How come you are asleep? Wake up, fool!
You think your life in this world is the truth.
– Guru Granth Sahib, p. 793
I am disenfranchised.
Is it because they are afraid we’ll vote to return to Sarbat Khalsa? Self-governance bestowed by Guru Gobind Singh that will once again represent the values that the rest of South Asia looked up to us for?
Sikhs are rising globally, renewing their allegiance to the Guru Granth-Panth.
I have never fully understood what disenfranchisement was until now.
I am a Sikh who has lived in India and the United States. I am a Sikh parent whose children will be raised in America. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) policies affect me on a daily basis including mingling with the Akal Takhat. And SGPC is dominated by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) who proclaims itself to be a Panjabi party, and is in alliance with Hindutva politics. The same SAD decides who will be the Jathedar and the Director General of Police.
SGPC’s policies affect all Sikhs around the world. Denying Sikhs who have lived outside Panjab their ability to voice in the selection of the governance of our Panth does more than diminish their rights. It damages the very heart of what it means to be a Sikh.
At a time when far too few Sikhs feel they are welcomed, instead of SGPC doing what they can to include Sikhs, we have the opposite. Denying Sikhs living in the Diaspora the right to vote is even worse than pitting up unnecessary obstacles to voting for those who do reside in the Homeland.
Many of those who left Panjab did so for political and professional reasons in a market that is increasingly globalized. They still hold deep ties to Panjab; indeed, each Sikh is an ambassador for the Panth in their adopted land.
Allowing those of us living beyond the political borders of Panjab – but with attachments to the Panth- to have a political voice helps to shape a Panth with a more informed policy (among other things), which is highly relevant in a society where cross-border movement of people are significant.
The Sikh identity is not defined by residency in Panjab, but by a set of Sikhi values, and by the belief in promoting these ideals around the world through our churning numbers of 30-million ambassadors.
In what universe should they deny me the right to participate in a governance structure that not only receives my donation, but decides what I should do?
So the question is: why the exclusion?
If I am Sikh, I deserve the right to have a say in selecting my Jathedar. Period.
I had trepidation about taking that leap and defining myself as a Sikh. Who am I to start a Gurmat-based initiative? Generally, when people experience Sikhi, they’re something like: “Oh I didn’t want to like it given the distracting noise around Sikhs, but I loved it.” I have made commitments to people, and I have taken their money. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure wisdom of Sikhi scales.
I came from a country where Sikhs couldn’t voice their opinion without being labelled extremists, Sikhs couldn’t go enjoy the sports without being humiliated, Sikhs couldn’t document human rights violations without being extra-judicially eliminated, Sikhs couldn’t appear in Bollywood films without being belittled, couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t,…
If I have to be flawless, in order to tell a Sikh story truthfully, then I’m not interested; because no one is perfect.
The Sikhi wisdom draws people in and feeds their consciousness. Then, aesthetics and technology must work together to make people feel inspired, and eventually, engaged. Part of this is taking stands that are against the conventional wisdom, and that includes, being anti-establishment at large and within the Sikh circles.
As strong and proud people, we Sikhs like to see ourselves as global benefactors. But, in fact, we now pander to the wealthy and give-in to loud opportunistic folks. At the end of the day, the most profound Sikhi existence of all is Surat – the consciousness that defines what it means to be Sikh.
Let’s examine our emotions and actions; that’s inviting Sabad (Infinite Wisdom) to strengthen our minds and hearts. Then, let’s confront challenges that are holding us back to free Akal Takhat; that’s the global Sikh collective priority. Finally, let’s add a new chapter to our story of freedom; that’s next movement in the Sikh Revolution started by Guru Nanak-Gobind Singh.
I am a Sikh.
Today, there are 30 million of us.
It is time for 300,000, mere 1%, to become defiant again. And if 7% of us, the critical mass, really submit to the Guru Granth-Panth’s dictums of Panth-ki-Jit and Sarbat-da-Bhala, we will change realities beyond sloganeering.
Are we ready to play the game of love?
Harinder Singh is an activist-educator; he serves as the CEO of SikhRI.