Panjab Kaur can’t decide what to consume to satisfy her sweet-tooth. Beaver Tails from Ottawa, where she was born, or Phirni (kind of rice pudding) from Panjab, her ancestral homeland? It’s a metaphor for this Sikh woman’s identity and also for a people who for more than 165 years have been stateless and scattered.
The soft spoken petite politician adjusts her rimless glasses as she scans the 84-item menu, “Bubble tea or Indian Chai?” she considers aloud as she sits at a restaurant in Toronto, Canada awaiting Rachel Parish, a reporter from Vice News. Images on the walls invoke memories of the 1984 Sikh genocide.
Panjab Kaur is one of forty-six Americas (North, Central, and South) delegates of Sarbat Khalsa-in-exile – a Sikh parliament of sorts headquartered in the “Beautiful British Columbia.”
As Rachel walks in, she senses her pensiveness. After the formalities, Panjab Kaur smiles and says to her, “You know, the phrase Sarbat Khalsa in exile is a double-edged sword, the Khanda. One edge helps remind people of their political plight; the other challenges the very core of spiritual existence. “
Yet, on 14 March 2017, approximately 700,000 Sikhs living in Canada, along with 30 million around the world, will go to the electronic polls to document their opinions on the Panj Piare (Five Lovers) to head the Akal Takht Sahib (headquarters of the Sikh Nation). While the world leaders are wary of even saying the word Panth for fear of inflaming India, Canada and other sovereign nations allow Sarbat Khalsa deliberations to be held within their borders for a Sikh self-government that they don’t recognize as lawful and that, realistically, doesn’t even exist.
In 2016, the Jathedar (lead caretaker) of Akal Takht broke with 100 years of legal manipulation by relinquishing the temporal authority of his position and calling on the Sikh nation to select Panj Piare. Nearly 1 million Sikhs in 25 countries pledged to deliberate in their regional Sarbat Khalsa. This year, active Sikhs will present their Panthic Pledge at designated regional meeting spaces. The all-important document is issued by the Akal Takht in exile to every Sikh; it also proof that the holder has paid dasvandh, a 10% donation to support the Sarbat Khalsa to free Akal Takht Sahib.
“Mudslinging and attack ads are now featured prominently in Sikh politics completely infused with Panjab politics. Panjab elections are dirty and hyper-political. Yet, last year some Sikhs were charged with sedition for exercising their right to deliberate on Sikh matters.”
“I long for Sikhi-driven processes, where Sikhs of various nationalities and ideologies congregate fearlessly without state interference,” wishes Panjab.
Campaign spending for the Panj Piare hopeful is not allowed, period. Usage of Sikh Gurus image in Sikh governance is banned. A selfie implying endorsements with state politicians disbars the aspirant candidate.
The newly selected 500 global delegates will congregate once a year in lower mainland British Columbia, largest region outside the homeland where the diversity within diversity is very apparent. Sights, smells, and sounds of Panjab are very prominent too in BC. There, Sarbat Khalsa operates like any other governing body. This inaugural meeting on 14 April 2017 is to select the Panj Piare of the Panth and the Charter for the Akal Takht Sahib while considering the Sikh Qaum’s opinion gathered a month earlier. At the end, Guru-granted process, and decision-making is driven by Granth-Panth sovereignty.
“Sikh revolution freed South Asians from caste-system apartheid and Mughal tyranny. Now, the same region won’t allow us to assembly freely and deliberate on Sikh affairs. Ironic isn’t it? I hope Canada won’t cave in to political pressures!” remarks Panjab Kaur as she exits the café in Toronto Union.
[Note: Author is intermixing facts and aspirations].
Harinder Singh is educator, thinker, and activist. He tweets at @1Force.