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This Vaisaakhi, stand up for the oppressed…

… and hope for a better world

Happy Vaisaakhi! I’m Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, a board member of Faith in Public Life and the Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA. For thousands of years, Vaisaakhi has been celebrated as a time of harvest in the Punjab. For the Sikh community, my own religious community, it commemorates two important events in our history: the birth of Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of the Sikh faith, and the establishment of the Khalsa, the fraternity of the chosen ones with the formal initiation in the Sikh faith by the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh.

Watch Dr. Butalia discuss Vaisaakhi

On Vaisaakhi the Tenth Guru inaugurated the formal initiation ceremony, which brings someone into the Sikh Khalsa and requires them to keep “the five Ks.” One of those Ks is Kirpan, which is a blade that we wear as a reminder to stand up for the oppressed. When all other means of  addressing oppression are exhausted, Sikhs believe that it is blessed to take the sword and defend the weak and the oppressed. 

Vaisaakhi challenges me as a Sikh to stand up for the weak and the oppressed. There is a saying of Guru Nanak, that truth is the highest virtue, but still higher than truth is truthful living. Truthful living means standing up for those of our neighbors who are being oppressed – and that is the virtue I try to celebrate on Vaisaakhi. Vaisaakhi is a celebration of hope for a better future for everyone in the world. Today I would like to see men stand up for our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, so they have their own freedom of reproductive health and can make their own choices without men controlling women’s bodies.

There are those in our communities who have a particular view on abortion health care, and they are welcome to practice that aspect of their faith as their religious freedom. But that religious freedom doesn’t extend to imposing religious values on people of other faiths or people of no faith. This is a point of mutual self- respect, that we all need to have whether we belong to a religious tradition or not: we ought not impose our views on others.

The only people who want the status quo are the oppressors. The oppressor loves the status quo. The status quo never ever benefits the oppressed and we as people of faith and as Sikhs must stand up for the oppressed shoulder to shoulder. Vaisaakhi gives us hope that these days of oppression are limited and that we can fight back. May you live in that hope and that power today and always.

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