The Indian Prime Minister recently paid tribute to a Sikh martyr who laid down his life in defence of his faith. On the 300th birth anniversary of Bhai Taru Singh, Narendra Modi took to twitter to recall the sacrifice he made in 1745.
Singh was arrested and tortured at the behest of a tyrant Mughal governor, Zakaria Khan. He was punished for supporting the Sikh warriors who were fighting against repression and religious persecution. He had refused to convert to Islam to save his life and faced death with courage.
Modi is the leader of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which is known for its anti-minority stance. The attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims, have grown in India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. And yet, he had the cheek to go on twitter to pay respect to Bhai Taru Singh, stating, “His name will always be synonymous with courage and fearlessness. Always proud of his culture as well as ethos, he never bowed to injustice. He continues to inspire millions.”
Considering his track record of persecuting Muslims and other minorities, and suppressing any voice of dissent by throwing his opponents in jails using draconian laws, such a statement sounds hollow and meaningless. It only reflects how Modi and his BJP are obsessed with their one sided view of Sikh history, which they have tried to appropriate to demonize Muslims, whereas Sikhism was born in response to caste-based oppression in Hinduism and state violence of the Mughal regime.
The Sikh gurus and warriors did not only stand up against Islamist rule, but also against the systemic violence of Hindu priest class on so called untouchables. This humanist aspect of Sikhism cannot be overlooked. Rather, the BJP has a tendency to portray Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold, something which is vehemently contested by the Sikhs, who have well founded fears of assimilation in a Hindu dominated country.
If Modi really cares for the ethos of Bhai Taru Singh, he must revoke black laws, release political prisoners and stop terrorising Muslims. He has no moral right to celebrate the legacy of a religion that preaches secularism and teaches its followers to raise voices against injustice in any form. We cannot let bigots appropriate the legacy of Sikh martyrs, whose fight wasn’t against Islam, but the theocracy of Islamist rulers which ironically is being repeated by Modi and company. Bhai Taru Singh would have resisted what is being done to the Muslims in India today, because that is what the founder of the Sikh faith Guru Nanak taught.
Gurpreet Singh is a journalist