If you ask someone: Do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? Most people will throw up their hands in frustration and say: How do I know? I don’t have a crystal ball!
But the events of yesterday and today carry in them definite clues about the events of tomorrow. The last forty years of Sikh history had carried some clues about the difficult situation in which the Sikh nation finds itself today.
During the years just before the partition of India, the Sikhs didn’t have a definite game plan of their own. Instead of controlling their own destiny, they delegated that control to Indian Congress. In retrospect, it seems so shocking that the Sikh who represented the nation during crucial negotiations with the British government was actually chosen by the Congress leadership. The role Baldev Singh played in selling out the best interests of the Sikh nation has been played over and over again by many others — and one as late as last month.
But that is not all. The most unfortunate thing is that such persons have been getting away with it. In 1947, even such Sikh leaders as Master Tara Singh and Giani Kartar Singh failed to recognize the fact that Congress leadership had imposed a totally unrepresentative personality on the Sikh nation. If such was the arrogance of Congress even before assuming power, how would they behave once they would control all the guns? If this question had been raised by Sikh leaders in 1947, it would have saved us the inconvenience of asking many more questions in ensuing years.
All of you are familiar with the many promises made to the Sikh nation by Congress leaders ranging from Mohandas Gandhi to Pandit Nehru.
Why was the Congress making false promises as early as 1929? Why the Hindu leadership has _ always tried to control Sikh affairs rather than let Sikhs take charge of their own destiny? In 1961 Punjab census, a sizeable Hindu Punjabi speaking population declared that their mother tongue was Hindi. What kind of people disowns their own mother tongue? In combined Punjabi Suba, the Sikhs would have been a minority. So why were the Hindus in a hurry to separate?
The only answer I can think of is that Hindus have always perceived the Sikh nation as an adversary. They also perceived the Sikh nation as a hardworking people with a national character and tenacity of purpose. Whether it is in the fields, the marketplace or the battle field, the Sikhs have shown an indefeatable ability to succeed, and as smart as our Hindu friends are, they pursued a policy of keeping the Sikh nation under check and unaware of its tremendous potential.
As a result, the Sikhs never planned for the future. They reacted to events as these happened or tried to explain why these happened in most cases trying to find the fault within.
Sikhs were massacred by the thousands in and around their most sacred shrine Darbar Saheb. Most thought it would never happen. None of us had ever thought how would we react if it did happen.
The merchants and civil servants in Sikh communities of New Delhi and Kanpur were proud of putting a distance between themselves and that “extremist, Kirpan swinging Jat in Punjab.” These Sikhs were the so-called moderates and supposedly lived in “harmony” with their Hindu neighbors.
And hundreds were massacred in their own “peaceful” neighborhoods as the Indian police joined organized Hindu mobs and the Army looked the other way.
Most of these Sikhs never thought it would happen to them. And none of them ever thought what would they do if it did happen? The Sikhs of Punjab and New Delhi learned their lesson the hard way I sincerely hope that they have. But in these situations there is also a message and a lesson for the Sikhs of North America who live in a freer and certainly a lot more comfortable environment.
One day, God forbid, will our Gurdwaras be attacked in American cities? Most of us will say Oh! No! It cannot happen here, will unruly crowds massacre us in our own communities? Most will say that is out of the question.
I sincerely hope these people are right. And these are extreme scenarios. But discrimination in these United States can take many forms.
Can you imagine what thoughts might cross the mind of an average American when he sees a Sikh boarding an airplane? The American and international perception of Sikh nation has been greatly damaged during the past few years thanks to an uninformed media and some extremely organized propaganda by Indian government.
I rarely see a newspaper story where the words “extremist or terrorist” do not proceed or follow the word Sikh. As these perceptions are consolidated, it will be impossible to get rid of these labels.
In the years ahead, we face ‘the challenge of preserving our religious and cultural heritage in a highly permissive society. This is also a free society. But it does not mean that you get your rights delivered to you on a silver platter. All it means is that you are free to lobby for your cause.
Let me give an example. Recently, the American armed forces withdrew the concessions to Sikh Americans under which they could keep their turbans and beards. Some will casually say so what? Just don’t join the Armed Forces. But one day, Sikhs in factories could also be barred from wearing turbans or keeping Sikh style beards. Someone could say it is a safety hazard.
The point is that once an authoritative body takes an action how do you fight it? In this country, there is only one way: and that is to be politically organized.
It is in this context, that I appeal to all Sikhs living in North America to unite and support the World Sikh Organization USA. Most of us think that this body was solely established to support Sikhs of Punjab and the level of our enthusiasm is often directly proportionate to the situation in Punjab.
The struggle in Punjab is the struggle of the entire Sikh nation. It is our moral and national duty to support not only the Sikhs in Punjab but those Sikhs who are struggling for their just rights anywhere in the world.
But we cannot effectively perform that duty unless we are well organized right here in these United States. And at the expense of sounding rather selfish, I must say that our greatest obligation is to our own next generations for whom we have chosen this environment. We must arrange for their religious and cultural orientation so that they grow up to be Sikhs first and Sikhs last. And we must create a political and economic base for them from which they can compete with other Americans on an equal footing.
It is this aspect of World Sikh Organization and its mission that I wished to highlight today. We must organize ourselves. We must plan for the future and anticipate the kinds of problems that we could possibly face.
In today’s meeting, I intend to make several proposals and establish some task forces to at least make a beginning in that direction.
However, I cannot accomplish anything without the devoted cooperation of all of you, and every member of our community. One individual ‘than only point out the way and perhaps take a leading role. But the ultimate ‘success will require every ounce of energy and all the resources that we can muster for this cause.
During the last two decades, I have tried to make my own individual contribution towards the welfare of the Sikh community and all of North American Sikhs have done so in one form or another. What we need to do is to channel all these efforts in one direction to maximize their effects.
Let me also remind you that this is a slow process and there are no instant pay offs. A political organization is not like a vending machine where you put the money and something comes out immediately.
And if it doesn’t you are justified in kicking the machine.
For the next two years, all of us bear a heavy responsibility. We are accountable to the community and most important to our own conscience, when we pass the torch to the next group of runners, let us make sure that it is at a point much farther than the one at which we started.
With traditional Sikh tenacity and God’s will, we should be able to accomplish this goal.
And if we are organized and united we do not have to worry about tomorrow. If someone asks us what will happen tomorrow? Well, we still won’t be able to predict but I hope we can say with confidence: “No matter what happens, we are ready.”