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Silent No More: A Sikh Response To The Idle No More Movement


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Haven't finished reading this yet but wanted to share it. It's from thelangarhall.com site:

I try to imagine the government coming to my house one morning and taking my five year old daughter and eight year old son away to a boarding school hundreds of kilometres away. I try to imagine that at this school, my children’s hair will be cut, their dastars and kakkars will be removed and they will be forcibly baptized as Christians. I try to imagine that they will be beaten for speaking Panjabi, reading Bani or trying to maintain their religious and cultural traditions. I try to imagine that even their basic health needs will not be looked after and they may well die from treatable infections and diseases. And then, I must admit, I am not able to imagine the rest; I can not bear to imagine them being abused, assaulted, beaten and raped.


That is what occurred in this country for one hundred years as the Canadian government, along with government sanctioned church groups, kidnapped First Nations children from their homes and took them to residential schools where unspeakable horrors were committed on them. Of course the history of colonization in the Americas does not begin with the Residential School system but is in fact a legacy going back centuries. It is estimated that 90 to 95% of all indigenous people living in the Americas were killed by smallpox within the first century after European first contact in the late 1400’s. It is difficult to fathom death at that scale. Those that remained had their land stolen and were forced onto reservations to live as non-citizens in their own lands.

As a nation, Sikhs are extremely proud of our own anti-colonial struggle against the British. Yet we have completely failed to acknowledge that in Canada we have succeeded due to the colonial oppression of other nations. This land where we build our homes and businesses was the land of nations that lived here for tens of thousands of years. Yes, one hundred and seventy years ago the British annexed Panjab and ended Khalsa Raj. But the British did not exile us from our own villages and towns. The British did not take our land and build new cities. The British did not migrate to Panjab and force us to live on inadequate reserves.

We face discrimination in Canada and suffer from chronic underfunding in order to address challenging issues like domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug use. However, we are not without means. We have Sikh representatives at every level of government across the country and have been financially successful as a community. We owe a debt to this country and to its true heritage; not the Canada evolved from French and British colonies but to a land that was the sovereign territory of nations that sustainably farmed, fished and hunted here since before the dawn of history.

It has become an integral part of how we define ourselves, this message that “Sikhs believe in equality” but speaking those words is easy; living this in truth is much more difficult. We need to demonstrate our commitment to the revolutionary message of Guru Nanak Sahib, that every human being contains equally an aspect of the divine and that we are all truly worthy of having our basic human needs and rights protected and defended. In fact, this impulse to speak against the oppressor in defense of the rights of the other stems from the Gurus themselves. It was Guru Nanak Sahib himself who faced down the first Mughal Emperor Babur after his invading forces had committed horrendous massacres. Though Guru Nanak Sahib stood alone, he did not hesitate to speak against those who had perpetrated the crimes he witnessed.

One of the most treasured episodes in Sikh history is the Shaheedi of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib. In November of 1675, Guru jee gave his life in the streets of Delhi. He did not die for Sikh rights but instead he gave his head as an act of political disobedience against the Mughal Empire’s forced conversion of Hindus. That a leader of a religion would die to to defend the rights of another religion is almost unbelievable and Guru Tegh Bahadur’s example still stands uniquely in all of human history. It is our Ninth Guru’s example that Sikhs strive to emulate when we defend the rights of those who are different from us.

But it is more than just defending the rights of the other. The Guru asks us to stand with those who are been marginalized, those who society considers low and unworthy. As Guru Nanak Sahib reveals in Asa ki Vaar, he himself identifies as one of those who others call low:

ਹਉ ਢਾਢੀ ਕਾ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੋਰਿ ਉਤਮ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਦਾਇਦੇ ॥ Ha▫o dẖādẖī kā nīcẖ jāṯ hor uṯam jāṯ saḏā▫iḏe. (SGGS 468).

That is the challenge put forth to us by the Guru, that we must place ourselves in the position of those who have no power in our societies, those who have been cast off and dehumanized.

Idle No More is a response not only to the legacy of colonialism but the continuing colonialism that First Nations people are being subjected to. First Nations simply want the their rights as a sovereign people respected. They want justice for the crimes of the past and the basic human dignity that all people are entitled to. They want control of their resources and the right to educate and govern themselves as they see fit. Does this sound familiar? It’s exactly what Sikhs have been struggling for in India for the last several decades. From the Anandpur Sahib Resolution to the demand for justice for victims of massacres, human rights abuses and pogroms to Panjab’s ongoing struggle with government enabled substance and alcohol abuse, the parallels between Idle No More and contemporary Sikh struggles is striking.

