Sikhism’s Teachings on Justice have Taught Me about Myself.

In Justice by Upneet Masaun

When I was younger, I used to go to the gurdwara, the Sikh temple, every Sunday. My mother is devoted to God, and I grew up with her praying each day and night, which made me curious about why she prayed so much.

When we went to the gurdwara as a family, I always noticed the walls in the langar hall had various posters, a couple of them reading “do not sit idle, do seva.” My mother used to point out the posters throughout the gurdwara encouraging me to do seva as well.

At the gurdwara, an act of “langar seva” takes place, a prominent role in the Sikh religion. Langar promotes equality and acts of helping the neediness. It is a free community service located inside of a Gurdwara, providing food to anyone in need. The langar is part of the act of worship and is available to every individual irrespective of their caste, class, religion, or gender.

This idea of justice has always been central to Sikhism, the principle of being fair and righteous. Sikhism’s teachings and philosophy preach equality, unity, and truthful living, ultimately implementing moral equity among all individuals of society, regardless of their race or social class. Justice stemmed from a desire to establish social and economic equality. Most importantly, the Sikh religion rejected the traditional ‘Hindu caste system’ During the emergence of the Sikh religion, the gurus promoted the concept of equality, abolishing the Indian custom of differentiating people based on their gender, religion and class. Sikhism teaches that an individual should only be judged by their deeds or merits.

The word ‘Sikh’ means student. Sikhs learn from Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who originally established the Sikh religion. Nine Gurus followed Guru Nanak’s teachings, bringing the Sikh faith to the world. The Guru Granth Sahib is a religious scripture of the original creators of Sikhism. The themes include divine experiences of achieving a peaceful, truthful, and purposeful life, so equality and respect play an essential role in religion.

To establish equality, the concept of langar was instituted towards a social issue, where the society was originally divided into many castes in relation to the Muslims and Hindus. This idea constitutes a classless society and elevates morality, as the Guru’s enacted, everyone is to sit on the floor at the same level and eat with one another.

Despite the devout inclination to justice within their religion, Sikhs do not experience it in reality. Throughout history, Sikhs lacked a sense of belonging in the world because India did not acknowledge the Sikh religion in the country. In 1947, thousands of Sikh individuals were killed during the partition of India and Pakistan. Later, in the year 1984, Operation Bluestar took place.

On June 1, 1984  and June 10, 1984, Operation Bluestar took place, was an attack on the Gold Temple in India. It was commanded by the Prime Minister of India at that time, Indira Gandhi, to detain Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh extremist, but many other innocent people also lost their lives. Thousands of Sikhs were burnt alive, women were gang-raped, and Sikh temples were dismantled. At the time, Sikhs only made up 2% of the whole Indian population. ​However, after the event of Operation Bluestar in 1984, Sikhs still did not achieve safety and continued to be marginalized in India.

India’s past and current living and political standards, class, gender, and religion are all fundamental factors of disparity that have led to a corrupt Indian society. The current farmer’s protest demonstrates a great deal of injustice for the Sikh population of India.

On September 27, 2020 the Indian government established new laws to reform the agricultural sector, establishing disproportionate purchasing power in the hands of large corporations. These laws have enraged the Sikh population of India because it is easier for corporations to buy land from farmers. This could result in the farmers eventually facing bankruptcy as corporations seize their land risking their livelihood. These laws were enacted without any prior consultation of farmers, so the Sikhs began to peacefully protest in Delhi. On 26 November of 2020, a nationwide protest involving 250 million people took place to support the farmer unions. They protested for two months before the state of India used violence against the protestors on January 26th. They set up barricades, used tear gas and water cannons, and beat elderly farmers with batons.

The Indian government also used the media to discredit the protests and label the individuals as either, ‘anti-India’, ‘separatists’ or ‘Khalistani’ in an effort to demonize and hide the violent oppression acts. The disinformation campaign established by the Indian government continues to spread false information, dividing the public. After the violence of January 26, the internet connection was cut by the Indian government and individuals were unable to share updates about the protest.

Regardless of the violence that was initiated towards Sikh individuals by the Indian police force, Sikh individuals continue to pay their respects to the police force and the rest of the Indian population by protesting continuously, providing langar – food and water – to anyone and everyone, helping and respecting the people acting against the farmers.

This sense of unity and respect compels me to also go out into the world and demonstrate acts of kindness. In fact, this teaches me to not turn against, disrespect, or be hateful towards people who may not agree with me or go against me. The resilience Sikhs have to sacrifice their lives fighting for our religion holds a great deal of significance in my heart. I am learning that even in times of hardship, it is important to stay true to my values and morals by treating opponents with respect and providing help in times of need.

These values follow me everywhere I go, including school and the career I am preparing for, as a future lawyer. It will continue to shape me as the woman I become. The original teachings established by the Gurus say everyone is equal. This understanding is reflected in the decisions I make in life. It has made me value truthful living and service to humanity overall. In the Sikh religion, langar may only be present in the place of worship, but I take the intention of this deed into my everyday life by helping and providing for people in need. Unfortunately, stereotypes and injustice still exist in society. Therefore, beginning with the mentality to help, care, and provide service for others is fundamental to putting me in the mindset to help anyone in need.

The Sikh religion promotes a sense of oneness in society. It goes far beyond the egocentric approach we are familiar with navigating the world with, and instead promotes  a fair, joyful, loving, and self-effacing society. A Sikh individual’s aim is to live by spreading love and appreciating the oneness of the universe. Sikhs believe one can honuor God by honouring the creation of God. The acts of seva and permitting good deeds is serving the creator, as everything in this universe is perceived through oneness. Selfless service is valued within the Sikh religion, as a way of expressing prayerful action while spreading love. Likewise, activism is an act of seva, motivated by love. Seva eliminates the self and the human ego. Seva and justice are intertwined with one another and central to Sikhs navigating the world with a sense of oneness, encouraging them to be truthful and pure. Justice is achieved through the lens of seva, as the act of selfless service is done with a pure intention through love and oneness. Ultimately, this notion of unity guides us to honour diversity through oneness, with harmony and solidarity among everyone, irrespective of their ethnicities, social classes, and gender.

Although I don’t go to the gurdwara every weekend, the values I’ve learned there and from my parents continue to live within me. It was where I began my own journey in understanding my religion and the value of people around me. Religion not only impacts me and my behaviour as a person but also impacts my overall understanding of justice and the world around me.