"Never Treat Your Citizens as Slaves"

Will Delhi Heed?

Farmers in Panjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and throughout India are protesting against new agricultural laws that will reduce their earnings and give corporations more power. When laws are unjust, the citizenry must rise.
SikhRI – Month of Poh

SikhRI – Month of Poh

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It is the month of December.
A month that the Sikh world remembers as the month of great sacrifices.

My heart tightens as I watch images beaming from the Farmer’s Protest taking place in North India. In each image, I see my ancestors.

I see my elderly mothers and grandmothers who have left the comfort of their homes, the rhythm of their spinning wheels, the sounds of children’s laughter to march towards Delhi.

I see my elderly fathers and grandfathers bathing at dawn on the streets of Delhi.
I have no words to describe what I am feeling.

Yes! Tears are flowing.
But what use are these tears?

The man in my consciousness writes, “The common man is God who shares the common lot with man, labours, and seats for his bread, he shares the soils with his plough and sown and grows his crops that wave in the golden sun; he reaps and gathers grain by grain does all, but not for himself.” – Sisters of the Spinning Wheel, Prof. Puran Singh.

And today, this “common man” who gathers grain by grain has risen in pain.
And, where am I, in their pain?

I ask my Panjabi tutor, Varinder Singh who is from Sohian Kalan village, Tehsil, District Amritsar, to tell me what his family is going through.

Graciously he shares:
“I farm the land of my ancestors. Through the generations, the ancestral land got divided and subdivided amongst the siblings. I have four acres of land, where I farm wheat and rice. No doubt there is tension, but there is an underlying joy as well, for ‘we have reached Delhi.’ They sprayed gallons of precious water on us. They tear-gassed us and hurled their batons. They did everything to intimidate us, but we continued to march on. The Centre said they would stop us at Haryana. They blocked the roads. However, the farmers in Haryana said, ‘ride through our fields.’ And so, we did. That is how we reached Delhi.

“The tension is because we know that the Centre will retaliate. The tension is there because the Centre is using its power to stop this protest. The tension is there because anything can erupt at any given point.

“This protest has debunked the myth that the youth in Panjab is drug-addicted, intoxicated, and not involved. It is the youth leading the protest and is not listening to the so-called ‘leaders’ of this movement. When these ‘leaders’ said, we will stop at Haryana. The youth pushed and said, we will go to Delhi as planned. And so, the march continued. The youth are clear on the demands, and they will not rest until results are delivered.

“Two trailers from our village have joined the protest caravan. The entire village is looking after the families whose loved ones have gone to Delhi. Our village is not the only one. This is what is happening in every village in Panjab. The unity in Panjab has never been greater. And this is bringing great joy even in these turbulent times.”

I marvel at his spirit.
This is Grace.
This is carhdi-kala!
(popularly Chardi Kala; ਚੜ੍ਹਦੀ ਕਲਾ; caṛhdī kalā).

“The reporters ask us, ‘Are you not afraid of being beaten, of dying?’ With ancestral pride, we tell him, ‘Read our history. This is normal for us. The blood of Bhai Mani Singh, Baba Deep Singh, Baba Banda Singh Bahadar, Baba Gurbaksh Singh runs through our arteries. We may not strike first. However, we will protest when the laws are unjust. We stood with the Shaheen Bagh protesters; we stood with the Kashmiris. We will always stand with the oppressed and fight for the rights of all. This fight is not just about the farmers in Panjab. This fight is about all the farmers in India. We recognize that Panjab is leading this protest. Our history tells us we have always led. The paratroopers and the army are out. We are not naïve. We know their strength. Yet, we are choosing to stay on course.”

I listen deeply.

A dialogue from Rana Surat Singh invades my consciousness. I paraphrase Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh’s words, “Never treat your citizens as slaves; they have been entrusted to you; protect them. Wealth is generated for the wellbeing of the people and the state. Treat the state’s wealth as a sacred trust, to be spent on the people’s wellbeing. Those who use this hard-earned wealth for their comfort are going against the Sikh path. Using the hard-earned earnings of your subjects is a transgression. The taxes that are gathered must be spent like the rain-clouds ensuring the care of the sick, poor, and widows. It is also the ruler’s role to provide security and protection for all, maintain an army, uphold law and justice as well as ethical business practices, and appoint honest and virtuous officers. A ruler also assumes responsibility for their citizens’ comfort, finds time to listen to their concerns, enjoys watching them grow, and ensures rightful rewards are given. No tolerance for trespassing others’ rights or resorting to bribery as justice is the very foundation of governing.”

The rulers of today are the "democratically elected" Governments. I wonder if this way of thinking ever enters the halls of power. Laws are meant for protection, not for subjugation.

The news report says that 500 farmer organizations are part of this protest. There seems to be no clear “leader.” The decentralization of power makes this a movement. Movements have dire consequences. The Centre will use its muscle to curtail this movement. “Delhi has never been kind to the Sikhs and the Panjab. Too many historical wrongs by too many rulers-occupiers of Dilli,” writes Harinder Singh, SikhRI. He quotes Nizamuddin AUlia of the CHisti Sufi order as a reminder to the autocrats: Delhi is still far off ("Hanoz Dihli Dur Ast”).

It is the month of December.
It is the month of shahidi (martyrdom).
Spirits are soaring.
Resilience is in the air.
The farmers are demanding their rights.
This fight is no longer theirs.
This fight is ours.
For, we are recipients of their labor.
No longer can we remain untouched in our “drawings-rooms.”
We need to be on the street with our farmers.
All transpires in Hukam (Divine Will).
May the “Movement” stay united and on course.
May Sabad-Guru (Infinite-Wisdom) inspire this “Movement!”

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Creative Director

Inni Kaur is Creative Director at the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI).

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