5th June 1984 – 40 years on: Growing pains of an emerging Nation

The Global Sikh Quom is in a state of entropy. It can either stumble blindly towards its fate rudderless, or it can chart its own unique destiny as the very first ‘cyber-nation’. Views of a not-born-in-India Sikh social raconteur.

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By Dya Singh | Australia |

It has been 40 years since the fateful attack on Darbar Sahib precinct in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in northern India.  Since then, we have seen an accelerated deterioration of the relationship between India and arguably, its favourite offsprings – the Sikhs. No other minority has made such an impact on Indian history since pre-Independence from the British empire, as the Sikhs. 

The seeds of this deterioration were planted on Independence in 1947 with Partition, and then from ‘Bharat Mata’ (Mother India), as pre-partition promises made to Sikhs especially about a ‘Sikh Homeland’, by Indian politicians (starting with Gandhi and Nehru) were sadly, broken.

With a brief respite of India even having a Sikh prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the deterioration has continued. Manmohan Singh in his two decades of prime ministership in this millennium avoided any ‘Sikh’ grievance within India and overseas. After all, his job was, quite rightly, to help India forge ahead. His loyalties are 100% Indian and from all accounts he did a sterling job for India. Some even hail him as the best prime minister India ever had.

But with Hindutva running rampant now and its threat growing alarmingly, relationships have worsened. The majority are complicit in this development with their deafening silence.

In 1949, English writer George Orwell wrote a book titled ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ – a cautionary dystopian tale about totalitarianism and repression of a people loosely based on what was foreboding in Russia then.

The year 1984 brought the reality of what Orwell had foreseen, for the Sikhs in India with the attack on Darbar Sahib and over one hundred Sikh gurdwaras in Punjab, and killings of thousands of innocent Sikhs besides a handful of armed activists seeking an autonomous state for Sikhs, by Indian armed forces, and far-reaching effects on the psyche of the Sikhs globally.

But whereas what happened in 1984, starting from the attack on Darbar Sahib, should have been a wake-up call for Sikhs, the divisive internal politics in (Indian) state Punjab itself encouraged by the Centre, has highlighted that the rot was also from within, with unscrupulous state politicians, also Sikhs, at the helm with subservient Sikh religious leaders at their beck and call.

The ‘rule of law’ is virtually non-existent. There is rampant corruption through the entire system, and the state naturally is deteriorating economically. Farmers’ rights are in tatters and every issue involving Sikhs is blamed on anti-government activities of Sikhs.

Mainstream Indian media is shackled. It stands at 161 out of 180 countries in terms of freedom of press. (2023 World Press Freedom Index). It has also, time and again, shown its bias against the Sikhs.

So, where to, the Sikhs? The most productive, bravest, and most loyal minority India has ever had. The minority which was at one time hailed as the ‘sword arm of India’ and the ‘breadbasket of India’. A community concentrated within a state which at one time, had one of the highest rates of literacy in the country.

The Sikhs were the last ‘empire’ to succumb to the British in India and should have been the first ones to resurrect themselves in some form after independence from the British, at least as an autonomous homeland for the Sikhs. Again, the opportunity lost was due to a combination of inept, short-sighted, gullible, and naive Sikh leaders and shrewd Indian politicians.

I was born outside India, in the former Malaya, three years after Indian Independence. At one time I had a strong affinity with India and more so with Punjab. I am the youngest of my fellow siblings and the only one born outside India. My very first visit to India as a 20-year-old changed all that when I realised that I was a ‘foreigner’ and treated like one in supposedly, my homeland.

Dya Singh

I have seen the gradual deterioration of allegiance by Sikhs towards ‘Mother India’ as history has unfolded from a time when every Sikh would have given his/her life for India to the status today. I applaud and salute the likes of the great Sikh martyrs for ‘Bharat Mata’ like Kartar Singh Sarabha, Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh and many more. When the need arises, the Sikhs are always there to die for a just cause and for country.

