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Overseas Punjabis: From Great Revolutionary Heritage to Pro-Western Tilt

DR. SAWRAJ SINGH

INTERNATIONALAFFAIRS / EDITORIAL

The overseas Punjabis have a great revolutionaryheritage. The Gadar movementmade a profound impact upon history.Similarly, the Punjabis who were passengersin the Kama Gata Maru ship makeus proud of their deeds. Martyrs such asUdham Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha, andintellectuals like Lala Hardyal made glorioussacrifices. Another great Punjabi whomade a unique contribution by interactingwith the world community wasMaharaja Dalip Singh. He made contactwith the Irish and French revolutionariesand with the Russian government to kickout the British and free India. Eventhough his plans did not succeed, yet itwas the first time that a Punjabi acquireda global perspective and played a role inworld politics.All of these great Punjabis fusedhealthy elements from Punjabi culturesuch as broad-mindedness, sharing, tolerance,and positive secularism with healthyelements of other cultures and wanted tomake the world a better place for everyone.For example, Maharaja Dalip Singhmade it clear in his letters that his strugglewas not just to get back his lost kingdom,but to free all of India by gettingrid of the British. His writings also provethat he was not motivated by personalvendetta, but wanted to expose oppression,exploitation, and hypocrisy of theimperialists. This fact elevates him from afrustrated individual to a mature andaccomplished statesman.Similarly, the Gadri Babas andother martyrs had the thinking and outlookwhich put them above the narrowboundaries of caste and religion to a truelevel of humanity. The Gurudwara Sahibin Stockton, California became the gatheringplace for all: Sikhs, Hindus, andMuslims. They wanted to liberate all ofIndia from British colonial rule. Not onlydid they want to free India, but they alsowanted to establish a system based uponequality and justice and in which therewas no exploitation or oppression. Eventhough they were not very educated, yettheir thinking was of a much higher level.If we look at the history ofoverseas Punjabis since the past 100years, then three major periods with differenttrends emerge. The first startedaround 1900 and lasted up to India’sindependence (1947). The second startedfrom about 1960 and lasted to about1990. The third, from 1990 to the present.During the first period, the overseasPunjabi community was dominated bythe working class and it followed revolutionary,leftist, and progressive policies.They took stands against imperialistexploitation and oppression, and forequality and justice. They had a spirit ofsacrifice for these principles.During the second period, the overseasPunjabi community was dominated bythe petit bourgeoisie and middle classintellectuals such as doctors, engineers,scientists, professors and small businessmen.Even though these people were primarilyconcerned about advancing theircareers, yet generally they were influencedby the progressive and leftist influenceprevailing at that time. The organizationsdeveloped by Punjabis andIndians at that time were also left-leaningand progressive. The Punjabis did notconfine themselves to just Punjab, buttheir organizations were more Indiabased.For example, IPANA (IndianPeople’s Association in North America)and the Indian Worker’s Association inEngland. IPANA started a movementamong farm workers in BritishColumbia, Canada: the CanadianFarmworkers’ Union. Punjabis played theleading role in this organization. At thattime, Punjabis did not consider themselvesto be a part of the establishmentand many retained emotional ties withPunjab and India. They did not lookdown upon Punjab or India and did notconsider themselves to be superior to thepeople back home. Many had not acceptedthe countries where they settled astheir home and many had the feeling thatonce they make enough money, they willgo back and settle in Punjab or India.The third period started after1990. During this period, the overseasPunjabi community underwent a fundamentalchange. Regional, national, andinternational factors were responsible forthis change. The collapse of the SovietUnion dealt a big blow to the leftistmovement in the world and manyPunjabis and Indians developed rightistand reactionary thinking. After theOperation Blue Star, many Punjabis (amajority of them being Sikhs) had developedanti-India feelings. Militancy inPunjab, lack of development in Punjab,and lack of opportunity in Punjab led tofrustration and increased migration fromPunjab. All of these factors helped topoint Punjabis toward fundamentalism,rightist, reactionary, and pro-imperialistpolicies. A capitalist class had alsoemerged among Punjabis and Indians.This class lacked the sophistication andrefined behavior of the western capitalistclass and supported the extreme rightist,reactionary, and decadent policies ofimperialism. This class took over theleadership of Punjabis and Indians. Thisclass has a firm belief in the western capitalistconcept of putting economicsabove ethics. This class generally looks down onPunjab and India, and tries to propagatethe notion that overseas Punjabis andIndians are superior to the people theyleft behind. The big question now is: willthe third period be the last period, or willthere be a fourth period? We cannot denythe possibility of a fourth period. Theyear 2013 has shown that western dominationand American hegemony havealmost ended. America has lost its statusas the only superpower in the world. Ithas been unable to dislodge the axis ofevil in Syria, Iran, and North Korea.America was baffled by the “tit-for-tat”approach of India over the Devyaniaffair. Russia, Syria, and Iran are joiningtheir forces and Egypt is leaning towardthis axis. This will fundamentally changethe balance of power in the Middle Eastagainst the alliance of America, Israel,and the Gulf states. The weakening ofAmerica and the West is bound to weakenthe capitalist class among the Punjabisand Indians, and their hold on the communitycan also weaken. The rightist,reactionary, and pro-imperialist trend inoverseas Punjabis and Indians maychange. Already there is renewed interestamong overseas Punjabis about the GadriBabas, the great and glorious revolutionof Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, and therole of Maharaja Dalip Singh. All ofthese factors may signal the beginning ofthe fourth period.Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is theChairman of the Washington State Networkfor Human Rights and Chairman of theCentral Washington Coalition for Social Justice.

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