Over the last day, Sub-Inspector Gagandeep Singh, Uttarakhand Police, has done much for the image of Sikhs and the police force. In the immense sharing of his photograph and deed – saving a man from a mob – I see a celebration of a certain kind of heroism which should be basic for all our security forces. The forces exist so that this is normal, routine work, not heroism. Please note I completely commend Gagandeep and am proud for him but let us look beyond.
I wonder if the celebrations actually show up our lack of trust and our recognition of how broken the system is, that we now look at the uniform through the lens of religion – Sikh officer, Muslim victim, Hindu mob. It is indicative of our pathos as a society that we doubt the very forces we have created to protect us. If that is the case, then to me it is the end of the purpose of the uniform.
No doubt, our distrust comes from Thoothukudi, from Gadchiroli, Hashimpura, Bastar, Kashmir, Punjab, North-East. The list is endless. In fact, we need to look at no list.
For me, growing up in Punjab in the 1980s – when we didn’t know who were more dangerous, the police or the militants – even now the sight of the khaki uniform makes my heart miss a beat.
Many women I know tell me a standard instruction they receive in life: If in a tight spot at an odd hour, do not go alone to the police station.
Given the rise of a particular type of politics of late which will somehow try to run down this officer, I am taking the opportunity to state that as far Sikhs go, their sense of duty and justice remains unparalleled both before and after the Indian nation-state was formed.
During India’s independence movement, out of 121 freedom fighters given the death sentence, three-fourth were Sikhs – 93. Out of 2,646 freedom fighters sentenced to life imprisonment in Cellular Jail, four-fifth were Sikhs – 2147. Out of roughly 1.5 lakh people arrested during Emergency, half were from Punjab alone.
It would be wonderful to imagine that all Sikhs stand for justice, but sadly that is not the case. That is why perhaps while Gagan's story is travelling in the English social media and news sites, I do not see it being reported enough in Punjabi. Look at Punjab now. Look at its collapse of police system evidenced by the recent case – hushed up – where senior police officers were speaking in court against each other.
Look at the police system’s collapse that now Punjab chief minister has asked for central forces to guard state jails. There are a million such instances.
As a nation-state we need to ask what have we done to the sense of justice by which the Sikhs are known to stand? As a nation-state we need to ask what have we done to our security forces? To me, Gagan's own act of heroism needs to inspire us to go beyond it – start real discussions, call for real change, not just end with praise on social media. That would be our true tribute to him.
(The writer is an author and is working on a book on Punjab. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)