Scroll.in – Pakistan’s Sikh heritage could be a bridge to peace, if not bound by its hostile ties with India

Every year, thousands of pilgrims from India travel to the land of the gurus, shedding the historical baggage of the two countries.

Op/Ed, 7 July 2017. Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak, stands on the edge of the Ravi river in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Surrounded by agricultural fields, it is a modest structure, a single building that houses the smadh of the first Sikh guru, with a few makeshift rooms where the caretakers live.

However, the gurdwara is slowly expanding. Plans for a langar hall (community kitchen) were being laid out when I last visited the shrine a few years ago.

With Sikh religious tourism in Pakistan seeing rapid growth in the past few years, the state has renovated several of these neglected historical Sikh shrines in collaboration with the Sikh community here.

I stood at the edge of the Ravi staring deep into the fields that lay on its eastern bank. With the arrival of the monsoon, the river was swelling. People here believe that every monsoon, the river breaks its banks and reaches the boundary wall of the shrine to offer obeisance to Guru Nanak.

A few days prior to my visit, a large snake was caught in the courtyard of the shrine. The caretakers said it, too, was there to pay homage to the guru.

Guru Nanak spent 17 years in this spot, working on his fields and taking a dip in the waters of this ancient river every day. A gurdwara was constructed here during his lifetime where every evening, kirtan (the singing of devotional songs) was performed and then langar served.

It is here that Guru Nanak appointed Bhai Lehna as his spiritual successor, calling him Guru Angad Dev, thus laying the foundation of the institutionalisation of Sikhism.

Beyond the river, somewhere deep in the fields, camouflaged by a thick cover of trees, is the most dangerous border in the world. An electric fence topped by high-powered search lights, manned by thousands of soldiers, marks this transition from Pakistan to India.

While Pakistani and Indian soldiers exchange fire regularly at the Line of Control, which divides the disputed territory of Kashmir, and the Working Boundary dividing Punjab from Jammu, the International Border remains peaceful.
However, tension looms behind this semblance of peace. Contingents of armies on both sides remain ever vigilant, aware of how fragile this peace is.

Gurdwara diplomacy

Defying this heightened sense of antagonism, hundreds of devotees gather every day at the border on the Indian side to catch a glimpse of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, armed with powerful binoculars. Pakistan, for them, is not an enemy country but the home of Guru Nanak.

There are about 200 historical gurdwaras scattered across the country that mark important historical events in the lives of the Sikh gurus. These include the birthplaces of Guru Nanak and Guru Ram Das, as well as the smadh of Guru Arjan and that of Guru Nanak.

Every year, thousands of Sikh pilgrims from India and other parts of the world travel to Pakistan, the land of the gurus, to visit these historical sites.

These are remarkable pilgrimages that put aside the historical baggage between India and Pakistan and allow many Sikhs to reconnect with a land that is no longer theirs but continues to occupy an important place in their imagination.

Hatred fuelled by decades of state propaganda is put aside as various communities intermingle, each humanising the other.

Perhaps these pilgrimages are more important for Pakistan than for the Indian Sikh pilgrims. It allows the country to reclaim some of the history it had to abandon after Partition. It reminds the country that it is home to diverse religious traditions, possibly paving the way for a multi-religious society some time in the future.

Muslim Pakistani traders who have never interacted with a Sikh or a Hindu find themselves haggling with these pilgrims all of a sudden, realising they are not the demons they had imagined them to be all these years.

The media reports these events, raising awareness about these historical characters that have otherwise been left out of the national discourse. The increasing inflow of religious tourists is also a blessing for the abandoned Sikh shrines.

In the past decade or so, numerous gurdwaras have been renovated and handed over to the Sikh community. This gurdwara diplomacy has the potential to bring the people of the two countries together and also ensure the religious freedom of minorities in Pakistan.

Held hostage by politics

It is perhaps because of the significant role these pilgrimages play that they often fall prey to the age-old narrative of hostility between India and Pakistan. When tensions between the two countries rise, there is a significant fall in the number of Sikh pilgrims traveling to Pakistan.

According to media reports, Indian authorities barred Sikh pilgrims from visiting Pakistan twice in the last month. In the first week of June, hundreds of devotees were reportedly stopped from attending a gathering at Lahore Dera Sahib to commemorate the assassination of Guru Arjan.