They died for an utopian dream of an independent India with liberal democracy ideals, with a transparent division of power between the legislature, executive and the judiciary, and protection of the rights of all citizens especially the minorities.

That illusion of such an independent India barely lasted two decades before the Sikhs woke up to the fact that they had been duped. A movement to at least have a Punjabi-speaking state (Punjabi Suba) was deviously manipulated by the Centre to rip out another large chunk of Punjab and the state of Haryana came into being in 1966.  

So, today when it is claimed that India is the largest democracy in the world, I think most Sikhs take that with a pinch of salt!

SIKHISM, A WORLD VIEW.

Within my lifetime many books and articles have been written about Nanak’s ‘Worldview’ and the theo-political status of the Akal Takhat. Gurbani too points towards a global vision for Sikhism. But all such viewpoints stem from those born in the Indian subcontinent, from within, looking out and always with the umbilical cord attached.

Perhaps it is time to read about those of my background – born outside the Indian subcontinent, of Indian ancestry, entrenched in a Sikh way of life, or a few generations removed from India, looking in.

‘Our’ population outside of India is only going to grow. The rot might have set in, at the roots of the supposed custodianship of Sikhi, but the seeds have been flung throughout the planet. We are sprouting all over the globe.

{For my honest views here, I do make my apologies up front to the majority Sikhs who have, quite rightly, deep-seated affection and attachment for their ‘homeland’ India, and Punjab especially. Views which they will find very hard to swallow. Truth always is.}  

The attack on the Darbar Sahib precinct in June 1984 was also the beginning of first generation ‘Indian’ Sikhs living abroad accepting reluctantly that they were probably not going back to the bosom of ‘Bharat Mata’ to finally settle for retirement and spend their last days there. Mother India was starting to look and act more and more like a stepmother. My older siblings belong to that category. The Gurbani pangati “Agaha ku thraaq, pisha pher na mohededa” (SGGS, p1096) started ringing true. (Look ahead, do not look back!)

With Sikh emigration from India increasing and Sikhs settling in other countries, the seeds of a ‘Global Sikh Quom’ are planted. Forty years after the fateful 1984 the growing pains of such a nation – a unique nation without geographical boundaries is a reality. Sikhs were, by divine order, by destiny, meant to disperse all over the world, thrive and spread the universal truths as espoused by Guru Nanak, wherever they went.

Sikh youth in India, especially of middle-class and ‘farmer’ families are leaving India in droves, by any means (lawful or unlawful), and not just for better economic conditions overseas. That drain has picked up momentum since 1984 because even their very lives are in danger. Thousands have been ‘eliminated’ in fake encounters with Indian police.

Globally, on the other hand, within 40 years of first being unfairly labelled as potential terrorists, Sikhs have tenaciously turned that image around as being humanitarians, altruistic even, and a good, hardworking, and dependable community, wherever in the world they settled, with an inbuilt egalitarian mentality through their life philosophy – Sikhism.

The selfless service of voluntary organisations like United Sikhs and Khalsa Aid at disaster sites globally, with no form of government handouts (as we do not have a country, we can call our own) is legendary.

Even in India Sikhs feed hundreds of thousands from all religions and walks of life and any caste, through langar and other sewa (service) like free eye operations, medical services, and during the pandemic – cremations and free oxygen service. As always, punching way above their weight.

Sikhs are actively immersed in the politics and social services of the countries they now call home. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not long ago bragged that he had more Sikh Members of Parliament and Cabinet members in the Canadian Parliament than India! Numerous countries now have Sikh Members of Parliament, and there shall be more.

Many Sikhs hold prominent political positions, as mayors, attorney generals, ambassadors, high commissioners, and as high-ranking public servants. There are corporate leaders, leading businessmen and women and holding other prominent positions. The current Director of the World Bank, for example, is a Sikh, Ajay Singh Banga. Born in India he is now a U.S. citizen.

