Bapu Ji is the Spark

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 He originally made an Ardas to commence a hunger strike in protest of the illegal detainment of Sikh political prisoners who had long served their prison sentences in India.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.

Keeping The Memory Alive

We were invited to share our thoughts at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day in Tower Hamlets, London. We took the opportunity as one that helps us continue the work of owning and defining our narrative as empowered Sikh activists. Below is the speech that I read out. 

We are all a part of that energy that pervades and permeates time and space binding all of existence together. It's manifestation in our interactions takes the form of love and truth. That same love and truth that transcends culture, religion and language, it is universal, it is one.

This is the egalitarian, universal message of the House of Guru Nanak. This message, this philosophy, of truth against lies, of love in the face of hate, of compassion in disagreement, is the cause that puts the House of Guru Nanak against the way of the tyrant.

When I became a conscious and active member of my community in my early twenties I began my own journey, one that continues to this day, of connecting with the history and trauma of the attack, in June 1984, on one of the most important centres of Sikh spiritual and political activity, the Harimandir Sahib, known as the golden temple. This attack was followed by the genocide of the Sikh community in Delhi in November, and a decade of state pogroms that all but silenced the dissent of a generation, extinguishing forever the lives of thousands of young Sikhs. Today we are still trying to find and piece together the broken fragments of our history, identify those that were killed and those that survived and bring those responsible, who today enjoy political power, to justice.

With even a rudimentary grasp of Sikh history, one will find that we are no strangers to large scale violence. Our history is full of tales of extermination, being hunted, barbaric torture and destruction of our places of gathering and worship. Historically in our community such tragedy has always been counterbalanced by ‘Chardi-Kala’ the firm belief of a high and unconquerable sprit of self confidence and positivity.

So I found it perplexing that so many Sikhs today, are resigned to being victims and rely on outside agencies to deliver justice. We lack the ability to articulate fully to a wider audience, the trauma of our past and how it resonates within our community today. The tragic events of 1984 and the decade of disappearances that followed has alienated many of us from our very identity as Sikhs and our commitment to realise an egalitarian society is largely forgotten.

I have found that much of the pain that is felt within the Sikh community comes from fear and uncertainty. We don’t fully own our narrative. If you talk to many Sikhs today they’ll talk about 1984, in terms of “operation bluestar”, the military code name given to the attack on Harimadir Sahib. This is the equivalent of the Jewish community referring to the holocaust as ‘the final solution’.

I when I was asked to share my experiences today, I asked myself why do genocides happen, why does the state turn to massacre, and industrialises oppression using all of their machinery to destroy a people?

Honestly, I don’t know, but I think the answer lies somewhere between individual lust for power and misdirected collective anger. Either way I refuse to be a victim, in fact my strength as a Sikh will never come from reconciling my lot as a victim but rather by celebrating the very culture, values and deeds that made us a target of violent extermination. My very existence as a Sikh that realises what is required of me in creating a better society, is rebellion and it's my duty to stand up against oppression, to fight tyranny. By the fact that we are alive, we survive, we can build a-new and invigorate the very people that the state has tried to destroy.

ਝੂਲਤੇ ਨਿਸ਼ਾਨ ਰਹੇਂ ਪੰਥ ਮਹਾਰਾਜ ਕੇ!

Let Us Be Honest With Our People

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I am against most avenues of dissent commonly taken by our community such as petitions and demonstrations. It is not only because I cannot logically see how they could, or have ever resulted in real change, but because usually the initiative is fundamentally flawed. As we approached 30 years to the battle of Amritsar in June 1984, there had been calls from various groups and individuals within the Sikh community: calling on the international community for an inquiry into the Indian Army attack, to “get justice”. However, when one asks who this international community is (in terms of its organisation); or which mechanism can hold India accountable; or even for an example of where such a campaign has resulted in justice - the voices start to go quiet.

What are the Mechanisms?

India isn’t a member of the European Union, so the obvious “International” avenue must be the United Nations. Let us look at recent conflicts, and how they have been dealt with by the international community.

