A question that is frequently emerging these days in online debates and commentary is – why do Punjabis and Sikhs in the diaspora care so much about the ‘Delhi Chalo’ farmers’ march? These commentators also like to suggest to us folks sitting in Canada, US, the UK, or Australia – that we should just mind our own business and quit speaking up on the issue.
This is actually a common critique from Indians. After all, what do these Canadians know, living a privileged life in the West, disconnected from the ground realities in India? However, this critique lacks a very basic understanding of Punjabi culture and the Sikhi that moves us.
The ‘Sikhi’ That Inspires Us – No Matter Where We Are In The World
We care because that is our people fighting on the long road to Delhi. Those are our grandparents, our brothers and sisters – literally and figuratively. It is our people pushing over barricades, braving water cannons, and walking through tear gas.
It is also the same Sikhi that inspires all of us, regardless of where we may be around the globe.
The revolutionary drive to change the world, the resolve to fight injustice wherever it may present itself, and the chardi kala spirit that brings the grit needed for it all.
Watch almost every Punjabi cellphone video or interview from the protest and you see that Sikhi manifest itself repeatedly. From little children to elders all describing a resolve based on a proud history of sacrificing one’s life for the greater good, a proud history of marching on Delhi like Baghel Singh, a proud history of fighting against all odds.
It is our family and friends out there, people we care for deeply at a personal level. We worry for them and will advocate for them in whatever way we can.
Sikh Diaspora-Driven Advocacy & Its Impact
Our advocacy can range from battling misinformation on social media to encouraging politicians to speak out. Punjabis and Sikhs in Canada, for example, are respected, connected, and powerful.
Our ability to mobilise at a grassroots level through advocacy organisations and community institutions means we have a voice that we can project into the world.
We have seen this happen again with the ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement. Canadian MPs, MPPs, and City Councillors from across the political spectrum have all spoken out, lending their support to the cause. They have called on the Indian government to stop the violence, bringing international media attention to what is happening.
During a Guru Nanak Dev ji Gurpurab event, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, shared with Sikh Canadians that his government has reached out to Indian authorities, through various channels, to share concerns regarding police brutality and asking that the right to peaceful protests be respected.
This came after the leaders of Canada’s largest opposition parties made public statements in support of farmers as well – the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh and the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole. That is incredibly powerful, and if it even helps a little in supporting farmers on the ground, including those from outside Punjab like Rajasthan, UP and Haryana, then our diaspora-driven advocacy was worth it.
‘Don’t Expect Us – Sikh Diaspora – To Stay Quiet’
It is also not lost to us in the West that many in India do not complain about the HSS, Overseas Friends of BJP, or Congress politicians trying to raise money abroad, with the same vigour that they complain about organic advocacy from Sikhs in Canada or elsewhere.
We are witnessing a major moment of agitation and protest. Like those we could only read about in the past. And we are witnessing it as it happens. You are going to be very disappointed if you were expecting us in the diaspora to stay quiet.
(Jaskaran Sandhu is a senior consultant with Crestview Strategy. He previously served as executive director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as senior adviser to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. He tweets @JaskaranSandhu_. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)