Gurpreet Singh: Narendra Modi must not be allowed to appropriate 18th-century Sikh martyr Bhai Taru Singh

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      India's prime minister recently paid tribute to a Sikh martyr who laid down his life in defence of his faith.  

      On the 300th birth anniversary of Bhai Taru Singh, Narendra Modi took to Twitter to recall the sacrifice he made in 1745.  

      Singh was arrested and tortured at the behest of a tyrannical Mogal governor, Zakaria Khan. The punishment came as a result of his support for Sikh warriors who were fighting against repression and religious persecution. Singh refused to convert to Islam to save his life, and faced death with courage.  

      Modi is the leader of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is known for its anti-minority stance. Attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims, have grown in India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.

      And yet, he had a cheek to go on Twitter to pay respect to Bhai Taru Singh stating: “His name will always be synonymous with courage and fearlessness. Always proud of his culture as well as ethos, he never bowed to injustice. He continues to inspire millions.” 

      Considering Modi's track record of persecuting Muslims and other minorities—and supressing any voice of dissent by throwing his opponents in jail through draconian laws—such statement sounds hollow and meaningless.

      This only reflects how Modi and his BJP are obsessed with their one-sided view of Sikh history, which they have tried to appropriate to demonize Muslims.

      In reality, Sikhism was born in response to caste-based oppression in Hinduism and the state violence of the Mogal regime, which ruled northern India from the early 16th to mid-18th century. 

      The Sikh gurus and warriors not only stood up against Islamist rule, but also the systemic violence of the Hindu priest class on so-called untouchables. This humanist aspect of Sikhism cannot be overlooked.

      Modi's BJP has a tendency to portray Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold, something vehemently contested by Sikhs, who have well-founded fears of assimilation in a Hindu-dominated country.

      Video: Watch a trailer for the 2017 animated film Bhai Taru Singh: Feel the Divine.

      If Modi really cares for the ethos of Bhai Taru Singh, he must revoke India's black laws, release political prisoners, and stop terrorizing Muslims.

      He has no moral right to celebrate the legacy of a religion that preaches secularism and teaches its followers to raise voices against injustice in any form.

      We cannot let bigots appropriate the legacy of Sikh martyrs whose fight wasn’t against Islam, but the theocracy of Islamist rulers, which ironically is being repeated by Modi and company.

      Bhai Taru Singh would have resisted what is being done to the Muslims in India today because that is what the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, taught.