Recent days have seen much on S. Tarlochan Singh (the former Indian MP) and his prominent, meaningful political voice and record of activity.
I, too, have commented on the events of 1984 and for many years continued to write a column or more every year. My critical views remain unchanged. I still write on those times but less often because I don’t come across much new material or matters that haven’t been ably parsed by others over the years.
There was a time in the 1980’s when for some years I was on India’s official blacklist for travel visa to India. Many Sikhs have faced such meanness. I have encountered two kinds of reactions – equally passionate but opposing – from many Sikhs. The diaspora Sikhs with few exceptions proclaimed Indira Gandhi and the Indian government as absolutely evil in such encounters; the opposite view came from Sikhs who still had a vested stake in India and were mostly residents of India. Often, they were visitors, businessmen and/or politically connected. They saddled the blame almost entirely on diaspora Sikhs, mostly living in Europe and America, including people like me. These were mostly Hindus and some Sikhs as well, their views largely rigid, aided and abetted by the Indian government persona and press, often sans evidence.
Nevertheless, by my writings I became connected to the editorial boards of both The Sikh Review (Kolkata) and Nishaan (New Delhi), two of India’s most prominent publications in English on and about Sikhs and Sikhism; luckily these connections continue today. Many Sikhs from India accused my writings and speeches, as unrealistically critical of the Indian government that were making life of Sikhs living in India more difficult. They demanded that I change my ways so as not to hurt the Sikhs.
I met Tarlochan Singh on his many visits to America and these matters came up. We agreed that Sikhs will disagree on fundamental matters and have the right to do so. Think a moment: for example, in the early Castro years, many Cubans abandoned Cuba and become Americans, like many Russians, or Vietnamese who left their land of birth as their opinions about the politics likely evolved and became entirely different. Don’t people have the right to change their political opinions?
Why must Sikhs in India suffer because of the opinions of Indian Sikhs who have left India? Sikhs living in India have different societal, cultural and political realities to contend with. If Sikhs visit India, they are subject to Indian laws. Surely, their relatives in India must not be singled out in a civilized country because some of their kin left India, walking away from its ways or laws.
In discussions on or with S. Tarlochan Singh (and others in his position), keep in mind that as Indian citizens they have to respond to the politics, laws, realities and culture of India. We, on the other hand, are guided by American or other national realities. And we should not brand other Sikhs so casually as being traitors to Sikhi.
Believe me, it would be a poorer world if, in any conversation, our goal is hundred percent agreement. Strength and power emerge from diversity of ideas. Be a little tolerant of India-based Sikhs and others in different realities.
The two are worlds apart. Hence the adage: Think globally act locally.
I.J. Singh is a New York based writer and speaker on Sikhism in the Diaspora, and a Professor of Anatomy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Benign neglect (Asia Samachar, 24 July 2019)
1984: What a Different World Teaches Us (Asia Samachar, 12 June 2019)