So the 30th anniversary of the ten days of terror comes to an end – social media posts highlighting #NeverForget1984 dwindle for the next four months at least, whilst Gurdware return to their daily ceremonies marking the births, marriages and deaths of their congregation. In major cities across the World, Sikhs commemorated the invasion of the Darbar Sahib over the past week echoing the voices that have fallen on deaf ears for three decades in the search for truth and justice. Have we got our priorities right? Whilst I want the truth to come out and justice to be served too, they pale in comparison to what I really want to see: progress.
Don’t believe the hype coming from the Indian media that Punjab has moved on; activism around the events of 1984 hasn’t been this strong in over twenty years. That being said, in my opinion we need to reflect upon the way and the means by which we are campaigning, particularly in light of other communities who have been in a similar position. Our collective social media campaigns, informative publications and exhibitions have helped to propagate to the World that the Darbar Sahib was invaded in 1984 and that a Genocide of the Sikhs was committed by the Indian State… just like the Rwandan Genocide of the early 1990s was shared to a pre-internet World through mass broadcast media, film and the printed press. Rwanda progressed – although the country is still controlled by a hardline Government where human rights abuses and disappearance of citizens is rife, and the influence of western nations is sky high. Perhaps not then. This weekend’s protest marches and rallies in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London and Amritsar showed the World that the Sikh masses are united in this cause and that together our voices cannot be ignored… just like the Tamil protests did in many of those same cities a few years ago. You might have heard about those protests as they were also featured as the third or fourth news items on evening news bulletins; then again you might not have, or maybe you didn’t pay it much attention, or maybe it did impact you and you did your part by signing an online petition. Food for thought perhaps?
Pardon the unsubtle critique. I’m actually in favour of all of our existing methods of activism so long as they form part of a bigger picture, which presently they do not. Whilst recognition of the events of 1984 as Genocide would be appreciated and the instigation of an international-level inquiry welcomed, heed my words carefully: that should not be our goal. Those are means to an end, as are prosecutions of those complicit in the Genocide and those who orchestrated the invasion who continue to roam free. Our goal however has to be rectifying the many grievances which existed prior to the escalated agitation in the 1980s, which not only still exist, but have grown ten-times over. Think about it: if a number of key politicians were charged and imprisoned for the role they played, if the country at State level accepted wrong-doing for Bluestar, Woodrose, Shaanti and Black Thunder and if reparations were made and stolen treasures returned, would that be the end of our campaigning? Of course it would not! That would be merely rectifying the events of 1984, whereas the very real long-term problems that pre-dated those continue to exacerbate, from constitutional misrepresentation to environmental devastation.
So how do we come to tackle those problems? By changing the way we live. Freedom is not won half-heartedly, it must exist naturally in our very being and lie at the heart of everything we do. This does not mean that we become a legion of zombies unable to speak or act on any matter outside of our struggle, but that we live the change we want to see in every way, until it becomes our new base line, our new normal. The struggle consumes my everyday life from the decision to no longer watch live television (on demand services and online video allow selective televisual habits leaving more time for learning and socialising) to my choice of career and employment. As a Panth, right now, we do not need to be looking for a single, centralised leadership; we need thousands of leaders of every age and background across the globe. These leaders should be trying to live every waking moment in step with Guru Nanak, whether they are in their workplace, home or wider society, true to the moniker of being a real leader and living in such a way that tackling the problems we face becomes second nature. As a Panth, right now, we do not need a single new organisation; we need a mass of organisations working towards the same ultimate goals. These organisations should look at the Sikh institutions of our short-lived history and reflect their practices, learning from the mistakes they made that we can improve upon with the benefit of hindsight, all working towards a common direction of making this a better World for all.
I want to be able to lead my life like our western peers, free to explore the Universe, making progress in every way, every day. For a Sikh, Punjab will always be our home away from home and so we have a responsibility not only to it – the place – but to its people. They want jobs, some sort of healthcare and better education, but most of all they want a future, not just the semblance of one. Just ask them. Pick up the telephone and call somebody you know in Punjab; it might be a relative, a friend, that person who retains a set of keys to your family’s property, anybody who resides in Punjab. Ask them, ask them what it is that they want. It took me three days of incessently raising this question with one of my closest relatives before he broke and said that no matter how, no matter what cost, he was working hard to take his wife and children and leaving for any country that would have him, just as soon as he could afford it. Why? Because there is no future in Punjab. Decades ago, his father lived each day trying to migrate with the family elsewhere, but to no avail. All he wants too is to progress.