Silent No More: A Sikh Response to the Idle No More Movement

Guest blogged by Santbir Singh

I try to imagine the government coming to my house one morning and taking my five year old daughter and eight year old son away to a boarding school hundreds of kilometres away. I try to imagine that at this school, my children’s hair will be cut, their dastars and kakkars will be removed and they will be forcibly baptized as Christians. I try to imagine that they will be beaten for speaking Panjabi, reading Bani or trying to maintain their religious and cultural traditions. I try to imagine that even their basic health needs will not be looked after and they may well die from treatable infections and diseases. And then, I must admit, I am not able to imagine the rest; I can not bear to imagine them being abused, assaulted, beaten and raped.

That is what occurred in this country for one hundred years as the Canadian government, along with government sanctioned church groups, kidnapped First Nations children from their homes and took them to residential schools where unspeakable horrors were committed on them. Of course the history of colonization in the Americas does not begin with the Residential School system but is in fact a legacy going back centuries. It is estimated that 90 to 95% of all indigenous people living in the Americas were killed by smallpox within the first century after European first contact in the late 1400’s. It is difficult to fathom death at that scale. Those that remained had their land stolen and were forced onto reservations to live as non-citizens in their own lands.

As a nation, Sikhs are extremely proud of our own anti-colonial struggle against the British. Yet we have completely failed to acknowledge that in Canada we have succeeded due to the colonial oppression of other nations. This land where we build our homes and businesses was the land of nations that lived here for tens of thousands of years. Yes, one hundred and seventy years ago the British annexed Panjab and ended Khalsa Raj. But the British did not exile us from our own villages and towns. The British did not take our land and build new cities. The British did not migrate to Panjab and force us to live on inadequate reserves.

We face discrimination in Canada and suffer from chronic underfunding in order to address challenging issues like domestic violence, sexual abuse and drug use. However, we are not without means. We have Sikh representatives at every level of government across the country and have been financially successful as a community. We owe a debt to this country and to its true heritage; not the Canada evolved from French and British colonies but to a land that was the sovereign territory of nations that sustainably farmed, fished and hunted here since before the dawn of history.

It has become an integral part of how we define ourselves, this message that “Sikhs believe in equality” but speaking those words is easy; living this in truth is much more difficult. We need to demonstrate our commitment to the revolutionary message of Guru Nanak Sahib, that every human being contains equally an aspect of the divine and that we are all truly worthy of having our basic human needs and rights protected and defended. In fact, this impulse to speak against the oppressor in defense of the rights of the other stems from the Gurus themselves. It was Guru Nanak Sahib himself who faced down the first Mughal Emperor Babur after his invading forces had committed horrendous massacres. Though Guru Nanak Sahib stood alone, he did not hesitate to speak against those who had perpetrated the crimes he witnessed.

One of the most treasured episodes in Sikh history is the Shaheedi of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib. In November of 1675, Guru jee gave his life in the streets of Delhi. He did not die for Sikh rights but instead he gave his head as an act of political disobedience against the Mughal Empire’s forced conversion of Hindus. That a leader of a religion would die to to defend the rights of another religion is almost unbelievable and Guru Tegh Bahadur’s example still stands uniquely in all of human history. It is our Ninth Guru’s example that Sikhs strive to emulate when we defend the rights of those who are different from us.

But it is more than just defending the rights of the other. The Guru asks us to stand with those who are been marginalized, those who society considers low and unworthy. As Guru Nanak Sahib reveals in Asa ki Vaar, he himself identifies as one of those who others call low:

ਹਉ ਢਾਢੀ ਕਾ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੋਰਿ ਉਤਮ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਦਾਇਦੇ ॥ Ha▫o dẖādẖī kā nīcẖ jāṯ hor uṯam jāṯ saḏā▫iḏe. (SGGS 468).

That is the challenge put forth to us by the Guru, that we must place ourselves in the position of those who have no power in our societies, those who have been cast off and dehumanized.

