The World Sikh Conference (WSC) held in Melbourne, Australia from March 11-13, 2016 aimed to tackle some of the issues concerning sovereignty for the Sikh nation by hosting various active Sikhs from across the world. By no means were those in attendance the only active Sikhs in the panth and by no means were they the best suited to perhaps discuss the issues at hand, but as in every program an attempt was made to get as many Sikh activists/academics/political leaders there as possible and many could not attend. I won’t go into the pros-cons of the administration side of the conference as our sister Gurinder Kaur has touched on many of them and there is always room for improvement in parbandh whenever any of us host events. I would like to concentrate on my experience and what I saw happening day to day as I feel it will provide a deeper look into what actually transpired due to the actions of a few people from Punjab who constantly attacked panthic personalities and spewed venom against Sikhs themselves while promoting the Indian Constitution. I am going to give a more detailed account of the panel sessions on the first day and then speak to general issues as I think it is important to know how the tone was set by these individuals in their attempt to undermine the agenda of sovereignty/Khalistan that the vast majority of attendees had come together for. This is just one persons experience and should be taken as such.
ਲੋਕ ਪਤੀਆਰੈ ਕਛੂ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ
By trying to please other people, nothing is accomplished.
What would become a major point of objection at the WSC became apparent within the opening panels. The first panel consisted of Sukhdev Singh Bhaur (Member of SGPC and former Akali Dal Badal Party Member), Giani Kewal Singh (former Jathedar Takht Damdama Sahib) and Bhai Eshar Singh (Katha Vaachik from Hydrebad). The subject of sovereignty from a place of Guru inspiration was the topic yet it was meekly addressed at best by all 3 speakers. The discussion was so weak it is not worth mentioning as an individual at any moment could sit in any Gurdwara sahib in the world and listen to katha and virtually would be exposed to the same level of messaging on this topic.
The second panel consisted of Professor Gurtej Singh (former Professor of Sikhism), Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon (retired Professor of History, Panjab University), Bhai Jarnail Singh (MLA for AAP – Delhi), Bhai Sarbjit Singh Verka (Lawyer and member of Punjab Human Rights Organization) and Bhai Resham Singh (USA Vice-President, Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar). The subject for this panel was sovereignty in the present context for Sikhs. Bhai Jarnail Singh said 2 things of concern which were that nobody in Punjab cares for a sovereign Punjab and that in order for Sikhs to succeed we should move to “accept” (or in other words convert) those deemed low castes by Indian society at large and increase our numbers so we have a greater say in the current Indian System. First, making a statement like “nobody in Punjab cares for a sovereign Punjab” without taking into context the psychological trauma inflicted upon the people over 3 decades is irresponsible at best and a deliberate attempt at Indian patriotism at worst.
My views on why people in Punjab are silent have been covered extensively in other posts so I won’t go through them again, but many of you reading this understand the laws of sedition, police force/brutality, corruption, etc. that exist in every facet of life in Punjab…Punjab is silenced by force not by the peoples will. Second, an attempt to use the oppressed and downtrodden people of Indian society as a tool to further ones own battle is nothing more than manipulation. If you love them like the Khalsa should then we should not be thinking of converting, we should be thinking of lifting them and making them feel secure and confident in themselves so they have a brighter future for themselves and their children. If they seek the Guru through the acts of the Khalsa then so be it, but it should not be a pre-requisite for help. This also shows the thinking of those amongst us. Rather than govern yourselves as sovereigns created by the Guru, we have individuals telling us to live within the system and compromise ourselves further. The people are always ready to listen but do we actually want them to listen and understand or do we want the past & current generation to dwell in that fear inflicted by the Indian state and the next generation to grow up in ignorance?
“Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you really want them to understand.”
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
During this panel it was Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon that took the most time and provided a despicable interpretation of what Sikh sovereignty represents. The entire purpose of his speech was to show how the Sikh nation could establish its autonomy and sovereignty within India by getting more political power for Punjab.
He ridiculed Sikhs themselves for “living in a dream world and thinking of a Khalistan” and that how could we speak of such things when we had never read or understood the Indian Constitution. He blamed Sikhs for the Beant regime of 1992-95 due to the boycott of the 1992 election as carried out by major jujharu jathebandis and in doing so, he indirectly is blaming Shaheed Singhs as the cause for major human rights violations and mass disappearances during this time. Nowhere did Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon point a finger at the Indian State or their agents for the mass atrocities they committed upon the general populace of Punjab from 1984-1995, the finger was pointed straight at the Sikh nation and their “stupidity” as he put it. He referred to Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara as “oh kee naa ohda…oh bechara munda jaya jenu jathedar thaap ditta…” (what’s his name…that poor boy who was named jathedar…). This should not be seen as a simple slip of the mind, it was deliberate. Everyone in panthic circles knows who Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara is and what his kurbani is and to use this type of terminology was done deliberately to show that Jathedar Hawara is a “nobody” (somebody whose name is easily forgotten) and that he is weak and stupid/bhola (what the term bechara is most often used for). Dr. Dhillon in an overly dramatic way tried to warn those in attendance that if you rise up against the state and ask for sovereignty then don’t forget about the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE) and their leader Prabakaran who was killed along with his wife and 8 year old son. Dr. Dhillon again was using this as an attempt to pound the point home that there is no point in separating from India and that we had to lobby the right channels while remaining within India. The other speakers on the panel were not particularly positive or negative although Professor Gurtej Singh agreed with much of what Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon had said. Both of them seem to be well entrapped within the Indian framework forgetting that the Guru Granth and Guru Panth come first for a Sikh.
