superstition and hypocrisy that was so prevalent amongst the other religions of the world and established a kingdom of truth, built on the strongest of foundations. [12]

As Bhai Gurdas comments, he established the authority of his doctrines and started a new path devoid of any impurity.[13]  Roaring like a lion, the Guru recognized that humanity had been led astray mainly by the corruption and falsehood of the ruling elite but also in part due to the ritualistic idol worship that had entered the sanctity of spiritual centres.

The State naturally labelled Guru Nanak an outlaw for his views and actions which they considered outlandish and in direct opposition to their rule. For this charge he was imprisoned during the tenure of Mughal Emperor Babur. However, the Guru remained resolute in laying the ideological and physical foundations of the Sikh Nation which revolutionized some whilst alarming others. That has been the pattern throughout Sikh history and is the reason Sikhs have faced opposition and near extinction since inception.

The pursuit of Sikh sovereignty has been a fundamental aspect of establishing the Guru's principles. Whether it was the Khalsa Republic of the early 18th century; the subsequent Sikh Confederacy; the Sikh Raj of the 19th century or the current Sikh movement for Khalistan, the Sikhs have always understood the need to establish political autonomy to truly implement the ideology of the House of Guru Nanak.

As Sikhs across the world celebrate this week, lets also strive to walk in the trailblazing footsteps of our Guru who condemned false creeds, hollow scriptures, isms, pieties and all religious and political hypocrisies[14] to galvanize the Sikh movement and help reshape the world around us.


[1] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Maajh, Ang 150
[2] J S Bains, Political Ideas of Guru Nanak, Indian Journal of Political Science, 1962; Quoted in the Sikh Review, November 1961 p44
[3] Guru Nanak. Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Asa, Ang 339
[4] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Malaar, Ang 1288
[5] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Asa, Ang 471
[6] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Asa, Ang 471
[7] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Maajh, Ang 140
[8] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raaj Maajh, Ang 145
[9] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Asa, Ang 472
[10] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Aasaa, Ang 472
[11] Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib,  Raag Aasaa, Ang 418
[12] Bhatt Satta & Balwant, Guru Granth Sahib, Raag Raamkalee, Ang 966
[13] Bhai Gurdas ji, Vaaran, Vaar 1
[14] Professor Puran Singh, Spirit of the Sikh, Chapter 1