Is Amritsar Burning?

Rajdeep Singh Jolly’s Letter To The Editor struck a cord with me. In particular, his statement:

Throughout history, oppressors have persecuted Sikhs by targeting their identity; during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms in India, when thousands of Sikhs were massacred, their turbans were stripped from their heads and their unshorn hair was forcibly cut before they were murdered. If the Sikh articles of faith truly had no value, our oppressors would not have subjected them to systematic destruction.

…As a Sikh, I reject the notion that wearing a turban or maintaining uncut hair is prohibitively wearisome or any more tedious than, say, shaving a beard or waxing one’s legs. The case for what the article called “daily tedium” is often a smoke screen for loss of faith, lack of pride, susceptibility to peer pressure or all of the above. Young Sikhs are merely accelerating the work that their oppressors could not finish.

As a teen in the early 1990’s, I rememeber receiving a California-based newspaper called the World Sikh News every month at home. Each month it would provide the latest news in Punjab politics and an update on the on-going violence. What always struck me was the front page, which month after month would show an image of a Singh on the front, who had been killed in the violence, and in every case his hair forcibly cut. I just couldn’t understand why. Even if he was a militant and was killed in a fire-fight, why cutting of the hair?

Many Sikhs buy the Indian Government’s story of attacking the Darbar Sahib for the purpose of “flushing out terrorists.” If that was in fact the case, why was the Sikh Reference Library ransacked and set afire? Why were precious artifacts from our history stolen and destroyed?

It is reminiscent of Hitler’s famous question to his chief of staff , “Is Paris Burning?” as he ordered Dietrich von Choltitz to level Paris in the last days of the war – destroying not only bridges and key military positions, but anything of value, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre – historical and cultural landmarks. To erase a people, you must first destroy their history and culture. von Cholititz would ultimately disobey him.

Truth is, the 1984 attacks were not designed to just kill Sikhs. They were designed to kill Sikhi. To attack our history, our culture…to break our spirit.

Over the last few days, Sikhs have spoken…

They have protested outside of the courthouses of New Delhi, they have stopped rail traffic in Punjab, and the whole world watched Jarnail Singh chuck a shoe at the Home Minister, while the Sikh Nation roared a jakaara!

But as we reflect on different ways to remember and protest 1984, let us not forget…if it was our Sikhi they tried to destroy…if it was our spirit they tried to break…than it is our spirit we must preserve, it is our Sikhi that we must strengthen. Now is the time to re-inforce our relationship with the Guru.

There is nothing a tyrant fears more than a Guru-inspired Sikh.

About RP Singh

Writer. Poet. Organizer. View all posts by RP Singh

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