We ARE ‘global’ but first we need to believe that. We are no more ‘diasporan’ Sikhs and Indian Sikhs. We have birthing pangs as a global nation without geographical boundaries, as we struggle, firstly, to accept that fact, and then to find common grounds starting from a free from political masters and global-thinking Akal Takhat management.

Akal Takht, Amritsar

As ordained by 6th Sikh Master, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, Akal Takhat is the pulse of Sikhdom, the political institution of the Global Sikh Quom, but it must be global, represented by selected secularly educated ‘Gursikh’ men and women, besides the ‘jathedar’ types, from all continents in which Sikhs flourish. (‘Jathedar types’ have proven administratively inept).

I state some common grounds for reflection.

WHY WE ARE GLOBAL.

1.      We have our own Guru, freely available for guidance globally – Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

2.      We have our own ‘dharam’, ‘way of life’ or ‘religion’ to use a western term – Sikhi.

3.      We have our own language and script – Gurmukhi/Punjabi. Our mother tongue is our Guru’s tongue.

4.      We have a rich 555-year history starting from Guru Nanak Saheb. 

5.      We have our own flag – the Nishan Sahib

6.      We have our own colours – Greyish Blue (Surmayee), Xanthic (Basanti).

7.      We have our own places of fellowship, prayer, one-God worship, and interaction – the Gurdwara.

8.      The institution of Langgar. Our Guru-blessed humanitarian virtue of food for all.

9.      We have our own outward identity – ‘sabat surat dastaar sira’, bana, kudta/pajama, Punjabi suit, patka, dastaar.

10.  Our own dances/music – bhangra/giddha

11.  Our own game – kabaddi, even guli-denda!

12.  Our own martial arts – gatka, shastr videya.

13.  Our own cultural festivals – eg. hola (not holi)

We can go on adding to this list… and finally, our collective ‘mother’ country is no longer ‘Bharat Mata’ India, but ‘Dharat Mata’, the entire planet – wherever we have put down our roots. We are the genuine global citizens.

Sikhi is our common thread globally – our religion, our way of life, our culture, even our ethnicity (Mandla v Dowell-Lee (1982) Case, UK. House of Lords Verdict.) and our ‘global identity’. We need to look upon Sikhi as a tool for self-improvement, our spiritual aspirations, our moral compass, and an all-engulfing way of life, not just a ‘religion’ in the western sense. Though for bragging rights we are certainly the 5th largest religion of the world!

LOYALTIES

We are loyal to the country we live in. I am a proud Aussie Sikh now as I live in Australia. I earned a living here. I raised my family here. My family contributes to the prosperity of Australia. I have paid taxes here and now the country looks after me in old age. I expect to die here, and my ashes strewn in the nearest running water, probably the Murray River in Australia – not Hardwar nor Kiratpur!

GURUAN DHI DHARTI

There was a time when we referred to Punjab (the undivided Punjab) as ‘Guruan-dhi-dharti’. But no more. Firstly 70% of the region associated with the glorious era of Sikh history including the Sikh empire under Maharajah Ranjit Singh went into the lands that became Pakistan which means it is no longer under Sikh control. There is more in Afghanistan. That leaves barely 25% in India. (These are observations of prominent Sikh ethnologist and historian Amandeep Singh of thegurunanak.com fame). Furthermore, gurdwaras have now sprouted all over the globe.

Now ‘Guruan-dhi-dharti’ is ‘jithay jae behay mera Satguru…’. Wherever there is parkash of my Guru, that is ‘Guruan dhi-dharti’.

If you live in India, be a proud Indian and your loyalty lies to India and conversely, be prepared to defend your rights in India. If living in Canada, be a proud Canadian Sikh… and so on. You earn a living in that country, so your loyalties should lie with that country.

BUT, this emerging global ‘Sikhdom’ needs close co-operation, as a Nation without Borders. After all we now live in a global village. That is not only for our progress and prosperity moving forward but also helping each other by creating liaisons with each other – marriages, business and professional connections, employment opportunities for Sikh youth and any other factor, like helping to defend the democratic rights of fellow Sikhs, peacefully, anywhere on the planet.

