By Santbir Singh originally titled “A Reckoning is Coming.”
Trigger warning: sexual abuse
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have been inspired by all the women, and men, who have come forward with their personal accounts of sexual assault. It’s been incredible to see men in power finally being called to account for their horrendous behaviour and to face at least some bare minimum of consequences for the damage they’ve done. With this movement growing, I’ve realized it is only a matter of time before the predators that infest our community are also exposed.
Dozens of young Sikh women have confided in me over the years at camps, retreats and conferences. The number of Sikh women and girls who have suffered some form of sexual assault, be it childhood abuse, inappropriate touching, harassment or rape is staggering. Many Sikh men, like myself, have also been victimized. This is, of course, a problem in all societies, but is an unspoken epidemic in South Asian communities. According to one study from 2007 over 50% of all children in India have suffered sexual abuse.
While Sikh men in places like the UK engage in Islamophobia and imagine hordes of Pakistanis raping Sikh women, almost all victims of sexual assault are attacked by people close to them. Their chachas and thyas, mammas and phuphars. Their fathers and dadas and nanas. As difficult as it is to admit, it is the granthis, ragis and sevadars at our Gurduaras, camps, and schools who teach and care for our children, that are many times the ture predators. They use the power and respect they wield in the community to prey on their victims.
The horrific abuse suffered by so many in Catholic institutions could only be covered up for so long. Just as the behaviour of men in positions of power in Hollywood, government, journalism and other fields is now coming to light. So too will all that we have silenced as a community one day burst forth. What will the Sikh Panth do at that time?
In the 1700s, we had Sikhs like solider Bibi Bagail Kaur (who was raped by Mughal soldiers) and Baba Deep Singh (who freed the women and children bound for the slave markets of Kabul). They risked everything to stand up for those who faced a life of sexual abuse and slavery. And even now, 300 years later, we look back at those Sikhs as the greatest our Panth has ever produced, near perfect examples of what a GurSikh should be.
In 1975, a Hindu man came to Bhai Fauja Singh desperately begging for help. His wife had been picked up by the police and they were gang raping her. Bhai Fauja Singh went to the police station, freed the woman and punished the police officers. He was sent to jail for his actions. Throughout his time as a leader in the Dharm Yudh Morcha, Baba Jarnail Singh ensured that those who attacked and assaulted women were dealt with severely, and that any woman who was being assaulted were freed.
This is our tradition as a Panth. To stand for those who can not stand up for themselves. To protect those who have had everything taken away from them. To fight injustice in all of its forms, but especially when it targets the marginalized in our society, like children and women.
When that day of reckoning comes will you have the courage to stand with them? When men you respect, people who you thought were great Sikhs, are exposed for what they really are, will you have the moral fortitude to denounce them? Will you stand with Bibi Bagail Kaur and Baba Deep Singh, or will you stand with those who assault and abuse our children and sisters?
Inspired by all these brave women and men coming forward, and wishing to lead a more fearless and authentic life, I am saying, me too. I am saying that from when I was an infant, before I could even form words I was sexually abused. I am saying that my earliest memory is of that abuse. Who was the man who stole my childhood and left me with scars I am still struggling, with the Guru’s help, to recover from? It was my father’s youngest brother, technically my chacha, but I despise the thought of being directly related to him. When my parents learned of what this man had done, they refused to cover up what had happened, which tragically so often happens in our community. There was an arrest, and a trial, and then, because the justice system fails so many victims, there was an acquittal. My father’s entire family disowned him for daring to expose his brother for what he had done. This man lives in Vancouver, his name is Jangjeet Pannu and he has not suffered any consequences for the lives he has destroyed.
I have full faith that these men will suffer for the pain they have caused, whether in this world or another. As revealed to Guru Nanak Sahib in Asa ki Var:
ਕਪੜੁ ਰੂਪੁ ਸੁਹਾਵਣਾ ਛਡਿ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਜਾਵਣਾ ॥
ਮੰਦਾ ਚੰਗਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਕੀਤਾ ਪਾਵਣਾ ॥
ਹੁਕਮ ਕੀਏ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਵਦੇ ਰਾਹਿ ਭੀੜੈ ਅਗੈ ਜਾਵਣਾ ॥
ਨੰਗਾ ਦੋਜਕਿ ਚਾਲਿਆ ਤਾ ਦਿਸੈ ਖਰਾ ਡਰਾਵਣਾ ॥
ਕਰਿ ਅਉਗਣ ਪਛੋਤਾਵਣਾ ॥੧੪॥
You will leave this body and form you are so attached to.
And you will have to reap the fruits of the actions you have performed.
Having followed the commands of your mind, you must now suffer the pain of your chosen path.
Naked in the inferno, you are terrified at the sight of your true, exposed, monstrous self.
In the end you will regret the crimes you have committed. ||14||
(Guru Nanak Sahib, Ang 470-471)
There will be consequences. The Khalsa Panth can not continue to stay silent while so many of its own are being brutalized. The Panth will have to face the ramifications of its inaction and make a choice about how it wishes to deal with these predators in the future.
That day is soon coming.