No place for ‘Sikhs’ or ‘half a citizen’?  Asks a ‘daughter of India’ after Republic Day trauma

Social media trolls on Republic Day left her traumatised. She is shocked her friends are supportive but not outraged at what is uncivilised, unacceptable and unconstitutional passing off as normal

No place for ‘Sikhs’ or ‘half a citizen’?  Asks a ‘daughter of India’ after Republic Day trauma

Pavneet Kaur

Born and raised in South Delhi, educated at Lady Irwin Sr. School and Lady Shree Ram College, travelling, partying, exploring new amazing places, cultures and events every year from the Amazon rainforest to Rome, from Berlin to Mexico, I used to think I was an adventurous feminist, modern, secular badass, freed from the conventional shackles that hold down Indian women. I thought of myself as a total non-victim.

Little did I know that my own last name would turn to be such a bane for me one day.

After having travelled in over 20 countries, I decided to stay at home in Delhi for a couple of months. Taking pictures of 'baraats' passing by, posting Indian food pictures, I'd been playing quite the tourist. Until the whole shell of secularism peeled away and the vulnerable 'Kaur' gave me away.

It all happened on the Republic Day of India. I woke up all enthusiastic, sending ‘happy Republic Day’ messages to everybody on WhatsApp, even explaining to my non-Indian friends what it was about. Switching on the TV to watch the parade with my parents, I explained eagerly how it is similar to the Sambodromo parade in the Rio carnival in Brazil that I had been to.

I recalled how I had felt so proud to see India’s representation in Rio and how I hooted with excitement when the Indian float arrived complete with a statue of Gandhi and even some cows. My family just raised their eyebrows at my crazy travel anecdotes and shut me up.

As I watched the parade this Republic Day, I felt equally proud and of course the Punjab float had special significance for me. Noticing the 'khanda' on the float, I thought Punjab is not just the Sikhs, although on a cultural level it does represent Punjab. Anyway, my enthusiasm over my culture did not last long as news of the 'other parade' jolted me back to reality.

Outraged by exaggerated versions of what had really happened (this is not to say that I encourage violence of any sort) and terrorized by the loose use of the 'word' Khalistan on my friends' posts on Facebook, I commented that the Khanda is NOT a Khalistani flag; that it was used even in the 'official parade' tableau and the Sikh Jawans often use it for Indian victory etc.

The response I received made my blood run cold. I was called Khalistani, told that 'Singhs' and 'Kaurs' have no place in India, that we should go back to Pakistan or escape to Canada or they would 'repeat' 1984.

‘Khalistan, the word floated before my eyes as my head was swimming. The word terrorized me. It meant I was being called a terrorist.

Where do I belong?

Am I just ‘half’ a citizen as the stranger (a friend’s friend) had called me? Where do I belong?

Coming from a family with a lot of relatives in the 'pind' who are both 'kisans' and 'jawans', all sons of the same family, I could not come to terms with the demonizing of one and heroizing of the other.

I come from a patriotic Sikh family based in Delhi since the independence. My grandfather was in the Indian army, most of my extended family too have military background, some are in the Navy and the air force. The irony of the whole situation hit me hard but even more than that, I felt abandoned: A daughter of India who had just been disowned.

The Republic Day was over. After a sleepless night, my father noticed at teatime in the morning that something’s not quite right with me. While he was tying his turban to go to the bank with my mother, I told him all that had happened. Realizing the situation is so charged with communal hatred, he decided against going out. I offered to accompany my mother as Sikh women are less obvious targets since we do not generally wear a turban.

I am disturbed that my friends are not as shaken by all this.

They support me but they think such hate discourse is normal.

While they say I should not make much of it I ask myself: “Since when is it so normal to make life-threatening attacks to the minorities in India?”

I am writing all this on Holocaust Memorial Day. In Germany, they have not forgotten the blunders of history so as not to repeat them. I wish they would ban all traumatizing insults related to Khalistan and 1984. I hope strict measures are taken against anybody who makes such threats to us because to ignore them or to condone them is to normalise violence.

More than insults they are threats, from those who are more in number, to remind us of what can be done to the minorities.

(Views expressed in this blogpost are personal)

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