Concerted, collaborative efforts in Punjabi/Gurmukhi education and more importantly, progressive ‘worldview’ mainstream Sikhi education must be organised on a large scale to retain our way of life.

For that we will first have to learn to accept the diversity within the ‘Sikh’ way of life. We have die-hard Akal Takhat maryadha types, different types of amritdharies, vegetarians, keshadharies, taksalis, Namdharies, deravadies, Radha Suamis, Yogi Bhajanists, sehajdharies of many backgrounds, even Ravidasis, of late ‘Dasam Granthists and anti-Dasam Granthists’, and numerous other sects.

We will, however, not associate with those who show disrespect towards our ‘Guru’, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and generally the ‘Sikh’ way of life.

Recently it came to light, through the research of Amardeep Singh that up to 1 million Sikhs live in Pakistan (officially 20,000). We have a tendency of only considering keshadhari and amritdhari Sikhs when counting numbers but there are sehajdhari Hindus, Sindhis and even Balochis with strong leanings towards Sikhi ideals mainly through reverence towards Baba Nanak and his teachings and reverence towards Guru Granth Sahib. They have built gurdwaras of their own.

History also suggests that we missed the opportunity of welcoming the lowest caste, the Dalits of India in the 1930’s into the Sikh fold when our ‘leaders’ in Darbar Sahib refused to treat them as equals, and Gandhi’s opposition. Dalits numbered 90 million then.

Gandhi’s views on Sikhism in general and the lowest casts converting to Sikhism are exposed in a statement in a letter to Jugal Kishore Birla dated September 7, 1936 : ‘Today I will only say that to me Sikhism is a part of Hinduism. … Dr. Ambedkar (leader of the Dalits) wants a change of religion. If you can persuade the Sikhs to accept that Sikhism is a part of Hinduism… then I will have no objection to Harijans calling themselves … Sikhs’.   

We must establish common grounds, reach out to each other, and accept each other as equals. Yet at the same token isolate those who are opposed to basic Sikh values and respect for our Guru Ji.

I have found that Sikhs from different parts of the globe have different idiosyncrasies. Broadly, from amongst the ‘older’ Sikh communities – Indian Sikhs, Kenyan Sikhs, Malaysian/Singaporean Sikhs and Afghanistani Sikhs, all have different mentalities and even ritualistic, procedural and gurdwara protocol differences.

We converse in different languages – Punjabi, Hindi, English, Malay, Filipino, Thai, and even several Chinese dialects just as examples. Some barely know a smattering of our mother/Guru tongue – Gurmukhi/Punjabi!

But we all share one aspect in common. We all respect and worship one single global ‘Guru’ entity, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. 

The other reason for such close co-operation is, as a tool to safeguard our growing global identity against forces which want to ‘dilute’ us by manipulating our history, Gurbani, our language, trying to control our gurdwaras and other institutions and any other means of eroding our solidarity, our values and our ‘way of life’. Our total independence in such matters is paramount. To be vigilant at all times of the enemy within and without, supposedly Sikh and non-Sikh, and call that enemy out.

THE VISION

To kick-start that process the first fundamental rule especially for those who feel qualified enough to take a lead in this process is to ask – am I behaving as a part of the solution, or am I part of the problem? A very difficult question to answer!

Humility of course is a key ingredient. Compromises will have to be made. ‘My way or the byway’ will not work. There will be many issues where level-headed far-sightedness will be needed.

First, we need to start thinking global. We are no more an ‘Indian’ religion or community now. Even though about 75% of Sikhs still live in and call India home, Sikh related heritage within India is barely 25%! And a diminishing population percentage, as more and more Sikhs, especially the young, are emigrating, and as external and even internal forces in India try to cajole, seduce, and even threaten us into falling back into the fold of Hinduism, albeit as a sect of Hinduism.

