“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people…” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This time a month ago, Sikhs across the country were engaged in debate over a Gap ad. Opinions ran the gamut. Some Sikhs were uncomfortable with the ad as the woman placed her hand on the dastaar, others were vehemently opposed to a Sikh being portrayed in any lustful way. Some Sikhs thought the ad was cool and took a picture of it at the local mall. Others were so overwhelmed by Gap’s decision to feature a Sikh model, they organized thank you tributes and facebook pages to express their gratitude to Gap. And more recently, there’s been debate over the hypocrisy of Sikhs to glorify a company that has a history of poor treatment of its workers. And then a counter-argument that those who are accusing Sikhs as being hypocrites are really just being over critical…after all, it’s just an ad. What’s more surprising than the wide range of views, is that everyone had an opinion. It was discussed, sometimes heatedly, at just about every Sikh event I went to.
In the midst of the Gap ad debate, A Haryana based Sikh – Gurbaksh Singh, went on hunger strike at Gurdwara Amb Sahib (Mohali) near Chandigarh to seek the release of 6 Sikh prisoners who have already served the terms of imprisonment to which they were sentenced by Indian courts…I repeat, “already served the terms of imprisonment.” With all the issues Sikhs throughout the world are debating today, Bhai Gurbaksh Singh decided to risk his own life to bring to light the plight of Sikh prisoners languishing in jails and the imbalance of justice toward Sikhs in India. As I’ve been following the story, I wondered…where is the outrage? Where are all the tweets, lengthy facebook discussions, signs of solidarity, online petitions and calls to action the Gap ad drew? Our brothers and sisters in Punjab, UK, and Canada have mobilized their sangats, but Sikhs in the US have been largely quiet in comparison. As Bhai Sahib enters the 35th day of his hunger strike, those same circles that argued over the Gap ad do not know who Gurbaksh Singh is let alone feel compelled to act.
Over the years, I have engaged in many debates over my views on the state of the panth, 1984, and the dire situation of Sikhs in Punjab. I would often walk away from these debates in frustration…but not anymore. I’ve grown to appreciate people’s different views. Because when you are debating, there is concern and thinking. People who think and are concerned can change their minds, and even if they don’t, they continue to mould their opinions and help me shape my own. To me, the biggest threat we face as a panth today are not the people with opposing views, but the people who remain indifferent. Those who can easily dismiss the current state of Sikhs in Punjab as “not my problem.”
I’m too cynical to believe in complete panthic unity. As I read through history, I can hardly find a time where Sikhs were completely united. But there have been times, even in my lifetime, where there have been glimpses. And when we’ve been united, we have moved mountains. Let this be one of those times…
Learn more about Bhai Gurbaksh Singh’s fight
Reach out to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations to gain international support.
Call leaders of the Punjab government and Sikh institutions in Punjab and urge them to act! – Click on the image below:
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