Idle No More is a response not only to the legacy of colonialism but the continuing colonialism that First Nations people are being subjected to. First Nations simply want the their rights as a sovereign people respected. They want justice for the crimes of the past and the basic human dignity that all people are entitled to. They want control of their resources and the right to educate and govern themselves as they see fit. Does this sound familiar? It’s exactly what Sikhs have been struggling for in India for the last several decades. From the Anandpur Sahib Resolution to the demand for justice for victims of massacres, human rights abuses and pogroms to Panjab’s ongoing struggle with government enabled substance and alcohol abuse, the parallels between Idle No More and contemporary Sikh struggles is striking.

But these protesters are not just fighting for themselves, they are fighting for all of our rights. They are fighting against the government’s omnibus bill and its erosion of environmental protection. They are fighting for all of our futures.

Today we face many problems as a community. We face internal divisions and external threats. But that has always been the case throughout Sikh history. Things have never been easy for our people. But we are capable of greatness when we are united. And when do we unite? When we struggle for justice, freedom and equality. Idle No More is a growing movement. It is the voice of a people demanding their rights. We need not care about political expediency. Sikh history is clear: the Sikh response to marginalized people fighting for rights has always been simple. We stand with you. Against all odds, we stand for you.

For more information on Idle No More, Click Here | Official website

Santbir Singh is a Project Associate with the Sikh Research Institute. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and two children.


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23 Responses to “Silent No More: A Sikh Response to the Idle No More Movement”

  1. Jasneet says:

    phenomenal write up – jakara it up!

  2. sant sipahi says:

    Thanks, Santbir, for this wonderful and insightful piece. In our struggle to build comfortable, secure lifestyles for ourselves in the West we often insulate ourselves from the harsh realities of racism and discrimination that many other groups face, including Native Americans, blacks, hispanics, and other asians. We fight without relent for our rights in India but we completely ignore the social world that makes up our daily life here. That is not what Sikhi is about. I think you've stated that as eloquently as anyone could.

    • Ken Hanuse says:

      Hey guys and gals, thanks for your insight into the parallelism between your nation and ours. There is struggle all over the world. Africa, South America, Austrailia, Russia, China, Phillipines, Japan, Brittain, Europe – East and West, Indeed the oppressors are the filthy rich. They are operating on a thin line these days, as their days are dwindling. The government of the time in Canada or elsewhere are definitely needing to "give there collective heads a shake" and wake up to reality. "The meek shall inherit the earth" is a pretty solid proverb in todays day and age. Will it come true. In my customary way I offer you this, "My hands are raised to you."

  3. Brian says:

    Amazingly insightful piece, Its true that the silence about this subject does nothing other than make it possible for people to rationalize that nothing bad is occurring. Best wishes and great blog!

  4. Yvette says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  5. IndoCanadian man says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your convictions in allying Sikh values with defending the marginalized. It is our duty and our homour to stand with our native brothers and sisters. However, it should be noted that many First Nations people on reserves feel very negatively toward ethnic immigrants in Canada.

    I am an Indo Canadian man who married an Inuit woman and I have spent much time on Native reserves in Canada as part of my research for my PhD. Sadly, the most racism I've ever suffered, occurred on Native reseves where First Nations referred to Indo Canaians pejoratively. In general, they had more racist stereotypes about us than white Canadians do.

    Education is the most powerful tool we have access to. Every group, and every individual in Canada must seek awareness about one another. There ais no us versus them. Only One.

  6. Anna Faulds says:

    Thank you for your wonderful words. I invite you to attend the events of Idle No More and join in the dances, as they are dances of friendship and we are all part of the sacred circle.
    In Edmonton here, we are planning to have dances of other nations at events for us all to learn about each other and strengthen the bonds of all people. We want to dissolve the lies that have been put in place to separate all people with the truth and acceptance in love.
    Only we as a united people can break the bonds by coming together and celebrating each other's uniqueness and beauty. People are blinded by fear and pain. When they act or speak through this filter, they harm themselves and others around them. Let us all help to enlighten each other and take away the fear, shame, blame, and anger that has been perpetuated by the media to keep us all separated and come together and join hands in this sacred circle we will always belong to. Let us bring the balance back to it. <3 Much love to all <3