Hindutva does not want to destroy Sikhs or Sikhi! They merely want us to submit to, what they consider is our rightful place, as a subservient and faithful wing (sect) of Hinduism – as the sword-arm of Hinduism, as their ‘kshaterias’ (the warrior caste), as ‘Hind dhi chadar’. Subtle efforts have been and are being made to ‘hinduise’ Sikhism in India since the end of British rule. That should not come as a surprise, but it is a warning to Sikhs, especially in India.

The ideals below are at present like a dream, but dreams do materialise if collectively wished for and worked at by first setting (scholarly) egos aside, in utter humility, for the common global good of all Sikhs and Sikhi.

1.      The Darbar Sahib precinct to attain a Vatican-like status. We might be global, but the heart will always beat in Amritsar.

But, if this Vatican-like status for Darbar Sahib in Amritsar is not possible, then we will have to consider having our Akal Takhat in any other country which will grant us space for that purpose. We can establish Akal Takhat anywhere on this planet, even in cyberspace! After all, even Guru Tegh Bahadur was not allowed into Darbar Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh Ji never came anywhere near Darbar Sahib all his life!

2.      As touched upon earlier, an independent-of-political-masters Akal Takhat which is truly global representing the global Sikh Quom and represented by selected learned Gursikh (men and women) from all continents where Sikhs are residing in large numbers. (For an in-depth understanding of Akal Takhat into the future please listen to speech of Vir Harinder Singh USA on Sikhsyasat channel on youtube – How to restore Supremacy of Akal Takhat Sahib.)

Looking in from the ‘outside’, in all honesty, Akal Takhat ‘management’ appears to have only provided nuisance value since my lifetime. All pronouncements (Mettay) or HukmNamas appear to be kneejerk reactions to situations or pressure from powerful lobby groups rather than proper consultative processes. I will cite one example.

The HukmNama on banning tables and chairs in langar halls. (I think this was in the early 1990’s). All it did was to tear the community apart causing deep rifts globally. The situation remains unresolved.  

3. A Global Gurdwara Council represented by delegates from gurdwara councils around the world. This could be a ‘support’ organisation to the global Akal Takhat.

4. A Global Sikh Youth Network with delegates from Sikh Youth organisations around the globe.

5. A Global Sikh Businessmen/women Council

6. A Global Young Sikh Professionals Network

7. All important Sikh occasions set to the Gregorian Calender. Either acceptance of the Nanakshahi calender OR just set the dates of important Sikh days to the Gregorian, globally accepted calendar. (Mah devas moorat bhalay, jis kao neder keray. SGGSp136) Exactness of important dates is a moot point, consensus is more important.

8. A Global Sikh Legal Council of Sikh ‘legal brains’ – to take up legal cases against countries or organisations which encroach on Sikh rights. (At the moment I only see one Mejinderpal Kaur of United Sikhs doing this globally. Sikh Coalition only tackles legal issues in US. I am certain there are other teams of legal eagles looking at issues in other parts of the globe, but no such global initiative exists.)

9. Equal representation of our women folk in all these organisations and national and local organisations. For a start all such global organisations ‘must’ have women delegates. We are no longer, quite rightly, in line with evolution, and more importantly, in line with Sikhi ethos, a patriarchal community. Womenfolk should play an equal part in our Quom’s decision-making processes.

10. Weed out Hindu and especially Brahminic practices from within Sikhi. For example, we cannot depend upon some Brahmins in Jullundhur informing us, normally on a yearly basis what their lunar calender dates are for us to use! So, we need to fix our important dates on the universally accepted Gregorian calender.

There should be no restriction on Sikhs celebrating Hindu religious and cultural festivities as Hindu festivities, just like Sikhs in the west are growing accustomed to celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas etc. Let us not try to camouflage Hindu festivals as Sikh festivals eg. Bandhi Shod Devas/Diwali. We need to stand on our own two (global) feet.

All the points above of course need deliberation and a clear manifesto established.