Later in the month, another group of Sikhs was stopped from traveling to Pakistan to mark the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh Empire, the reports said.

On the other side of the border too, there are media reports accusing Pakistan of foul play.

Soon after the Indian Army’s “surgical strike” on militant launchpads on the Pakistani side in September, which Islamabad continues to deny, the Indian state alleged that Pakistani authorities had refused to trim the elephant grass at the border close to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, stopping hundreds of devotees from making their darshan.

Every other year, talk about a peace corridor to be constructed at Kartarpur Sahib surfaces. For several years now, the Sikh community has been lobbying for this corridor that would allow Indian pilgrims to travel to the shrine without a visa, an idea that has been warmly received by officials in both governments on several occasions.

However, the proposal sinks each time the fragile relationship between India and Pakistan hits a new low. It is in such antagonistic times that these gurdwaras and pilgrimages can play an important role in lowering tensions. Which makes it all the more petty that Pakistan’s Sikh heritage is still held hostage by India-Pakistan politics.

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books – Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva, and A White Trail.
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Scroll.in – Canada: Palbinder Kaur Shergill is the first turbaned Sikh woman judge of provincial Supreme Court

She has represented the interests of the Canadian Sikh community in many cases, including on the right of Sikh students to wear the kirpan in schools.

Vancouver-British Columbia-Candada, 24 June 2017. Indian-origin Palbinder Kaur Shergill on Friday became the first turbaned Sikh woman judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Canada. Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the appointment on Friday under a new judicial application process that was introduced in October last year.

Shergill has been appointed with immediate effect, as sitting Justice EA Arnold-Bailey retired on May 31. She has represented the interests of the Canadian Sikh community in many cases, including one dealing with the right of Sikh students to wear the kirpan in schools.

Welcoming the decision, World Sikh Organisation President Mukhbir Singh said, “The appointment of Justice Shergill is another milestone for the Sikh community in Canada. It is a matter of great pride that today we have the first turbaned Sikh appointed to the judiciary in Canada.”

Shergill migrated to Canada with her parents from Rurka Kalan in Jalandhar at the age of four. She grew up in Williams Lake, British Columbia, and received her law degree from the University of Saskatchewan and now lives in Surrey.

A news release by the department of justice, Canada, said that before being appointed Supreme Court justice, Shergill practised as a lawyer and mediator with her law firm. She was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2012 and is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for Community Service.

Justice Shergill has been involved with many legal and non-legal organisations, including the Cabinet of Canadians, the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, and the Canadian Bar Association, said the news release.

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Scroll.In – After the Manchester attack, this Sikh taxi driver offered free rides to anyone in need

Singh is part of a community that has been offering great support

UK, 25 May 2017. A J Singh, a taxi driver in Manchester, put a “Free Taxi” sign on his car moments after Monday night’s devastating terror attack at the Manchester Arena.

He spent the entire night helping those who were stranded or separated from their loved ones, and drove many to the hospital.

“I just heard the news and thought Manchester needs our help. As a Sikh, we are meant to help the community when it’s needed…I’ve had people who needed to find loved ones, I’ve dropped some off to the hospital.

They’ve not had any money, they’ve been stranded; there’s no transport in Manchester. All the roads are closed, it’s really hard to get around,” he told Channel 4 News.

Shaken by the attack, he is part of a large community that came to the aid of those affected by the bombing in Manchester. Another cab driver, Sam Arshad, told his colleagues at StreetCars Manchester to give free rides to anyone in need.

There were also many gurdwaras offering food and accommodation to people seeking safety. Messages on Twitter were circulated using the hashtag #RoomForManchester by people offering their homes and hotel rooms as well.

The attack left 22 dead and at least 59 injured when a 22-year-old suicide bomber, whos name is believed to be Salman Abedi, allegedly deployed a bomb outside the venue of an Ariana Grande concert. There were about 21,000 people in attendance.

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Scroll.in – A Partition tragedy: Buried in an ancient Lahore graveyard is a Sikh man known as a martyr to love

Boota Singh was a resident of Ludhiana district of Punjab.

My friend and guide, Iqbal Qaiser, and I walked aimlessly around a section of the Miani Sahib graveyard in Lahore looking for one particular burial spot.

