By Harwinder Singh Mander
Whatever analysis follows from today’s Sarbat Khalsa and the Resolutions that were passed, there are some key points of discussion for Sikhs residing in the West to take notice of immediately. How we engage one another and deal with these issues could go some way towards making an impact at the next Sarbat Khalsa expected to take place at Vaisakhi in 2016; choosing to do as we have before, and we can expect very little progress which is not only an opportunity missed, but detrimental for the Panth as a whole in the long term.
Representation is what a Sarbat Khalsa is all about and as had been noted by some commentators before me, one particular group of Sikhs were conspicuous by their absence – women. That there was only one female speaker is quite laughable in 2015, but it wasn’t just their absence vocally I felt, it was also visually. The dhadi jatha who opened proceedings after the Akhand Path was concluded promised much more as two of their members were female, but alas once again, half of all Sikhs went unrepresented. We might further ask how many Sikh women were privy to the discussions that led up to the Sarbat Khalsa and how many would have contributed in the cross-group negotiations that took place? I dread to think but they may have done so in that all too familiar role of part-time eavesdroppers, making their way into rooms with cups of tea and food. It is a horrid thought and even writing it on this page makes me want to vomit, but it is a harsh truth that we need to acknowledge in order to move forward from this point… as is the fact that few young people made their way on to stage. It is no coincidence that the most active period of recent Sikh times were those years leading up to 1984 when those under-25, led by those under-35 rocked Delhi to its core. But fewer and fewer young people are given opportunities to develop not only as speakers, but as thinkers, allowed to make mistakes as they go along the way; today you are expected to appear as perfect or you can’t feature at all which is what we see in our Gurdware and organisations all too often. Any wonder that grey beards were in vogue at this Sarbat?
But perhaps most interestingly was the absence of western speakers. The three speakers labelled as such – two from the USA and one from Italy – were all clearly migrants to their respective adopted nations, so it begs the question, just where were the Sikhs born-and-raised in the west? The Sikh Research Institute’s Harinder Singh was on stage at the climax to read aloud the resolutions in English, but even that smacked of a token gesture (if you listen carefully you can hear Harinder Singh’s voice stating that they must read the Resolutions in English aloud, just before he is invited forward). And it is here where I think that the conversation we must have resides: what do Sikhs in the west lack that their peers in the Punjab do not? Is it knowledge, experience, or confidence? Maybe language, connections, or political savvy? Perhaps a combination of all these and then some? In my opinion, there is something in Sikhs from Punjab that one does not find amongst Sikhs in the West; a cunning, ruthless capacity that is developed from dealing with stray dogs as children, corrupt Police Officers as youths, and inept politicians when mature. The Sikhs who spoke on stage at the Sarbat Khalsa were no more knowledgeable than learned scholars here in England, no more well-versed than veteran activists in the US, and no more charismatic than popular politicians in Canada. In short, what we lack is that Indian mindset where self-preservation dominates the psyche.
The broad protection and comforts that our upbringing in the West has afforded us, breeds a kind of innocence that is exposed as naivety when it comes to political matters. From our Gurdware to our local communities, we are poor proverbial chess players, seeking short term gains over long-term results. When we read, it needs to be part of a greater plan to learn; when we discuss, it needs to be with an ear to listen; and when we observe, it needs to be from the back of the room, with one eye focused on what is not occurring just as the other takes in what is.
How we represent ourselves at every level – individually, externally, and collectively – needs to reflect the idea of who we are and in order to do that we need to know exactly who we are. I don’t have the answers and that is entirely the point I want to make – none of us do; but together we will.