This May will mark 6 years to when the LTTE in Sri Lanka was brutally destroyed by the Sri Lankan army. In doing so the Sri Lankan Army targeted civilians in a vicious bombing campaign which displaced over 100,000 people and killed over 40,000 people. Towards the latter stages of the civil war the LTTE were unable to engage in conventional warfare, as their territory had been surrounded and the army was shelling indiscriminately. Due to the huge civilian casualties being suffered, the LTTE were forced to seek a unilateral ceasefire. They refused to escape. Instead, they placed all their hopes in the International community, who they believed would force a ceasefire. No ceasefire was brokered by the International community.

The International community watched Sri Lanka massacring tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, and yet no real attempt was made to get Sri Lanka to agree a ceasefire. In other words Sri Lanka only stopped the killing when it was happy that sufficient killing had been done. Following this, some countries like the United Kingdom, voiced support for an inquiry into war crime allegations. Yet they did so through mechanisms which they know will not succeed. This, coupled with the fact that the UK has also supplied arms to Sri Lanka, calls the integrity of their ‘concerns’ into question.

In May 2009, the EU sought to pursue a motion against Sri Lanka for an investigation into the war crimes at the UN Human Rights Council, however this was unsuccessful as 29 countries of the 47 member council voted in solidarity with Sri Lanka. We must ask ourselves, was the EU in any doubt that the 29 countries, which included India, were going to vote in any other way? China and Russia for example had vetoed in all previous occasions when the EU attempted to table a resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Security Council. In fact due to opposition from China, Russia and India, the UNHRC was forced to drop a draft resolution condemning both the Tamil Tigers and the Government. Instead, they passed resolution S-11/1 on 27 May 2009 which commended the Sri Lankan government actions, and condemned the Tamil Tigers.

The motives for countries such as China, Pakistan and Russia are clear and simple. They have vested interests in the newly developing Sri Lanka, China is reported to have provided over $1.8 billion worth of arms to Sri Lanka, and Chinese companies are involved in a number of development projects. Russia and Pakistan also both provided arms to Sri Lanka, the former even lending $300 million after the war to be spent on arms.

The veto system is often lamented, as it only needs a permanent member to reject a proposal, and it will fail. The US has used its veto significantly and consistently in support of Israel each time it is required. Just a week ago, the US Government vetoed a Palestinian proposal calling for peace with Israel and an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.

These systems only serve as a means to placate aggrieved peoples of the world, with the false hope that there is a peaceful process in which their rights can be protected and enforced. In reality, commercial and political interests reign supreme. The power of the veto cripples any such chance of justice. These systems enable Governments such as the UK to say to its Tamil citizens, “We will demand an enquiry and table a motion in the UN.” This is said in the full knowledge it will be torpedoed by another member of the Security Council. It allows them to return in ‘shock’ and ‘disappointment’ reporting to the UK Tamil community, “We tried, but it got blocked, damn those Chinese!”

If the international community were not moved when India committed genocide against the Sikhs between 1984 and the mid 90s, if they were not moved when Sri Lanka committed genocide against the Tamils in 2009, or the continuing oppression for over half a century of the Palestinian people, why would they move now?

Diplomatic Efforts through other Governments?

This is a more informal method, through which other Governments, are pressured to lobby the Indian Government.

A few years ago I volunteered for the Sikh Organisation for Prisoners Welfare. I was a member of a negotiating team which facilitated discussions with the German Government, in regards to the Sikh political prisoner Professor Bhullar. We were trying to pressure the German Gov. to lobby the Indian Gov. to either unconditionally release him from detention, or order a retrial. We targeted the German Gov. because they had erroneously deported Professor Bhullar to India, where he faced torture, a miscarriage of justice, and the death sentence (he has been on death row for 14 years).

I remember in the last meeting with the German Foreign Office, their representative behind closed doors was very frank and open. He empathised with the situation but concluded, “India is a sovereign nation, we can only ask them, but in the end India can do whatever it wants”. For me that day confirmed asking another Government to lobby the Indian Gov. was a completely futile exercise.

Countries such as the UK, USA, Canada, Germany etc could use many diplomatic means to pressure and lobby India, they could cease trading or even cease all diplomatic relations, but the question is why would they do so?

