On Tuesday evening the Sikh Press Association hosted the first ever Hustings event for UK Sikhs. In the spirit of open debate and freedom of speech, the panel included representatives from both the Labour and Conservative parties, as well as a spokesperson from the National Sikh Youth Federation (NSYF).
The discussion was centered around questions which directly affect Sikh identity and Sikh affairs, with the aim of answering which Party, if any, can best represent the Sikhs following this Thursday’s General Election. The manner with which both Party representatives spoke suggested there to be a disconnect between how British politicians who self-identify as Sikhs, view the House of Guru Nanak with the position put forward by Panthic minded Sikhs. It appears both Bally Singh (Labour) and Kulveer Singh (Conservative) view Sikhi as the “ism” it morphed into following the colonial encounter in Panjab. However, those of a Panthic view, such as Shamsher Singh (NSYF) understand that Sikhi is not the ism it has become over the last century or so because the colonial moves to throw our revolutionary Panth into a labyrinth of religiosity is an affront to the Guru’s institute of Miri-Piri.
Nevertheless, Sikhs living in the UK are naturally compelled to engage in society and have worked tirelessly to gain recognition and rights for our distinct way of life, be that on grounds of identity or conduct. When accepted it has always been restricted to the grounds of “religion”, and from a British perspective, understandably so. Despite this, Sikhs have contributed towards alleviating social ills with active grass roots engagement. It is our Guru-inspired Sikhia which has compelled us to rise-up and fix broken Britain. Whether it’s groups such as Sikh Welfare Awareness Team (SWAT) who unilaterally take the Guru’s institution of Langar on to the streets of London for the poor and impoverished, or groups such as Sikh Awareness Society (SAS) who highlight the issue of sexual grooming, particularly in the North of the country; Sikhs continuously provide band aid remedies to the shortcomings of a government that has failed its people.
However, we also acknowledge that by engaging with the establishment we inevitably legitimise the political structures that control and steer the overall governance in this country. By engaging within the political system, we legitimize domestic and foreign UK policy from the past, present and for the future. This is the existential crisis of a Sikh living in 21st century Britain, imposed entirely by our residence here. We find ourselves constantly trying to reconcile Guru inspired principles that demand we work to establish equality and liberty for all, with a system built on the exploits of its colonial past, for which is has yet to deliver any redemption. There is no denying that. The UK is where it is today because of the global violence, conquest and exploitation it was overtly responsible for up until the last century.
Today it is projected as a leading power in the world, the epicenter of democracy and modernity; all the while it is engaged in proxy wars to destablise the Middle East. Let us not forget it was only in the last decade that Britain waged an illegal war of aggression in Iraq. The Chilcot inquiry revealed how MI5 actively sent British Libyans and exiles back to Libya to fight alongside the rebel fighters to overthrow Gaddafi, the man who had given up his nukes just months after the decimation of Iraq!
As Sikhs of Guru Nanak our conscience does not allow us to ignore the above, no matter how much change is promised. Are we that naive to think change will come from the heirs of colonial rule, who have yet to address and remedy the problems they created all over the world? Jeremy Corbyn is the standout candidate, but is he willing to apologise for their colonial ways and expose the inhumane foundations upon which 21st century Britain stands?
Guru Nanak advocated a new socio-political dynamic with an emphasis on eradicating all hierarchies and inequalities, whether social, political, economic or religious. The establishment of institutions such as Langar for example, challenged social norms of division perpetuated by exploitative social power structures. In this way Guru Nanak laid the foundations for his successors to create a state within a state; founded on principles of compassion, equality and love but fired with the spirit of fearlessness, dignity and self-respect.
Guru Nanak’s condemnation of all forms of exploitation and inequality should serve as the bedrock of our social and political engagement with society today. We understand the Guru did not just highlight the hypocrisy of power structures, he provided an alternative and paved a new path by introducing Sikh scripture as the guide complete with a distinct culture as well as the construction of centers, towns and cities all of which were built on the foundations of his unique ideology.
The Guru’s method was direct governance which is why the culmination of 200 years of Gur-gaddi resulted in the formation of the Khalsa, a self-governing, self-administering assembly of Sikh who were ordained to capture political power with the overall objective of establishing an egalitarian society.
If you decide to engage with the political system in Britain today, do not get drawn into cross party politics. Instead engage with full acceptance of this country’s colonial past which continues to haunt people across the globe. Engage in full knowledge of its current foreign policy which arms an oppressive state to bomb innocent civilians, which in turn creates millions of refugees who are exploited having lost their freedom, dignity, justice and happiness.
But most importantly do so knowing that this is not what the Guru advocated. The Guru gave Paatshahi to his Sikh, he made each one of us sovereign and empowered us to follow his example of shaking the echelons of corrupt power. It is up to us whether we leave our revolutionary Sikhi to one side and adorn the garb of its colonial imposter Sikhism, and continue to regurgitate what the master taught us. Or we enact that Guru given Paatshahi and collectively step into unchartered territory to deliver on the Guru’s mandate in a capitalist driven, post-colonial world.