RICHMOND - While the emotional blisters of the Air India bombing were still raw and oozing pain and grief, Indo-Canadian gangs emerged and embarked upon a killing spree.
Their carnage has earned our community a reputation that makes us hang our heads in shame.
The 1990s introduced me to new meanings, nuances and aspects of the "Sikh" religion. Until I learned of brawls in temple parking lots over chairs and tables, I had no clue there was such a classification as "fundamentalists" and "moderates." Before that, every Sikh was a respected warrior, a "Sardarji" to me.
Fortunately, it seems that these factions have resolved their differences. Now, they have their separate Baisakhi parades, they build their separate Gurdwaras.
In addition to committing violent acts against our own community, Indo-Canadians also committed heinous crimes against their own family members. Some examples of this horrific "brown on brown" violence include the cases of "The Kettle Bomber," the "Pink Lady," and the "Vernon Massacre."
Recently, we heard about a "good guy," "a nice family man" and an "ordinary father" who stabbed to death his 17-year-old daughter, 17 times, as though he inflicted one stab for each year she lived. Since when have we condoned "honour killings?"
These people, these crimes, do not reflect the Sikh community I knew growing up in India.
Gurbax Singh, a Sikh, was among many of my father's multi-faith friends. He was so gentle that my father would say his friend did not have a single crooked bone in his body. His name should have been Sajjan (Gentle) Singh.
My uncle and his friend, Terlok Singh, a Sikh, were so close that you would have thought that they were brothers. Whenever I went to visit my uncle I found him there -- sipping tea.
Once, when I was visiting India with my then nine-year-old daughter Shachi, Terlok Singh dropped by and asked for me. He was wearing an orange turban. This was the mid-1980s, and Shachi thought that only Khalistanis wore orange turbans. When he entered the house, the poor kid freaked out; rushed inside to find me and blurted out, "there is a Khalistani looking for you." I came out and found Terlok Singh standing at the door. We hugged each other. I introduced him to Shachi assuring her that he was not a Khalistani.
One of my high school classmates in India was Nattha Singh. He was a tall, strong boy, full of energy and humour. He was not much interested in school, though he took a great interest in girls.
Once, for fun, I tripped him. Nattha's books went in one direction and his cherry turban in the other. Of course, this took place in front of the girls he was always trying to impress. I was terrified of the consequences, but Nattha never settled that score with me. He swallowed his pride and let me go home that evening with all my body parts intact.
I know there is no such thing as absolute social harmony. But those are my recollections of a harmonious community.
Lately, I have been pondering our destiny. Where is it taking us? Have we forgotten every sermon our scriptures taught us? Have we lost all the lessons our ancestors reinforced? Or did we forget to pack them when we left for the West?
It appears we bartered them for material goals and vanity on arrival.
I am concerned about how other Canadians view us.
Do they see us as people from one of the oldest cultures of the world, where Buddha, Guru Nanak, Govind Singh and Mahatma Gandhi taught us to be loving, forgiving and compassionate, and inspired us to value truth? Or are we viewed as people who have come here from a self-centred, narcissistic culture where we resolve our differences through violence, by blowing up planes, by killing our spouses and stabbing our children?
If they view us as being from the second group, it will not be their fault.
We are the ones who converted Sikhism's holiest shrine into an armory. We are the people who desecrated the sanctity of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by invading it.
We are the people who had danced on the streets and distributed sweets to celebrate the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. We are the people who vowed to kill 50,000 Hindus to avenge the victimization of Sikhs in India.
And we are the ones who blew 329 innocent men, women and children out of the sky 20 years ago.
We can't deny any of these acts. So, how can we blame people for taking us as a bunch of bloodthirsty brutes?
There is still time to work on our image in our adopted country by reminding each other who we were, where we came from and where we are.
Let's invest our energies on adults, and especially on parents, the trustees of the next generation. Let's re-learn Indian culture before we force our children to behave like Indians.
In the process, some acculturation wouldn't hurt.
After all, in Canada, there is no such thing as pure cultures any more. And it's something we, as Canadians, often celebrate.
© The Vancouver Sun 2005