Young Sikhs in a religious procession

Washington, DC – India often claims it is the “biggest democracy in the world.” Though, most Sikhs or even Punjabis can tell you that the Indian government has rarely protected the religious freedoms of minority groups, and often persecutes those that publicly demand their fundamental rights.

I was invited to speak at a Hindu American Foundation event on Capitol Hill about the Sikh perspective on religious freedom in India. I did my best to give a thorough and honest account of the painful trauma that Punjab, the homeland of the Sikhs, has suffered at the hands of the Indian government.

I did my best to keep my speech objective, using historical facts to tell the story of Punjab. I was taken aback when someone from the audience asked me, “Why do Sikhs have a “cry baby” mentality? Not only was it ironic because Sikhs are often known for their “Chardikala” attitude, which refers to a mindset of bliss that stems from the faith itself, but it was rather offensive. It suggested that oppression is only a temporary feeling that the oppressed opt to express, rather than a system that prevents equity and justice.

What comes to mind is the social experiment done by Social psychologists Philip Mazzocco and Mahzarin Banaji once asked white volunteers how much money would cover the “costs” of being born black) instead of white. Imagine that you are waiting in line to be born … Presently, you are scheduled to be born white . However, you are offered an alternative arrangement. In exchange for a cash gift, to be deposited in a bank account for you when you are born, you can choose to instead be born black. The Whites asked for $5000 (a gross underestimate of being born Black. They thought blacks had done well considering the past.

“There is a disconnect between whites and blacks about what it feels like to be a victim of mundane discrimination,” Eibach concluded. “There is a tendency to say, ‘These mundane things are nothing like the past,’ but the lived reality of bearing that weight — the frustrations and indignities — that is a major source of the disconnect.”

This social experiment is one that can be applied to all systems with institutionalized discrimination. In the United States, our institutions are built on white privilege. A white person does not ask for that privilege, but is rather born into a country with a history that has provided for systematic advantages. That is not to say that white people cannot have their own economic struggles and other difficulties; after all, identities are intersectional. However as explained by Gina Crosley-Corcoran, white privilege simply means that people of color have to work much harder just to experience the things white people are born into.

In India, there is a parallel historical institutionalized privilege. Though the Indian and United States’ institutions are comparable, by no means can one argue that they are the same. Minority groups in both countries have their own struggles, stories, and history of institutionalized oppression.

The party in power in India is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a historically right-wing Hindu nationalist party. BJP represents the interests of high-caste Hindus in particular, disregarding and marginalizing low caste Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and other minority groups. The party has always been bolstered by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a (high-caste) Hindu supremacist organization, whose prevalence began prior to British colonization and has continued until today.

I never fully understood the dynamics of privilege in India, until I someone told me “Sikhs had a cry baby attitude”. If Sikhs had the Indian privilege, they too wouldn’t worry about the mundane discrimination, instead they have been bearing the weight of frustrations and indignities like:

Serving life sentences without knowing the real charge or an end date.

Being stuck between a rock and a hard place like imprisonment with torture and inhumane conditions even when asylum in USA could have been a choice, and going back to India is not a choice.

Living hell in Punjab where death trains runs across the state carrying cancer deaths, where more drugs and alcohol are sold more than crops, where mental health has taken over robust Sikh minds and where Sikh farmers most common destination is suicide rather than vacation.

In 1983 Punjab also known as the bread basket of India was a state with highest per capita income, it was the seat of the Green Revolution of India whose biggest beneficiaries were the rich Sikh peasants.

But in 2018 what is happening right before our eyes? Sikhs are disappearing in numbers, in prosperity, in the army, health, physique and many other forms. If there is not an uprising, Sikhs are going to be something of the past. Like others, we too have started doubting the Sikh intention, the Sikh behavior, the Sikh mentality. Sikhs have only learned to triumph out of all oppression, and now more than ever we all need to put our heads together and work on it.

We have to ask for our identity as an independent Sikh religion in India, in order for us to have our own personal laws. We can no longer live in fear, we have to live together inclusively in India and teach them the real framework of Religious freedom for all.

Like quoted by CFP:

The prosperity of a nation stands on her two firm legs; economic growth and social cohesion, one will not sustain without the other.

If the minorities continue to live in apprehension and fear, the whole nation gets engaged in useless battles and the prosperity will come to a grinding halt, and the country will limp until it reaches a new life or loses all that was achieved.

References for the opinion paper:

In 1983 – Punjab is a state with the highest per capita income. It is the seat of the Green Revolution in India, whose biggest beneficiaries have been the rich Sikh peasants. In Punjab, Sikhs are a majority, Hindus, a minority.

Social scientist Robert W. Terry (1981, p. 120) once summarized white privilege as follows: “To be white in America is not to have to think about it. Except for hard-core racial supremacists, the meaning of being white is having the choice of attending to or ignoring one’s own whiteness” (emphasis in original). For people of color in the United States, it is not an exaggeration to say that race and ethnicity is a daily fact of their existence. Yet whites do not generally have to think about being white. As all of us go about our daily lives, this basic difference is one of the most important manifestations of racial and ethnic inequality in the United States.An estimated 400 South Asian asylum seekers are being housed at the Victorville medium security federal correctional institute (above). Sikh asylees at the prison are not allowed to wear their religiously-mandated turbans, and have no access to vegetarian food. “This is a complete violation of the spirit of our laws, which protect people fleeing violence and persecution,” Munmeeth Kaur Soni, co-legal director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, told India-West. The Indian American attorney has been traveling to Victorville regularly to meet with South Asian detainees. ( photo)

Sikh fleeing Religious persecution

“My fear is detainees are being held in such horrible conditions to discourage them from seeking asylum,” she said. That tactic, she said, “is not only unlawful, it’s immoral.”

Illegal Indian immigrants

Despite the inhumane conditions these inmates are living in, none of them are willing to go back home, both Navneet and Muirhead said.

None of them want to go back to India

This is not the first time this has happened to Sikhs.Historically, Sikhs have faced religious oppression in India. They make up only two per cent of the Indian population. Minority groups are almost always vulnerable to discrimination and their safety is at risk. Add volatile history to the equation and the climate worsens.

How one Sikh freedom fighter is helping political prisoners by committing himself to a hunger strike

The northern Indian state of Punjab votes on Saturday for a new government. But the biggest issue confronting voters is not jobs or corruption, but a drugs epidemic that is sweeping the The film board had said they thought the movie portrayed Punjab in a bad light. The proposed cuts included removing every mention of the word “Punjab” from the film, deleting swear words and also a number of other words such as “parliament”, “legislators” and “election

The prosperity of a nation stands on her two firm legs; economic growth and social cohesion, one will not sustain without the other.

If the minorities continue to live in apprehension and fear, the whole nation gets engaged in useless battles and the prosperity will come to a grinding halt, and the country will limp until it reaches a new life or loses all that was achieved.

Unlike Christians and Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains do not have separate personal laws and are considered Hindus under Article 25(2)(b) of the constitution (though this constitutional reference pertains to opening religious institutions to all social classes rather than an explicit statement denying the separate religious identity of Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains).


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