Only way forward for peace is justice

Academic activist and broadcaster Gurnam Singh went to the World Sikh Parliament conference on World Peace and Self Determination at the Birmingham Council Chamberon 11 May 2019. Here is a transcript of his address at the conference 

Gurnam Singh addressing the World Sikh Parliament conference on World Peace and Self Determination in Birmingham
By Gurnam Singh | UK | OPINION |

This conference is about peace. Nobody in the world can be against living a peaceful life. So what is the obstacle to peaceful co-existence? And the answer is simple, injustice! The answer is the denial of rights of ordinary people. Peace is not possible without justice. Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin and one can’t be realised without the other.

But when we talk about justice, we are not simply seeing this through the lens of law, we also need to talk about: social justice; environmental justice and historical injustice. Accordingly, I am pleased that the mission statement of the World Sikh Parliament reflects this expansive conception of peace and justice, a statement that talks about ‘social, religious, political, linguistic, human and environmental rights’.

Though we have international structures, such as the United Nations (UN) and the International Criminal Court at the Hague, the rights of ordinary people across the planet have been/are blatantly denied. Tragically today the world is being carved up by powerful hegemonic states such as China, US, EU, Russia and India.

These Nuclear Super Powers do not function to serve the interests of ordinary peace living people of the world, but the interests of the the 5% of the worlds population that own 95% of the wealth.

And today when ordinary people and communities, in Panjab, Kashmir and other regions of the world, demand basic needs, health, education, clean water, safety and the right to self determination, they are labelled terrorists and separatists.

It might be worth reminding ourselves that the majority of the countries of the world, including India and Pakistan, are less than 100 years old – there is nothing natural about countries – it is the people that constitute nations but today bogus countries, many carved out from the colonial period act to suppress people and worse. And perhaps Panjab, which was an independent country until two Anglo Sikh Wars and eventual British annexation in 1849, is the most perfect example. A once proud state is gradually being obliterated from the face of the earth.

So how can we achieve peace in the world? That is the key question. I am reminded of something that Dr Martin Luther King said:

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that …True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

Today’s meeting is specifically focussing on the real threat of conflict in Panjab/Kashmir borders between Pakistan and India. Whilst we should never underestimate the threat of nuclear war, actually Panjab and Kashmir are more lively to be struck by conventional warfare, which will have catastrophic consequences. Since 1947 both the Panjab and Kashmir, as border states, as well as living under the contestant threat of war between the two nuclear states, have have been ravaged by state sponsored terrorism and sectarianism for decades.

As we rightly focus on peace and justice, we need to wide and deepen our conception of community to include non human species, to include nature, water, air and land. It was Guru Nanak who said, “pavan guru pani pitta mata dharat mahat…” (“air is your teacher, water is your father and earth is your mother”). And so as followers of Nanak, we must stop treating the natural world as, either a commodity for exploitation of or a nuisance to eradicated, or a dumping ground. We need to see the earth as a delicate living breathing organism that sustains itself and all life as we know it.

Today we have a climate emergency, related to the destruction and pollution of river and ground waters, pollution of the air, coastal erosion, global warming due to the release of greenhouse gasses and the melting of the polar ice caps, all of which which will dramatically impact the lives of people living in costal regions and rivers and those without the resources to move to safer parts of the world, which is poor people. And so there can be no greater emergency than the ”climate emergency’ which could result in the deaths of millions.

Along with climate change, across the world, we are seeing the real prospect of the kinds of genocidal eugenics and racism that we witnessed during the Nazi era in the 1930’s and early 40’s returning. From Trump in the US to Bolsonaro in Brazil, from Putin in Russia to Erdogan in Turkey, from Modi in India to Jinping in China, we are seeing the politics of authoritarianism and fascism.

Today minorities, indigenous people, as well as a range of what Henry Giroux terms transformative intellectuals, teachers, social workers, health workers, journalists, artists, trade unionists, environmentalists, film makes and other progressives, all feel threatened by a rampant authoritarian neoliberalism that places needs and interests of capital always before human rights!

So, to conclude, I say the only way forward for peace is justice, and to get justice peace loving people across the world will need to join hands and say:

No to hatred!

No to the destruction of the planet by super states,

Yes to self determination of all people.

Let us create ‘haleimi raj’, where people can live in peaceful coexistence!

Let us create ‘Begampura’, where social divisions are eradicated and fear and sorrow is banished!

Let us establish Nanak Raj, the true fortress built on the strongest foundations of universal human rights and dignity!

Let us build economic states that do not exploit human beings and raise the planet!

Let us start to truly redistribute wealth so that inequalities in health and education cease to exist!

An when we create equality, when we secure justice, When human need is satisfied and human greed is eradicated, then no doubt peace will flow in abundance.

[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]



When a Panjabi sister set fire to her husband (Asia Samachar, 27 April 2019)


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  1. Great speech by Dr Gurnam Singh and all power to his elbow!
    There is always the spiritual aspect of peace but that can be discussed elsewhere in that context. Like other like-minded colleagues, we have remained in touch over the years. Despite the current challenges faced by the Sikhs – & we have our share in the UK! – I sense a meeting of minds in the diaspora. The gap between Sikh academia and Sikh activists continues to be bridged.