We now live in a Global Village. We can communicate at the touch of a button from almost anywhere on the planet. The above is possible and the above is the future whether some of us like it or not. We have the opportunity of creating the first true ‘cyber nation’.

Those of my ilk and my views might be a minority within a minority, but I have seen that minority grow rapidly in exponential numbers in my lifetime alone and it is going to keep growing into the future.

I have had many (mainly Indian-born) ridicule my views, even those living in countries outside India. Some have now reluctantly come around to my way of thinking over the last 40 years.

I facilitate and talk to Sikh youth globally and they share my views. So do not write me or my views off hastily. Those of you who think my ideas are ridiculous, think again. Think long term.

Your next generation born or living outside India, is no longer going to return, and settle in India – certainly not in the present political climate there. The only reasons for which they might return will be if they stand to inherit sizeable, landed property, family estates; work in embassies or high commissions of other countries in India or non-Indian companies operating in India.

They might have strong emotional ties with parents, grandparents, and close relatives in India, but they are not going back for good! If they do, the far-sighted ones will still ensure that their offsprings have footholds in other countries. The ‘Sikh drain’ from India is an ongoing phenomenon.

We are at this snapshot of time, in an entropic state. Our main ‘institutions’ in India have been infiltrated and polluted and that pollution is spreading globally. And even though we have some strong organisations in other part of the world, they are at best on a local level (eg. gurdwaras, youth organisations) and some strive to national levels (eg. gurdwara councils/parbandhak committees, some youth organisation eg. The Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia and Sikh Youth Australia from my part of the globe).

Sikhs in UK have established a ‘Sikh Manifesto’. American organisations like Sikh Council America are doing great work in their spheres. We have several ‘global’ Sikh organisations but in name only. We have had countless “World Sikh Conferences” over the last 30 years without any form of follow through. So, though there is plenty of energy and funds being spent on global Sikh affairs, yet, we do not have a clear direction and there are powerful forces which ensure that nothing really happens.

The Sikh Manifesto developed by the Sikh Federation (UK)

This will be a gradual shift in thinking. A shift which will take a few generations, certainly not in our lifetimes. As a minority anywhere we live, including India and now even in Punjab, we need to be proactive. It is our collective duty to facilitate the process, consolidate, and solidify our institutions along global lines.

At the least I will hope to get everyone thinking and stir up debate on this quantum shift in our collective thinking. We do have a common aim – a Global Sikh Quom, and the common thread is – SIKHI.

Finally let us commemorate June 1984 as the month which sowed the seeds of this Global Sikh Quom – ‘Lest we forget’. The mischief of negative external forces and the enemy within will remain a constant reminder, but they should merely help us to chisel, hone and shape our destiny which is a global outlook – the genuine global citizens.

{We, my music colleagues and family have recorded a special Sikh ‘spiritual/cultural’ rendition for this momentous 40th. Anniversary of ‘our’ 1984. Do view/listen on youtube. Titled  ‘Jagardang Nagardang’ as a tribute (or just look under ‘dya singh’). 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at dyasingh@khalsa.com

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. An excellent analysis of sociopolitical, spiritual and universalism aspects of Sikhi.

  2. Dya singh virji.
    Blessings of Guru Sahib ji may always be on you and your family.
    You write so beautiful and so strong.
    It takes a lot of precious time and thoughts to go so much deep and beautiful.
    I wish more Sikhs like kushwant Singh ji , Manmohan Singh ji come back to enlighten us
    You are very special.

  3. Daya ji, you have perfectly captured the essence of the moment. Momentum needs to start somewhere, and my thoughts align with yours. Establishing a Vatican-like center would only be feasible outside of India. If a sovereign country were to allocate territory for this purpose, it would be an excellent beginning. Influential entities within our Sikh community could unite and advocate for this idea. Initially, this might lead to political tension between India and the host country. However, over time, this tension would likely dissipate, leading to the recognition and acceptance of a Sikh Global Takhat.

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