From Punjab to Palestine: Liberation in Our Lifetime
As the world witnesses the ongoing genocide being conducted by the illegal Israeli occupation in Gaza, a genocide that serves solely as a response to the quest for a liberated Palestine, the historical significance of Bandi Chhor Divas resonates profoundly with me. This day in Sikh history marks the liberation of Guru Hargobind Sahib and 52 imprisoned kings from the horrors of Gwalior Fort. Bandi Chhor Divas is a beacon of hope, embodying the resilience and spirit of those striving for freedom and justice against oppression and occupation, just like the millions of brave Palestinians who remain steadfast in their survival against the unforgivable violence of the Israeli occupation.
The commemoration of Bandi Chhor Divas isn’t confined to a historical event; it is a celebration that centers around the abolition of injustice and the pursuit of liberation. It encapsulates the Sikh commitment to justice, equality, and the necessity to raise arms in order to fight against all forms of oppression. This historical narrative finds resonance in the struggles of Palestinians striving for liberation against Israeli apartheid and genocide. The plight of the Palestinian people, engaged in a prolonged struggle against occupation and oppression, parallels the historical significance of Bandi Chhor Divas.
Between 1617 and 1619, Guru Hargobind Ji faced unjust confinement within the formidable walls of Gwalior Fort by Emperor Jahangir. At the tender age of twenty-two, despite his youth, Guru Ji found himself imprisoned alongside 52 other kings — former rulers who fell victim to the clutches of Emperor Jahangir’s punitive measures.
These exalted captives found themselves languishing within Gwalior’s confines for various reasons — some for supporting Prince Khurram’s bid for succession against Jahangir, others for failing to meet imposed financial obligations, or following the annexation of their territories post their defeat in battles. The overseer of this incarceration for the nobility was Hari Das.
Gwalior Fort bore a fearsome notoriety; none who had entered its confines had emerged to tell the tale.
Upon Guru Ji’s arrival, Hari Das approached with a meal for the prisoner, bowing in reverence to his new detainee. Despite the appealing provisions offered before him, Guru Ji declined to eat the food provided at the fort. After three days of fasting and continuing to showcase resistance, Hari Das was overwhelmed with concern and implored Guru Ji to eat, but Guru Ji conveyed to him that while food sustains the body, sustenance can also be derived from the remembrance of the divine, which is his true nourishment. This concept bewildered Hari Das, whose understanding was restricted to the necessity of food for survival. Other Sikhs imprisoned at Gwalior Jail similarly joined Hari Das and also appealed to Guru Ji to eat. Guru Ji declined the state-provided food, deeming it as proceeds from coerced tax money and not earned through honest means. He instructed his Sikhs to earn their sustenance by honest labor in Gwalior city, preparing their own food. This moment in Gwalior Fort resonates with an incident from Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s life when he declined the opulent feast hosted by Malik Bhago in honor of his ancestors. Guru Ji preferred the simple, honest bread of Bhai Laalo, as it was earned through honest toil, not extracted forcefully from others.
Guru Ji’s principled stance against consuming the byproducts of injustice and exploitation resonates deeply with the modern-day need to support movements like BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) in response to Israel’s actions in Occupied Palestine, in order to remain vigilant against genocide and injustice. The BDS movement represents a global initiative aimed at advocating for change in the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. It operates through three key avenues:
Boycott: This facet entails the refusal to support Israeli goods, companies, and institutions involved in activities deemed to contribute to the occupation of Palestinian territories. This extends to cultural, academic, and consumer domains.
Divestment: Institutions, including universities and corporations, are urged to divest from entities complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights. This means withdrawing financial support or investments from these organizations.
Sanctions: Advocates call for governments to impose sanctions on Israel, pressuring the country economically and politically to reconsider its policies regarding the treatment of Palestinians and the occupied territories.
The movement draws inspiration from historical precedents such as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It champions nonviolent means to address Israel’s breach of international law and human rights in its treatment of Palestinians. The underlying aim is to advocate for justice, equality, and the respect of human rights for all individuals, irrespective of their background or ethnicity.
Just as Guru Ji refused sustenance sourced from exploited labor, the BDS movement advocates for refusing to support entities complicit in the violation of human rights and the exploitation and occupation of Indigenous communities. By boycotting products and institutions involved in perpetuating violence and injustice, the BDS movement echoes the values upheld by Guru Ji — a refusal to benefit from unethical means and a commitment to standing against oppression. Guru Ji’s lesson emphasizes the importance of not only personal ethical choices but also collective action against systems built on injustice. Just as Guru Ji set an example by rejecting sustenance derived from unjust means, the BDS movement calls for a collective refusal to support entities that perpetuate violence and genocide in Palestine.
In alignment with Guru Ji’s teachings, the BDS movement advocates for ethical consumption and investment, aiming to pressure those perpetuating violence and oppression to reconsider their actions. It stands as a modern echo of Guru Ji’s refusal to accept provisions derived from exploited labor, calling for a collective rejection of institutions and products involved in perpetuating violence and injustice. Guru Ji’s teachings further cement the unwavering solidarity of our people in remaining dedicated to liberation. The shared experiences of Punjab and Palestine in facing colonialism and occupation bind the struggles of our people together. We have both endured the brutalities of external domination, fighting against forces that seek to suppress our identities and aspirations. The parallels between our two lands highlight a shared journey toward justice and liberation, a journey marked by resilience, resistance, and a quest for self-determination.
The call to solidarity between Punjab and Palestine is not merely a symbolic gesture; it’s a unifying force against injustice and oppression. It transcends geographical boundaries and stands as a testament to the collective yearning of our people for freedom and justice. Inquilab and Intifada are like heartbeats echoing the soulful melodies of two diverse cultures, yet singing the same ballad of resistance and resilience.
Inquilab, meaning revolution, pulses with the rhythm of Punjabi history, echoing the longing for freedom, much like a symphony composed by all oppressed people who have dared to challenge colonial chains. On the other side of the world, Intifada, meaning uprising, embodies the passionate defiance of Palestinians, a relentless pursuit of self-determination, like a timeless saga sung in global resistance. Both movements share a common chord — the desire to reclaim sovereignty and uphold cultural identity, cemented through our dedication to struggle and resilience. The stories of colonial oppression weave a thread that ties Punjabi and Palestinian communities with one another, linking our struggles for freedom and self-determination.
The solidarity between our two communities is a dance of shared experience and understanding. It’s the dance of kindred spirits who, despite diverse landscapes, share a common dream — to break free from the shackles of oppression.
By harmonizing our voices in solidarity, Punjabis and Palestinians orchestrate a symphony of unity, amplifying our shared song for justice and freedom. Our bond transcends borders, uniting in a powerful chorus, resonating with the universal yearning for a world where every soul dances to the rhythm of liberty and justice.
In the spirit of Bandi Chhor Divas, there emerges a resounding call to action for Sikhs and all individuals dedicated to justice. It beckons us to remain resolute against injustice and occupation. It urges a commitment to uphold the principles of equality, compassion, and the unwavering pursuit of justice for all. As we commemorate the legacy of Bandi Chhor Divas, let us stand in solidarity with the struggles for liberation across the world. Let us draw inspiration from the historical dedication of Guru Hargobind Sahib and remain vigilant in our pursuit of justice, advocating for the rights of the oppressed and occupied people of Palestine.
The celebration of Bandi Chhor Divas is not confined to a day in history; it is a perpetual reminder of our collective responsibility to stand against oppression, uphold the values of justice and liberation, and work tirelessly to create a world where every individual can live free from persecution and discrimination.
From Punjab to Palestine, liberation in our lifetime. Chardi Kala.