Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington

The following, entitled “Spirit of the Khalsa,” is the introduction to Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington:

“We are farmers, not terrorists.”

This slogan, first raised by the hundreds of thousands of protesting Indian farmers who began converging on Delhi in November 2020, has been amplified by their supporters around the world. The Sikhs of Punjab — the “breadbasket of India” — are at the forefront of these mass protests. Longer-lasting than the protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which began in 2019, this Kisan Morcha (Farmers Protest) represents the most significant and sustained pressure that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime has faced since his ascent to power in 2014.

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Thus, Modi is desperate to seize on every trick in the book in an attempt to defame and destroy a movement that has, as of this writing, garnered international attention and support. While farmers of all backgrounds gather from across India to oppose a set of agricultural reforms passed by his government, Modi has spotlighted the most disproportionately represented and most visible demographic among the protestors: the (often turbaned) Sikhs. Invoking the specter of China, or Pakistan, or even the separatist movement for Khalistan, Modi and his vast propaganda network have attempted to project the protesting farmers as puppets of vested interests.

The same modus operandi was adopted to disparage the anti-CAA protests that began in December 2019. Led largely by Muslims, the mass peaceful protests were dismissed as the work of “terrorists” or “jihadis” acting as stooges of Pakistan. Earlier, this approach was used to smear prominent activists and academics as “anti-nationals” or “Urban Naxals” (a reference to the communist Naxalite insurgency), thus justifying their arrests in what is known as the Bhima Koregaon conspiracy case.

Such narratives are intended to deliberately dehumanize dissenters and thus desensitize the public to their detention, torture, or even slaughter. This process was graphically illustrated in February 2020. After months of slander which ultimately culminated in a call to “shoot the traitors,” the Modi regime and its thugs broke the back of the anti-CAA protests by staging a pogrom in the streets of Delhi.

The Farmers Protest is the latest movement to enter the tyrant’s crosshairs.

From November 2020, when farmers launched the Delhi Chalo [“let’s go to Delhi”] movement and began marching towards the capital, they were greeted by batons, water cannons, and tear gas. As they were stopped at the borders of the city and made camp, they were exposed to the bitter cold of winter, causing some hundreds to fall prey to the elements. When Dalit labor rights activists like Nodeep Kaur and Shiv Kumar threw their support behind the protest, they were arrested and tortured in custody. When young farmer Navreet Singh died while participating in a protest march on Republic Day 2021, police reported it was an accident but his family insisted he had died at the hands of police. After some journalists reported the family’s allegations, they were slapped with sedition charges merely for reporting the news. In late January 2020, acting with apparent complicity by the police, a mob of hundreds of Hindu nationalists invaded one of the farmers’ encampments in an ultimately failed attempt to force them out.

What more potential — and potentially catastrophic — violence awaits the protesting farmers remains for the future to reveal.

Minorities and dissenters are under siege in Delhi and throughout India — and yet, even when the momentum of some movements (such as in case of the anti-CAA protests) is successfully broken, these beleaguered and downtrodden groups refuse to surrender. Even as their oppression is aided and abetted by malicious operators acting from foreign soil to protect the oppressors in India, the oppressed will not give up. Yet these various groups are overburdened, limping, and increasingly isolated both from the outside world as well as from each other.

Facing this relentless onslaught of violence and of poisonous propaganda which is used to justify the bloodshed, they urgently need — and, indeed, often clamor for — genuine, independent voices from outside India who are willing to raise the banner of their cause, speak the truth, and seek justice on their behalf. In the case of the Farmers Protest, one such voice could have been — and, indeed, should have been — the American Sikh Congressional Caucus.

Yet the Sikh Caucus has remained a mute spectator throughout the entire course of events. The only institution in the US Congress which claims to exist to support a community with South Asian roots has stood back in total silence as that same community endures one of its most momentous and traumatic periods in recent history. Why has the Caucus proven so useless at the time when it is most needed?

Since 1699, the Khalsa — that sovereign body of Sikhs founded by their 10th Guru, Gobind Singh — has made its presence felt on global fronts.

Impregnated by the spirit of universal fellowship, the Khalsa is ennobled by the Shabad — the hymns of the Gurus which inspire their followers to stand battle-readied to sacrifice for a righteous cause. The words of Nanak, their first Guru, ring true in their ears:

“The lowliest of the lowly, the lowest of the low born, Nanak seeks their company. The friendship of great is in vain. For, where the weak are cared for, There Thy Mercy rains.”

Over the centuries, various leaders stepped forward to put these words into action, rallying oppressed people from all folds. By 1801, victorious resistance against the tyrannies of the Indian subcontinent’s elites birthed an independent Sikh state.

Tragically, the opportunity to cultivate a free country was swiftly lost. Power was concentrated in the hands of a single emperor. The centralized state fell victim to the devious and complex designs of modern intelligence.

Despite military successes against the invading British Army, the Khalsa failed to capitalize on their victories as the empire was swallowed up with the intrigues and treacheries of the royal family. Betrayal from within the community turned their victory against outside invaders into defeat. The Dogra brothers — chief ministers and advisors to the royals — secretly engineered the grand collapse of one of the most powerful nations in the late modern history of South Asia.