It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Spread over an area of 1,000 kanals (125 acres), this graveyard, the oldest in the city of Lahore, is estimated to contain more than three lakh graves.

We drove within the graveyard, negotiating early Sunday morning traffic and family members who had come to pay homage to their deceased ancestors. Vendors sitting at corners sprinkled fresh water on their rose petals.

Fragrant tendrils of smoke from burning incense sticks scattered in the air. Life moves at its own leisurely pace at Miani Sahib, while Lahore, encroaching upon it from all sides, bursts with energy.

The entire history of the city of Lahore can be narrated through the graves at Miani Sahib. At one end of the graveyard, in an empty plot cut off from the rest, is the mausoleum of Gul Begum, a concubine of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Just at a little distance from there is the grave of Dullah Bhatti, the rebel zamindar of Pindi Bhattian, who revolted against Emperor Akbar. Driving on we found ourselves facing the entrance to the shrine of Ghazi Ilmuddin, a vigilante who murdered the Hindu publisher Mahashe Rajpal in 1929 for publishing a blasphemous book on the Prophet of Islam.

Qaiser remembered that the grave we were looking for was somewhere behind this shrine. We stepped around numerous mud graves, most of them unmarked, trying to look for any signs.

We walked over to a middle-aged man fixing a mud grave. “Do you know where Jamil Ahmad is buried?” asked Qaiser. When the man expressed his ignorance, Qaiser added: “He is also known by the name of Boota Singh.”

Post-Partition repatriation

Boota Singh was a resident of the district of Ludhiana in East Punjab, now in India. During the riots of Partition, when Muslim families were being murdered and chased out of East Punjab, he saved the life of a young girl called Zainab, who had been separated from her family.

He married her and they soon had two daughters, Tanveer and Dilveer Kaur.

Almost a decade after Partition, the Indian and Pakistani governments decided to return the women separated from their families at the time of Partition, who now lived across the border from them.

It was around this time that state authorities picked up Zainab along with her younger daughter, Dilveer, to be returned to Pakistan. Her family had settled at a small village called Nurpur, near the border, on the outskirts of Lahore. This is where Zainab was repatriated.

Taking his older daughter with him, Boota Singh went to Delhi where he tried to get the authorities to bring back his wife and child. When he was unsuccessful, and without many other options, he decided to convert to Islam and enter Pakistan to get his wife and daughter back.

That is how he became Jamil Ahmad. Crossing the border illegally, he reached Nurpur. Here, however, Zainab’s family members beat him up and handed him over to the state authorities.

Legal hearings followed in which Boota Singh claimed that he had come for his wife and if she could appear in court once, she would testify in his favour. Eventually the Lahore High Court summoned Zainab.

The case had caught the attention of the public by now. There was much interest about what Zainab was going to say. Zainab arrived at the High Court, surrounded by her family members, and wearing a burqa.

Not only did she refuse to go back to Boota Singh, she also requested the court to take away her younger daughter who had been living with her. There is much speculation as to why Zainab testified the way she did, the most popular one being that she was under pressure from her family members.

The romantics who later made movies and wrote books about their love story simply could not imagine any other option.

‘Leave now’

Before my visit to Boota Singh’s grave, I had decided to visit the village of Nurpur and see if anyone there remembered the story. On a hot sunny afternoon, Qaiser and I walked into a barber’s shop.

A ceiling fan creaked as it rotated. An old man sat next to us reading the newspaper, while the barber was busy trimming the beard of a younger man.

“Have you heard about the incident of Zainab and Boota Singh?” asked Iqbal Qaiser. The barber stopped his work. The old man put down his newspaper, while the man sitting on the barber’s chair turned around to see us.

“Why are you asking?” asked the barber.

“We are journalists,” said Qaiser. “We were hoping to meet someone from Zainab’s family and find out about their side of the story. Much has been said about them especially in Indian Punjab. We want to find out if they have anything to say about the whole episode.”

The barber said: “You are our guests so we cannot be rude to you but I have to warn you. Please don’t repeat this story in front of anyone from the village. Zainab’s family still lives here and is sensitive about the issue.

If they find out that both of you are sniffing around God knows what they will do to you. It is my suggestion that you kindly leave the village without asking any more questions.”

We listened to his advice.

