- In Sikhi, the political and the spiritual are inseparable. Its IkOankar, Nam, and Sabad principles create its ethos: there is only 1 creative and pervasive Force, 1 is intimately experienced in Identification with the Creator and the Creation, and the Infinite Wisdom must be invoked to address all human conflicts. The founders (1469-1708) established cities in the undivided Panjab to create an egalitarian and just society.
- Panjab is the homeland of the Sikhs. Sanctum sanctorum of the Sikhs, Sri Harimandar Sahib and Akal Takht complex, is in Amritsar, Panjab. Sikhs held multiple iterations of Raj in the Panjab in the last 555 years, including ruling from Lahore. Khalistan was first articulated in the 1940s; it went through political and militant struggle in the 1980s. Most critical issues since then remain unaddressed and unresolved. Pursuing Khalistan via non-violent means is not illegal in India. Indian Panjab is the only space in the world where Sikhs constitute a slim majority of 57%, where 70% of global Sikhs reside.
- The British Empire created two nations in 1947: the Hindu majority in India and the Muslim majority in Pakistan. Sikhs joined India after Indian assurances. In 75 years, almost all assurances were ignored, and three to four generations have lived under the Indian realities. Panjab was further truncated in the 1960s.
- The Sikhs in India outside Panjab - “Inspora” - are mostly forgotten or ignored. They form 17% of the global Sikh population; their presence is very visible and part of administrations, economies, and the social fabric. Many are natives in their local regions since the times of the Guru Sahibs (1469-1708), several ventured during the Sikh Empire (1799-1849), and more migrated from the Panjab since the Partition of Panjab (1947).
- The Sikh Diaspora started forming in the 1850s under the British, most prominently in Malaysia and Kenya. Large sections of the Sikhs left India after the 1984 Ghallughara (genocide and much more). They form 13% of the global Sikh population. Their presence in western democracies has grown tremendously; their personal success, activism, and connection to the Panjab have amplified their soft power.
- On 18 Mar 2023, the Panjab government and the Indian government initiated an operation via the Panjab police and the National Investigation Agency. It included targeted arbitrary detentions, total mobile internet shutdowns, prohibited gatherings, protests, rallies, and curated social media blocks. About 400 Sikhs — activists, reporters, students, protestors, leaders, and lawyers — were arrested, and few were charged under the stringent National Security Act. Some have been released due to Sikh outrage. Those arrested were not limited to the members of Waris Punjab De; its head, Amritpal Singh’s detention status remained unknown till 29 Mar 2023 when he appeared on video not in custody. He touched upon crackdown, arrests, and surrender. He asked the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) appointed acting Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib, Giani Harpreet Singh, to call Sarbat Khalsa (the Sikh collective assembly akin to congress or parliament) this upcoming Vaisakhi Day, which is in two weeks.
- There was no violence before, during, and since then in Panjab by the Sikhs. There have been many Morchas or protests during this period. Quami Insaf (Nation Justice) or Bandi Singh Rihai (Imprisoned Sikhs Release) in Mohali as well as P20 parallel to G20 in Amritsar. On 2 Mar 2023, 50 units of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPF) were sent to Panjab: 12 Border Security Force (BSF), 10 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), 10 Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), 10 Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), 8 Railway Protection Force (RPF). On 11 Oct 2021, BSF jurisdiction was increased from 15 km to 50 km from the Indo-Pakistan Border in Panjab; all political parties of Panjab unanimously condemned it.
- Arrest numbers kept changing; internet shutdowns kept growing; Khalistan and manhunt stories kept flashing; photoshopped images kept resurfacing. This is how fear and danger is manufactured to influence the mind. This is how PSYOPs work; psychological operations disseminate information to influence governments, organizations, groups, and individuals' emotions, motives, reasoning, and behavior.
- Politicians of all political parties furthered the state narrative, albeit with rare exceptions. Mainstream Sikh institutions and organizations also raised complaints and organized gatherings. Liberals, leftists, unions, and secularists largely remain silent. Media overwhelmingly spins the state narratives. Manipulations in India, Panjab, and Sikh spheres are the norm. Journalists, their platforms, lawyers, and human rights organizations who report objectively are harassed and blocked.
- There have been protests globally by the Sikhs; emotions are high, and restraint is low. Many are outraged; few fall into the state trap and/or uncalled-for, un-Sikh-like behavior.
- The Sikhi must consciously fuel the Sikh response. It must be exemplified in our vocabulary, behavior, speeches, memos, dialogue, and debates. It is not visible enough; what is visible and amplified by the media is anger and venting masquerading as action. We need training, reminders, and vibe-checkers in all Sikh spaces to organize our people, voice our narrative, and maintain our composure.
- The Panjab issues must remain center stage. The focus needs to be on how each successive Panjab and the Indian government have failed even to create a meaningful and just dialogue to date. We need disciplined minds to stay on message and engage with Delhi media who have a couple or no correspondents in Panjab.
- The Indian context needs to be comprehended. The center-state relations and national government's priorities and their relationships with the Sikh and Panjab interlocutors; the national and regional political parties, alliances, and their baffling and opposing center alliances; the national agencies and their heads’ experiences with the Sikhs and the Panjab; the media and its demise from global standards. We need geo-political nuancing with the 2024 elections in India.
- The Sikh Inspora is larger than the Sikh Diaspora. Their apprehensions, survival, roles, and relationships demand a reappraisal with sensitivity, especially given the 1984 Ghallughara context; they operate as a very small yet easily targetable minority among minorities in a complex internal tension caught between Savarkar and Golwalkar visions of Hindutva’s idealogues. We need a sensible approach in Indian realities.
- The Sikh Diaspora is strong and connected. Its soft power is building the Sikh image and the Sikh response. But it is reactive; it is not prepared. There is no public policy institute, lobbying group, or think-tank in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Canada. The aforesaid provides context and information to existing organizations and policymakers in the short term. In the long term, they carve a specific policy. We need investment and strategy.
As we try to make sense of things, as we struggle to respond, and as we synthesize to develop the next steps, the Sikh inspiration remains the personal and intimate connection with the 1 as documented by Guru Nanak Sahib in Guru Granth Sahib (141):
If my body were afflicted with pain, and I found myself under the spell of the two sinful shadow planets rahu and ketu.
If blood-sucking cruel rulers held sway over my head, in that condition, may my love for You be evident.
Even then, may I continue to praise You, may my excitement never fade while admiring You!
Rahu and Ketu represent trouble; let’s not get caught up in Hindu mythology or astrology. In Indic parlance, it means trouble, even today. Amid our Panthic (Sikh collective) pains and troubles caused by cruel politicians, may we strengthen our love for the 1, so we can respond in love and with love!