• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

USA A Militant Tone Goes Against Sikh Nature

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
A Militant Tone Goes Against Sikh Nature

by Anwar Iqbal


A sheathed sword lies near the altar in the Sikh Religious Society`s temple in Palatine and a meal is always ready in its kitchen for a hungry visitor.

This reflects the reputation Sikhs hold in their Indian Punjab homeland:

peaceful, friendly and hard working but ferocious when it comes to defending their faith or honor.

Recognizable by their long flowing hair wrapped into turbans, they worked hard to convert their small agricultural province into the ``grain basket of India.`` But they fought the Mogul emperors of India centuries ago, the British in 1947 and now they are fighting again. This time their foe is the Hindus, their allies in the struggle against the Moguls and the British.

In Chicago, their community is one of the richest of those who have migrated from the Indian subcontinent. Mostly doctors, engineers, teachers and middle-class businessmen, the Sikhs in the Chicago area have so far quietly pursued their professions.

But this month, 50 or more Sikhs from the Chicago area demonstrated outside the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., where Jasbir Singh, an inmate at the federal prison in Oxford, Wis., was admitted after he went on 17-day hunger strike because he was not allowed to wear the traditional Sikh turban. Jasbir and three other Sikhs are serving two- to five-year sentences for conspiring to kill Bhajan Lal, former chief minister of the Indian province of Haryana, in New Orleans in 1985.

Although the Sikhs have always been very conscious of their religious duties, this recent militant mood is also a reflection of their conflicts with Hindus in India.

Sikh community leaders here are worried that violence in India and elsewhere is giving the community a bad name. Talking about the July 7 massacre of 72 bus passengers by unidentified gunmen in Haryana, Giani Mohinder Singh, priest of the Palatine temple, contended that Sikhs were not responsible for the killings. ``These people were killed on the orders of New Delhi to give a bad name to the Sikhs,`` he says. ``A true Sikh never kills innocent people.``

The Sikhs lived peacefully in India for almost 40 years until 1984 when Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar, the equivalent of the Vatican to them. The raid divided the Sikh community into two factions: those backing the continued union with India and those wanting a separate state in Punjab.

The 6,000 Sikhs who have adopted the Chicago area as their home also felt the impact of the events in Punjab. Initially those supporting a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, were in a minority here but their number increased with continued clashes between the Hindus and Sikhs in India. ``Now the majority wants Khalistan,`` says Sardar Surinderpal Singh Kalra an office bearer of the World Sikh Organization.

M.S. Sidhu, a Chicago-based journalist working for the Canadian weekly Sikh News, is a staunch Khalistan supporter. ``Hindus and Sikhs have now been permanently divided,`` he says. ``The entire Hindu order stands condemned in our eyes.``

Harjab Singh Sanga, general secretary of the Sikh Religious Society, Chicago, which runs the temple at 1280 Winnetka Ave., contends that ``all Sikhs living here want Khalistan--even those who don`t say so.``

Sanga, 47, is a typical example of Sikh success in the United States. He came to Chicago in 1968, studied at the University of Illinois-Chicago and works as an industrial engineer.

By chance, Sanga, once an Indian nationalist, was in Punjab when the Golden Temple was attacked, and he says the experience turned him into a Sikh separatist. An active community worker, he also publishes a newsletter called the ``Sikh Panth`` from Chicago.

Jaidev Singh Bhattal, 36, and his friend, Tirvinder Bhattal, 32, came to the United States in 1972. Once driving leased taxicabs, they now own an auto workshop and 10 cabs. They have given $1 a day to the Palatine temple every day since they came to the United States in 1972.

There are many like them who give donations to the temple, which is spread over 14 acres and was built in 1979 at a cost of $1 million. Their donations keep the kitchen at the temple running 24 hours a day; about 400 people get a free lunch at the temple every Sunday.

But the money given by the Sikhs also goes to the Shaheedi or martyr fund of the World Sikh Organization. Because it is spent for the families of those killed in clashes with Hindus and the Indian troops, the Indian government says the Sikhs in the U.S. are financing the separatist movement.

Religious singers are invited from India to perform at the Sikh temples in the United States. Harbhajan Singh, 48, a blind religious singer, is in Chicago with two colleagues--Jasbir Singh and Karam Singh. Their performance at the Palatine temple every Sunday is open to the public.



📌 Follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Channel on WhatsApp: