On Wednesday the 29th, the Sikh Association at BU put on an event in remembrance of the 1984 genocide against the Sikhs. It was an emotional night for me. Sikhism has played a huge role in my life – both the absence of it and the presence of it in my daily life have equally shaped me. I was particularly reflective that night because of the continued mentioning of the value of the Sikh turban throughout the event. Sikhs (mostly men, but also some women) wear turbans as a physical signature of their identity – it is a way for us not to shirk away from our duties, to be proud of who we are and to show that to the entire world. It is a way for people to recognize us, so if someone is ever in need, they can decipher a Sikh and know they will go out of their way to help.
When I was in high school, my hair was shoulder length and all the colors of the rainbow. Eventually I started growing my hair out, and now it’s back to its full length and I wear my kara – a bracelet on my dominant arm, which reminds me to act with righteousness and to do good deeds. Last night reiterated to me the value in standing for something, but not just doing so privately. I will always maintain it is better to exude with pride what it is you stand for than to keep your convictions living inward, where it cannot radiate outward and inspire others.
Arguably, my more visibly punk exterior from the past was a way of displaying my convictions, and should not be seen as being of lesser value than my current manner of presentation, but I take pride in the way I look these days because I have evolved to see how my faith has shaped my current ideologies and practices in ways I once did not realize.
Immediately following 9/11, my mother and I put pamphlets about Sikhism in our neighbors’ mailboxes, wrote articles for the local newspaper, gave public service announcements and talks at schools and on the radio, and overall worked tirelessly to prevent the hate and discrimination that was being targeted toward my community. Sikhs were being murdered – innocent family men who happened to wear a turban as an article of faith were being beaten, taunted, and even killed. I remember when I was nine and helping my mom distribute literature at the supermarket, my mother asked a woman “Do you know about the Sikhs?” The lady responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I just moved here from Pennsylvania.”
Ignorance is a disease in which we all have our own ways to quell its spread, and there is still much to be done.
My mom’s work is still ongoing, and it’s proven necessary in light of the Oak Creek shootings in August. A large portion of my fuel to fight my fight, is drawn from the brutality I see against beautiful animals whose chances to live a fulfilling life are cut terribly short; but, the underlying motivation to be aware of the fight to begin with comes largely from my faith.
All Sikh temples, called gurudwaras, offer a free meal which all people of all walks of life are encouraged to enjoy. The meal, called langar (meaning “anchor,” for we all sit on the floor to eat it as equals), is always vegetarian. Two of Sikhism’s biggest truths are to share what you have with others and to live a life of truth (the third is to meditate) – and in my case, I try to share the privilege of a good quality of life to animals who are denied sunlight, safety, food, water, comfort, company of family, and the right to deliberately secure what they want as a product of their impressive volitional capacities.
I think all Sikhs should be vegetarian or vegan for a number of reasons. Sikhism’s gurus– or teachers – are the only religious leaders to fight and die for the protection of otherfaiths; Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs, was martyred for Hinduism as well as Sikhism during a time when India’s Mughal rule was attempting to impose Islam on all people. Therefore, inherent in Sikhism is the necessity of dismissing the all too prevalent concept of “otherness.” During a time when women would be burned alive upon the death of their husbands, Sikhs spoke out against the disgusting notion that a woman was nothing without a man in her life, showing the revolutionary focus on 100% equality more than 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, our first guru, was born into a Hindu family but rejected the caste system practiced by the predominant religion of the time. His fundamental appreciation for the equality of all was resounding, eventually leading to the Sikh way of life. Living a life of truth, a staple of Sikhism, involves introspecting upon the role we play in society, our relationship with ourself and our world, and evaluating whether our deeds are as pure and positive as thy can be. Our relationship to animals is a paramount issue worth reflecting upon, as many neglect this aspect of our lives despite the magnitude of its consequences.
Sikhism’s progressive nature, fiercely egalitarian platform, and rejection of hierarchy – when extended to their logical conclusion – ideally would lead to the realization by self-identified Sikhs that non-human animals should not be seen by us as commodities with instrumental value, but as companions, placed here by God, to be respected for having inherent value.
By Gunita Singh
Gunita Singh is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences studying political science. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.