When my first book, ‘Sikhs Unlimited’, featuring extraordinary Sikh achievers of the UK and US was released, the media had questioned its purpose. Though very well defined in the introduction, yet I had to clarify that in the wake of hate crimes against Sikhs post 9/11, an effective way to clear the misunderstanding was to write about contemporary Sikh success stories.
The book, I argued, was not just an attempt to capture the Sikh migration journey, but more importantly to highlight what they had made out of their journeys. This, in my opinion, was very important as mainstream American communities had to be educated that Sikhs as a people who through their hard work, integrity and resilience had immensely contributed to their adopted country’s economy, culture and society, rather than taking away anything from it. That the Sikhs were law-abiding citizens and respected the ethics, all religions and multiculturalism of America, the very tenets on which the country was established.
Why I stress upon the importance of chronicling contemporary success stories is because far too much time and money have been invested in explaining who the Sikhs are through historical narratives, feeding people, and religious preaching.
The bottom line is that the hate crimes are refusing to abate. On the contrary, ever since the first hate killing, the incidents have been escalating (750) and assuming a more ferocious form, like the senseless one witnessed in the Wisconsin gurdwara. My heart goes out to the families who lost their near and dear ones. And for what? Just because the killer was ignorant and he confused the Sikhs as Talibanese because of the turbans and beards the Sikhs sport? Or was the killer, a suspected white supremacist, fully aware of his motive and thought of Sikhs as some cult guys who were out there to take away Christian livelihood?
In either case, lack of information about the Sikhs and their contribution in shaping the American mosaic could have been one of the deciding factors of why the killer chose the gurdwara.
My personal view is that in the times we live in, highlighting contemporary stories of success, valour, sports, civic heroics, etc. have a far wider scope of outreach and connect than the ‘living in the past’ approach. It has better PR potential than T-shirts saying ‘I am Sikh’ with an image of a nihang throwing quoits.
Showcasing militia heritage at Hola Mohalla is indispensable, but gatka on 5th Saks Avenue in a nagar kirtan procession in such times needs a rethink. The act definitely achieves its goal - to highlight the militia aspect - but keeps the community in a time machine, which refuses to upgrade itself, even though the Sikh story is much more. It’s a story of evolution and the new frontiers the Sikhs have achieved.
In other words, Sikhs need to invest more in its contemporary story-tellers, intellect and its young intelligentsia who are the only ones who can take the Sikh flag forward. For example, Sikh TV channels are a great idea, but if their prime time is about why Fauja Singh got less publicity and Amitabh Bachchan more, sorry, I’m not watching it.
We must address issues that hinder Sikh presence in the mainstream media, despite them being at top positions in all areas. Do we need a tragedy as tragic as the Wisconsin one to come onto mainstream media? Absolutely not! Organisations and advocacy groups such as United Sikhs and Saldef have done yeoman’s service and reached to other community stake-holders through various programmes, but they are running out of ideas. Not that there is a lack of talent, but scarcity of funds can make you run out of ideas. The community has to invest in its talented people and help organisations such as these, who by now have a clue of what to do but can’t, due to various reasons.
T Sher Singh, editor of online Sikh magazine www.sikhchic.com, has through his columns repeatedly questioned the quality of the Sikh PR and rightly so. He has repeatedly shown the courage to question and I have no reason to disagree with him. I know this is not the best time to raise this matter, for the wounds are still green. I promise, I did not want to. All I wanted to do was write a few lines which would act as a balm to the US Sikh community. Believe me, it was the pent-up frustration that took the better of me, for I’m petrified thinking what the future has in store for the US Sikhs. No, not even petrified, for I know that Sikhs are resilient and will bounce back. Perhaps, I just wanted to scream and ask god, “Why do humans hate each other so much?”
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based author-columnist. The views expressed are personal.)