Jodh Singh: With Struggles Come Sikh Valour And Victory
Our fears cannot overshadow the importance of a mindset attuned to the spirit of chardi-kala and an understanding of hukam
February 9, 2021 | 3.5 min. read
It has been a long week.
Following the events in Delhi on January 26th, many of us have been glued to our screens, instinctively tapping and scrolling through our feeds for new information from on-the-ground.
It is tough to see reports of internet blackouts, arrests of journalists, organized mob attacks, and aggressive police crackdowns all while a vicious IT-cell coordinates hate campaigns online.
What is more disheartening to me, though, is how much of the conversation on Sikh spaces on social media is one of defeat, grief, and fear. Although I do not think all is gloomy and there is much to be hopeful for, I understand why some feel this way.
For those thinking of that potential worst-case-scenario, I would like to propose an alternative interpretation; one informed by the broader scheme of Sikh ethos.
The Sikh history we recount is a glorious one, dotted with moments of valor and victory. What is often missed, however, is that said moments were not representative as a whole, but often just glimpses in a larger context of struggle.
For example, the successful conquest of Sirhind was predicated with Sikh anger at the horrid treatment of the Guru’s family. And even the unstoppable army of Banda Singh Bahadur met a gruesome end in Delhi, where contemporary sources recount horrifically how many Sikhs willingly chose to be executed en mass and how Banda himself is said to have accepted this as his divinely ordained fate.
The misl era was literally defined by Sikhs waging an existential war for their very survival. The Khalsa conquest of the Red Fort in 1763 was especially powerful for a people that had been reduced to living in jungles and deserts for decades, separated from their families who often had to face burdens from vengeful Mughal soldiers.
Even in the short-lived golden era in Sikh history of rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, how easily we forget that Ranjit Singh’s own grandfather, Charat Singh, was witness to the “vadda ghallughara” where he sustained several wounds as he and others defended against a massive attack that is estimated to have wiped out a majority of the Sikh population at the time. And even this golden age ended with two bloody wars with the British and the disarmament of the Khalsa army; after which several observers opined that the Sikh people seemed so thoroughly defeated that they were destined to fade away and just be a relic of history.
One does not need to even go this far back - in the 1920s, Sikhs were witness to a graphic massacre at Nankana Sahib, after which they mobilized and were then subject to brutality unleashed by colonial police. And post-independence in the three decades prior to the year of 1984, over 150,000 willingly courted arrest as they peacefully protested for the Punjabi Suba, against Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the emergency, and the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
Even this brief skim does a disservice by itemizing broad segments of Sikh history into a grand narrative, thereby desensitizing us to the scope of these events. But on an individual level for those who went through it — living in prisons, facing physical brutality, and seeing the death of friends and family would have been painful to go through then as it would be now.
What makes our reading of this history a positive one, though, is that it never was a snapshot of a particular moment. Those who had to fend in the wilderness could not return to their own home for years, but were sure that they would one day rip apart thrones. Those who lingered in jail cells as they joined mass movements were not assured that anyone else was watching, but lived with the conviction that this was to be a part of something larger than their individual selves.
When we pull back even further, we can even note these ebbs and flows are not just characteristic of Sikh history, but the very nature of reality.
In the second pauri to Japji, the Guru informs us of the divine order, hukam, that fundamentally defines all that happens in this world. The highs and lows, even the happiness and pain we feel are all ordained as such. All are bound to this hukam and none are free from it.
Social media is a powerful tool. It has connected us with others across the world and given a means to heroes who have tirelessly taken up the duty to keep us informed. But for it to maintain its potent effect and not weigh down on us, our fears cannot overshadow the importance of a mindset attuned to the spirit of chardi-kala and an understanding of hukam.
We owe that much to those who have struggled in the past, today, and all the future generations to come.
Jodh Singh hails from the United States. He is an engineer by profession and a hobbyist interested in exploring the history and philosophy of the Sikh tradition. He can be found at @YungBhujang on Twitter and Instagram.
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