Never Broken

Tavleen Kaur works for Dasvandh Network and is pursuing a PhD in architecture.

Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh!

Every June I’m inundated with messages and reminders of the Shaheedi Purab of Guru Arjan Sahib, the Battle of Amritsar of 1984, and preparation for upcoming annual Sikh youth camps and retreats. In the time that we are in, the first week of June, various Sikh organizations and community leaders work tirelessly to remind us to #neverforget84 and connect with our roots planted deep in the trenches of shaheedi (self-sacrifice) and sovereignty. Especially since this year we are observing the 30th anniversary of the #BattleOfAmritsar, I’m compelled to think differently of how to narrativize Sikh history of the Guru-period, of 1980s and 90s Punjab, and present-day Sikhi so that its spirit is empowering, captivating, and contagious.

The original tharha (platform) visible during the kar seva of Siri Akal Takht Sahib in 1984; the tharha dates back to Guru HarGobind Sahib’s time.

The original tharha (platform) visible during the kar seva of Siri Akal Takht Sahib in 1984; the tharha dates back to Guru HarGobind Sahib’s time.

I can look at pictures of the dilapidated building of Siri Akal Takht Sahib and feel immense, immobilizing pain; or, I can think instead about how thetharha (platform) the building rested and still rests on was unaffected from the barrage of of bullets: Sikhi is never broken.

I can look at pictures of the sarovar (pool) at Darbar Sahib as its water turned red from the blood of shaheeds, and sit solemnly, feeling unable to move forward; or, I can think instead about the water-submerged foundation Darbar Sahib rests on, as it, too, has remained indestructible despite more attacks on it than I can count on my fingers :: Sikhi is never broken.

The original foundation Darbar Sahib rests on; it dates back to Guru Ajran Sahib's time.

The original foundation Darbar Sahib rests on; it dates back to Guru Ajran Sahib’s time.

I can think about how the Indian armed forces stationed inside the Darbar Sahib complex and spared no one, not even a four month old child, and feel utterly helpless and dazed. Instead, I’d like to think about how the thousands who visited Darbar Sahib during the first week of June in 1984, including the mother of that four-month old, knew well that entering the complex would be a one-way excursion. This was evident by the city-wide curfew instated days before the attack, and barracks and security check points set up by the Indian army in and outside of Darbar Sahib. Going to Darbar Sahib in the first week of June 1984 was a choice my sisters, brothers, elders, and peers made to defend the Guru’s Darbar, as did Sikhs in the centuries prior :: Sikhi is never broken. 

Sikhs playing in the streets of Amritsar sometime before the June 1984 attack; photograph by Sondeep Shankar.

Sikhs playing in the streets of Amritsar sometime before the June 1984 attack; photograph by Sondeep Shankar.

I can think about how, in the month of Aasaarh (mid-June to mid-July) 1606, Guru Arjan Sahib was made to sit on a tathi tavi (hot plate) and hot sand poured over his body and how his skin must have disintegrated on the spot. Rather, I would think about the seetalta (coolness) my Guru spread with his actions, words, and spirit. This is the Guru who, despite being tortured with heat in the middle of heat (i.e. the brutal South Asian summer), wrote about a different kind of lethal heat is: aasaarh tapanda tis lagai har naah(u) na jinna paas || The month of Aasaarh (extreme heat) afflicts those disconnected from their Beloved. I read this and am convinced that my Guru, ever connected with his Beloved, was unaffected by the heat of Aasaarh poured on him via his executioners :: Sikhi is never broken. 

An artistic rendition of Aasaarh, created by Sardar Devender Singh.

An artistic rendition of Aasaarh, created by Sardar Devender Singh.

Tears will continue to roll down from our eyes each time we think of our beloved shaheeds and of the Battle of Amritsar, but I’m confident that as we better grasp the spirit of Sikhi and re-write and re-conceputalize our history so it strengthens and empowers us, that these will be tears of uncontainable love, not of anger and helplessness. Instead of seeking political apologies from the very government that betrays its citizens, we will instead seek forward-looking fortitude and strength from Guru Granth + Guru Panth to ensure that Sikhi is never broken.

Sarbat Khalsa at the Darbar Sahib complex, 1986

Sarbat Khalsa at the Darbar Sahib complex, 1986

Let us feel strengthened, not sunken, from each drop of blood of our shaheeds;rejuvenated from each word of Gurbani, and awakened from each Jaikara. May the Aasaarh of oppression, discrimination, and impunity transform into charhdi kalaa (resilience against all odds): aasaarh suhanda tis lagai jis mann har charann nivaas || Aasaarh feels pleasant to those whose minds rest at the feet of their Beloved.

Vaheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Vaheguru Ji Ki Fateh!








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