The community kitchen at Sikh temples is open to everyone — and the spirit of that practice persists during the pandemic.
Sikh organization Khalsa Aid is currently working in Vancouver with Sanctuary Health, a group focused on refugee and migrant health, to provide family meal hampers.
According to Jatinder Singh, the director of the Canadian chapter of the group, they have provided groceries to thousands of people across the country, including undocumented refugees living in isolation without much help.
This comes after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an “all-out effort” against the “tsunami of hate and xenophobia” in the wake of pandemic. All over the world, right-wing groups and conspiracy theorists have been blaming various ethnic and minority groups for spreading the disease.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump has accused China of attacking his country with COVID-19 and started tightening immigration policies to polarize his supporters. Violence against people of Chinese descent has increased.
Canada, too, has witnessed a spike in hate crimes against people of Chinese heritage.
Singh believes this blame game and scapegoating of vulnerable groups and minorities goes against the tenets of Sikhism, which teaches universal brotherhood.
A U.K.-based international humanitarian relief organization, Khalsa Aid has been active since 1999. That’s when the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa was celebrated across the world.
The Khalsa was an army of dedicated Sikhs raised by the tenth master of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh, to fight for social justice in what was then Moghul-ruled northern India. The Khalsa not only opposed the repression of non-Muslims by the Islamic rulers, but also combatted caste-based discrimination within the Hindu community.
Khalsa Aid is known for providing relief to the victims of wars and natural calamities. The idea of helping anyone irrespective of race or religion is enshrined in the Sikh philosophy. The daily prayer of a devout Sikh ends with a call for the well-being of all of humankind.
Sikh scriptures include the hymns of saints belonging to different communities and castes from all over India. The foundation stone of the Golden Temple Complex — the holiest Sikh shrine, in Amritsar — was laid by a Muslim saint, while the four gates of the temple symbolize that people from all four castes in Hindu society can come.
One of the towering figures in Sikh history, Bhai Kanhayya, also inspires members of Khalsa Aid to be ready to help in a catastrophic situation. Kanhayya was a water bearer in Guru Gobind Singh's army. He provided water to wounded and exhausted soldiers without discriminating between the members of his own army and those of the rival camp.
Notably, Khalsa Aid had also come to the rescue of Rohangiya Muslims languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh after being driven out by Buddhist extremists and the military rulers in Myanmar.
Not long ago, Khalsa Aid expressed solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Its volunteers sat with Wet’suwet’en sympathizers outside the B.C. legislature during demonstrations against the Coastal GasLink pipeline being pushed through Indigenous territories without consent. These volunteers also provided safety kits and lamps that were needed in supporters’ tents during the protests.
This was not the first time the group had come out in support of Indigenous Peoples. Khalsa Aid has also been supportive of impoverished First Nation bands on Vancouver Island.
The organization isn’t an exception when it comes to the Sikh community. Sikh Nation, which started its annual blood drive in Canada in 1999, has been trying to conquer hatred with love by saving human lives. During the current COVID-19 crisis, the group has responded to Canadian Blood Services’ call for more donations amid blood shortages.
Sikh Nation organizes its blood drives in memory of the 1984 genocidal attacks against Sikhs in India, which happened after Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. The massacre of thousands of innocent Sikhs was well organized by the slain leader’s ruling Congress party with the complicity of police.
Years have passed, but Sikhs continue to fight for justice and closure. Only one senior Congress leader was convicted, 34 years later.
Both Sikh Nation and Khalsa Aid founder Ravi Singh have raised this issue, but the world remains indifferent. Canada has refused to even acknowledge the genocide. The B.C. government has thanked Sikh Nation for its help during the pandemic but not never recognized the history of the Sikh genocide attached to their cause. The silence of the B.C. government on this matter is not hard to understand.
The Indian establishment and its apologists have dissuaded Canada from recognizing the 1984 massacre as state-sponsored genocide and repeatedly targeted groups that cast light on the issue. Khalsa Aid came under attack for helping Rohingya Muslims from social media trolls owing allegiance to the current right-wing Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi. Under Nahendra Modi’s regime, attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, have grown since 2014. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has triggered more hate against Muslims, Sikhs and other minority communities in India. Right-wing media have been demonizing these groups, creating an environment of fear and anxiety.
It’s time for Canada to give back, stand up for Sikhs and let India know that the world is watching and won’t forget what happened in 1984 or ignore what is going on right now in the garb of democracy and secularism.