The world today is trying to reshape itself once again as disparities and inequalities are enhancing the gaps between different regions and societies. Life itself has become a casualty as the sense of self is increasingly being violated. But from time to time, certain individuals rise up to redefine this World and get noticed for their acts of defiance, for enhancing humanity by standing up for something and bridging the widening gaps of people.
Most recently, a young girl named Malala Yousafzai from the Swat valley of Pakistan was shot in the head for standing up for her right to education; girls in that region are not often sent to school or even allowed to think of doing so. From the age of eleven, she had the vision to get herself educated, and inspired other families to send girls to school. In this region, the influence of the extreme Muslim group, the Taliban is running the shots and they are known for denying any type of exposure to women in any sphere. The act of this brave girl has redefined the power of a lone voice speaking up. The whole world woke up to her cause and all over Pakistan, female students are bowing their heads to her, particularly in regions where women are forbidden from taking an active role in society. Yousfzai is currently undergoing treatment for her injuries in the UK.
Another woman, Dr Sima Samar, a doctor by profession from Afghanistan was awarded the 2012 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the alternate Nobel prize. This brave lady first stood up during the Soviet occupation in her homeland when her husband disappeared during the invasion. She fled to Pakistan to help the Afghan refugees in camps and set up a Shuhuada organisation. Today she operates in Afghanistan running many schools and hospitals. She has seen her homeland degenerate during long wars and conflicts, but her purpose is to make a difference and create space to bridge the gap.
The recent Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Chinese Mo Yan, a High School graduate who has survived poverty, hunger and even worked as a soldier in the Chinese army, the PLA. He kept his sense of self alive for the betterment of humanity and his first statement after the award was to advocate for the release of a famous Chinese artist, a dissident being held against his will in China for standing up against the autocratic state of affairs there.
One other individual, a Vietnamese Ngyuyen Chi Thein, who died recently in America at the age of 73 was a dissident all of his life. He wrote and spoke out against the dictatorship of Ho Chi Minh and for this he spent the better part of his life before 1995 in prison, that too in solitary confinement without access to paper or any writing instrument. But still in solitary and labour camps, he ignighted his mind and soul to create poems which he memorised. After a particularly long spell in prison, when he came out the first thing he did was write down his memorised 400 poems. It was 1979 and after finishing the poems, he ran to the British embassy in Hanoi and after a long altercation forced himself into the compound throwing his written poems inside. He was re-arrested and given eight more years in solitary confinement and at a labour camp. Through his work that had been thrown into the British embassy, the World noticed him and he was awarded the International Poetry Award in 1985. His poems have since been published in twelve languages under the title ‘Flowers Of Silence’.
As we look around, there are few people who by their earned, enhanced status in the world have used their voice to improve their surroundings and raise up issues which are not supposed to be brought into the open. And that’s how since the time of Socrates, many wise men who were ahead of there times have had to suffer tremendously.
Being a Sikh my thoughts have always turned to look inside our own religion in social and political terms and I try to think of any person who could have been a Li Bai type poet or individual who by his courage of ideas has created a bridge to consolidate our heritage. I am not comparing any one with our great Gurus, but try to think of individuals with gifted skills who have made a difference. In the last century, such a name clearly comes to mind, even though it may not be acceptable to some. The personality and charisma of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, by his rustic Punjabi and sheer force of voice created a huge upheaval in the Sikhs in particular and of the surroundings in general. Though he has been projected as a divisionary of hate or an angry young Sant, his violent death in defending the Sikh centre at Amritsar enshrined the ideas he so forthrightly brought up. He was a direct challenge to the established Sikh clergy and political leadership of that time and he single-handedly created a sense of Sikhi amongst the youth of Punjab; contrast with the youth of Punjab today who are decaying under false illusions and addicted to drugs with no hope, but plenty of despair.
At present Sikh ideas or thoughts, even genuine ones are trashed and derided as angry outbursts; we must set to task in solving this situation. Sikhs need to develop an idea-based education system which can generate a sense of self and purpose to uplift society as a whole. It may be that we are waiting for that one lone voice to speak out, or it may be that we are not hearing it in the noise.