Post-Dogra betrayal and manipulation of the Khalsa to sustain anti-Sikh agendas has a long and scandalous history within the subcontinent. Contemporary history has witnessed increasingly intricate attacks designed to quench the Khalsa spirit by subverting the Guru Granth Sahib and twisting the history of the Sikhs.

All throughout, agent-provocateurs played a pivotal and — as one would expect of such elements — usually unnoticed role. They particularly sought to reconnoiter emerging, politically savvy Sikh leadership in order to misdirect, undermine, and cripple it. Their efforts invariably produced infighting, bickering, and violent clashes which pit Sikhs against Sikhs. This is a global phenomenon which is not confined within the borders of the Punjab or India itself, but has haunted the diaspora as they built new homes abroad.

While their hearts remain with the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, the Khalsa have expanded around the world ever since the Sikh Empire fell in 1849.

Everywhere, the common Sikhs work to build Begampura — the fabled “city without sorrow” spoken of in their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib — and seek to align with the lowliest of the lowly. From Canada to Australia, New Zealand to the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates to Italy, the Khalsa have settled and thrived. One place particularly impacted by their presence is the United States of America.

The Sikh-American diaspora is the largest in the world. Well over 500,000 Sikhs have made the US their home. Integrating, starting businesses, raising families, generating wealth, feeding the hungry, and struggling for civil rights, American Sikhs have made their mark.

Although Sikhs first arrived in the US in 1899, the Sikh-American population really expanded from 1984 onwards. After fleeing to the West for refuge and the promise of liberty, Sikh-Americans began formulating a political lobby for the particular purpose of pursuing justice for the 1984 Sikh Genocide.

In 1985, many aligned behind the formidable leadership of Dr. Gurmit Singh Aulakh. For decades, although operating under the banner of “Khalistan,” Aulakh pursued an inclusive human rights agenda that treated the safety and security of other oppressed communities as necessary to ensuring that of the Sikhs. When Aulakh retired in the 2000s — and passed away in 2017 — one expected that his legacy might be carried forward by the American Sikh Congressional Caucus.

Founded in 2013, the Sikh Caucus was presumably the first formal federal body offering a political voice for the concerns of Sikh-Americans. However, a careful examination of its track record — as well as the man who was the driving force behind its establishment — exposes the Caucus as not just an abject failure but, arguably, a premier example of guided subterfuge crafted to declaw and destroy the Khalsa. The Caucus was packaged as a glittering gift marking a grand victory for the Sikh-American community, but, as it is unwrapped, it is revealed as an elaborate system of smoke and mirrors intended to trick Sikhs into dropping their defenses, abandoning the battle as already won, and unwittingly opening their arms to welcome defeat.

Before Hindutva — the supremacist ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the paramilitary force behind India’s ruling BJP — hoisted its saffron flag in Delhi, the flourishing Sikh-American community could have served as one final and resolute bastion against the onslaught of fascism in India. Yet where was the Sikh Caucus when Hindu nationalism laid siege to democracy in India? Why did they fail to join the fight? Were they sleeping? Or was their absence part of Hindutva’s larger strategy to strangle — preferably preemptively — all international voices of protest?

These questions have today become an issue of survival for the Panth (the global Sikh community).

As of this writing, the Farmers Protest only grows larger, with farmers, their families, and their supporters entrenched in encampments all around the outskirts of Delhi. Having already passed through many rounds of deadlocked negotiations and faced brutal police violence, they face an uncertain future. Fears for the future only increase as supporters of the movement in India and abroad speculate that the government may soon respond to the embarrassment of a protest it cannot peacefully dissipate by employing ferocious — likely fatal — suppression tactics.

Meanwhile, while the world not only watches but frequently speaks, the Sikh Caucus still slumbers.

As this book explains, the passivity of the Sikh Caucus is not a flaw but, rather, was intended by its engineers as a feature. This book examines the origins of the Caucus, how its engineers claimed it would provide Sikh-Americans with a political voice, and its infinitesimally short list of accomplishments as juxtaposed with the shockingly anti-Sikh accomplishments of its engineers. This book concludes that, while Sikhs are under siege in Delhi, their surrender was being devised in Washington, DC.

The Sikh Caucus was designed to centralize and, upon consolidation, strangle the Sikh-American political voice.

An attack on one minority is an attack on all. Robbery of one is robbery of all. When one voice is silenced, the voices of all the others grow fainter and fainter until eventually they risk fading away completely unless and until they unite to amplify the cries of each other.

In the context of India, whether it is Sikhs or Muslims, Dalits or dissenters, or others, devious attempts to stifle one group will always put another at greater risk. This book seeks to explain how that has been the primary outcome of the Sikh Caucus.

If nothing else, this book hopes to encourage individuals to differentiate between hollow distractions and real actions, to beware of fake leadership and intensively cross-examine those who demand the mantle of leadership, and to reject insularity in favor of cooperative unity.

Click to view and purchase book on Amazon.

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Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.

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