ਦੁਨੀਆਂ ਦੇ ਸਾਰੇ ਕੰਮਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਇਹ ਕੰਮ ਇਹ ਕੰਮ ਇਕ ਭਾਰਾ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਏ।
ਸਿੱਖੀ ਨੂੰ ਉਜਾਗਰ ਰਖਣਾ ਏ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਸਿਰਜਣਹਾਰਾ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਏ।
ਚਰਖੇ ਤੇ ਤਕਲੇ ਫੇਰ ਸਹੀ ਖੰਡਾ ਦੋ-ਧਾਰਾ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਏ।
‘ਜੋ ਬੋਲੇ ਸੋ ਨਿਹਾਲ ਹੋਏ’ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਇਹ ਜੈਕਾਰਾ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਏ।
ਅਸੀਂ ਦੇਸ਼ ਵਤਨ ਦੇ ਵੈਰੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਇਹ ਵੀ ਯਾਰਾ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਏ।
ਪਰ ਜਿੱਥੇ ਸਵਾਲ ਏ ਸਿੱਖੀ ਦਾ ਸਾਨੂੰ ਪੰਥ ਪਿਆਰਾ ਪਹਿਲਾਂ ਏ।
– Poem by Teja Singh Sabar at the time of partition
My role on the opening day was to moderate a panel on the topic of sovereignty in the future. My dilemma was do I forgo the responsibility of a moderator/facilitator and counter the last panelists remarks or continue on and not interrupt the proceedings and start the next panel. I decided to do the former and provide a counter to the best of my ability (all this can be watched online via Radio Voice of Khalsa’s YouTube page where all the videos are being uploaded). After countering Bhai Jarnail Singhs comments in the context provided above, 80% of my time was spent on Dr. Dhillons comments. In short, the 1992 boycott of elections in Punjab was not the first time in the worlds history when elections have been boycotted by a portion of society (in Punjabs case over 90% of those eligible to vote) and a simple Google search will confirm that. The boycott of elections has been used to show dissatisfaction with the process, a challenge to the constitution and powers at hand that those boycotting no longer believe in the system and will not remain under it, etc. The fact that Government in Punjab was allowed to form with under 10% confirmed polling is what should be discussed. I provided an alternative point of view as well. Since 1951 Punjab’s Government has been suspended 8 times by the Central Government of India and replaced with Presidents rule and often a Police state. To further show the importance of this point, from 1983-1992 Punjab was under Presidents rule for all but 17 months. Had participation in the 1992 election actually resulted in a pro-panthic Punjab state government how can we even imagine that the Central Government of India would allow them to serve even 1 day in power? To those who would counter by saying that it would prove costly to India to remove an elected government in the eyes of international bodies and world governments, my friends, tens of thousands if not hundreads of thousands of our people were murdered at the hands of state authorities between 1984-1995 and if the world can turn a blind eye to that then an election overturned by a world power is miniscule in comparison. The counter on the “dramatic emotional appeal” around Prabakarn (LTTE Leader) was countered with reference to Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and countless other shaheeds throughout our history from Guru Gobind Singh to Bhai Balwinder Singh Jatana. By no means do we want to spill anothers blood or our own, but as per Gurus instructions, we must be prepared for both on our path of righteousness. It was however very apparent that Dr. Dhillon and Professor Gurtej Singh did not share this view and in essence have abandoned the battlefield the Sikh nation stands in today.
