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United Sikhs Protecting The Identity Of Minorities: A Sikh's Duty

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1947-2014 (Archived)
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Jun 17, 2004
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Excerpt from the larger report from United Sikhs Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights Report 2010: The State of the Global Sikh Nation


PROTECTING THE IDENTITY OF MINORITIES: A
SIKH’S DUTY IN PRESERVING THE MOST
FUNDAMENTAL OF FREEDOMS

Identity is an inextricable part of being or existing -we name in order to identify. More specifically, identity is an inextricable part of being human –identity creates a consciousness of self versus others. Furthermore, identity is at the core of being a free human –a vital part of the subjective experience of living and a means of self-expression. As identity is such a fundamental part of self, it also becomes, in the social context, that which is the driving force for generating community and relationships with those people that share characteristics of identity. This can be organic, so to speak, from shared language, food, biological characteristics, or where people seek out others who specifically share common characteristics. It can also be self-imposed or sadly, imposed externally, by force.

We can simply look to broad examples in human history to realize the import given to the maintenance of identity, by people and governments the world-over:

During the time of the slave trade, one of the first things that slave owners would do was to remove names, cultural expression, language, etc. for purposes of gaining power and control over the enslaved.

Often, those who are conquered are subjected to re-education programs to rid themselves of their own identity. This is true of Native Americans in the United States, in certain countries where the British Empire established itself, and in certain countries where Communism was established, such as in China or the USSR.

Where there is the use of scapegoating or blaming; whether it be in Nazi-Germany, Rwanda, or India, the identity of the “Other” is what was capitalized upon by political leaders to feed nationalism at the expense of the blood of minorities or those maintaining a distinct identity.

That is because identity, at its core, is the root of freedom. The ability to explore that which is different and express one's own manifestation of self is at the crux of creativity. It is the ability to have an identity that provides the diversity in the world that makes it such a vibrant and interesting place. Some may argue that it is the differences in groups or peoples that create the difficulty and conflict we see in the world. This is simply not the case. With the exception of resource based wars, the majority of conflict has arisen where difference is attacked for the purpose of creating homogeneity, or worse, to wipe out the difference all together. Furthermore, diversity of identity is simply part of the past and present human condition; a homogenous human species is not the way our reality has evolved.

A Sikh, at one’s core, is an individual who is constantly learning, with that learning structured by one’s environment (parents, community, etc.) and through one’s own study of the path the Sikh Gurus outlined. The Sikh Gurus understood well the importance of identity, both internal and external. Self-introspection, ethical actions, and maintaining truthful character are only but a small portion of the instructions around internal identity which the Gurus outlined for Sikhs. From an external identity perspective, the Gurus blessed Sikhs with the dastaar (Sikh turban), and five kakaars (kesh, kara, kanga, kacherra, and kirpan). What is the importance of that external identity for a Sikh Other than being a gift of a communal identity from the Gurus that bestows its own strength of communality, the Gurus fashioned out of a human being an individual whose external appearance reflects a commitment to stand defiant against injustice. Through the gift of communal identity, the Gurus fashioned out of a human being an individual who has taken the responsibility of both defending the rights of others, and being the litmus test of freedom for those that choose a different identity. The dastaar was bestowed upon the Sikh as a crown, at a time where only royalty and religious men were allowed to wear a turban, and there are many examples in Sikh history where a price has been put on that crown. Many Sikhs have been tortured and have sacrificed their lives to maintain their distinctive identity, and while the general situation of Sikhs has improved drastically in the past ten years, their external religious identity continues to face new challenges. Some of these challenges include the dastaar being banned from schools in France, secondary screening and racial/religious profiling in airports in the United States and in Europe, bullying in schools, banning of kakaars, non-recognition of Sikhism as a distinctive religion or Sikhs as an ethnicity, and in the worst of cases, the same persecution as faced in the past: bias motivated attacks, torture, forcible removal of articles of faith, and death.

There is a continuing increase of globalization and economic interconnection, and most progressive individuals consider this a great benefit to the human condition. However, often under the guise of security, there is an increase of the imposition of homogeneity on a global scale: governments are using interconnected watch-lists that target incorrect individuals; others are taking cues from countries like France to impose their own restrictive laws to promote homogeneity under the guise of secularity; and others, like India, still refuse to recognize the State-sanctioned atrocities they have committed, and nations who represent themselves as champions of human rights refuse to hold them to any human rights standard for those atrocities. The freedom of the internet, increase of communication, information sharing, and ability to monitor important events have emboldened and empowered human rights defenders around the world. It is time for people of conscience, young and old, to use these tools at our disposal. Sikhs as a people are faced now with both global challenges to their identity, and a correlating global duty to protect themselves and the rights of others. It is our hope and ardaas (prayer) that all people interested in human rights will rise to the challenge. Author/Editor: Jaspreet Singh, J.D. UNITED SIKHS Legal Advisor
 

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