However, I did not give up the attempt to connect with someone from Zainab’s village. For months I looked for someone from Nurpur. I did find a few, some who even agreed to help me contact someone from Zainab’s family.

However all of them eventually backed out after getting in touch with her family. The family was completely averse to talking about the matter even almost seven decades after the incident.

Dejected, Boota Singh jumped in front of a train and killed himself. His last wish was to be buried in Nurpur, the village of his beloved, but that was not to be. Zainab’s family would not allow such a breach of their honour. Boota Singh was buried at Miani Sahib. His legend however was only beginning to grow.

His grave became a shrine for young lovers. He was called Shaheed-e-Mohabbat. Fresh flowers were brought to his grave every day. His followers wanted to solidify his mud grave and construct a brick shrine around it. However there were others who were vehemently opposed to any such glorification of a Sikh.

They would come in the night and destroy his grave. Boota Singh’s supporters would construct the grave again in the morning. For many days after Boota Singh’s death this tussle continued before it eventually died a natural death. Boota Singh’s grave remained a mud grave and no shrine was constructed over it.

“Perhaps the grave has been razed to make way for new graves,” said the custodian of the graves at Miani Sahib. “As you can see there is a dearth of space here.”

Qaiser asked, “What is the average life of a grave here?”

The custodian replied: “For a mud grave about 50 years to 60 years. It really depends. Graves only remain alive till the point visitors come to it. They die when the visitors stop coming.”

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books – Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail

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Scroll.in – ‘Death holds no fear for us’: A Sikh soldier’s insights into the horrors of World War I

Jangnamah, a genre of poetic writing, can also be a rich historical resource, as a work from WWI reveals

Published 10 April 2017

Nand Singh, an Indian poet and soldier who witnessed World War I fighting under the British in Aden, opens his Jangnamah Europe verse with the assassination of the Shehzada of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Serbians.

His poem then goes on to talk about the events which led to the German invasion of Belgium and how “the compassionate British Government, stood with Belgium and France against the arrogant Germany who broke all the agreements”.

Nand Singh’s work and other Jangnamahs of the British period in Punjab are valuable literary and historical narratives providing rare subaltern perspectives about the colonial wars and conflicts.

Even prior to World War I, Punjabi soldiers had fought under British in the Second Anglo-Afghan war, Anglo-Egyptian war, Second Opium war, Boxer Rebellion in China and multiple campaigns in the North West Frontier.

There was very little documentation of this period “from below”, and of this limited historiography Jangnamah poetry holds a vital but largely forgotten position. Nand Singh finished Jangnamah Europe on June 7, 1919, and is arguably the first work in Punjabi discussing the European and Middle Eastern people, empires and politics.

Jangnamah, a genre of historical poetic writing which documented the events of a war, entered Punjab in the late 16th century as a literary response to the Persian epics.

It found patronage in the hands of Punjabi Muslim poets like Maulvi Rukundin, Hamid and Shahjahan Muqbal who honed this craft commemorating the 7th century Islamic wars of Karbala, Badr and Uhud.

Afghan invasions, the crumbling Mughal Empire and rise of the Sikh power in late 18th century created another period of great turmoil and conquest in Punjab. This brought war as a tangible phenomenon to the Punjabi poet and led to a renaissance in the Jangnamah literature.

It shifted from religious metaphorical style to a historically accurate poetic description of war as witnessed by the contemporary poets.

The Magnum Opus of this genre is about the final war of the Sikh empire of Punjab. Jangnamah Hind Punjab, or Singhan Firanghian (Sikhs and British) as it is variously titled, was composed by Shah Muhammad, a Punjabi Muslim from Gurdaspur in the central Punjab.

It chronicles the events which built up to the First Anglo-Sikh war in 1845, from the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the treachery and politics that followed in his court and finally the battle which the Sikhs lost.

In the British Raj, specifically during the mutiny of 1857, defeated Sikh chiefs heralded the British call to “retrieve their characters” by taking service in the British Indian Army. Most of those who signed up subsequently served in the North West Frontier, which remained the constant theatre of war under the British.

The bleak, bloodthirsty passes inspired a great deal of poetry ranging from the romanticised ballads of Rudyard Kipling to the folk Pashto legends of Malalai of Maiwand, who died rallying the Afghan Ghazis to fight the “British infidels” in the battle of Maiwand during the second Anglo-Afghan war.

At least half a dozen Jangnamahs were composed in this period; the most notable are the ones about the siege of Delhi during the Mutiny and the expeditions of Chitral, Tirah and Malakand in the North Western Frontier during the last decade of 19th century.

Havildar Nand Singh, who composed the Janganamah Europe giving an empirical account of the First World War was a Sergeant in the Malay State Guides. His regiment was raised in 1896 with its headquarters in Taiping, Malaysia. It had its origins in the Perak Sikh police force and composed mainly of Punjabi Sikh and Muslim soldiers.

The Guides had offered overseas service multiple times but it was not until World War I that the regiment was baptised by blood in Yemen. On September 26, 1915, they left Taiping to join the Aden Field Force.

Nand Singh talks about the recruitment that how everyone from the weaver, the bard to the teacher, the clerk and even Pundits and Maulvis were drafted into the service and trained in digging bunkers, shooting rifles and saluting the officers.

One distinctive aspect of the work is that the poet repeatedly returns to talk about the misery and longing of the women left behind in their homes.

For them, both local officials and Germans turn villainous, they lament the local police constable who threatened their sons with false accusations to force them to enlist and loathe the Zaildar and village heads who ‘took’ their sons, brothers and husbands away from them.

With the progress of war they start receiving messages of soldier’s deaths from Regimental stations and they moan and wail at Germany for its cruelty, for killing their sons in the unheard lands of France and Basra.

In contrast to most other Jangnamahs of this period his tone is not of flattery, for example he uses word Sahib once only for Lord Kitchener. However, he recurrently stresses “Namak Halali” (loyalty) whether it be of the 14th Sikh Regiment who fought almost to their last man at Gallipoli or as a virtue for new recruits to uphold.

His work thus provides a measured outlook of the war and an insight into what Regimental honour and loyalty meant to the native soldiers.

Adulation is more frequent in British-sponsored works like Qasim Ali’s Zafarnamah-i-Kabul which is considered a rendering of the first Afghan war which favours the British to counter the popular Jangnamahs of this war composed by Hamid Kashmiri and Mohammad Gholam Gholami.

Similarly, the Jangnama of Chitral, in which Subadar Wadhawa Singh of 23rd Sikh Pioneers Regiment sketches the dramatic murder of the ruler of Chitral by his brother Amir-ul-Mulk, the siege of the fort and then finally the relief under Major General Sir Robert Low, also suffers from a British eulogising style.

It was presented by the poet to his Colonel S V Gordon in 1896 and seems to have then been used as an instrument to firm the fidelity of the native troops.

Nand Singh discusses multiple theatres of action ranging from Gallipoli, Kut-al-Amara and Baghdad to the battle of Verdun on Western Front.

He vividly describes his own regiment’s multiple confrontations in and near Aden and their bravery which won a Military Cross, an Indian Order of Merit, eight Indian Distinguished Service Medals and praise and appreciation from Major General J M Stewart, General Officer commanding the Aden Field Force.

Even the war’s end did not bring relief for Nand Singh and his fellow soldiers. When the guns and artillery were silenced they continued to lose their lives as they were struck down by the influenza epidemic which eventually claimed the lives of an estimated 14 million Indians (not just soldiers). Nand Singh writes:

“With the telegraphs of armistice, nemesis changed its face/ The deadly fever spread, it takes a man’s life faster than the bullet’s pace”

In 1914 the Guide had initially refused to mobilise. The reasons have been variously linked to the seditious Ghadarite influence, the Komagata Maru incident, and sympathy of Muslim soldiers with Khalifat Movement.

Although they did eventually renew their offer the British were ever mindful of this reluctance and disbanded the regiment in 1919.

The soldiers were either absorbed into other regiments or returned to Punjab with gratuity and pensions. Nand Singh most probably returned home having proved his ‘Namak Halali’ but ironically with a seditious label.

The beauty of the Jangnamah narrative is that it reveals the soldiers’ courage in its most naked form, celebrating their ability brave fear and continue against the odds. Nand Singh sustains this tradition and writes:

“Death holds no fear for us, what honour is it to fall abaft holding the Saber fine?

After raising the Sarkar’s rifle, what honour is it to fright and whine?

Die thyself or kill thy enemy, what honour is it to war without all thy might?

After enlisting on the rolls, what honour is it to fear the death or even its sight?

Seeking to prove the loyalty, what honour is it hold back from the battle field?

Never keep the trader’s heart, what honour is it to blame the fate and yield?”

Raman Singh Chhina is working on an anthology of native histories about the colonial conflicts in the Indian subcontinent. He is a graduate from Delhi Technological University and works as a Credit Risk Analyst. His major interests lie in Public Policy and Socio-Political History. [centre/italics]

This article first appeared on
South Asia@LSE

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Scroll.In – Ontario passes motion describing 1984 anti-Sikh riots as ‘genocide’, India dismisses move

The central government has rejected the ‘misguided’ motion, said MEA Spokesperson Gopal Baglay.

Toronto, 7 April 2017. India on Friday rejected a motion passed by the Ontario Legislative Assembly describing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as “genocide”, reported PTI. The motion, which was moved on Thursday, was passed with 34 Members of Provincial Parliament voting in favour and only five against it.

“We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process,” Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Gopal Baglay said. The Centre’s views on the motion have been conveyed to the Canadian leadership, he added.

The motion was passed by MPP Harinder Malhi belonging to the ruling Liberal Party of Ontario. The motion said the Legislative Assembly of Ontario should seek to condemn all forms of violence, hatred, prejudice, racism in India and other parts of the world, “including the 1984 Genocide perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India”.

Several Sikhs, who had gathered in the gallery of the Legislative Assembly, cheered and shouted slogans as the motion was passed, ANI reported.

The riots had broken out on 1 November 1984, after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. During the riots, as many as 2,433 people had died in Delhi alone.

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Scroll.in – Interview: Sikh-American activist Valerie Kaur is fighting hate with revolutionary love

The founder of the Revolutionary Love Project shot into the spotlight with an inspirational New Year’s Eve speech

On New Year’s Eve, Valarie Kaur, a documentary filmmaker and civil rights activist based in Los Angeles, California, delivered a moving speech at a historic African-American church in Washington DC. In her speech, she spoke of the dark times ahead and how instead of leading to despair, this could be an opportunity for change.

This speech was actually the message of the Revolutionary Love Project, an initiative she launched in autumn of 2016. This movement and her New Year’s Eve speech, Kaur said, arose from her distress about the increase in hate violence during the US presidential election campaign. Kaur wrote in an email to Scroll.in:

“Last year, distraught by the rise in hate violence during the election season, I had a moment of personal crisis. I left my job at Stanford Law to reflect on what’s missing in our movement. Through reflection, I realised that what we most need aren’t new policy solutions but a different way of fighting for them.

Political tactics are not enough: No number of policy wins will end what the Southern Poverty Law Center has called the era of “enormous rage”. If anything, conventional organising tends to mirror the kinds of demonisation, suspicion, and distrust that we seek to oppose.

We need new ways of fighting for our values and seeing people who are different from us [racially, religiously, and politically] as sisters and brothers whose destinies are tied with ours. We need a new ethic.

I reflected on the only thing that has ever created change in the communities I have served, it always came down to one question. Is love present here? Whenever hurt people received love from their communities, it emboldened them to respond, in turn, with love.

They would rise up to help heal their family or change the culture of a place, even a policy. But whenever people were left alone with their pain, their isolation bred loathing and more destruction. I began writing and thinking and speaking about love – as a revolutionary force.”

The project has coordinated 100 film screenings and dialogues, and urged people to vote during the elections. After the inauguration of Donald Trump as president in November, it also joined forces with movements such as One Billion Rising, to end violence against women, and the Women’s March on Washington, a worldwide movement for women’s rights and against the Trump presidency that took place on January 21-22.

Kaur is now writing a book about Revolutionary Love. In an email interview, she talks about growing up as a Sikh in America and of her activism.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Question: The story of your grandfather, how he traveled from Punjab to California by steamship 100 years ago, was arrested and jailed for months by immigration officers, and struggled to make a life in America, is incredibly moving. Was this story a part of your life as you were growing up? How did it influence you?

I grew up with stories of my grandparents and ancestors, and these stories made me feel connected to my Sikh faith and American heritage. My grandfather’s story showed me what it meant to be an American, to love our neighbours as ourselves, even in dangerous times. That’s when our love becomes revolutionary.

Question: As a Sikh in America, how has the country changed for you and the people you know in the last few years? Has the nature of the fear begun to shift as well?

The current crisis in hate violence in America is only the latest chapter in an epidemic that began more than 15 years ago in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Since then, a new racial category of the “Muslim terrorist” has become embedded in the American racial landscape.

Sikhs, Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians are part of that racial category. Every time the government targets our communities, it emboldens people to act on their stereotypes against us.

Since the current president rose in power, his rhetoric and now policies consistently punish our communities. It’s no surprise that hate crimes against our communities has now skyrocketed.

On February 22, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered by a gunman in Kansas who said “get out of my country” before he opened fire. His murder appears to be the first fatal hate crime since Trump’s inauguration.

I was devastated by the news and flashed back to 15 years ago when Balbir Singh Sodhi became the first person to be murdered in a hate crime after 9/11. Like Balbir Uncle’s murder, Srinivas’ murder is not an isolated incident.

It’s part of a larger climate of fear, hate and vitriol, and foretells more violence to come. My solace is that millions of people are politically awakened now like never before and ready to stand in solidarity with us and other communities in harm’s way.

Question: There is a perception of Indians as the “good minorities” who do not speak up for the rights of other communities in danger. Do you think this is accurate and is it changing now?

When I became an activist 15 years ago, there were few other South Asian Americans who were pursuing this path. For most of my college years at Stanford University, I was the only Sikh undergraduate I knew who was not studying medicine. That’s changed.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen a new generation of South Asian Americans rise up and pursue careers in law, politics, business, media and advocacy. Today I’m proud to be part of coalitions of South Asian Americans who are on the front lines of fighting for social justice.

Question: You had a particularly strong message claiming solidarity across different communities that face discrimination in the United States today. Is there any instance of building solidarity in the recent past that has particularly moved you?

In my 15 years, I have worked with many communities fighting on a wide range of issues, hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detentions, solitary confinement, marriage equality, and internet freedom. In this work, I have discovered that our struggles are interconnected.

We are part of one broad movement for civil rights and human dignity. I believe it’s the old way to fight only for our own communities or causes. The future of our movements calls for deep solidarity.

I have seen this solidarity in the last few years, including at protests for Black Lives Matter, vigils at Standing Rock [by Native Americans against under-construction oil pipelines], and at the Women’s March.

I witnessed this solidarity up close in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Our multi-faith coalition along with Sikh advocates were able to secure lasting policy change on hate crimes.

When we organise together and raise a collective voice for social justice, we can create lasting policy and culture change.

Question: You also spoke of how this period of darkness might be the darkness of a womb, not of a tomb. How are you and others working to, as you say, “push”?

I launched the Revolutionary Love Project in order to support the broader movement. Revolutionary Love is the commitment to extend our will for the flourishing of others, our opponents and ourselves. Love is not a passing feeling but a commitment to action.

When we practise love in the face of fear or rage, then we can transform an encounter, a relationship, a culture, or a country: Our love becomes revolutionary. In this moment of political and moral crisis, millions of people have joined the movement for justice.

We will burn out if we run on fumes; we may even mirror the distress, hate and fear that we are resisting. But the ethic of love can ground our moral resistance and sustain our movement for months and years to come. I believe Revolutionary Love is the call of our times.

Together we drive calls to Congress, organise rallies and marches, and offer avenues for people to ground our activism in the ethic of Revolutionary Love. Today [on March 8] we held a general strike called a Day Without a Woman, where thousands of women went on strike with us.

People can learn more, sign the declaration and take action with us at
www.revolutionarylove.net

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https://scroll.in/magazine/831367/interview-sikh-american-activist-valerie-kaur-is-fighting-hate-with-revolutionary-love

Scroll.in – 1985 Air India bombings: Canada frees lone Sikh immigrant convict

Although the parole board has allowed Inderjit Singh Reyat to return to a normal life, it has barred him from undertaking any political activity.

The Parole Board of Canada has set free a Sikh immigrant from India who was convicted in the 1985 Air India bombings that killed 331 people. Inderjit Singh Reyat is the only person convicted in the case.

He was found guilty of making bombs that were stuffed into luggage and planted on two planes departing from Vancouver, and of perjury, reported AFP.

