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Ranveer Singh: Deep Sidhu’s Lasting Impact
Khudmukhtyari (self-determination), Patshahi Dava (political rule) and Khalistan
February 24, 2022 | 5 min. read | Opinion
When news of Deep Sidhu’s passing erupted all over social media last week, there was an instantaneous outpouring of grief and pain. This was equally matched with a flood of anger and resentment from the global Sikh diaspora and from groups across Panjab. The flurry of varying emotions not only revealed the breadth and depth of Deep’s reach, but also highlighted the unanimous feeling expressed by all that his death was orchestrated by the state.
The footage of his 4 x 4 caved in; the tire marks from the truck that he allegedly hit on an otherwise unobstructed freeway; the never before seen bottle of alcohol that lay motionless on the seat the day after the accident, perfectly intact despite the carnage around it; the speed with which his body was cremated without a proper autopsy or toxicology report, plus all the other inconsistencies on show from the Indian police officers and reporters, only helped to intensify the initial suspicions which Sikhs and Panjabis felt, that this was a political assassination; a staged encounter.
Last week Shamsher Singh wrote an excellent piece about ‘Honoring Deep Sidhu’, within which he highlighted the inextricable link between Deep’s work and the work of Sikhs before him who centred sovereign Sikh thought and action in how they mobilised and stood up against the oppressive ways of the Indian state.
When we look at Deep’s death against the backdrop of his work, especially in relation to his advocacy for khudmukhtyari (self-determination) and Patshahi Dava (political rule) over the land of Panjab, it becomes increasingly clear why Sikhs believe he was killed. As Shamsher Singh wrote “Deep said Khalistan when he was asked not to. When his fellow Sikhs were demonised and silenced, Deep shouted Khalistan louder.”
This was evident from the moment Deep took to the activist stage in 2020 during the initial assemblies across Panjab, in particular at the Shambu Morcha, before the #DilliChalo movement evolved into the Farmers Protest.
Deep expressed how the uprising across Panjab was less about the agricultural bills, but more about a fight for survival, a survival for Sikhs to exist as Sikhs in Panjab. This sentiment coming on the back of the Sikh Genocide, which itself was engineered to violently suppress Sikh political dissent, was one which Deep spoke about many times.
While other leaders in positions of power inevitably faltered, whether at the state or central government level, Deep led the movement headed towards Delhi from the front; withstanding the police water cannons, tear gas and barricades. He was a constant voice of reassurance and vitality in an otherwise convoluted space where unionist leaders often not only distanced themselves from his activism, but worked to undermine his endeavours. Despite this, he remained resolute because he understood the bigger picture; he understood the games that Delhi was playing with the livelihood of Sikhs in Panjab.
Deep raised the Kesri Nishan Sahib, endured jail time and advocated for a politics which upheld Panthic values and aspirations. He was passionate, intelligent and articulate with his words, but what caught everyone’s attention was his constant reference to Sant Jarnail Singh ji Khalsa Bhindranwale and the Sikh martyrs of the Khalistan movement.
It was clear he understood the deeper conflicts between Panjab and the central government in Delhi which Sant Jarnail Singh ji spoke about and later exposed to the world with the spirited stand of defiance in 1984 which was the point of no return as Sikhs soon initiated the first phase of the Khalistan movement.
Deep not only understood the significance of this moment but he openly spoke about it, and for this he was unsurprisingly vilified by the Indian media. But for Sikhs, his words and actions were a breath of fresh air and he continued to be a popular and inspirational speaker in the weeks leading up to his death.
His last speech was befitting of his meteoric rise and goes down as a seminal moment in the fight for Khalistan for two main reasons.
The first is perhaps obvious – by waving the jharoo (broom) in one hand, he challenged the perception that Sikhs of Panjab were going to accomplish anything with the tools given to them by the state. It went beyond what many believed to have been a bipartisan jibe towards the AAP because the jharoo was both a literal and symbolic representation of how the Indian state has sought to suppress and consume Sikh political mobilisation since 1947. In the same speech he spoke about khudmukhtyari and Patshahi Dava over the land of Panjab, as he had done during the Farmers Protest. He also expressed the futility of aspiring to meet officials in Delhi without any actual control over the social, economic and political wellbeing of Panjab.
The second reason, and perhaps the more significant, given what followed days after the speech, was that this mode of grassroots awakening was a hallmark of those who he revered and constantly referred to.
Nobody can say he reached the levels of impact that Panthic mobilisation had established in the early 1980s under the stewardship of Sant Jarnail Singh, and he was the first to admit that, but it is no exaggeration to suggest that he was beginning to tread that path. There was talk of him aspiring to take Khande-Di-Pahul and become an initiated Khalsa, which leaves much to celebrate and admire about his political allegiance.
Prior to his activism in the Farmers Protest little was known about him outside of Panjab, but his popularity and pull were directly connected to how he advocated for the sovereignty of Panjab. The reason he was able to ground himself so effortlessly was because Sikh polity was at the nucleus of his activism.
What Deep Sidhu did more than anything else is demonstrate how the subsuming nature of the Indian state, interwoven within the demands of modernity and capitalism, is not absolute. No matter how intruding or suffocating it is for Panjab, or indeed the Sikhs, to exist within the stranglehold of the Indian state, Deep’s timely appearance is a flicker of hope amongst the darkness that has engulfed the land of Panjab. He dared to speak of another political reality, one founded upon the revolution started by Guru Nanak Sahib, and it was this radical move that instantly pitted him against the state.
This is why Sikhs across the globe believe Deep was killed. If he had advocated for anything less than khudmukhtyari and stayed clear of associating himself with Khalistan, there is a chance he may have been alive. But the moment he began to mobilise the people and speak about being armed, that is when the state acted.
Notwithstanding the decade long civil war that Sikh jujharoos (militants) fought against Indian authorities in the late 80s and early 90s, the last person to have directed Sikhs to recognise the value and significance of the Kirpan in such an open and public manner was Sant Jarnail Singh ji, which is why it is crucial for Sikh organisations to understand the wider politics which Deep spoke about and continue to organise on sovereign Sikh principles.
Ranveer Singh writes from Scotland, UK, and is the co-founder of the National Sikh Youth Federation (NSYF). He is an Author and Chief Editor at Khalis House Publishing. Ranveer has a BA in Law and is currently undertaking an MA in Philosophy. His latest book is entitled "Patshahi Mehima - Revisiting Sikh Sovereignty (2021)", which has received early praise from distinguished professors in the field of Sikh Studies and History. You can find him on Twitter at @ranveersp
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