It's Monday evening, and after an event that brought new and old friends together in the heart of London and many of the Kenyan diaspora, I find myself wearily walking home. The cold, crisp air is disturbed by the constant pining of my phone. News reports and forwards seem to flood my WhatsApp like a shark frenzy. My phone, now clasped in my hand as I quicken my pace, I start to read of Canada taking direct action against the Indian Government for what appeared to be an accusation of state-sponsored murder of a Canadian national. The articles state that a leading figure in the High Commission was asked to leave. Printed across each message are the words "Khalistan" and "Sikh", an unfortunate duo that brings a mixture of annoyance and equal upheaval given past circumstances.
As the evening progresses, so do the messages in their ferocity. Some sheepishly try to desperately connect any form of disconnect with India's supposed action as anti-national if you dare not agree, as if a simple thumbs up would be a symbolic gesture of camaraderie akin to a flag of war. I continue to read in utter shock, more so at the comments sections until the early hours when I finally sleep, knowingly restless at what I will undoubtedly see the following day.
The customary "Good Morning" forwards are substituted for messages of concern from friends and family. They had known I was in Surrey, Vancouver, a few weeks prior, each asking what I may have seen. I see the reports being forwarded that the Indian Government is repaying the actions of Canada by dismissing a high-profile diplomat in the same manner, to what I would imagine as a chorus of the self-righteous multi-backslapping of many "proud nationalist'' who chose to leave India to live in the UK. The irony on many levels does not escape me.
Now, the reality is I do not claim to have any expertise in the ideas or history of Khalistan. For me, it is a squinting eye back to my youth in Handsworth, Birmingham, where many firm supporters were accosted for trying to bring politics to religious occasions. However, I find it impossible to open my number of WhatsApp groups without spotting the disingenuous comments against people of my faith. It seems that people feel a magical self-deluding fog has appeared that enables them to practice their lack of understanding and religious bigotry in plain sight. Conveniently and possibly intentionally mixing the ideas of Khalistan and mainstream Sikhs. The supposed logical and frankly absurd equation, in which the rational will never gain marks on an 11+ paper, is as follows: To be Khalistani, you must be a Sikh, and if you are Sikh, you are a Kahlistani. However, it does get progressively worse, in the case that if you say anything against that, it is an evidently flawed equation. You are forced into a witch hunt to justify yourself. To say we live the nightmare you avoid is an understatement! I have nothing against those who believe in Khalistan as a right for self-determination or those who want Hindutva. To be honest, both are in their own ways trying to repel the other; however, one is far more dangerous to the globe as an ideology.
However, this does not give the right to abuse. I am dismayed at images of people who could easily look like my father, being noted as anti-national Sikh terrorists and, in some cases, being akin to Bin Laden, are being blasted across. Knowingly, these individuals are trying to mix the two.
If the farmer's protest was terrifying enough for our community's image, the current unfolding events should be a wake-up call. The sad and un-shocking truth is most of the trolls on social media and WhatsApp groups are using the labelling of religion to self-justify an acute disease of Sh*tology, known for symptoms including othering, selective virtual signalling, and essentially making stuff up to feel good. From my experience, this is being targeted towards the Sikh community in a lambasting of epic and unsavoury proportions. It's become too easy to use the word "phobia" or "anti" at the end of a sentence as a defence mechanism for, in most cases, stupidity.
The reality is that most Sikhs like myself do not identify with either the agenda of Khalistan or the Indian politics of the day. We sit in a happy medium, adopting a philosophy of treating everything equally and rationally. Despite the efforts of both sides, we would not be forced into one camp or the other, as our past reminds us that many will try to use communities like us as horses for their chariots of either political or financial gain. However, when jokes, memes and disingenuous comments are made about our faith or community at large, no self-respecting individual would stomach such corrosive actions. The same way in which we should protect people of any other belief, whether religious or atheist. There is room for us all to co-exist. Ultimately, we are all the same species of humanoid; everything else is a simple conjecture of what we think got us here.
I am, however, disturbed to see many pseudo-intellectuals starting debates trying to make sense of the issues, with the often unintentional remarks proclaiming Sikhs are Hindus or the factually untrue comments that we have never faced discrimination (hmmmmm….another symptom of Sh*tology where facts don't matter as much as feelings). I am equally disturbed at seeing British elected officials, including a UK Councillor, congratulating the Government of India for what could only reasonably be concluded as the assassination of a foreign national. Likewise, I equally see members of the Sikh faith being self-elected custodians, being proclaimed as leaders and vehemently demanding answers to questions they never acknowledged 20 minutes prior; the fever pitch of insanity grows! The wretched scent of selective moral outrage from both camps of mindset is polluting as it is hideous. Again, those who get crumpled on are those in the middle.
