How SikhISM became a ‘peaceful’ Religion

brar.jpegYesterday’s news about the attack on KS Brar has excited, angered, inspired, and agitated many Sikhs throughout the world.

Many have questioned the Indian media’s initial assumption, before even the facts had arrived.  Still others are wondering if the news is even factual.  I have seen numerous postings on social media, believing that the attack was just a fabrication in order to make Sikhs appear ‘violent’ and ‘extreme’, especially after the recent goodwill expressed by some channels in the US and abroad after the recent Wisconsin Massacre. Finally, our brothers and sisters at Naujawani have written an intriguing article asking larger questions about a more sinister timing of all events (though not sure if I agree, well worth a read!).

I believe that the case of Kulbir Singh Barapind and Daljit Singh Bittu is extremely important, but that warrants a separate post.  I will return to that issue at a future time.

Personally I am quite surprised that no names have appeared yet, as I figure someone would probably take credit and I wouldn’t imagine the names could be held a secret for too long within the community, especially if those that confronted him were young, as the claim is being made.  Still I think that I want to take this conversation in a different direction.  How do we ‘present’ SikhISM and its implicationsi?

I remember a time, when especially middle-class Sikhs were bent on telling everyone that SikhISM is a “scientific religion” or “modern religion.”  Then the need would be to explain what that meant and usually people would describe the solar system, maybe the galaxies, maybe the number of species on  the planet earth and saying that somehow this equals 8.4 million and all other kind of hair-brained theories that they could make with randomly selected lines from JapJi Sahib.  I always found it interesting that due to their own complexes and insecurities, they would try to reduce the mission and revolution of Guru Nanak to that which would be found in an elementary science textbook.

Then came 9/11.  At one time, I wrote that the Sikh world didn’t really change that much after 9/11, but I wanted to follow up here with how much our language did.  Our Sikh organizations and numerous Sikh individuals now had to “re-package” our Sikhi for a new market that were concerned with a so-called ‘war on terrorism’ and other boogeyman.  Overnight we changed.  No longer were we ‘modern’ and ‘scientific,’ now we became ‘peaceful.’

Especially, with the recent massacre at Oak Creek, victim along with those innocents, along with any sense of shame (IJ Singh’s last paragraph in a recent article is beyond repulsive, would he dare say this to the family members that lost lives!), is also our sense of self.  Google tells me that when I type in ‘sikhism peaceful religion’ I receive some 6.3 million results, with some 200K since 8/5/2012 with wonderful titles such as “Sikhs’ greatest fears are realised: Peaceful religion targeted in temple massacre after years of being confused with 9/11 terrorists” (I assume Muslims are the ‘non-peaceful’ religion, despite years of us hearing that Islam is a religion of peace, although to be fair in a way they have a great claim from the very etymology of the word ‘Islam.’) or even “Sikhs hope to educate about peaceful religion” [notice in the article in providing 2 sentences on SikhISM, which 2 were selected in the article and spoken by the interviewee – “This is a loving country; that is why we are here. We love it, we are peaceful people.”]

My point isn’t whether Sikhs are peaceful or not, individuals come in all shapes and colors.  The level of violence against women, against female fetuses, and often against one another, doesn’t seem to me that we are a particularly ‘peaceful’ people and should be so glib with our descriptions.  Moving from Sikhs to Sikhi – I hope we never forget the reality – Guru Gobind Singh also put a kirpan in our hand.  Sikhi is neither violent, nor peaceful.  We have a duty towards justice.  In order to ‘sanitize’ us so much for a gora audience, are we also willing to sacrifice our values, tradition, and history?

I know I could write another article on the stupidity (and double-standard) in a society that calls for Muslims and Sikhs to constantly say they are ‘peaceful.’  Strangely this is not asked of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, or even Christians who also have plenty of violence in their own histories.  Somehow Sikhs and Muslims are reserved this special in/dignity.