Sikhs are a small minority in these countries, and the Sikhs that try to lobby these governments are a tiny minority within that minority. Recent revelations proved the British Government’s collusion with the Indian Army attack on Sri Harmandir Sahib. At the demand of the Indian Government, the UK attempted to suppress Sikh political activities. These revelations make it crystal clear, for any Sikh still viewing the world through Gandhian tinted spectacles, that trade agreements and commercial interests have more bargaining power and weight, than abuse of Sikh Human Rights in India.

These revelations meant that the 30 years we have spent lobbying the UK Gov. were effectively useless. That the reason they have not produced any results, is that while we marched and sat outside, all along these two governments were inside playing monopoly (“I will trade you this billion pound trade deal, you silence the Sikh dissent in the UK”).

Sadly, notwithstanding appeals, petitions and protests have ever produced any results for the past 3 decades and even after the revelations that proved commercial interests will always overrule - we are still forcing these ultimately useless initiatives on our people.

Isn’t it always better to do something?

No. A movement in the wrong direction only serves to distract, divert, divide and ultimately create disillusion. There is a petition currently doing the social media rounds which is an “urgent appeal to secure the permanent release” of Sikh political prisoners and to save the life of Gurbaksh Singh. What happens if the Indian Government does not agree to this petition? The continuing detention of prisoners and the death of Gurbaksh Singh will break the hopes of the hundreds who signed in the false hope that the release was possible. These hundreds will become disillusioned, and in the future may opt to not support a Panthic initiative at all.

Let us be honest with our people. Thousands of Tamils in the UK blocked roads surrounding Trafalgar Square for a number of weeks towards the end of the Civil war in 2009 to force a ceasefire. Hunger strikes were held and the blockades were mirrored in large capitals across the western world. Yet this had little or any effect. The Sri Lankan Army stopped when they wanted to, and not a moment sooner. Why is it then that we expect more for less? If the Tamil blockade for a number of weeks was unsuccessful, why do we think our one day walk or afternoon sit-in will have more of an effect?

These routines serve up a politically correct, false alternative to real methods of change, an alternative which satisfies the part time revolutionary. It makes no apology for its impotence; it provides the desired outcome, which is why we are not outraged when they don’t work.

Let’s not feign ignorance, most of the above information can be ascertained in 10 minutes on google, yet none of the proponents of these petitions or protests will do so, just so they can play along with the façade. Don’t plead illiteracy on their part, for the average Punjabi knows the planning laws, bylaws, rules and regulations better than his local planning officer. Why are we so unprepared and haphazard when it comes to the planning and foundations of our real home?

Let us be honest with our people. We do not place our hopes in the Indian Government or its morally corrupt counterparts. If Gurbaksh Singh dies he will do so and prove that Sikhs are slaves in India. If they release the prisoners, it will be a positive outcome, but the prisoners themselves will concede that it will be a small victory in comparison to the Panth’s needs. If the Sikhs remain in prison past their sentences, they will expect nothing less. They are political prisoners. Freedom fighters. They are not “Indian citizens” as they were imprisoned to prevent the formation of an Independent Sikh homeland. Let us not talk about the probability of them “reoffending” because they are not criminals.

True solidarity with the Sikh political prisoners is to develop and progress a mindset which is in cohesion with theirs:

‘‘Whatever we did, it was not meant to save our lives. We had reformed the enemies of the Panth and those who had deceived and harmed it. Our brothers were fighting a peaceful battle. We have fought battles as were fought by Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh Ji. We have done nothing against the tenets of Sikhism. When our Gurus did not care for their lives, who were true emperors and masters of the two worlds, what concern could the death have for us.....’’

Babbar Akali
March 1925
Pardesi Newspaper of the Babbar Akali Movement.

 

*(Note – Since this article was written 7 Sikhs made representations to the Thailand Embassy in London, urging Thailand to not extradite a recently detained Sikh to India. This was a commendable move, because as I outlined at the beginning of this article, my opposition was to inherently flawed initiatives. Lobbying the Thailand Government in this case is completely logical, as it can result in them refusing to extradite the detained Sikh.)

Hunger Strikes...Again

Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images

Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images

Last week a Gurdwara in the Midlands stopped serving the Guru’s Langar for a period of 12 hours. Allegedly for the ‘first time in 50 years’, the Gurdwara Management Committee’s decision was made as a show of support for the efforts of one Gurbaksh Singh, who is on his second hunger strike in protest of the wrongful imprisonment of Sikh political prisoners. 