ਮੋ ਹਰ ਤੁਰਕ ਕੀ ਸਿਰ ਧਰੇ ਲੋਹ ਲਗਾਵੈ ਚਰਨ
One who bows his head to the enemy & surrenders their sword at their feet,
ਕਹੈ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਸਿੰਘ ਸੁਣੋ ਲਾਲ ਜੀ ਫਿਰ ਫਿਰ ਹੋਏੇ ਤਸਿ ਮਰਨ ॥ (੧੫)
Gobind Singh says, “Listen Lal Jee, they will never find peace.”(15)
By the time my panel was done, a total of 3 moderators and 11 panelists had spoken from the stage. I was the only one who had openly said Khalistan in a positive and necessary way, otherwise the term sovereignty was used to justify existence within India, a spiritual state alone rather than physical place as well, and a repeated attempt to do nothing but appeal to foreign aid in securing further interests within India. Day 1 at the WSC became a complete confusion around what the speakers had said and the bickering back and forth. I have heard many people say that a conference is for just this purpose. Where differences of opinion and action on the same topic are addressed and deliberated and in that sense I don’t blame the organizers for the things panelists were saying at all. I made it clear at the WSC stage as well that it is up to the attendees (like me) to continually counter the position of those who had come from Punjab and were showing a clear agenda on the topic of sovereignty and Khalistan. The one suggestion I made on Day 1 to the organizers was that at the end of each day when they are closing out the proceedings that they should make their position clear on the topics discussed rather than leaving it open to interpretation. If at the end of each day one of the key organizers would take to the stage and let their position be known it would have taken away this issue that the organizers were siding with the likes of Dr. Dhillon and Gurtej Singh. This can be something that everyone needs to be wary of going forward in any events that are held.
It was the sangat who challenged much of what the speakers had to say. Regulary, the likes of Bhai Hardyal Singh (United Sikhs), Bhai Daljeet Singh, Bhai Ajit Singh, Bhai Gurtej Singh Samra, etc. took those speaking against outright sovereignty/Khalistan to task and forced them to expand their arguments which they often could not do. In frustration of this questioning, Sukhdev Singh Bhaur (Member of the SGPC) walked out of the conference on Day 2 and did not return. As Dr. Dhillon and Gurtej Singh left no doubt as to their position on the issue of Sikh sovereignty/Khalistan, so should have we if we say we support the mandate of Khalistan. By not saying the term and skirting around it for 3 days we are setting a horrible precedent. Our people don’t need to be manipulated into believing that we are saying one thing and meaning another…just say it. The vast majority of the sangat who came to watch the WSC was openly in favor of Khalistan and was having problems understanding the timidness of speakers saying they favored sovereignty but then wouldn’t explain what that sovereignty actually was. Sach (truth) is missing in our conversations. We are constantly manouevering around the truth in an effort to shield ourselves from questions we do not want to answer as it will cause us strife in at some level of Tann, Mann or Dhann (Body, Mind/Soul or Maya/Financial). But until we actually become sache (truthful), our internal and external dukh (discomfort/pain/suffering) will continue.
ਨਾਉ ਨੀਰੁ ਚੰਗਿਆਈਆ ਸਤੁ ਪਰਮਲੁ ਤਨਿ ਵਾਸੁ ॥
Bathe in the waters of Goodness and apply the scented oil of Truth
ਤਾ ਮੁਖੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਉਜਲਾ ਲਖ ਦਾਤੀ ਇਕ ਦਾਤਿ ॥
Then your face shall become radiant, this is the gift of 100,000 gifts.
ਦੂਖ ਤਿਸੈ ਪਹਿ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਸੂਖ ਜਿਸੈ ਹੀ ਪਾਸਿ ॥੩॥
Tell your troubles only to the One who has the ability to provide true comfort.
This conference was supposed to cover the topic of sovereignty but beyond the first day that discussion almost formally concluded. The next 2 days it was FreeAkalTakht that dominated the agenda and all exercises were run accordingly. I appreciated the sessions in the sense that they allowed everyone to see the vast amount of opinions every individual Sikh carries on many different topics and how we can come to some form of decision making. My thoughts on the FreeAkalTakht project including its structure to date are posted on my page and I still stand by all the points, probably even more so now having returned from the WSC. I am not going to get into the FreeAkalTakht model as I have made my position clear, but something that needs to be brought up again is certain terminology being used for certain models and roles. Corporate Governance is a term that was used heavily at the conference and does not have a place within the Sikh framework. Corporate Governance implies that the Khalsa Panth is a corporation and a corporation is more often than not a situation where those who have controlling interests (stocks, votes, etc.) become the decision makers while “average members” are sidelined in this process. Rather than get into the definition of terms that are not ours, why not stick to Sarbat Khalsa and terminology that works for us? With the minds that are working on the FreeAkalTakht project, I am sure that they can come up with more appropriate terminology which will be more reflective of the message they are trying to convey. Additionally, Bhai Jagtar Singh Hawara is a reflection of what Sikhs have been through and accomplished in the last 3 decades of being at war with the Indian state. If he was chosen as Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib then I for one am in complete favor of keeping him on that post and working to ensure appropriate communication channels exist for him to communicate with the rest of the Sikh nation and we work on selecting advisors and representatives that can work on his behalf as part of the next Sarbat Khalsa to ensure we support him while he is imprisoned. For those who don’t want to explain to the “west” that the Jathedar is a convicted criminal, they may want to abandon Sikhi as well as multiple Gurus were arrested, on the run and 2 were convicted and given capital punishment according to the rules of an oppressive state. If that sounds harsh it is because it is meant to. As was evident at the WSC, most of those in attendance were very confused by the system being put forward and not in agreement with the structure and what looks like the abandonment of 4 Takhts and Jathedars. Those working on the project I am sure will pay heed to almost 20 hours of deliberation and notes on this topic to improve the current structure that is being put forward. My views and concerns on a Free Akal Takht in an occupied Khalistan/Punjab have already been addressed in my other post.