Now I do not know the facts of the Brar attack, however the thought that Sikhs couldn’t or wouldn’t do it seems to shock me as well.  I feel like dozens of people that I know would have taken the opportunity to confront Brar, should the chance have arisen.  In fact his own mama (maternal brother) did previously!!!!  Brar isn’t alone in people that would probably be confronted by Sikhs, I would put KPS Gill, Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, and a number of other people in that category as well.  Would the confrontation be violent as this?  I am not sure, but I know that for many people the injustices in Punjab have not been forgotten by the populace, and in fact the Indian media openly celebrates the violent suppression.  Justice continues to be denied as it has been for nearly 30 years.

Should we believe that all Sikhs have forgotten their duty towards justice (not revenge) and have become brainwashed by all the ‘peaceful’ jargon that we have constantly spewed for a decade?  This may sell well for American, Canadian, and UK audiences, but again will we sacrifice Punjab and our own identity in this ‘peaceful’ pursuit to appease?

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80 Responses to “How SikhISM became a ‘peaceful’ Religion”

  1. Blighty Singh says:

    The man is totally besharm. Thrives of publicity that makes him a 'national hero'. Talk to anyone in London and they'll tell you that there's only one reason anyone would be on that street late at night and that reason is to visit the casino, as the casino is the only thing open at that time on that quiet side street. Talk to anyone some more and they'll tell you that street muggings / robberies are common on that street at that time as the casino customers offer rich pickings on this quiet, dark, narrow street. People get mugged there all the time. Its a mugging hotspot. Brar is the first to claim it as an 'assassination attempt'. There are clearly more questions than answers :
    1) Who are these mysterious men with beards but no moustaches ?
    2) Who are these mysterious men with beards but no turbans ?
    3) What wonderfull, magical, genetics does Mr Brar possess than enables him to be discharged from hospital after a throat cutting in a matter of hours whilst normal people would have to spend longer in hospital with a sore thumb ?

  2. Tejinder says:

    Very well put..

  3. Harpreet says:

    i prayed today for his death

  4. I am also quite annoyed with the rhetoric about peace and forgiveness like we're Amish, and gloss over the whole kirpan, sant-sipahi, khalsa panth "thing" because the only other alternative to a peaceful religion is a violent one. Since the shooter at the Wisconsin Gurduara was a white, Christian male, he is naturally a "lone wolf," and not representative of the entire white, Christian community. Many of the news items about the shooting had to clarify that Sikhs are not Muslim, with some going as far as saying "Sikhs believe in peace" having to clarify why a crime had even been committed.

    I've met I.J. Singh and he's a lovely person, but I also thought the last two lines in the article were incredibly insensitive and I don't quite agree that the lives lost are a silver lining because Sikhs got a little P.R. for five minutes on CNN. Our five minutes in the national spotlight ended the second a token Sikh stumbled through the prayer at the RNC. Now it's business as usual.

    I've read the piece by Naujawani and thought it was well written. I don't know whether this is a government conspiracy, but there are things that don't add up. Four "Sikh terrorists," or "Khalistanis," even if they're four youths who just planned to mug him, allegedly attacked him with knives and because he's such a badass, he fought them off and all he gets are minor cuts, every single one of them on his neck? His bandaids look like the kind I put on my 2 year old daughter when she gets mosquito bites.

    I also don't understand why he would decide that England is a safe place for him to either be walking about or hanging out in his hotel room with no security, when his movements are being tracked and put out on the internet. If anything, I'd say he is much more likely to be murdered outside India, where he is protected better than the president of the United States. If this were a conspiracy, I'd expect at least one believable knife wound that looks like a potential knife cut, not like he cut himself shaving.

    This just seems like a guy who doesn't want to be forgotten for "flushing terrorists out of the Golden Temple," and who is now giving KP Gill a run for his money in the media fawning over the "hero" narrative they've built around him. Nobody really call Sajjan Kumar or Tytler "heroes," they're just victims of slander and libel. Perhaps now Brar will also be invited to give his expert advice on issues around India, like KP Gill does. Maybe a book deal or tv show is in the works?

    Before going to extremes of either going out of our way to say that Brar should be killed (not a new threat by the way) thereby legitimizing this highly improbable attack as a botched one by Sikh "insert descriptor here" or doing the opposite and saying no Sikh could ever or would ever do such a heinous thing because of our commitment to peace and meditation, we should get all the facts. I'm especially curious about a) why there is even a debate about where the attack took place – shouldn't this be in the police report and b) the results of the medical examination.

