My husband and I grew up worlds apart. I played in the green hills of Yorkshire while he played amongst the scenery of the flat, concrete jungle of West London. I’m easy to spot on class photos, one of a handful of brown faces in a sea of white British kids, while my husband blends right into all of the other brown faces.
Culturally too, we were oceans apart. The families of my parents left India almost 100 years ago, planting our heritage in three continents and accepting that our migration is still ongoing. As appears to be our way, current generations are continuing to migrate to newer climes. My in-laws on the other hand, were the first generation in their families to leave India. Perhaps in true Sikh-style, my mother-in-law migrated first – for work – returning a few years later to marry and pave the way for her husband to join her in their new homeland.
However, our two disparate worlds collide around one shared experience: we have both been raised by Sikh parents passionate about their faith. And so my husband and I flourished against a backdrop of massacres against our people, committed because they simply dared to adhere to their Gurus’ teachings. Genocide carried out by the power-hungry Indian government and those who colluded with them, to weaken the resolve of a traditionally unwavering population; extrajudicial disappearances carried out because the physical appearance of Sikhs obeying the command of their tenth Guru, in their beautiful turbans and the men with their flowing beards, were seen to be in defiance of the Government of India. Should we be glad that the world’s biggest democracy was just enough to ensure Sikh children, women and men were equally likely to be killed or disappeared?
My husband and I were both raised experiencing the fallout of that systematic campaign by the Indian Government against Sikhs. 1984 and the preceding years ignited the fighting spirit in our parents. Their anger at such wrong-doings drove them to seek active solutions. Looking back, our mantra growing up was probably “the family which protests together, stays together”. Alongside this, both of our houses would become hubs of activities and supportive environments for new refugees fleeing the very real threat of being killed by the Indian Government. My father frequently went to the airport to support those being returned, not exchanging contact details because everyone knew the death warrant has already been signed. My middle-class life was at that point unhinged, and in the upheaval, the Sikh spirit soared.
When I reflect on my own childhood, my strongest memory is of the amazing spirit which grew in times of adversity. Our parents continued to raise us to be successful in everything that we do, while continuing to fight for the lives of Sikhs, including parents and children, in a country traditionally seen as their homeland. And with this spirit we were raised to fight for the rights of all people across the world, taught by observing our parents’ battle, rather than being told that this is what we must do. And it is this spirit which I hope we pass on to our daughter. We’ll keep fighting to win the war: to ensure that the guilty perpetrators are punished, that survivors and the families of those killed are compensated, and for the freedom of those who still languish in jails. We will raise our children to be passionate about their faith, while being successful in their communities. Whether they are the only brown face or one amidst many, we will pass on to them what our parents passed on to us – the Sikh spirit, chardi kala.