Something I feel was not done well was that too often were they (Dr. Dhillon mainly) given stage time to address the sangat and they would create a mess again by sticking to their anti-soveriegnty/Khalistan agenda. On the last day in the last hour, I had requested that Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon not be given the mic again and to finish the concluding remarks on a somewhat positive note. I felt comfortable saying this because for 3 days it was clear what was going to happen if he went to the mic again and at this point there was no need for him to speak. Within minutes Dr. Dhillon was on the mic and again attacked Khalistan and sovereignty while indirectly praising the inclusivity of the Indian system and constitution and ridiculing those in support of sovereignty/Khalistan (“aimee na Khalistan de naare maaree jaaya karo…” – Stop chanting Khalistan slogans for no reason…). It was at this point where I had had enough and stepped forward interrupting his speech and said “3 dina layee etho ilaava koee gull naee keethee sirf dubidha paida keethee…hunn Khalistan dee gull karke dekhee…” (For 3 days you have spoken of nothing but this (defaming Khalistan) and creating confusion…try and talk about Khalistan now…). A few minutes later he got off the stage but in his mind I am sure he accomplished what he had set out to do.
At a personal level, I am glad I attended because many things were cleared up on the position of people like Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon and Professor Gurtej Singh. Both of these invididuals come from places of severe hatred and all of it is being reflected inwards towards the Sikh nation. They are disgruntled and behave inappropriately when speaking to the sangat and that was clearly on display for all 3 days. The sangat took them to task over and over again and made them frustrated and for that I am grateful that I got to meet many people with such strong convictions and intellect on this topic. I personally feel that anyone who speaks to Sikh Sovereignty should make it clear what they are speaking to rather than using it as a generic term. If a few individuals who were outright against sovereignty in terms of Khalistan were never invited to this WSC, action and decision making would have been much clearer. By accommodating their colonized mindset into the discussion, 3 days were spent arguing with individuals that were NOT GENUINE over the need for sovereignty and what it means? These are all things that can be improved upon in the future and any future organizers should also take them into consideration as well.
Everyone has an opinion on what should have happened, what happened and why it happened. I am only giving my opinion from what I saw/heard, how I reacted and how those present reacted to me as well. I would like to say one thing which I unfortunately never got to clear up when I took the stage for the first time (it unfortunately slipped my mind and I should have addressed it there and then). You can see it in the picture (attached) of writing circled with the #3 beside it (notes I was taking when Dr. Dhillon was speaking). In reference to Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara being a bechara (as per Dr. Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon), Dr. Dhillon, mere ta tuhade vargiya nu ta saade ghar deya ne vee ik peeree tho baad bhul jaana, bechare ta ussee hova ge. Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara te ohnda de saathee Singha da naa itihaas vich goonjh da ravega ke jado kaum te julam hoya ta ohde ehna ne kaum dee pagh/izzat sambhaalee (Dr. Dhillon, people like you and me will not be remembered by even the next generation of our families, we are the bechare. Jathedar Jagtar Singh Hawara and his fellow Singhs will have their names roar in our history for eternity because when the worst of times came, it was them who stood steadfast and sacrificed for the Sikh Panth).
ਜੋਊ ਮੰਯਾਨ ਤੇ ਬੀਰ ਤੋ ਕੋ ਸੜੱਕੈ ॥
ਪ੍ਰਲੈ ਕਾਲ ਕੇ ਸਿੰਧ ਬੱਕੈ ਕੜੱਕੈ ॥
ਧਸੈ ਖੇਤ ਮੈਂ ਹਾਥ ਲੈ ਤੋਹਿ ਸੂਰੇ ॥
ਭਿਟੈ ਸਾਮੂਹੈ ਸਿੱਧ ਸਾਵੰਤ ਸੂਰੇ ॥
(ਭਗਉਤੀ ਸਤੋਤ੍ਰ ਸਤਰ 21-24)
When the brave take their sword out of the sheath for righteous causes,
They roar and pass the ocean of death.
They advance sword in hand in the battlefield,
They fight in the battlefield always moving forward.