Sikhi and Abolition - In tribute to Dr Rahuldeep Singh
This article was taken from the last public interview with the late Dr Rahuldeep Singh
Dr Rahuldeep Singh was an abolitionist, educator, and organiser based in Los Angeles. His Akaal Chalana on 31st of December 2021 left many of us in shock. Rahuldeep fought against the sickness of a world dominated by the status quo of the “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” as bell hooks so acurarely names particular conditions of oppression that impact colonised bodies. As a Sikh scholar Rahuldeep Singh made a significant contribution to the field with his book about Bhai Gurdas Ji: Drinking from Love’s Cup. As a friend and colleague he left a lasting impact centering
Below we’re sharing excerpts from the Elemnt podcast hosted by Taman and Gurjoat which featured Rahuldeep (Deep) Singh. You can listen to the full episode on www.theelemnt.ca
In anticipation of Sikh Heritage Month, Shamsher Singh from the UK, Navjyot Kaur and Deep Singh from California hop on to talk about why we need to globally advocate for abolition and how the movement is integral to our Sikh identity.
Taman Kaur: I think a lot of people are confused around what abolition means, what defunding the police means and what the entire premise of that is. So, before we jump into it, what is the definition of abolition and what does it mean to you?
Deep Singh: I’m not going to start with a definition. I’m going to start with something a little bit deeper and more emotional. Because for me, abolition is about emotions and abolition is about, you know, the disgust that I feel for living in a world where we use punishment as policy. So for me, abolition is about imagination, abolition is about imagining new ways we could come together and replace the existing systems that we have.
Navjyot Kaur: Yeah, I think Deep is absolutely right that abolition is really about rebuilding and reimagining a different way of life, relating to each other, relating to our communities, to our societies…I think, really, the centre of this type of movement is really love and care for each other. And that often gets lost in these mainstream representations of abolition and this type of liberation work.
Gurjoat Kaur: I think that’s beautiful that you say that, because I just want to say that you guys keep catching on and you keep mentioning that it’s about flourishing a community together, growing together, whereas right now [policing] it’s separating people from the community.
Deep: The job of the police is to keep us separated from each other. That might sound a little radical for some folks, but let me just tell you: what is the first thing that people say is going to go wrong if the police are … whatever? They’re worried about their private property; they’re not worried that their communities are not going to flourish; they’re not worried that their kids will now be a little bit safer, if they’re Brown or Black. They’re worried that their property is going to be in danger. So the job of the police is to keep us individualised because it is our individualised selves in these systems, in these Western systems that can own property. It’s really hard to get a trust; you have to get a lawyer for that and then you have to sign all these documents saying that you’re not individuals and you’re going to hold a piece of property in common.
The whole damn systems that we’re talking about, they’re built on possession for some people, and dispossession for others. And the dispossessors are the police. As we can see, as people are gonna get evicted after COVID19; it’s going to be sheriffs, it’s going to be police and (sorry, I’m not even talking about “it’s going to be”), it is these people who are pulling poor people out of houses and dumping them out onto the streets. So if anything, the police are antithetical to community.
Taman: …I feel that our experience with police in Punjab is radically different to how we view them here in the Western world. And I do want to talk about it, Deep you mentioned something about how police are antithetical…But in terms of this conversation, how do you guys see it in the US? In California is it a similar situation, do you see a lot of Sikh recruitment?
Deep: I was at the Farmer’s Protest a few weeks ago, in LA, we had one. And I was really excited that here we are. I’m wearing my green. I’m really excited. My kids had just come from a BLM protest in the morning and now we’re standing with farmers in the afternoon – it was amazing. But one of the first trucks that I saw there was a big pickup with Nishaan Sahib, an American flag and a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag. And so I don’t think they even need to do any recruiting. Our colonial minds are already doing the work for them. We were colonised back home with this mentality that ‘this is how we’re going to get along with these colonisers’ – No! No! No!
We would have solidarity with more communities if we knew some of the histories behind how ugly these things are. As Navjyot pointed out very clearly, this is all rooted in anti-Blackness. Your Mounties are rooted in anti-indigenous sentiment and settler-colonialism. So in the educational and the mental battle; we don’t even have to let them recruit us, it’s almost like we’re ready to do the work for them.
Taman: …And the police, or these soldiers of capitalism you can call them, are the dividers, the tools used to divide us. When we participate in these structures, we’re diluting the community itself. I do want to ask in terms of, as you’ve already touched on Sikhi and abolition, why is it so important that Sikhs need to be actively fighting against this? What is our role and why is it so important that we need to be doing this?
Deep: You could come up with an ideological answer and I have that, so I’ll give you that in a second. But a very basic reason is that our budgets are literally being swallowed up by these militarised police forces. So very, very practically – I know we’re very, very practical people and we pride ourselves on that – whatever government says that you can’t have, like we can’t have this kind of healthcare, or we can’t have free parking here or we can’t have childcare; everything that the government says you can’t have, you can’t have because the money is going somewhere. It’s not that we can’t imagine that we can collect that money, that revenue is going to fund guns and tanks and shields and their pensions. And when they get sued for police brutality, to pay those lawsuits. So very, very practically, it’s so that we can live better lives and that we can retire gracefully and so we can have healthcare and education etc.
But from an ideological perspective, the very first set of verses of our Guru Granth Sahib written by our Baba Nanak, he talks about hukam and haumai. And haumai is supposed to be something that is not part of the natural system; it’s very human. I think haumai is racism. I think haumai is bigotry. Hukam, which comes from the divine source, comes from the Earth, that’s about a flow, that’s about a saanjh, I was thinking, when Navjyot and Shamsher were talking I was getting chills because, we haven’t talked about this ourselves but we share so much of the same reflection on it.
saanjh is my favourite word in Punjabi: collectivity, the commons, and to both their points - we have done this before. Our people have more history of doing it that way than we have with private property, than we have with colonialism. So there’s very, very practical reasons for doing it,There’s very, very ideological reasons for doing it. Sikh reasons for doing it, and there’s historical reasons for doing it. I’m going to keep doing it until I have no more breath left.
You can read and hear more from Rahuldeep Singh here