  5. […] a thought-provoking article, Jodha, at the blog The Langar Hall, discusses the recent framing of Sikhism as a “peaceful” religion: My point isn’t whether Sikhs are peaceful or not, individuals come in all shapes and colors.  […]

  6. gur singh says:

    brother. The reason i believe it was not a singh who attacked him is that he is still alive!! Any Singh that would have attacked him would have killed him let alone what 3 or 4 of them would have done. He walked away with a couple bandages on his neck??? its absolutely ridiculous. Then in his interview on India TV he talks about how he fought and boxed 3 large men. I mean wtf get over yourself your 80 years old and you wouldn't have stood a chance!

  7. Nina says:

    IJ Singh's article reeks of internalized oppression, and this issue that you raise (a very important one) is the result of our collective internalized oppression. We as a qaum are not yet ready for the revolution Nanak has asked us to take on, may we join hands soon and all wear the suit.

  8. Mohinder Singh says:

    Finally Jodha and his cohorts have made me laugh.Sikhism as being or being potrayed as peaceful is totally ridiculous,what sikhs call justice is nothing but old fashioned revenge.As for gen.Brar he is a big boy and can take care of himself,like he did in 1984.

  9. rocco says:

    Thank you for the post, Jodha. I tried 3 times to get the admin. at TLH to post the article but noone at the TLH even returned my email. It's related to the Sikh Film Festival in NYC & I feel there is a connection with Sikhs wanting to "re-Indianize themselves" and those that don't conform are extremist or out of touch:

    Fateh. Hope all is well. One of the highlights of fall in NYC is the Sikh Arts and Film Festival which showcases the story of our community via films and is being held November 2&3, 2012. Along with that there is a Heritage Gala which is being held November 3, 2012 “to celebrate the rich heritage, culture and traditions of the Sikhs.” In the past dignitaries and business leaders have been selected as Chief Guest and Guest of Honors. Unfortunately, The Chief Guest this year is Nirupama Rao, India's Ambassador to the United States and the Guest of Honors include Prabhu Dayal, Consul General India, New York and Hardeep Puri, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Please see link:
    For some Sikhs having Indian Government representatives as honorees poses no conflict and should be encouraged. One may argue that the attack on Darbar Sahib and Genocide in 1984 are distant events that occurred twenty eight years ago and should be forgotten. One may argue that the civil war which ensued for ten years afterwards in Panjab and led to the death of the tens of thousands of Sikh youth were collateral damage and justifiable in order to preserve the unity of India. One may argue that that struggle for an independent Panjab has reached its nadir and it’s important to “re-Indianize” ourselves and take advantage of the current economic environment.
    However the recent Rajoana hanging episode (his sentence was deferred but not commuted), continuing impunity for politicians involved in the 1984 Delhi Genocide, promotion of Sumedh Saini (“Panjab’s Dirty Harry”) to DGP of Panjab and electing former DSP Izhar Alam’s (Alam Sena) wife as an Akali Dal candidate points to recent attempts to stamp out any remnants of Sikh sovereignty as well as the continuing denial of accountability of human rights abuses committed by India.
    After the Oak Creek Massacre, Sikhs in the US have united to make sure our rights are better protected, yet little attention is given to events in India over the past 38 years. Though a Film Festival may not be the ideal venue to bring up these issues, honoring officials of a country that has caused so much destruction to our community goes directly against the ethos of our rich heritage, culture and tradition which is based on justice, goodwill and helping those that cannot help themselves. Rather the invitation of the Indian officials smacks in the face these universal values and sends a message of impunity and lack of accountability. The recent US District Court’s summons for visiting Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal on the charges of police custodial torture and shielding police officers may not have teeth but any time we can restrict the movement of Indian politicians in the West we put them on notice that they have to abide by the standards of international law. In my humble opinion, the Sikh Film Festival committee should not invite Indian dignitaries to their venue but rather urge them to bring about changes in India to help all suffering minorities including Muslims, Christians and Dalits. I’m writing this letter to ask your expertise on this issue

  10. Sher says:

    while disagreeing on most of the points you have highlighted, I would agree on one point – there are serious disconnectS here.

