Post-George Floyd, the idea of identity, diversity and equality of human life has become part of everyday conversation.
#BlackLivesMatter continues to trend and people around the world have joined protests, despite pandemic, to make their voices heard in support of people of colour. It is heartening to see glimpses of humanity triumphing against all odds even as I wish they had kept their social distance! It is also nice to witness Sikhs standing together with the protestors at many places and lending their voice, and of course Langar, when and where it is needed.
However, I am a little uncomfortable with the phrase #BLM. I am not saying, not even as a passing thought, that white privilege doesn’t exist or that there’s a need for it to be questioned. However, as a Sikh, I am guided by ‘Manas Ki Jaat Sabhai Ekai Pehchanbo’ (recognise all human races as one). For me all life is holy, and all life matters, not just Black, or White, or Asian, or Native, so on and so forth.
I believe that #BLM projects and pits people of colour to ‘the other’. The phrase seems more divisive than uniting. So, should they not protest? Of course, they should. We all should. To remain silent during such atrocities is to be complicit in the crime and would give strength to perpetrators of gross injustice.
So, what do we do? We need to rethink and rephrase #BLM to ALM, meaning All Lives Matter, equally, irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion, region, gender and economic status. Anyone who becomes a victim of injustice — such as George Floyd from Minneapolis — is someone’s child, sibling, parent, lover or friend, and injustices happen to people all the time, all over the world. We need to stand united against injustice and raise our voice every time we witness it so that it doesn’t come to a point where a precious life is lost.
I also believe that time is ripe for Sikhs, too, to brush under our own carpets, to practice Gurus’ teachings of embracing equality and face uncomfortable truths. Diaspora Sikhs have peculiar challenges, and many prejudices Sikhs face around the world, including India, are due to our unique identity. Many institutions, groups and individuals are making efforts to help us navigate these challenges by lobbying our respective governments and sharing information and knowledge about our faith, culture and religious traditions.
As we want the rest of the world to empathise with us, and accept us as human with equal rights, we need to work on our own empathy quotient. Sikh community in Punjab and anywhere we call ‘home’, is still marred by elitism, casteism, colourism and region-ism against members of our own community, and at times comes across more prejudiced than the host communities of the countries we face racial abuses in.
Degree of expression may vary from blatantly obvious to nuanced and subtle, but there is no denying that many of us still take pride in our last names that reflect our castes; we are still building gurdwaras based on castes; our weddings are still based on prejudices of caste, colour complexions, class and financial status; we are still doing Majha, Malwa, Doaba. Snobbery about educational qualifications and spoken English is also not uncommon. Not to mention homophobia. People from other races who have embraced Sikhi, especially from African/African-American backgrounds too have been victimised by many mainstream Sikhs.
The list of prejudices I have seen eating away at us knowingly and unknowingly can go on further. We serve the world in calamities and pandemics and raise our voices and give our lives to save the vulnerable where necessary in the spirit of Sarbat Da Bhala. However, we need lessons in tolerance and acceptance of our own people, of our own differences, of our own community needs because charity must begin at home. Sarbat Da Bhala cannot and should not exclude those who identify as one of us. The sooner we deal with it, the better, brighter and kinder future we leave for our children.
We are all racists (Asia Samachar, 17 June 2020)
When a Sikh boy gets bullied by white girls (Asia Samachar, 14 June 2020)
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