    • Anita says:

      Anna …yes yes yes! United we stand! I see so much fear lately…even in the young folk…20 ish. It's like they don't "want" to know…they are so happy living today that the future doesn't really mean much YET. How do we tell them…how do we open their eyes? Not just the young…all the blind ones. I know….we fight our darndest and just keep talking…am I right? I, as a white woman raised in the North, I just never really "knew". Thank you for teaching me. I will try my best to teach others. :)

  7. Anita says:

    Beyond words. wonderful Santbir! I live and breath for two things..love and kindness. it's time. Idle No More!

  8. Blighty Singh says:

    Where does this non-idle kindness stop then ? Who are and are not worthy of your concern ? Do you have enough hours in the day to stand in solidarity with all of them ? Or is this whole thing simply about feeling good about yourself for showing concern for a local issue that the rest of the world couldn't care less about ? What about the Australian Aborigines. They had their children stolen from their parents and sent away to be 'civilised' with white families. And this occurred in our own lifetime.
    You see, this false compassion thingy is a slippery slope. Its a fake. Where do you draw the linit ? For example, yes Australian aborigines were forcibly removed from their lands and families by white Australians but…those white Australians themselves were fonce Cockneys and Irishmen who were forcibly shackled by the British and sent away from their lands and families as a punishment.
    And what about white Canadians, who are shown as the bad guys in the piece above. Many white Canadians are the lost 'Barnados' generation of Britian. For generations Britian had a policy of secretly sending to Canada, without the parent's permission, many of its children who were wards of the state.
    Moral of the story ? You go back far enough and you'll find suffering and terrible hardship among all communities. Its 2013. Realise you're the only major religion on earth without a homeland. Realise how a quarter of a million of youyr finest and brightest have been massacred in the last 30 years. Understand the terrible injustices your own people are suffering today at the hands of India. Get your priorities right.

  9. karen says:

    Thank you. My husband, an immigrant child (Hong Kong, 2 yrs old, 1969) said he related more to this post than anything else I have put in front of him over the past 2 months now of Idle No More. It brings us to a new level of discussion, so thank you.

  10. CBelcourt says:

    I just wanted to thank you very much for writing this. I am Nehiyaw/Otepimisiwak (Metis) and it is so rare to hear such an empathetic view for a change. I am so used to hearing racism and stereotypes directed towards Indigenous people, that your kindness caught me off guard. Thank you. If more people were able to see as clearly as you do, perhaps we could achieve reconciliation one day. I certainly hope so for all our grandchildren's sake.

  11. Sher says:

    If Hindus were "others" why did the 10th Guru go to Banda Bahadur a complete, practicing Hindu? Banda Bahadur, who was betrayed by Guru ghar and the o called panj piyare khatri "sardars' leading to his brutal killing by Muslims; never abandoned his original faith – sanatan Hindu dharam.

    (now before neo-Sikhs start jumping up and down over not using his middle name 'Singh', it is NOT mentioned anywhere in any puratan Sikh book)

    • jodha says:

      Sher – again you repeat your same inaccuracies. See the Hukamnamas issued by Mata Sundari (wife of Guru Gobind Singh) and you'll see reference to Banda Singh, not even Banda Singh Bahadur. The appellation of 'bahadur' was much later.

      See writings of Rattan Singh Bhangu – he refers to Sikhs as a separate 'qaum' – using the Arabic word in fact.

      Your sanatan nonsense is getting old.

      • Sher says:

        Pls give a link to Mataji's Hukamnama. Is it the same HN where Mataji urged Khlasas to abandon Banda Bahadur? The 'betrayal' led to Banda Bahadur 's shaheedi along with his Bandai Khalsa Sikhs while the traitor Tat Khalsa Sikhs enjoyed the jagirs bestowed by the emperor Farukhsiyar.

