BY INDIRA PRAHST
The largest crowd in the history of the Surrey Khalsa Day Parade, in excess of 200,000 people, from across all cultures and religions, came out to participate last Saturday. Photo by Chandra Bodalia
OVER 200,000 people enthusiastically participated in the Surrey Khalsa Day Nagar Kirtan which was organized by the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara to remember the creation of the Khalsa in 1699 and which was a resounding success. There were numerous booths along the parade route with a slew of diverse floats and this year in particular, there was an intense spirit which was felt when the beautifully adorned Guru Granth Sahib float passed by.
Having attended this Nagar Kirtan for several years, I have to say that there was a powerful energy that could be felt. While people were in high spirits, Sikh youth in particular really seemed to be proud to express their Sikh identity from the heart. It felt like a breath of fresh air. Past tensions created by a section of biased mainstream media and some South Asians with their own selfish personal agenda were at an all-time low as those elements have been thoroughly exposed and disgraced. This naturally resulted in youth feeling freer at heart to express aspects of Sikh identity.
Contrary to what media in general and others have said, the event continued to be political in nature. The subject of Khalistan was not new to the parade, with slogans being chanted at booths along 128 Street, Sikh youth wearing Khalistan t-shirts and several Khalistan flags hoisted on floats. However, what was new was more reflectivity and discussion about Khalistan – beyond mere sloganeering.
The float that drew a lot of attention especially among Sikh youth, was the Khalistan one on which two huge banners had been mounted on both sides. Images consisted of Sikh martyrs, including a large image of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale at the centre of the banner, along with captions. The Khalistan float also had the words Sadda Haq on it in connection with the recent film that was banned in Punjab and other parts of India.
Some university students told me that they felt it was their right to talk about this issue especially on Khalsa Day as they had researched the subject. One former UBC Asian Studies student told me that when he saw the Khalistan float he thought about the Sikh history of 1984 and the sacrifices that were made for the Panth and continues to have many questions around the innocent lives that were lost as well as the role of the state.
I asked a Sikh youth who was selling DVD’s at the Khalistan float how he felt doing this and he said: “Good. A lot of the new generation they don’t know anything about our Sikh history, which is ridiculous. I am here and support the need for youth to know more about it.”
Kirpa Kaur, a Sikh activist and university student, shared her thoughts as she walked with the Khalistan float: “It is an inspiring moment to openly and fearlessly name and claim Khalistan. It’s still alive and it’s powerful to be able to voice it so loudly in audio and visually and also to put a different optic to it – young women, people dressed up and colours.”
Year after year the issue of Khalistan has cropped up because of distorted media reports in spite of the RCMP – and the federal government including Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself – having made it abundantly clear that peaceful advocacy for Khalistan is part of our freedom of speech. In fact, last week on Friday, the RCMP told me as they were checking the floats at Dashmesh Gurdwara, that the display of Sikh militants is not an illegal act.
Moninder Singh, spokesperson for the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara, in response to my question about the Nagar Kirtan’s significance said what also matters at this parade is “the ability to openly speak about Khalistan, to speak about a separate state and our right as human beings to determine our own destinies.”
What was new this year was the float supporting Professor Davinderpal Singh Bhullar’s case against the death penalty and information being handed out with his image present throughout the Nagar Kirtan in the form of posters and t-shirts. Also, a float depicting the Ghaddar movement, commemorating its centenary, was also part of the Khalsa Day Parade.
However, I wish to add that some Sikhs that I spoke to said that the removal of the original images and photographs of “shaheeds” used to evoke a particular feeling unique to that time period, which the current banners are not able to capture in the same way, thus diluting the political and cause. Others noted that the Sikh Genocide tent was not erected and had not been for the last few years. When I asked Moninder Singh about this, he told me that this was not “political”; rather they want to erect something professionally in digital form.
Indeed, many Sikh issues were raised at the Khalsa day parade. When I spoke with the former president of Dashmesh Gurdwara, Saudager Singh Sandhu, at Dasmesh Gurdwara he was glad there was advocacy for Prof. Bhullar, and that people should be asking why he became a “Sikh soldier.” On the issue of Khalistan, he said Sikhs needed to be united on deeper levels, and discard the caste system that divides them. He added: “Sikhs at the moment are in a deep jungle; they don’t know where to go and in what direction to walk” and that “Sikhs should take the path of Gurbani.”
Saudager Singh Sandhu
There is no doubt that Vaisakhi is one of the most giving festivals and what is often invisible to the eye is the enormous time put into it by Sikh families who spend days cooking for the event. On the evening before the Khalsa Day Parade, Satinderpal Singh Gill showed me the room at the Gurdwara where women were adorning the float carrying the Guru Granth Sahib and noted that it was “a labour of love.” I asked him about his thoughts on Khalsa Day and he said he continues to believe in a Sikh nation and hopes that more Sikhs would take “Amrit, which would guide their path” to it.
Satinderpal Singh Gill
In closing, Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara President Gian Singh Sandhu told me that the essence of Khalsa Day is “the birth of the Sikh faith which Guru Nanak Ji started and Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa Panth.” For some Sikhs what matters is
Gian Singh Sandhu
following the legacies left behind by their Gurus and in particular, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who preached the worship of one Supreme Being, love, equality and not to walk away from injustice. Indeed, human rights advocacy and the pursuit of justice should remain an inextricable part of the Khalsa Day Parade.
(All photos – except the first – by Indira Prahst)