But these protesters are not just fighting for themselves, they are fighting for all of our rights. They are fighting against the government’s omnibus bill and its erosion of environmental protection. They are fighting for all of our futures.

Today we face many problems as a community. We face internal divisions and external threats. But that has always been the case throughout Sikh history. Things have never been easy for our people. But we are capable of greatness when we are united. And when do we unite? When we struggle for justice, freedom and equality. Idle No More is a growing movement. It is the voice of a people demanding their rights. We need not care about political expediency. Sikh history is clear: the Sikh response to marginalized people fighting for rights has always been simple. We stand with you. Against all odds, we stand for you.

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As a nation, Sikhs are extremely proud of our own anti-colonial struggle against the British.

I don't know if this is true.

Here in England you get plenty of apnay (mostly from jat backgrounds) who appear to be over the moon about their forefathers support for European (i.e. British) colonialism.

What to make of it?

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I like the article. I do. But there are some things I feel need to be said.

Like supporting the Native Americans is one thing. But what about following that through? Idle No More has shown the ugly side of the colonisation that Sikhs dont bother to understand, that the whites took the land by force and want to keep it that way as seen by the reaction of their descendants. A bit like how Sikhs say India is so great before news breaks that a Dera or Police have beaten a whole bunch of Sikhs. The way we see things and how they are in reality are miles apart. Would Canadian Sikhs who talk about how great their country is acknowledge things like this:

And it goes beyond facing the fact that there are so many untoward types in the supposedly open and loving Canadian community.

Sikhs pride themselves on their history and stories. Saving Hindu women from Afghan invaders who we happened to be at war with and who were crossing our Punjab is a well told story. Our ancestors were a decent bunch, mostly.

But did you know that 30-80% of all Native American Women in the US and Canada will be raped before they are 30 by non-Native Americans? It's a bit rich of us all to be patting ourselves on the backs for what our ancestors did when this is going on under the noses of Sikhs over there.

Even if Sikhs did want to stop it how would they? Get some guns and a pick up truck and patrol around reservations? If there is a shootout I can see the media and public opinion falling on both sides but mainly on the side of the poor whites getting shot by the bearded browns. Where as our ancestors couldnt give a hoot who they pissed off, the thought of the wrath of the squatting hosts would be more than enough to make Sikhs not get involved.

We have Sikhs who cry their eyes out when they see Palestinians on tv, but dont bother to care for the First Nations living down the road from them who have endured foreign occupation for centuries not decades. Ironic, no?

You have Sikhs who travel to Palestine and do god knows what. Would Sikhs be willing to perform the same for Native Americans? We have lawyers dont we? We have rehabilitation programmes for drugs/drink dont we? We have media outlets there dont we? We have money dont we? Wouldnt the right thing to do be to train Native Americans to protect themselves? But which Sikhs would really go out into the real world and do that....

It's not as if our own community dont practice their own kind of personal racial hangups either. Remember that Native American women who had converted to Islam and came on SikhSangat to learn about Sikhi? Remember how badly she was treated by posters on there? If Sikhs are so smart they would understand where people like her are coming from and get why she asked things the way she did. They didnt. They tore into her like an American cavalry regiment and seem quite pleased with themselves when she was banned/stopped posting. That would never have happened to a white person especially of AngloSaxon background.

Then there are those rumours of what Yogi Bhajan/3HO did to the Native Americans they came across. Yeah we can say what we want about the whites, but when our own Punjabis begin practicing the same colonial nonsense that our ancestors would have hung them for, I can only wonder what the hell is going wrong. Like the author of the article said, nothing brings Sikhs together like a good fight, especially if we are the underdog. The question is, have centuries of white washing colonialism and the comforts of a peaceful lifestyle poisoned us to the point that all we can do is bark and not bite?

EDIT: for some reason I cant post the pictures.

Edited by HSD1
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I don't know if this is true.

Here in England you get plenty of apnay (mostly from jat backgrounds) who appear to be over the moon about their forefathers support for European (i.e. British) colonialism.

What to make of it?

I would say about a third of all Sikhs I know are like this. About a quarter are the opposite. The rest couldnt care either way.

It's not surprising so many love the British Empire. Some Sikhs were always part of the British Empire (Malwa) and growing up here it's not like we hear the bad things about them.

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  • 10 years later...


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