Guestblogged by Daler Singh
Warning: This post contains graphic depictions of sexualized violence.
I was about 7 years old when a respected granthi and my dad’s friend sexually molested me. I would spend much of my afternoons and evenings at the gurdwara. My father is a devout Sikh and made sure he went at least once a day after work to visit, but Sundays were the days I remember my entire day could be spent at our local Gurdwara. One evening, while divan was occurring, I went to go play hide-and-seek with my friends. During one of these games, I ran past a van that was parked on the premises of the gurdwara. It was brown and I remember there were curtains in the van. The door slid open and a young boy, a little older than me, climbed out. He immediately called over to me and asked me to come look inside the van, so I did.
I had nothing to fear, growing up and having attended a few Khalsa schools, I was repeatedly told that the person that you could always trust was anyone who wore a Turban. As I looked inside the van, there was that familiar face, my dad’s friend, he gestured to me and then asked me to get into the van, without any hesitation, I got inside, he closed and then locked the door behind him. I don’t remember details but I do remember him asking me to lie by the window to look at something; I did. As I leaned in, curious as to what he wanted me to see, I felt something. He was on top of me and was kissing my ear. I could feel his beard against my cheek, as he began licking my ear, which, when I think back to that moment, I cannot help but feel disgusted. I tried to move, this is when he used the full weight of his body to press down on me. He then reached into my pants, I tried to resist, but his one arm alone had held me in position without much effort, with his other, he reached down into my pants and began fondling me. As he took away my innocence, he leaned in close and told me to get into the front seat; I did.
He started up the car and by this point every part of my body and my being was telling me to run but I was frozen in fear. I did not know what to do. As the van exited the gurdwara property, I felt like crying. My dad, the one safe place I had left in this world, was getting further and further away from me and I could do nothing to stop it. I looked over at the animal that was driving the vehicle and mustered up the courage to ask him where were we going? I don’t remember his exact response, however, it did invoke a sense of dread in me that I can still feel today. We pulled up to a Bank of America, where he parked the van. The parking lot was empty, it was late on a Sunday evening and much of my small town was quiet. He then told me to get into the back seat again, as he talked to me and tried to keep himself from losing his cool and losing his control, he unzipped his pants and forced me to look at him. I was repulsed and disgusted, however, I did not know what to do, where to run or how loud to scream because no one would hear me. He then grabbed me by my joorah and tried to get me to give him oral sex, I remember using my smalls hands to push back as hard as possible. I ducked my head and pushed back with everything I had. Still, it meant nothing, he overpowered me and the rest I have been living with in silence for years. My mind has blocked out much of that evening, but what I do remember was him ejaculating onto the carpeting in the van. He then immediately looked up at me, while I sat on the floor of the van, in shock and told me in Punjabi to get back into the front seat; I did. He then tied my joorah for me and asked me if I wanted McDonalds. I wanted everything to go back to normal; I pretended as if it never happened and said yes. When he took me from the Gurdwara, I did not even have my shoes on, as I walked into the McDonalds he put his hand on my shoulder as if to show the customers, that he was my father. He made me finish my meal before we went back to the Gurdwara. He dropped me off by the front entrance and parked the van with the rest on the lot and walked back into the main Darbar hall.
From the age of 7 I have been fighting to survive. As everyone sings their prayers at the gurdwara, blissfully reciting ardaas or listening to kirtan, I find nothing but pain and anger. I am not alone; I know of others, like the young boy who was forced to call me into the van, who I know was assaulted only seconds before I got there. The Gurdwara, a place for learning, safety, and protection was turned into a place of mental anguish, pain and suffering. In the last 30 years of my life, I have not once heard a conversation take place that addressed the sexual violence that is except for the Lalkaar conference covering this very topic, and a short note on a previous The Langar Hall post. This is a very real part of our community and we must address it. Even the youth, along with their elders, have decided to err in the side of caution and instead have chosen to not even entertain the notion that a young Singh or Kaur could be raped, by a Kirpan wearing “Singh.”
This is a problem that occurs all too often, to both my Sisters and Brothers. Constantly, children and women are blamed for what happens to them in our community. I say enough is enough. We need to change. We can’t stand by quietly and idly. When will we stopped being afraid and actually stand for truth and justice? We can’t let power – whether it comes in the form of caste hierarchy, gender privilege, class privilege, or even in this case where an external “Singh” stand protected and inflict harm upon others.
Gurbani unleashes on religious hypocrites. It was this group that Guru Nanak and the other Gurus damned and criticized.
No community is immune from such people, whether they be Muslims, Hindus, Christians, or Jews. Unfortunately neither are the Sikhs. Instead of a community that only preserves identity, let us be one that celebrates our values. These include speaking Truth to power, even if they look like “Singhs.” It was very difficult to share my story, but I do so partially for my own catharsis and partially to make sure that others in this situation know they aren’t alone.