    The disconnect is between the perceptions of the Sikh Diaspora (those who do not consider themselves to be of 'Indian' origins) and the ground reality in Punjab.

    Another disconnect is between the 'radicals' interpretation of not only the recent history of Indian Punjab but also that of Sikhs from the very beginning.

    In Spite of 100s of books available on the events (1978-1995) which pushed Punjab into total anarchy, radical elements focus JUST on the atrocities committed on extremist Sikhs (inc the innocents).

    While condemning the killing of ever single innocent Sikh by state forces, I would also condemn those who negate the atrocities committed by Sikh extremists starting from Bhindranwala and also communal politics of Sikh leadership going back to 1940s.

    Coming back to the ground reality in Punjab today, I would urge you to simply research the elections results in the post 1980 period. What you would notice from the latest poll results is a simple fact: TOTAL rejection of the politics of the Sikh secessionists.

    Simranjit Mann the top Khalistani ideologue (euphemism for rabble rouser) in Punjab managed to get just 3000 votes from an overwhelmingly Sikh dominated constituency of Fatehgarh Sahib and lost his (like ALL of his candidates) lost security deposit which is considered the ultimate insult for anyone contesting elections in India.

    The other negation is about the Punjab population. While assuming that the Punjab population is committed against India and (by implication) Hindus; radical sikhs living overseas forget that almost 60% population can NEVER support any demand for a moronic concept like Khalistan. Simple logic, 40% are Hindus and 35% of Punjab population is that of Mazhabis/Dalits (mixed Hindus and Sikhs). The overwhelming majority of the Sikhs (read Jats, Khatris, Ramgharias, communists, nationalists, Dera followers,Congress supporters, Namdharis, radha Soami followers, etc ) is equally committed against any idea of separating from India and the 'Indianness'.

    Akalis are in power today but they cannot imagine holding the reigns of power without equally bigoted and communal Hindu counterparts in BJP.

    Would it be a not good idea to ask the clear majority to ask about their views on Khalistan and Sikh terrorism? Would you like to hear their stories about how terrorists killed, maimed, raped their relatives (inc 17 innocent victims of Rajoana)? Would you like to know how they cringed when Bhindranwala indulged in open racism, extremism, etc? No, you would not as you live in your world of undiluted hatred for everything 'Indian' based on fiction about "ethos of our rich heritage, culture and tradition" fed to you.

    As far as your ideas about "…justice, goodwill and helping those that cannot help themselves" are concerned; i may prick your bubble some other day.

    in the conclusion, you are so wrong about Rajoana trial and Indian government not commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment.

    First, you are in denial about Rajoana's crime of killing a democratically elected leader and 17 INNOCENTS. Secondly, death sentence cannot be commuted unless the convict makes an appeal. Third, the death sentence of the mastermind Jagtar Hawara and another convicted killer have been commuted.

    Get over your ideology which is a poisonous cocktail of hatred, extremism and negation.

  11. nuanceishard says:

    At the time of partition Sikhs were about 14% of the population of Punjab and per some reports had a majority percentage in about two towns.

    Any idea that there is within the historical punjab an area to which Sikhs alone have claim is ahistorical and the product of the same disfunction that has led to so much violence.

    As late as the 1940's the Punjab Unionist Party (per Ahmed a non-sectarian party) was the leading party in Punjab.

    There is no historical claim for a seperate Sikh state in Punjab and rather than always lay the blame elsewhere Sikhs need to place themselves back within history and not within a priviledged space of entitlement. If anything Sikhs in Punjab are more aware of this than Diaspora Sikhs.

  12. nuanceishard says:

    Sikh chauvanism is a real thing.

  13. nuanceishard says:

    Rather than fighting for more and more purity, which caused so much misery, if Sikhs want to be the upholders of punjabiayat we should fight with all our might for a syncretic secular return to the previous normal state in which people did not fear as greatly as today to not be only this and not that. Probably that was not a pure state either, but this mania with seeing Sikhs as the victim is not shared by any other group in historically Punjab.

    We need to open our eyes to a legitimate understanding of how other communities in the historical Punjab have seen us, as all too often chauvanists who do not take responsibilty for our historical role in the violence that has so unfortunately plagued that region of the world.

