Reflections on Bhai Hardeep Singh’s Life
Moninder Singh | @akali_babbar
Following Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s shaheedi, there have been multiple conversations around the meaning and significance of his life and sacrifice. In mid-July, Bhai Moninder Singh of the Khalistan Centre and Bhai Prabjot Singh of the Panth-Punjab Project spoke with Bhai Akashdeep Singh (UndyingMorcha) in a two-part conversation delving into Bhai Hardeep Singh’s life and the path forward. Below is an edited excerpt from part one of that conversation for our readers.
Moninder Singh: I'm going to start out with a bit of a disclaimer. I think anything we say in these moments, especially in this type of forum, should be reflective, coming from a place of not allowing some of the worldly constraints that we have to limit the conversation.
So I want to begin from there. In Sarbloh Granth there is a tuk (line from a shabad) that says: kharagchetar, dharamchetar punita. This means that a battlefield becomes pure when righteous individuals set foot to destroy tyrants and protect the oppressed. For me to talk about Bhai Hardeep Singh, I had to start from there because that's the basis of his entire life. I'll share some details with you that I've learned from him over the last 15 years.
There's pieces of people that live these lives coming out of the jujharoo sangarsh (armed struggle)–things that they couldn't tell their families, things that they couldn't tell other people, things that they experienced that might've been painful. It might've been anguish, it might've been pure happiness for some of the things that they accomplished, but they're never able to share them. All of that goes into this type of sangarsh (struggle). I feel as though he was a very complicated, loving, beautiful soul–and I hope we kind of get to touch on many aspects of his life–but the one that I'm gonna start off with is coming from that sangarshi life of how he became who he was.
He was different in almost every single way that I've ever seen somebody. That's why I think I gravitated towards him. We made an odd kind of jodhi (pair). I'm born and raised out here, in Canada, with very little physical connection to Punjab. He brought that out for me in many ways. I think he, being in the sangarsh, being from Punjab, gave me more grounding in what the sangarsh actually was from a physical aspect. We always think about it; most of us born and raised out here, we think about it but very few of us actually get to understand it or live alongside people that have actually lived it and are still living it. There’s a huge difference between those that lived through the sangarsh and then left it. Then there are those that lived it and made promises to those around them that they would continue to live it until their last breath. He was the latter.
From a young age of about 10 or 12 years old, I know bhaji (brother) was involved. His family was involved, so I think I should start there. He was involved because his mother and father were involved. His family was involved. Their home was a thahar (safe house) in their pind (village) and the surrounding villages. Singhs would come there, jujharoos would come there; they would stay nights there, they would be fed there, clothed there, taken care of there, protected there. That was his home.
Recently, in the outpouring of not only grief, but respect and love for Bhai Hardeep Singh, I had a conversation with a Singh that I've known for probably 15-20 years in Toronto. He finally told me that he had known Bhai Hardeep Singh's family, as he's from a neighboring village. He told me that Bhai Hardeep Singh's mother had the responsibility of warning Singhs that were in the fields or nearby safe houses if there were police operations going on in nearby villages. He told me about how she saved his life multiple times.
Walking quickly down a pathway between fields, she had a hand signal. She would walk down the fields giving the signal which meant “run!”, and they would pack up and leave immediately. That was his [Bhai Hardeep Singh’s] mother, so he himself was naturally going to become this because his home had set the ground for him. When you see your mother and your father–but especially his mother who had a huge influence on him with her sidak (steadfastness/courage) and sidhant (Sikh principles); her loving nature, but also her dridta (convictions) as well. That set the tone for him from a young age.
He had the opportunity to do sangat with a lot of Singhs that he often told me about. Shaheed Bhai Anokh Singh Babbar, Shaheed Bhai Raminderjit Singh Tainee Babbar–these Singhs would often visit his home. They were connected to his family. They would come there, and in his own words, he "experienced the warmth of their presence". When he was younger, he would sit with them and they would shower a lot of love on. He always told me that Bhai Anokh Singh's amrit vela (early morning routine), Bhai Anokh Singhs abhiyaas (spiritual practice)–even the weapons he carried–all of that had a huge impact on him. From an early age he started figuring out that this is miri-piri da sidhant (the harmony of spiritual and temporal sovereignty), that this struggle is not just based on fighting alone. That fight comes from gurmat; it comes from abhiyaas and gurmat. He saw that in the people that he was seeing, and that motivated him to live a similar lifestyle.
As he moved into the sangarsh himself, he was very close to Bhai Kulbir Singh Barapind and Bhai Gurdeep Singh Deepa, who everyone knows as “Deepa Heranwala”. Later his circle included Bhai Jagtar Singh Hawara, Bhai Jagtar Singh Tara, Bhai Parmjit Singh Bheora–Singhs that were involved in the 1995 Beanta assassination. All of them became his circle, and those were his confidants. Those were his people. We look at them today [in awe]; he was a part of that.
He was tortured very badly when he was in the sangarsh and he was picked up by the police. I'm kind of smiling because me and him used to laugh about something. If you ever saw us standing side by side–I'm about 6’1” and he's about 5’5”. I'd always joke with him about his kadh (height), and he would say to me–almost always–he would go: “tashadad ne mar ditta (torture ruined my height)” and I was like, “yeah, I don't think the torture had anything to do with your growth spurt”. He was a joker. He'd laugh a lot, he'd make you laugh. But he was in the sangarsh to a point where not only his house was a thahar; not only was he personally active; not only was he tortured by police–he had every experience you can imagine from the sangarsh.
By the time 1995 came around and the Beanta assassination happened, he left quickly thereafter to Europe in ‘95 itself. By 1997, he had arrived in Canada. So that's in a very small nutshell because there are a lot of things in there that are limiting us from having that conversation in these types of spaces. But I did wanna touch on all of that, and I wanted to mention one more thing here.
There is some horrible–as expected–reporting that goes on around bhaji's death. One of the articles was around this idea of how he arrived in Canada; this “refugee status” and these “false refugee claims”. We sent in responses to some of those media outlets, just questioning the whiteness of these conversations. That you came here hundreds of years ago, raping, pillaging, and plundering this land, and you're going to talk to us as we seek our sovereignty and you’re going to limit this guy's entire life to a refugee claim you think went bad? That shows, not only from the idea of the media perspective, but the government perspective, who we are in this country. Never will we be full-on Canadians in this country. This is borrowed land, at most we’re settlers here, on First Nations land. We understand that, but having white people tell us this–colonial structures tell us–who we are and why we belong here or don't belong here, or where we belong in the world. That in and of itself became another challenge in this whole thing as well. So when I talk about how he arrived here and then from 1997 onwards as we move further through his discussion, he just never stopped. He made a promise that he wanted to live up to. I think he did an excellent job of that, both in life and death.