What is the role of the Khalsa today?

Seeing pictures of Canadian Sikh Soldiers marching at the recent Basakhi parade in Toronto, Canada, reminded of a thought I had about the role of ‘Khalsa’ Sikhs in today’s world.

Sikh army at Toronto Vaisakhi parade 2019 – Photo grab from Global News video
By Gurnam Singh | UK | OPINION |

What is the role of the Khalsa today?

Seeing pictures of Canadian Sikh Soldiers marching at the recent Basakhi parade in Toronto reminded of a thought I had about the role of ‘Khalsa’ Sikhs in today’s world.

In its original constitution the Khalsa army served under the leadership of Guru Gobind Singh and Banda Singh Bahadur fighting Mogul imperialism. After the Guru period, the Khalsa Army was reconstituted during the rule of Ranjit Singh. Their role was to defend the essentially secular and inclusive system that Ranjit Singh established, and this led to 50 years of relative stability. One might say it was the high point of the Khalsa Army.

Following annexation of the Panjab in 1849 much of the Khalsa Army was incorporated into the British India Armed forces under the guise of Sikh Regiments. And after partition, there was a steady decline with the absorption, dismantling and diminishing of Sikh Regiments and the Sikh presence in the Indian Army.

Today, with what might be seen as the remnants of the ‘original’ Khalsa, we are left with a motley crew of Nihang Singh’s roaming across India and now further afield, claiming to be the true Khalsa fauj/Army. Whilst they have managed to preserve some of the old traditions of the Akali Nihangs, it is absurdly obvious that, like the Japanese Samurai, the Nihangs are a ceremonial relic and totally incapable of fighting any modern armed conflict.

And so the question emerges, how can a Sikh who wants to literally live the warrior lifestyle, as saints and soldiers, do so in today’s age of modern warfare? There are three options;

One is to dress up in the Nihang robes and participate in festivals and perform Gatka and Shastar Vidiya. There is a place for this, but much of its value is related to cultural heritage and personal fitness and self esteem.

The second option is for Khalsa Sikhs to engage in social and political activism and fighting for human rights. It is not enough simply to participate in religious rituals and still claim to be a Khalsa. Today, we have a real possibility that climate change will destroy the lives of millions in the near future, and we therefore can/should become eco-warriors and participate in direct action. Indeed, the Khalsa should be leading the struggle for social and environmental justice.

The third and perhaps most controversial option is, like those young Canadian Sikhs in the picture, to join the respective armed forces of ones adopted country. Now that the Khalsa is spread throughout the world, it is incumbent on us to serve our adopted countries, but in doing so we must maintain the highest moral and ethical standards. Remember, the primary aims of an Armed force is ‘defence’ and this should never be compromised by the Khalsa. In defending our respective adopted countries we should always fight to defend the innocent, weak and freedom.

If the Khalsa is to retain some relevance as a force capable in the modern age, then perhaps it needs to develop a much broader canvas on which to fight against injustice. This does not mean disposing of old traditions, but rather to see these in the right context. Many regiments in the British Army, for example, have deep traditions, which they celebrate on ceremonial occasions. However, when it comes to preparing for battle, they deploy the most modern training, technology and weaponry.

And so perhaps it’s wrong to suggest the Khalsa has to chose from the options presented earlier and in reality the Khalsa should tick all three boxes, that is; to remain true to tradition, never shun from fighting for good causes, and finally, whilst being loyal ones adopted country, never compromising on ethics.

[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is a Visiting Fellow in Race and Education at University of Arts London and a Visiting Professor of Social Work at University of Chester as well as a presenter at UK-based Akaal channel. This views were shared on his Facebook page on 4 May 2019]



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