Talveen Tarrant: Why Sikhs Need To Stand In Solidarity With Palestinians

Despite our own (continuing) hardships, we fight for justice on behalf of others as well

Talveen Tarrant
May 14, 2021 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion

This past week of Eid al-Fitr should have been one of celebration with family and friends for Palestinians. Instead, it has been marked by mourning, scarcity, and fear as many of them bury their loved ones and lose everything. 

In some of the worst violence to date in a long-standing history of oppression, at least 145  people have died so far, including 41 children, in Israel’s bombing of Gaza. 

While some American politicians and other countries stand by Israel, people across the world have been protesting for justice and an end to Israeli state-sponsored violence against the Palestinian people. 

Supporters of Israel have said it has every right to defend itself in the way it has against Hamas, who have launched rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, especially considering that it is recognized as a terrorist organization around the world, including the United States and Canada.

While that appears reasonable at face value, others have correctly noted that this argument is unfair and lacks any nuance. The power balance is drastically asymmetrical, the use of force is incredibly disproportional, and while Israel is engaging in illegal settlements and occupation the Palestinians are defending themselves from further oppression and erasure. The existence of Hamas does not excuse the actions of Israel nor should it stop Sikhs from sharing solidarity with Palestine. 

Like Palestinians, Sikhs have faced their own share of state-sponsored violence. 

In 1984,  Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used the Indian Army to attack numerous Gurdwaras, including the centre of the Sikh world, Harmandir Sahib in Operation Blue Star. Commandos used in the invasion of the Darbar Sahib complex were trained by Israel. The operation was meant to break the Sikh people, its aspirations for autonomy, and burn its institutions. This would also be a precursor for the Sikh Genocide, one of the darkest periods of Sikh history.

While vastly different circumstances and mindful of not making false equivalencies, for some the attack on Al-Aqsa last week triggered memories of Indian government raids on Gurdwaras throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.  

Despite our own (continuing) hardships, we fight for justice on behalf of others as well. 

Sikhs in Southeast Asia were on the frontlines in providing aid, support, and solidarity for Rohingya people who have been a target by the Myanmar state for decades. Sikhs have lent their support as allies for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and protests in June 2020 with Sikhs all over the U.S. providing free meals for hungry protestors. Social Justice is an inherent part of being Sikh and cannot be separated from the Sikh identity. 

Fighting for the rights of marginalized individuals has been an essential part of my upbringing and the upbringing of many other Sikhs. Tolerance, respect, and justice are important life values instilled by our Gurus and found throughout our people's history.

We know it when we see it.

It causes us to pause then when we realize how many BJP, RSS, and Hindutva supporters and actors in India so adamantly support Israel’s actions. The response and language coming from the Israeli state in responding to international condemnation align closely with the language the Modi government uses as well. Human rights organizations around the world that Sikhs, Kashmiris, Muslims, and Dalits often quote to highlight the atrocities they have faced, and continue to face, at the hand of oppressive Indian governments are also raising concerns about what is happening to Palestinians.

It comes as no surprise then that Sikhs within the diaspora, many of whom had to leave their own homeland due to Partition and the 1984 Genocide, have been outspoken in supporting the rights of Palestinians and fighting back against the narrative that Palestine, not Israel, is the aggressor.

Within the UK, a Sikh activist group known as the National Sikh Youth Federation, tweeted their support for Palestinians saying, “From Khalistan to Palestine we stand with the liberation struggles of sovereign peoples resisting colonial occupation and dispossession. Recognize that our struggles and our liberation are interconnected, think about our history and where we stood and where we stand today.” 

Other prominent Sikhs in the diaspora have also lent their support to Palestine, including Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, UK Labour MP, Ravi Singh, founder of Khalsa Aid, and Rupi Kaur, an internationally recognized poet. Leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada, Jagmeet Singh, also tweeted his support for Palestinians, urging Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “uphold international law.” 

Equity and justice guide how Sikhs move within the world. One cannot separate being Sikh and fighting for social justice causes. As Sikhs, it is our duty to stand in solidarity with Palestinians fighting against settler colonialism and exercising their right to freedom and autonomy.

Staying neutral is not an option.


Talveen Tarrant is a freelance reporter advocating on social justice issues. You can find her on Twitter at @tavleeniezukini.

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