Following an appeal by Gurbaksh Singh, a video surfaced on social media urging Sikhs around the world to join in with his hunger strike for one day. The idea being that this would assist Gurbaksh Singh with his own hunger strike. The makers of this video urged individuals to fast on 25th December, and in the case of the Gurdwara, simultaneously recite Gurbani and Simran in the hope that Gurbaksh Singh would remain in high spirits during his hunger strike.

If Gurbaksh Singh believes his efforts will result in the release of political prisoners then he should continue with the hunger strike and it seems he is resolute in doing so. My question however is, how does the closure of Guru’s Langar in Birmingham and a one day fast for individuals, provide a positive solution for Gurbaksh Singh’s plight, or his cause in Punjab? How does fasting in the UK assist political prisoners in India? Do the Sikhs need to result to such measures to show they are united against the unlawful detainment of political prisoners?

Hunger strikes are not everyone’s chosen method of protesting. If the management committee wished to take part in the hunger strike, they should have done so at their own whim and not have denied an individual the opportunity to take part in Pangat and Langar. Putting aside instances where a Gurdwara was made the target during war or conflict, when has the Guru’s Langar ever been stopped in the past? 

As for the individuals supporting a global Sikh hunger strike, I think they are ill-informed. Are they fasting for the health and Chardikala of Gurbaksh Singh? If so, is this not the complete opposite of what he is inflicting to his own body? Or, are they fasting for his cause – in which case to whom are they protesting? Will their efforts reach the walls of Delhi? 

In fact, where is the logic and rationale in a one-day hunger strike? What does one achieve by not eating for 24 hours? How does it help the political prisoners when the individuals responsible for their incarceration have no idea of the protestor’s existence, let alone know of the hunger strike? In any case, even if the efforts were brought to the attention of the Delhi Administration, would they as much as flinch? An underlying issue here is that a hunger strike causes self-harm which I don’t believe is in line with Sikh ideology.

The fact that Gurbaksh Singh is having to endure a second fast for the same cause should in itself raise alarm bells. This entire episode ought to be considered in the wider context of what has happened in Punjab to the Sikhs since 1947 but more specifically since 1984. The Sikhs have struggled to keep their identity and philosophy alive. Having led the civil rights movement in Punjab, the events of 1984 gave them no choice but to accept that they were treated like slaves, long after the British had left India. In 1986 the Sikh Nation decided their only means of true justice was and still lies in the formation of Khalistan. A declaration that remains outstanding but is just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.

The current topic of political prisoners is exactly the reason why the Sikhs need a separate Sikh homeland. Gurbachan Singh has proved his mettle and already failed Gurbaksh Singh once. The SGPC is the plaything of the Badal enterprise and until the Sikhs realise this, such occurrences will continue to haunt the Sikhs who have become so reactive that it’s frightening. As soon as something happens in Punjab, it seems the only solution visible to Sikhs is to petition and protest. The hallmark of an enslaved people is evident through their continued plea for justice long after it has been denied.  Freedom is not achieved by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are the oppressors. The Sarbat Khalsa of 1986 was and remains the single most important decision of the Sikh Nation. 

The response I’ve had from those that took part in the hunger strike and supported Gurbaksh Singh has been “we know all of this, but at least we’re doing something.” My response has been simple. If you know Khalistan is the only solution, why are you acting like an enslaved people? Why is Gurbaksh Singh receiving so much public attention? If he dies, will he become a martyr? Is he not a free man capable of raising awareness about the injustice of political prisoners in ways that do not require a hunger strike? These questions need to be discussed because I feel as though the Sikhs are on a slippery slope. I believe Gurbaksh Singh is sincere at heart and believes he is doing the right thing. I do not question his character. I just feel he is ill-advised. 

Bhai Talwinder Singh Babbar and Bhai Randhir Singh were two Sikhs that underwent hunger strikes in the last century. Their circumstances were completely different to Gurbaksh Singh’s protest. Both were incarcerated and were protesting against the injustice because as prisoners they had no other means of highlighting their cause. The question Sikhs need to ask is why Gurbaksh Singh and his supporters are so adamant that this hunger strike will succeed? It seems as though if one begs, pleads and petitions, one might get somewhere. It's that slave mind set; ask the master and you might receive.