Although Reyat was released from prison a year ago, he was ordered to live in a halfway house. The parole board has now lifted that condition. Board spokesperson Patrick Storey told AFP that Reyat can now lead a normal life, “living in a private residence”. Reyat had been in jail for two decades.

However, his parole officer has already decided with whom he will live so that there is no chance of any “negative influence on him”. The parole board has also barred him from establishing any contact with families of the blasts victims. He cannot undertake any political activity and also has to undergo counselling.

On June 23, 1985, all 329 people aboard Air India Flight 182 were killed when a bomb in it exploded near the Ireland coast. The second bomb killed two baggage handlers in Japan’s Narita airport.

Investigators found out that Reyat had bought dynamite, batteries and detonators when he was working as a mechanic in Canada. Two others, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were also accused of conspiring the explosions.

However, they were acquitted because of lack of evidence. It was believed that the explosions were planned to avenge Operation Blue Star in Amritsar’s Golden Temple.

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Published in: on February 17, 2017 at 6:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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Scroll.in – Election Commission orders re-polling at 48 stations in Punjab on 9 February

Several EVMs and Voter-Verified Audit Paper Trail machines had developed a snag on Saturday, when the votes were cast.

Chandigarh, 8 February 2017. The Election Commission on Tuesday ordered repolling at 48 polling stations in Punjab on February 9 due to problems with the Voter-Verified Audit Paper Trail and Electronic Voting Machines on February 4, PTI reported.

The re-elections will be held at 32 polling stations in the Majitha, Muktsar, Sangrur Assembly segments and 16 stations in the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency.

Punjab Cabinet Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal candidate Bikram Singh Majithia is fighting it out with Aam Aadmi Party candidate Sukhjinder Raj Singh and Congress candidate Himmat Singh Shergill from the Majitha seat.

BJP’s Rajindermohan Singh Chhina, Congress’ G S Aujla and AAP’s Upkar Sandhu have been fielded from Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.

The VVPATs used in the Majitha, Muktsar and Sangrur Assemblies and the EVMs used in the Moga and Sadulgarh constituencies were found to be faulty, Punjab chief electoral officer V K Singh told PTI.

The officer said that VVPATs will be used again in the repoll. “A total of 47 VVPATs will be deployed at the polling stations and sufficient numbers of machines have been kept as reserve,” Singh added.

A VVPAT produces a receipt with which the voter can verify if the vote actually went to the person for whom they voted on the EVM.

These machines are being used for the first time in Punjab at over 6,500 polling stations. However, on the polling day, 187 VVPATs had to be replaced.

The polling hours will be between 8 am and 5pm. The poll panel has ordered paid leave in the constituencies that will undergo a repoll on February 9.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had tweeted: ”Never has any election seen malfunctioning EVMs on such a large scale. Was it mischief done deliberately by or in collusion with EC?”

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Scroll.in – Sikh man alleges discrimination after Australian school denies his son admission for wearing turban

Authorities at Melbourne’s Melton Christian College said they would not allow any garment that is not part of the uniform

Melbourne, 18 January 2017. A school in Australia denied admission to a 5-year-old Sikh boy on the grounds that his wearing a turban did not conform with the institute’s uniform policy, reported PTI.

“It is disappointing that my son has been forced to abandon his religious practices and identity to access to an education in Melbourne’s Melton Christian College,” the boy’s father, Sagardeep Singh Arora, told SBS TV.

The family has approached the Victoria Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination against their religious belief. “It is immoral for a school to not allow students to practice their beliefs,” Arora said. Australia is home to more than 72,000 Sikhs.

Melton Christian College, however, stood by its position and said that school authorities will not allow any garment that is not part of the uniform.

“For 30 years, our children have been in classrooms and playgrounds, learning, growing, and playing side by side, wonderfully oblivious to their families’ extensive religious diversities. We acknowledge the disappointment that Sagardeep and his family feel,” said the school in its response to the commission’s notice.

The institute’s rule is in direct contravention of a landmark ruling in 2008, a private school in Brisbane had to revoke its uniform policy after it had forced a Sikh boy to cut his hair and remove his turban.

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https://scroll.in/latest/826981/sikh-man-alleges-discrimination-after-australian-school-denies-his-son-admission-for-wearing-turban