  14. Meena says:

    Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly. And since when have you started moderating comments???? WTF

  15. Gurcharan Singh says:

    There is NO SikhISM>This is a word coined by the west and alien to the SIKHI that our Gurus deseminated to us.We should revert back to using SIKHI and emphasise the way of life-SIKHI>As for brar; a total set up.People being rounded up are those I beleive that wee in teh area visiting, cruisng, shopping and wandering on that day.It is easy to identify the cars registered that plied around that area and round up for questioning!

  16. kawalpreet176 says:

    Lead The way of life as Gurbani teaches .. This is Only what i want to say ..

  17. nuance says:

    Anyone person who knows about developing countries knows there is always room for hera pheri but let’s take a little more control of our situation. You can’t have it every which way. If you glorify revenge and badla you can’t be surprised when people act on it. Like i said above sikhs seem to be in denial of the rhetoric employed and way we often appear to others versus our own perception. If we don’t change we set ourselves up to be forever at the mercy of conspiracy

  18. Sher says:

    Very well said nuance, voices of sanity must prevail.

  19. nuance says:

    The walk is out there on these issues and the basis for the point of view I’m articulating is sound and I’ll leave it to anyone interested to look into it and decide for themselves.

  20. Ajj Kaim Singh says:

    Agree with the general idea of what Sher expressed about Sikhs in Punjab.
    Majority always dominates the minority. All those crying foul about how badly Sikhs are treated in India should just pay attention to how Sikhs treat Hindus (Bhaiya/Baniya etc) in Punjab.
    It is incorrect to paint everyone with the same brush. I don’t see anything wrong in explaining to people that Sikhism is peaceful religion just like any other religion because KIRPAN does not look “peaceful” to most non-Sikhs.

  21. nuance says:

    Something about straw man? Add in ad hominum and a deliberately misleading interpretation of what i wrote above. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone who disagrees with a point is a mean casteist?

  22. nuance says:

    Actually no the communal nature of puniabi society demonstrably took a turn for the worse leading up to partition in many historical accounts.

  23. nuance says:

    Your interpretation of my use of the unionist party is what is superficial. Really the entire progressive yet ethno religious nationalist project you have going here is superficial and untenable. It breaks down on so many levels. Also while other communities had hardened along communal lines and for instance sikh ethno nationalists consider rss a rightist and malevolent force there has been no consideration that the sikh counterpart looks similiar to the hindu community, if not even more explicitly willing to employ the rhetoric of violence. And finally, sikhs do not reckon with how for example the muslim Punjabi community as a whole saw the role of sikhs in partition times. Sikhs don’t have to buy that wholesale but it would be instructive to consider a viewpoint in which all violence perpetrated on behalf of the supposed kaum is sanctified and sanctioned by our self belief in our status as eternal heros and martyrs fighting and winning against overwhelming odds. Also reckon with the fact some leftists have looked at the communal violence in partition as the reaction of the economically oppressed muslim majority against the sikh and hindu upper class. The cult of political violence will not always point in one direction.

  24. nuance says:

    Over and over i say the comparison with the unionist party is with the ascendence of communal and no less casteist parties in deed if not word. Take it further and its a classic straw man. Youur project here relies on the hope that critique be dismissed as directed toward straw men and this is only possible by presenting every criticism as directed against something not a problem. Lets see going forward what kinds of situations your site adocates and we’ll see. Take for example any time you want to get specific on the troubles in the 80s, the role of sikh nationalism and the relationship between hindus and sikhs and the use of religious nationalist violence. Go ahead and be specific on these and other questions because now you know we aren’t all fallioverng in line. Talk alittle about the singh sabha too in relation to arya samaj and why you see one different than the other. And your explanation of why the rss is different explains only why a similar sikh group is right to be opposed by non sikhs.

