Expressing feelings about the Sikh struggle for sovereignty from distant places and temporary homes is not an easy task. It requires diligent research, temperance of emotions, and extensive contemplation, all without losing the zeal that will have instigated the drive to do so in the first place. It is with that in mind that I want to bring to your attention the Khalistan Activist Federation (KAF), a US group raising funds for a project titled ‘Punjab di Kahani’ or ‘The Story of Punjab’.
There are young people in our midst trying to deal with the annihilation that Sikhs are/have been facing in recent decades, who are organising themselves and raising a credible voice about the experience of the struggle for sovereignty – and the KAF is clearly one collective that is doing so with admirable clarity. They are a “a youth implemented and coordinated Panthic organisation that works to empower the global Sikh community by actively challenging oppression and exercising our right to sovereignty to attain a free Punjab – Khalistan.” Late last year, the KAF presented its first public work through a poetic-visual titled ‘to my People‘. Whilst the descriptions on their fundraising page state that the work “gained a massive following within the 24 hours of its release“, that is immaterial to me, and probably should be to you because the words and imagery speak boldly for itself, whether that is recognised by others or not.
Reading the KAF biography makes it clear why you might not have heard of them before; they work at a grass roots level and focus on engaging people through discussion and workshops, which again is commendable at a time when far too many Sikh groups dive in to representing ‘our voice’ through marketing exercises, branding investments, and an overstated social media presence. Working in collaboration with the UK’s National Sikh Youth Federation (NSYF) and Canada’s Azaadi Movement, the KAF is based in the USA where widely-spread Sikh communities have found it difficult to rally together. There are a plethora of Sikh organisations in the USA, but few orient around youth (actual teen-twenty-something youth) and even fewer have a remit to freely express their feelings about Sikhs and the Punjab in a creative manner. In this light, they are a most welcome and needed platform for dialogue that is worthy of support, particularly when it comes to this project on Punjab.
There is a question that Sikhs in the Diaspora need to ask about the connection to our way of life’s place of origin; are we comfortable becoming tourists with the briefest glimpses of Punjab from our vantage point in pastures new? Our comprehension of how our fellow Sikhs in the Punjab have come to be who they are today is in need of revisiting, interpreted in this instance by voices in the Diaspora especially if for an audience largely of their peers. There is now ever-greater support of the creative arts in the Sikh community, but much of this focuses on our own experience growing up outside Punjab, as we navigate through a mish-mash of cultures. How we speak about those left behind, the place we left behind, and then contextualising what impact that has on our own identity underlines what I think this project will bring to life.
The Sikh Diaspora has huge resources at its disposal that are in my opinion grossly misdirected. I felt an affinity to this project because I saw a group that wasn’t focused on telling non-Sikhs who we are, or shied away from difficult topics when talking to their peer groups in the community. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t continue to fund groups presently attracting so many contributions of those types, but it’s food for thought about the banality with which we pledge dasvandh. Why do we avoid supporting difficult but vitally important conversations and artistic expressions about our struggle for sovereignty? The events of the last three decades in Punjab are being quietly airbrushed out of our memories, displaced by warnings made in hushed tones that a return to those days is undesirable, or contrastingly the promotion of meaningless sloganeering once a year outside an embassy.
Hearing about the dedication of the group through acquaintances, I am certain this project is being brought to life irrespective of whether or not they receive the full amount of funds being sought (presently half way to their goal of $10,000). But having seen a number of artists burn out and go AWOL over the course of the last year, I’d hope the remaining funds that the group seeks are donated so that this project can be brought to life in the way they have envisaged. If we can fund Gurdwara buildings costing tens of millions, directing an amount in the thousands towards a project like this should not be unachievable.
You can contribute towards the creation of ‘The Story of Punjab’ by the Khalistan Activist Federation at: https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/kaf-the-story-of-punjab.