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From Punjab to Palestine:
Why Young Sikhs Like Me Are Becoming Pro-Palestinian Activists





Living in Canada for the past eight years has made me extremely sensitive to news involving loss of life. It does not need to be a massacre, a triple-murder, or even a human death. I almost always feel the instinctive sorrow a death brings; it seems Canadian sensitivity and values lie behind that conditioning.

So on May 14, 2018, when 59 Palestinian protestors were killed by Israeli security forces in Gaza, I could not feel any different. The anguish, pain, remorse and disgust were palpable in my demeanor.

But after pacifying myself, when I peeked around, there was a stoic silence. At least nobody in Canada was celebrating or justifying the massacre, unlike many right-wingers across the globe, but there wasn't a strong rebuke either. 

There was a minimal sea change when, a couple of days later, it was established that one of the dead was a Canadian doctor - but the Canadian outrage was nowhere near what it should have been, and, shamefully, nothing like it was for other recent news ‘events’ - a dead cougar or cows being treated badly.

I was left wondering as to why was I being affected disproportionately. Maybe the answer lay in my Sikh roots.

The religion of Sikhism is north of 500 years old and out of its total 30 million followers, more than 25 million Sikhs reside in India and almost 77% of them live in the state of Punjab. They form a meager 2% of India's total population and in the 70 years since independence, have been persecuted on multiple occasions because of their religion.

In spite of their relatively trifling numbers, Sikhs played a major part in the Indian freedom struggle against the British. Come independence, Muslims decided to part ways and formed a separate republic, Pakistan, but Sikh leaders stuck with Nehru's idea of a secular India and were, in return, promised adequate representation in the legislature.

As time passed by, the biggest political party, the ruling Indian National Congress, started to lose its grip on the state of Punjab, the sole Indian state where  Sikhs made up the majority. To counter the Sikh political forces of those times, Congress co-opted a Sikh radical named Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale, who became so famous and powerful that he soon felt impregnable and turned against Congress, his maker.
Doesn't this narrative of inadvertently creating a Frankenstein sound familiar?

In 1984, Bhinderanwale's demand for an independent Sikh state - in order to address the continuing oppression by India’s majority - did not go well with the Indian government and he was hunted down while hiding in the most revered of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Beside targeting him and his associates, the Indian army used sniper fire, mortars, machine guns and tank fire to attack thousands of innocent pilgrims - men, women, children and old included - who were visiting the shrine for a Sikh festival. It wasn't just an attack on a building, or on those thousands of innocents. It was a murderous onslaught on the psyche of millions of devout Sikhs.

Indian armed forces would never have carried out or would ever carry out a similar attack on a Hindu shrine, but what followed the Golden Temple incident is even more horrific.

When two Sikh bodyguards of then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assassinated her in retaliation, a pan-India genocide of Sikhs was unleashed. Thousands of Sikh men were burnt alive, women were raped and killed, children and old were murdered. The political leaders who fuelled these riots have never been convicted; they still roam free, and of course the world is silent.

Doesn't this narrative sound familiar?

The state of Punjab was overtaken by a resistance movement against state-sponsored atrocities, and by mounting state oppression after 1984 and, for the next decade, mayhem was the order of the day. The state police and the Indian armed forces had a free hand in the state; that led to unprecedented atrocities and extra-judicial killings. The number of young Sikh men who went missing in those 10-12 years is enormous.

Doesn't this narrative sound familiar?

Those who were lucky to escape the death circus sought political asylum in countries like the UK, Canada, Germany and the U.S. Today, the Sikh diaspora in these countries is resourceful, well-connected and politically affluent.

Even so, when they raise their voice today against the 1984 genocide and those black days in the Punjab, the reaction from the Indian government is similar to the lack of response by the U.S. to the cries of the Palestinians.

The Indian government not only explicitly ignores our pleas for justice, it has been actively trying to subvert the rise of Sikhs in political circles abroad. One prime example is the sustained attempt by right-wing Hindu groups to  sabotage the rise of the Canadian National Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh.

Sikhs know what it feels to be effectively shooed out of your homeland and be forced to live in exile; what it's like to be shot at "just for fun," as target practice; what it's like to be harassed daily by state security forces; what it's like to have a seven year-old arrested on charges of "terrorism"; and what it's like when the world simply ignores your plight.

