Defending Our Mother Earth: Sikhs at the People’s Climate March

Guest blogged by Bandana Kaur

“Pavan guru paanee pitaa
Maataa dharat mahat10608260_10154584131160263_3283797911179145605_o
Divas raat du-i daa-ee daayaa
Khaylai sagal jagat”
-Guru Nanak Sahib 

In honor of the Sikh concern for preserving ‘Mata Dharat’ (Mother Earth), Sikhs from cities across the northeast are joining the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21st, the largest mass movement for climate justice in history.

Next week, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis. The world is urging governments to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution.

With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history. We’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.

Why Are We Marching?

We march because Sikhi affirms the sanctity of the Earth.

We march because the ecological basis of Sikhi rests in the understanding that the Creator (‘Qadir’) and the Creation (‘Qudrat’) are One. The Divine permeates all life, and is inherent in the manifest creation around us, from the wind that blows across land and skies, to the water that flows through rivers and seas, to the forests and fields and all creatures of land and sea that depend on the earth for sustenance.

We march because Sikh Gurus teach that there is no duality between the force which makes a flower grow and the petals we are able to touch and sense with our fingers.

We march because the Sikh Gurus referred to the Earth as a ‘Dharamsaal,’ a place where union with the Divine is attained. Guru Nanak describes this in Jap Sahib, that amid the rhythms of Creation, the changing seasons, air, and water, the Creator established the earth as the home for humans to realize their Divinity in this world.

We march because the Sikh Gurus were deeply connected to biodiversity. Throughout Guru Granth Sahib, birds and trees are used to describe the metaphoric relationship between a disciple and the Divine. Birds like the peacock, flamingo, hawk, cuckoo, nightingale, crane, swan, owl, and the koyal, and trees like the banyan, pipal, and sandalwood of Panjab are used in the Gurus’ metaphors, along with many other species that describe the Divine’s presence through land, water, and sky.

We march because understanding the universe is embedded within the Khalsa ideal for Sikhs, a word that also signifies the ‘sovereign’ body of Sikhs who make a commitment to protecting the most marginalized among us — a strong call to environmental justice.

The challenge that rests before us is tremendous and weighs a heavy on human life and the survival of our planet.

We march because unconcern for the environment has real implications. Take the ecological crisis currently facing the region of Panjab as an example, where 25 million of the world’s Sikhs reside. This once thriving alluvial plain, home to croplands interspersed with grasslands, forests, wetlands, and rivers, now has fallen among the lowest in Asia in ecological rankings. Due to unchecked demand on resources, the region claims some of the highest damage to soil, land, and water systems, and some of the highest rates of biodiversity loss in the world.

The Sikh Gurus’ message is timeless. Indeed, a harmonious relationship with our planet is essential for human life. Hence, the collective Sikh effort for the environment not only represents the spiritual foundation to protect our environment, but also the power of us all working together for sarbat da bhalla, the well being of all.

May all remain spiritually exalted, and always in service of the Universal, Creative Force that sustains this Earth.

Schedule for the day:

September 21, 2014

9:30am: Jap Ji Sahib and Veechar on Sikhi and the environment – Central Park at the Front Runners Meeting point on the north end of Sheep’s Meadow – 69th street on west side. 

10:15am: Q&A and discussion with Ravneet Singh, of EcoSikh Panjab

11:00am: March as Sikhs for Climate Justice! – Assemble at 72nd and Amsterdam. We’re be joined by South Asians for Climate Justice and others.

Visit our Facebook event page for updates and to spread the word.

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44 Responses to “Defending Our Mother Earth: Sikhs at the People’s Climate March”

  1. Q. Kaur says:

    Thank you for writing this incredible, thoughtful, beautiful piece. It's wonderful and much needed. In addition to what you said (and love the comparison to Punjab, very powerful), it strikes me how there is a capitalist greed component within our community that we fail to discuss as a sangat. Culturally, many Sikhs live in ways that hurt the environment (not suggesting we are worse than others). For instance, many of us are obsessed with being or becoming wealthy (which is not new to our community), no matter the path to get there. The problem with the path to wealth is it often involves stumbling over and oppressing other humans and the environment (See Flood Wall Street Movement). For many immigrant Sikhs, we now define success by how much money we have, not what we do for the world. For this reason, we push our children into careers on Wall Street, or with companies that continue to harm the planet and other humans. We push them into jobs that continuously run counter to Sikh values and principles of egalitarianism. (And sorry, going to the gurdwara every week and doing a little seva doesn't make up for a harmful, lifelong career choice). Also many of us, especially the youth, have such a strong desire to consume (buy, buy, buy, not giving a crap about how this hurts our personal development) – we really need to have a good, hard look at what we value as Sikhs, how we are hurting the environment and departing from the Gurus' teachings by buying into this greedy, selfish, consumer driven, "take take take" culture instead of protesting it, fighting it and trying to change it. And trying to give back. Sarbat da Bhalla. It includes how our life choices affect the Earth as well.

  2. factsoflife says:

    I think we all agree we need to do something about Climate Change. Most of us are at various levels heart-sick about the continuing risk of serious environmental damage. It is a true source of pain that Punjab itself is running dry and is outrageously polluted, almost all here would agree.

    However, what world do you live in where simply by "pushing kids into Wall Street" it is actually possible for said kids to go to Wall Street? ??????

    Almost everyone on "Wall Street" is directly recruited from campus job fairs on Ivy League campuses or maybe, maybe if they deign to also make a side trip to somewhere like University of Virginia to pick up a couple of non-Ivy Leaguers.

    Most people are struggling to try to make enough money to give their kids a good education, a few nice things, and maybe a vacation.

    Most people do not have the luxury of deciding whether or not to try to "push their kids" into the Ivy League and "Wall Street"

    My guess is you are in college or recently out and have some kind of access to material goods such that you can support yourself in a middle class, consumerist lifestyle or a reasonable facsimile thereof. My guess is you have not faced up squarly to the existential dred felt by most "immigrant Sikhs" about if they are actually going to make it, or if they (and their family) are actually going to do under.

    Poor people, and most people know that the world does not consider them "special flowers" and if they do not have enough money to have food, get a good education, or move away from a place of crime and pollution, no one is going to stop to think more than twice about it.

    You need ALOT more compassion for the people you are addressing.

  3. achangeisgonnacome says:

    The world is pretty different than this scenario where most people are just sitting around with a plethora of choices and just keep making the selfish or greedy one without a care in the world.

    More likely, and something that is alien to many middle class people who are able to "choose a career" (hahahahaa for most) is you plug away, doing the best you can with what you have, noticing things are messed up and wondering what you can do about it (usually not much).

    Its great that people march (and make signs and say the word "revolution"). It doesn't actually amount to much. Once that starts to sink in, this illusion that the problem with the world is that people lack "consciousness raising" starts to fade.

    Sarbat da Bhalla is not something new thought up by left-activists. We all know most of this. What we lack is a way to channel the everyday "quiet desperation" most people feel when they see messed up things and no way to change it.

    And banding a drum at a march ain't it. Trust me, many, many, many people before you have tried.

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