During the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has witnessed the bravery and commitment of many groups and individuals. The medical profession has been at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic. Other frontline workers, especially service providers have kept the world running at much risk to their own health and safety.
One community that has stood out in this regard, is the Sikh community. Around the world, the community has come forward to serve people in their communities, irrespective of race or religion. Not only have followers of the Sikh faith served langars to the hungry, they have set up hospitals, testing facilities and pharmacies for free or at highly subsidised rates to support strained healthcare services, especially benefiting the poor and helpless. Nowhere is this more visible than in India, the home of the Sikhs, the land of the Sikh Gurus and the holy sites of the faith.
The selfless langar service is exemplary in itself. The fearlessness of the Sikhs in coming forward to help others, when fear of the virus has driven many people indoors, is even more amazing. These days news reports are filled with stories of oxygen shortages in Delhi and elsewhere. At the same time, social media is filled with reports of various individuals and businesses, offering to fill up empty oxygen cylinders for free in and around Delhi. Gurudwaras or Sikh temples have also taken a lead. A video circulating these days shows the use of the steel railings of a Gurudwara for supplying piped oxygen to those in need. Overnight, holes were made in the railings and fitted with the necessary attachments to supply oxygen to people who can sit in comfort and take oxygen. Members of the Gurudwara management committee were fearlessly moving around COVID patients wearing masks and their courage. Sometime back, last year, there was news of members of the Sikh community coming forward to undertake the cremation of COVID patients whose families were in need of such assistance.
It is not the intention here to undermine the courage and contribution of other communities. During this pandemic, heroic and selfless service has been witnessed in every part of society. Everyone devoted to serving humanity in these hard times deserves our humble respect. This column is an acknowledgment of the contribution of the Sikh community.
The 400th Prakash Parb of Guru Tegh Bahadur, celebrated last week, reminds us of the reasons that inspire the selfless and fearless service of the Sikhs. Born in April 1621, in Amritsar city of Punjab state in India, Guru Tegh Bahadur was the ninth of ten Gurus who founded the Sikh religion and the Guru of the Sikhs from 1665 until his martyrdom through beheading in November 1675. He was executed (by beheading) on the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor. Sikh holy premises Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib and Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in Delhi mark the places of execution and cremation of Guru Tegh Bahadur. His martyrdom is remembered every year as the Shaheedi Divas of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Guru Tegh Bahadur was against the persecution of Kashmiri Hindus by Emperor Aurangzeb. He promised to protect them. He and his associates were arrested while in Delhi. Guru Tegh Bahadur stood by his convictions and refused to convert to Islam despite being tortured, until he was executed. The associates of the Guru, who were with him, were also tortured and killed for refusing to convert. Guru Tegh Bahadur is remembered for giving up his life for freedom of religion. He and his devotees were martyred for protecting those who did not believe in their own faith. The Guru’s martyrdom made a lasting impression on his nine-year-old son, Gobind, who became the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh reacted by organizing the Sikhs into a distinct, formal, community, with its own symbols of identity, giving birth to the Brotherhood of Khalsa that continued to fight the Mughals for religious freedom in India. The violent and fundamentalist ideology of some misguided anti-India elements of this community is disrespectful of the teachings and sacrifices of the Gurus.
The Sikh faith teaches the importance of fearlessness and selfless service. The coronavirus pandemic has once again brought these valuable qualities to the forefront. To understand the commitment of the Sikhs to service of humanity and protection of the weak, one only has to remember the teachings of the Gurus and the sacrifices made by them.