I am not sure whether it's a working-from-home culture or the added ease of throwing insults willingly in the air without consequences, but it seems the tide of hate is increasing to tsunami-style levels, and the current issues concerning a breakdown of diplomatic conversation has raised an ugly truth within the diaspora. No one is willing to look at the more significant issues at play, both elements of supporters of strikingly similar ideologies of exclusiveness and whataboutery using the current events to shape their narratives and self-gain.
For the first time, I feel uneasy watching events unfold. There will only be losers in this blame game for those in the middle.
The mere mention of 1984 seems to be an explosion of anti-national dissent from self-serving "nationalists" who fail to see the human suffering of events and the implications on generational trauma, trust and those fighting to create a better India for all, whilst the very questioning of Khalistan appears to be fodder for those in the community to claim you are anti-Sikh or a liberal Sikh whose ideas are not of the true faith that they seemingly have the monopoly over. Two sides of the same human tendency to only see the world as we are and not as it is.
I think the reality is, despite whatever spin it may be, there is a genuine divide in the diaspora. And that divide is due to a lack of conversation on critical issues and political agendas. The age-old custom of sweeping issues underneath the carpet has come back to gloriously bite everyone in the ass. The reality is that the issue of Canada and India is a legal conversation that aligns more with Government policies and citizen protection than with Khalistan, Hindutva or even trade. However, don't say that to the news channels benefiting from the nonsense.
The case of the British national Jagtar Johal, who was being held in an Indian prison arbitrarily, is a stark reminder. His brother Gurjeet appeared on our show, the Global Indian Network's - My Thoughts Exactly, to discuss his case, and it drew deeper questions to be asked of the horrific balancing act Governments do to appease each other whilst letting their civilians suffer. In this case, it is this one individual. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.
I am fed up, tired and, in equal measure, highly concerned for the future of our collective communities. If what has taken place in Canada is true, because, let's face it, the legal doctrine used is still open-ended, although one can reasonably argue the escalation is astonishing if it was not. It poses a deeper question: can we genuinely trust our Governments to do what is right for the communities they serve? Or do they use current events to shape their vote-harvesting agendas? Its alleged timing is critical in these things! Here, I will give a case in point: India and Canada go for elections… In history, we know nothing beats vote harvesting than an enemy of the state pitch.
Sikhism, for me, is spirituality. I by no means claim to be pious, but I do follow my faith, and like all reasonable humans, I interpret it in a way that applies to my life. I appreciate the sacred bonds between us all and our evolving concept of oneness. It also equates to a way of life in which I treat humanity as one and act without fear or favour in all situations; this, by all means, is not the definitive interpretation for me, but it gives you a glimpse. We are not just the warriors often portrayed towards our faith, but we are, in equal measure, world travellers, voyagers, poets and custodians of equality and fairness. My podcast with Lord Singh delves into this further.
Both sides have many misconceptions about how the community sees themselves and India, especially in the diaspora. For example, Ravi Singh, a known humanitarian from the charity Khalsa Aid, was violently portrayed in the Indian media as anti-national; this was repeated constantly across various platforms, despite the sterling work he has done across the continent and in India. However, when he had the opportunity to discuss this further on our show, he spoke about how he wanted to see a better India that would support the positive changes needed. With comments like that, it would be harder for many Indian media houses to sensationalize.
I fear that what we see is just the beginning, that unless genuine conversations take place, we will have an irreversible splinter within the beautiful tapestry of our diaspora, with many who find themselves in the middle of both sides finding themselves looking in on the sidelines.
Even more so now, I find myself ashamed of who we are becoming as humans and our negative impact on this planet. With the vast opportunity to come together and make a difference, we sometimes seem to be fixed on the opposite, maybe due to fear, who knows. I hope that common sense will prevail; however, I am reminded every day that it is all but common.
My last word is that this, like many other issues, will die down, but the words and comments created on chats will never fade away. As we age, let's not look back on the past and miss opportunities to create a better world for all. As the saying goes, right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it. In the age of fake news, divisive media and increasing misunderstandings, let's show hope to future generations by the footprints we leave behind through our actions and words. More so, do not let those who seek to divide us win. Politicians will come and go, but we will always live together as communities, regardless of ancestral homes.
Let us know what your thoughts are. Share your insights on this pressing matter in the comment section below.
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