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Navjyot Kaur: The Sikh Quam Is Alive
Sikh’s approach to collective care threatens the structures of the Indian State, as demonstrated by the deployment of additional Delhi Police officers to the survivor’s house in Kasturba Nagar.
February 2, 2022 | 4 min. read | Opinion
TW: rape, sexual violence, state violence
Recently, a viral video of a 20-year-old Sikh woman who endured religious, gendered and sexual violence in Delhi’s Kasturba Nagar circulated on social media. This graphic and horrific video caught the attention of many, from Sikhs displaced into the diaspora to those in Punjab.
Many Sikhs, enraged by the Indian government’s continual use of violence, demanded answers about the conditions of the Sikh Quam, notions of justice, and connected this incident to how the state weaponized gendered and sexual violence in the aftermath of 1984.
Gendered and sexual violence are deeply tied to, and produced by, the state. In what looks like an attempt to criminalize Sikh anger and expression, the Delhi Police registered three separate FIRs for the alleged spreading of misinformation on Twitter and “giving religious colour” to the attack.
Now, coincidentally, the Indian media has surfaced conflicting narratives about whether the survivor’s family is Sikh or Hindu as additional police are deployed outside of the survivor’s house, restricting ‘outsiders’ access to the family. By doing so, the Indian media engages in a process of narrative building, one rooted in contradiction by simultaneously questioning her Sikh identity while asserting that the family is Hindu.
While the religious identity may matter to the Indian state’s narrative, Sikhs on the ground have vocalized that this does not change how Sikhs have and will support the family. Instead, this reveals how the Indian media’s ongoing questions fail to center the survivor’s material needs or the conditions that produce such violence.
They are more concerned about her religious affiliation to distract away from how gender, sexual and caste violence affects Sikhs and other religious minorities, caste oppressed people and others on the margins.
While the Indian media constructs these narratives, some Sikh women took to social media to express their anger, frustration, and exhaustion about living within the confining structures of a patriarchal society that treats them like they are disposable.
Unfortunately, some dismissed their responses as mere victim-blaming, “feminist” discourse and self-hatred. These reactionary responses and categorizations fail to acknowledge the totality of Sikh women’s everyday embodiment and limit the revolutionary potential of Sikh discourse by failing to name the actual perpetrators of the violence -- the project that is ‘India’ itself.
Others expressed their frustration about how the Indian media, liberals, and so-called progressives failed to cover the incident. However, this critique assumes that the Indian state and its machinery are capable of “seeing” Sikh humanity and are invested in Sikh liberation in the first place.
The varying responses call on us to move beyond conventional analysis and work towards naming the very structures that reproduce state, sexual, and gendered violence.
As Sikhs, we are not reactionary people, and we are not a reactionary Quam. The Sikh praxis provides us with a set of coordinates that enable us to name, organize, and agitate against oppressive structures and regimes.
The revolutionary embodiment of the Khalsa was demonstrated on the ground when Sikhs visited the family’s home, tied a dastaar on the survivor’s father, and held his tears. The family was then invited to join the Khalsa and take Amrit.
This type of care and collectivity is a form of protection that the state and its laws are incapable of offering.
Most notably, the survivor’s younger sister was handed shastar (weapons) for protection, which evokes the revolutionary spirit of Shaheed Kaurs, who endured violence at the hands of the state.
This intervention must be understood beyond the actions of one person or a group to reckon with how the Khalsa Panth and Sikh praxis offer survivors, of different forms of violence, an alternative way of being, resisting and revolting against fascist, oppressive and patriarchal regimes.
When the survivor’s younger sister was handed the kirpan and invited to join the Khalsa, her humanity and power were acknowledged, and she was asked to follow the legacy of Shaheed Kaurs who embodied resistance, rebellion and liberation. This articulation helps us move away from this notion of “protecting” women and instead, settles in Sikh truth and its promise to those on the margins.
“Everyday we say the same thing, that, against the oppression of the state, and for the struggle to liberate Punjab, it is necessary for the Sikh Panth and our Punjabi siblings to unite and fight.”
- Shaheed Bibi Bimal Kaur Khalsa, November 1989
The violence faced by this young Sikh woman cannot be separated from the decades of violence against Sikh women, Shaheed Kaurs and Singhs, and the global Sangat who continue to survive and mourn the loss of loved ones and the fractured ways of being, all produced by the state.
As these structures continue to exist, we must not be distracted by the mere spectacle of violence displayed in these videos, and instead mobilize alongside those who dream of liberation.
By merely sharing the spectacle of violence and graphic videos, and not naming and working against the structures that are weaponized against us, we run the risk of falling into the state’s retaliatory trap.
To truly honor and hold the survivor’s humanity, we must move beyond sharing graphic videos of violence and create meaningful change to ensure that the conditions that produce these forms of violence are dismantled.
These moments of crises necessitate a shift away from expressing frustration at each other, but instead acknowledging who to be angry at, and working towards centering a sovereign Sikh imaginary and embodiment.
The discourse should center the abolition of the structures that continually oppress and dehumanize us, not the lack of outrage from Indian liberals, many of whom are invested in upholding the structure of India, its criminalization and erasure of Sikh sovereignty.
While visiting the survivor’s home is one of many examples about how Sikhs show up, these approaches to collective care must be sustainable and embedded in our everyday embodiment. This challenges the dominant Indian state structure, which is incapable of “protecting” those who face gendered, caste, and religious violence that India itself produces.
Sikh’s approach to collective care threatens the structures of the Indian State, as demonstrated by the deployment of additional Delhi Police officers to the survivor’s house. By restricting the access of ‘outsiders' - when Sikhs are the only ‘outsiders’ that have mobilized - the state polices and criminalizes how Sikhs can intervene and directly support the survivor’s material conditions.
The Nihang Dals and Panthic Naujawan on the ground, and our Shaheeds demonstrate how to move from a reactionary to revolutionary space by evoking the spirit of the Khalsa. Moving in this way, as armed sovereign Sikhs, embodies Sant Jarnail Singh Ji’s words and the power of the Shaheeds of Khalistan.
Navjyot Kaur is a Ph.D. student who studies the criminalization of space and state violence. You can find her on Twitter @bikethewind
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