        As far as Bhangu is concerned, most of the places he refers to Even Khalsas as 'Hindus' (later edited by the master distortionist Bhai Vir Singh). How rare are the instances where Sikhs R mentioned as a separate panth (forget 'Sikh Dharam) and how desperate are Tat Khalsa neo-Sikhs to make Nanak's Nirala panth an exclusive club.

        • jodha says:

          No this is prior. The idea of an abandonment and differences with Bandai Khalsa are not from contemporary sources, but rather later writers. You really don't know your facts.

          Regarding Bhangu he does not call the Khalsa – Hindus – as you are trying to suggest and while there are problems with Bhai Vir Singh's edited version, it is not what you suggest. See even Bhai Gurdas for the separate identity of the Sikhs.

          Anyone with knowledge on these subjects can see past your Hindutva agenda. I don't care to engage with a propagandist, who tries to dress in the garb of a scholar. You fooled me once, when I actually took you seriously, but realized my mistake I saw you repeatedly trying to saffronize South Asian history.

  12. Sher says:

    "As a nation, Sikhs are extremely proud of our own anti-colonial struggle against the British"

    There is a long history of Sikhs collaborating with their colonial masters going back to M Ranjit Singh days. 1857 Indian freedom Struggle was the worst in backstabbing their compatriots when Sikhs readily participated in butchering the Indian revolutionaries. The Sikh loyalty was rewarded as the British threw out the mutinous Hindostani Brahmins and Rajputs and replalced them with Khalsa soldiers, thus, saving Sikhism from certain oblivion.

    The Sikh clergy, trading class and Sirdars (nobles) love affair with the Gora Sahib could be evidenced in one of the most shameful event in Sikh history – presentation of Siropa to the Butcher of Amritsar General Dyer at harimandir Sahib AFTER Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

    No denials, Sikh revolutionaries made massive sacrfices which were disproportionate to their tiny population but to make claims of "80 % shaheedian…." is plain stupid as British hanged 100s of 1000s for participating in 1857 Gaddar.

    “Sikhs believe in equality” These words should come with a qualifier – Sikhs believe in equality wherever they are in minority.

    The egalitarian ethos (ha!) of sikhs is well evident in the current repression of minority faiths in Punjab.

    Dera Sacha sauda, Noormehlias, Niranakaris, Ravidasis, Piyara S Bhaniara, puratan/Sanatni Sikhs, Sehajdharis, Hindus, so-called ow caste Masihs… the list of the oppressed faiths is too long. Some persecuted for being heretics, some for not conforming to their extremist, Talibanised concepts of Sikhi, some for having dehdhari Guru…

    Sikh golak-grabbers/clergy are the new Qazis who issue fatwa/Hukamnama to control their flock.

  13. […] annoyance at the focus on outstanding “heroes and heroines” grew.  Then, I came across Silent No More:  A Sikh Response to the Idle No More Movement.  Two passages, in particular, resonated with […]

  14. […] out there, we aren’t seeing them on the news.  Take for example this respectful piece by Santbir Singh in the LangarHall who clearly understands that this is not just about the rights of First Nations […]

  15. Frst Natn says:

    It is sad that a person who shows support for another group of People is attacked by his own People. I do not understand Hindu beliefs but I do know this. Native People do not fight over beliefs. We know that each person's relationship with The Creator is their own and not subject to ridicule by others. Chi-Miigwetch for this letter of support.

  16. Terence Stone says:

    I'd like to thank the Sikh people of Canada for your support of First Nations and IdleNoMore. I know it is a central tenet of your faith to defend the oppressed, and your actions are exemplary of this principle.

    My wife and I were honoured to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar 2 yeqrs ago. It was the fiest hospitality we received on a year in India an Sri Lanka. I think fondly of your dignity and strength as a people. I was born and raised in England, a white Anglo Saxon. I know English history well, and it's not what we were taught in school. We used and betrayed the Sikh people just as we did Canadian First Nations.

    Please, please, never give up your support for indigenous peoples. I am standing and walking with them all on this demand for justice. I will feel all the more hopeful with the Sikh people joining the walk. Thank you.

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