  25. nuance says:

    By the way when i say reckon with one leftist examination of partition violence i refer to the idea that political violence is just in cases where an oppressed group resists against their oppressors. I find this of course abborrent but i am asking whether others on the site will say the same. If one only identifies oneself with the oppressed and can not imagine themselves in all sides of a conflict they can lose sight of what the entire question entails. It would be novel for some to see sikhs as oppressors instead of how we often see ourselves as either the oppressed or as benevolent justice bringers. Basically what I’m saying is try taking a radically different view you are not used to seeing and see what that looks like. As someone pointed out Guru Gobind Singh met with the m mughal rulers and coming to terms with that is pretty key. That’s why your earlier statement that he only did so with banda bahadurs reign of violence as a second option is such an important question. Answer that and you see Sikh nationalist violence is at least two very different ways. My own view is there is little to say banda was doing wahegurus will as punjab burned in bandas wake.

  26. nuance says:

    I’m not creating straw men man you need to open your mind to other possibilities like that sikhs unfortunately can be oppressors all by themselves. Try getting rid of your bias. I’m kind of getting tired of this. You seem unable to move beyond a certain place in your ability to assess the Sikh community and our faults. I’ll leave you with one other thought. I believe if the message were to be sent today it would be there is no Hindu there is no musalmaan there is no sikh. I’ll wait to be surprised by your discussion on banda. Consider using another pat logical fallacy defense, there’s others out there that sound good.

  27. nuance says:

    NAgain, the primary points re banda….you mentioned believing guru gobind singh sanctioned his violent campaign, and this goes to if you see his campaign as both a religious nationalist one and on of an agrarian oppressed class using political violence legitimately or not. It’s not my point whether there were non sikhs in his army. To suggest that’s my point can almost be called a argument by straw man.

  28. Blighty Singh says:

    roundabouts and circles….roundabouts and circles…whoo…whoo…round and round the merry go round we go. As the merry go round grinds to a halt lets see who got off and and who stayed on :
    Headline News : Britain is on our side…..Britain agrees that something must be done about the sikh terrorists amongst us.

    (This is a great movie script, which would be a comedy if it wern't true)

    But then ?…………….Oh my god (staying in tune with the Hollywood screenplay) ………..Scotland Yard release 12 of the 14 that were arrested and now not only face multi million dollar law suits of the illegal arrests they made of these Siklhs – who committed the henious act of being a Sikh in a public place – but the 2 who were actually in contact with Brar that night are charged with common assault.

    Oh my god………..Hollywoood…Nollywood….Lollywood……(scriptwriter:please help us now)…….What happens to this screenplay now ? Its all gone tits up. It turns out that Scotland Yard….The Crown Presecution Office and the English criminal justice system have all decided that Brar and the whole of India were all a bunch of lying, deceiving, untrufthul, dishonest lumps of hot steaming piles of tutti.
    So lets give an update on what the headline news in India has for the last couple of weeks been given as the most important piece of news ever….in the history of world news …..Lets give the update that won't make the Indian news :
    1) Scotland Yard ….after a thorough investigation….have decided that both Brar and his better half were lying and there was no attempted murder.
    2) The only 2 Sikhs that have been charged have been charged with an offence that brings no greater penalty than having to paint the walls of an old peoples retirement home as community service.
    3) All the other Sikhs arrested have now multi-million dollar law suits against the police as compensation for what is quite clearly illegal arrests.
    4) The whole of Britain….who didn't know beforehand of the atrocities committed against Sikhs….now now.

    Summary : This has been a bad day at the office for the Indians.

  29. nuance says:

    By the way you are wrong about what i have read but don’t let it get in the way of feeling superior. I’m going to keep on reading what i will without a care as to whether it meets or doesn’t meet your standard. You standard doesn’t matter to me, never asked for your evaluation of my reading habits and couldn’t care less for your opinion on the matter.

  30. nuance says:

    In between your repetitive accusations and haughty dismissal you say bhaaji once and you think that’s a call for deeper engagement? Okay. Sorry will forgo the opportunity for deeper engagement. You seem to forget i wrote my opinion and didn’t ask yours. I don’t really seek your opinion and i really don’t get much from most of your replies. Any time you want to prevent my comments go ahead but if the cost of commenting here is the privilege of deeper engagement with you during which you throw accusations of bad faith sloppy thinking and idolising caste politics and then make it better by saying bhaji its politely declined bhaaji.

  31. […] leadership in our children. From defending the Sikh identity with inapposite descriptions that accommodate to white Christian norms and we are not Muslim to conversations about who I am and how that relates to you. From political […]