By Hb Singh | OPINION |
Toward the close of last year, a Sikh talk radio host sustained serious injuries when he was stabbed in his home driveway in New Zealand.
The attack is worth discussing on two accounts. One, that it even happened at all. Second, the glee that greeted the attack as the victim was fighting for his life. Harnek Singh, 53, is still recovering in the hospital.
Harnek Singh Neki, as he is popularly known, is the face of New Zealand-based Radio Virsa. The talk radio has garnered a strong following. He talks about anything and everything on the Sikh faith and the Panjabis. His strong views views have garnered both admiration and ire. Over time, he has been roundly condemned by some segments who believe he is promoting a ‘wrong’ version of Sikhi. They claim he is blasphemous or bordering it.
In June 2018, the Sikh jathedars had ‘excommunicated’ him after he was supposed to have been summoned to make an appearance three time prior. Akal Takhat jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh announced the order. Joining the meeting were Takht Kesgarh Sahib jathedar Giani Raghbir Singh, Takht Patna Sahib jathedar Giani Iqbal Singh, Takht Damdama Sahib jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh and Akal Takht head granthi Giani Malkeet Singh.
I had placed the word excommunicated in quote marks as I believe this is a practice that needs some serious revisiting. But that’s a topic for another day. Suffice to say, the ‘excommunication’ by the jathedars did not stop Harnek from continuing to share his thoughts on Sikh matters.
To begin with, let it be said: the attack was wrong. You can swing justifications one way or another, but it won’t cut ice. You cannot justify an attack simply because you disagree, however strongly, with his way of thinking.
The simple truth is that people can disassociate themselves from Harnek and his ilk. Disconnect. Don’t dial into his programmes. Ignore his social media presence. There are many others out there whom you would probably not agree with. You don’t lose sleep over them, right?
But there’s a problem. His arguments are resonating with an increasing number of people. His audience is building up. More sane and sober people are tuning in and going away convinced with his arguments.
People may not welcome his direct and piercing words, at times, but you cannot deny his logic. I have heard him many a time. Personally, I’m attracted to some of his views. They make sense. They project the Sikh faith forward, instead of dragging the teachings into age-old beliefs.
Of course, he may not be correct all the time. No one can stake such a claim. I wouldn’t, for example, turn to him on matters I suspect he may be on shaky grounds. With the on-going Panjab farmers’ protest, he did share some views, but I didn’t really pay attention to them. I felt he was not an expert on the subject. On that issue, I have turned to others who I felt were closer to the ground, and know better why the farmers are up in arms against the three farms laws recently passed by the Indian parliament.
Some people had tried to use the farmers’ issue as an excuse for the physical assault on Harnek. Really?
If not for some personal matter beyond our knowledge, it is likely that the attack was connected to the Sikhi slant taken by Harnek. He has challenged many existing and prevailing norms in Sikhi understanding. Some have taken that as an affront to the Sikh Gurus themselves.
Well, one thing is sure. People get emotional pretty easy when discussing faith. So, it is not surprising that many cannot stomach it when challenged by the likes of Harnek and Radio Virsa.
But here’s the real deal. He’s just another talkback radio host. If you think he has got it wrong, put forward your argument or ignore him. There is always the legal recourse, as well. But you don’t have the right to harm him physically.
What was more unfortunate were the almost glee-like responses by some folks to the attack. Check out remarks and comments on the social media. You would find a good number trying to justify the attack.
If you have made up your mind on this matter, I suggest you give yourself a chance to review your thoughts if you have not personally heard Radio Virsa. Don’t listen to the version coming from someone else, however respected they are in the eyes of the public. Believe me. Many seemingly good and sober folks out there carry a jaundiced view on a good number of issues. And some lie outright. I caught one Panjabi solo broadcaster dishing out an outright lie about Harnek’s background. I could detect the lie because I have followed closely the issue.
Let me say it again. If you want to judge the likes of Harnek, you need to do some homework. Listen to him for yourself. Don’t let others tell you what he’s saying. Hear it for yourself. Then, hopefully, you can make some sort of a judgment call.
Hb Singh is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist with some experience in dealing with Sikh organisations, both from within and outside.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
NZ Sikh radio host stabbed in suspected religiously motivated attack (Asia Samachar, 26 Dec 2020)
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