Maybe, just maybe, that is why I am speaking up here, and now, and why other Sikhs are speaking up now.

I could feel the misery, whereas others didn't or wouldn't; but before being a Sikh, a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian, we are all, equally, bones and flesh, a heart and a brain. Or at least, I hope we are.

[Courtesy: Haaretz. Edited for]
May 23, 2018


Conversation about this article

1: GC Singh (USA), May 23, 2018, 6:27 PM.

While largely agreeing with Jaspreet's observations regarding Palestinian issues and the Indian state's genocidal policies against Sikhs and grave injustice that has been done to them, it is somewhat disconcerting to point out that he has bought into the mainstream media's lies about "Bhindranwale being "Frankenstein" or Bhinderanwale was "hiding" in the Golden Temple. I am surprised the author used the word "hunted down" instead of using the usual Indian narrative of being "flushed out" of the Golden Temple. The attack on Darbar Sahib was planned much before Bhindranwale even moved into Darbar Sahib and was part of a pre-planned total war against Sikhs which the Indian state has been waging from day one when they got power in 1947. There was no Bhindranwale in 37 other Gurdwaras where hundreds of innocent Sikh pilgrims were also killed. The 1984 massacre of Sikhs throughout India was organized by Rajiv Gandhi and his goons and it was not a "riot" but a state organized genocide where all Hindu political parties participated and tacitly approved.

2: GJ Singh (Scottsdale, Arizona, USA), May 23, 2018, 9:38 PM.

What about the right of Jews to have a homeland? I disagree with Jaspreet's viewpoint that Sikhs struggles are more aligned with the Arab Palestinians; I think it is the other way around.

3: M Kaur (Canada), May 24, 2018, 4:41 PM.

Thank you, #2 GJ Singh ji - these were just my thoughts exactly. I am also alarmed at the headline as well. I would hate to give Israeli Jews the idea that all Sikhs feel this way. I am for sure a Zionist. I believe the Jews have the right to a homeland, and I am very against and concerned with the idea of aligning Sikh interests with Arabs, Palestinians or Muslims in general. Although I wish everyone well and respect all I strongly feel we need to stand tall in our own right and be seen as distinct. Like #1 GC Singh ji, I am concerned with the author's regurgitation of Indian propaganda and distortion of facts.

4: Manbir Singh Banwait  (Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada ), May 25, 2018, 4:44 AM.

The Islamic world has dozens of countries around the world to protect its interests. The Palestinians have Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza. The Jews have only a tiny sliver of land in a nation called Israel. Nearly 20% of the state of Israel is Arab/‘Muslim. With full equal rights to citizenship, voting, education, govt positions, can opt out of the armed forces. Signs in Israel are in Hebrew and Arabic. How many Islamic countries have thriving Jewish populations still? Other then the UAE and Iran ... I can’t even think of a Sikh temple in that part of the world that thrives ... yet Sikhs in the tens of thousands live in that region. Does the author of the article think the likes of Hamas or Islamic Jihad is going to allow the same rights the Israelis grant?

5: Satwinder Kaur (San Francisco, California, USA), May 25, 2018, 7:47 AM.

Jews don't have the right to ethnically cleanse Palestinians to secure their own homeland. Gaza is the biggest concentration camp in the world. The gruesome atrocities against Palestinians make today's Zionists no different from Nazis.

6: Harsharan Kaur (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 26, 2018, 1:33 PM.

It is the moral duty of every Sikh to protect those who are being oppressed. Doesn't matter if Muslims have brutalized us for centuries, and many are spreading terror today ... if a group of them are innocent and are being brutalized by others, we must do all we can to help the weak and the needy. Period. Pity some Jews didn't learn this after all the terrible things they suffered through at the hands of the Nazis. If anything, it should've made them the most compassionate people on earth! There's something precious and unique we Sikhs have that we can teach the world ...

7: M Kaur (Canada), May 27, 2018, 2:02 PM.

#6Harsharan Kaur ji, so what about the victimized, poor and needy Sikhs in India? What about the Sikligar Sikhs? What about the victims of 1984 and their children? What are we doing for them? What can we teach the world when we can't and won't look after our own.

8: Harmeet Singh (USA), June 08, 2018, 7:58 AM.

Manbir Singh needs to educate himself on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by European Jews and their colonization project known as Israel.

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Why Young Sikhs Like Me Are Becoming Pro-Palestinian Activists"

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