By: Surjit Singh Flora
Vaisakhi is traditionally the beginning of the harvest season in India. Typically falling on April 14, since 1699, it has also been recognized as the origin of the Khalsa or commemoration of the beginning of Sikhism — hence Khalsa Day — that further added to the reverence and fervor for the festival.
In Canada, Ontario and B.C. will be the main centres of attraction for the local Punjabi community during this weekend’s annual Vaisakhi festival.
For Sikhs, Vaisakhi is the biggest annual celebration and a day of great significance because their 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, laid down the foundation of Khalsa (the Order of the Pure Ones) on this day in 1699.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded on the principles of equality, freedom of religion, and community service. As the fifth-largest religion in the world, one of the core teachings of the Sikh tradition is that all Sikhs must cultivate spirituality while also serving the world around us. Sikhs, both men and women, cover their uncut hair with a turban which represents a commitment to equality and justice.
But today Sikhs living in Quebec are worried because the Legault government has introduced draft legislation Bill 21 which would not allow those in “positions of authority” to wear their faith. These “positions of authority” would include judges, police officers, prosecutors, lawyers, court clerks, regulatory board members, school principals, teachers and others in similar job categories. And the ban on wearing their faith means they will be prohibited from wearing any visible religious symbols such as the hijab, turban, yarmulke, kippah skull cap, the crucifix, etc. while on duty.
This is bad enough. But not to be outdone, Canada at the federal level has gone several steps further by effectively banning the entire Sikh community, by branding all Sikhs as Khalistani extremists.
This is as per a terrorism assessment report, which has reached this conclusion without any evidence of recent violence or credible threats in Canada.
While the tragedy of the 1984 Air India bombing still weighs heavy in Canada, it cannot be used to continue to tarnish a community several decades later.
There is no explanation for this addition of “Sikh extremism” to the 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada other than Public Safety Canada having tacitly accepted the false Indian rhetoric around rising extremism in the Sikh community. Sikhs in Canada have repeatedly denied these allegations and no evidence has ever been provided to substantiate them. “Sikh extremism” deeply maligns the reputation of the community and has a real impact on the everyday lives of Canadian Sikhs.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said “This law that is being proposed is something that divides the population, that divides the province, instead of bringing people together. That, to me, is something that is saddening.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who represents a Quebec riding in the House of Commons, also criticized the proposed legislation. “I don’t think a lot of people feel that in a free society we should be legitimizing discrimination of our citizens based on religion.”
But until today, Sikhs are still seeking answers from Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Edward Goodale about this issue and requesting they be removed from under the Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism banner — all to no avail. Many meetings have been conducted and letters been sent, but there’s been no action on this front.
According to StatsCan, Canada is home to over 450,000 people of Sikh faith, mainly concentrated in the Greater Toronto and Vancouver Metropolitan areas. The community celebrates Vaisakhi with much zeal and is driven by their pride and enthusiasm for sharing their rich culture and history. Vaisakhi or Khalsa Day Parades are organized across Ontario and BC and are attended by community members in large numbers. Participants from other ethnicities and cultures are also welcome at this rich cultural event, which features floats, community performers, music and of course the highly popular Bhangra.
Vaisakhi celebrations are vibrant and have been full of cultural traditions and enthralling historic rituals. The day begins with families dressing in new, traditional clothes and participating in special prayers at the temple. Food is also a big part of the celebrations.
Sikhs mainly worship by singing from the scripture and reflecting on their Gurus’ teachings as a way to model values and principles within their own lives.
Vaisakhi is fundamentally about celebration, remembrance, community, and progress. This week Sikhs will gather with their communities at gurdwaras, local places of worship, and reflect on these values.
Even it’s late, on April 14th it’s very special day for the Sikh Community, Goodale minister of national security and PM Trudeau might want to honor the Sikh community by removing the “Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism” online and that will be the best gift for Sikhs on this special Khalsa creation day.