An Open Letter to the DMV Sikh Community and Beyond
TW: Sexual violence and assault.
The past few months have been exhausting, painful, and disheartening as our community has a long overdue reckoning with sexual assault and abuse. Before I get into my thoughts, I want to make some things very clear: I stand with survivors, those that have come forward and those that have not. I’m sorry that time and time again our community has failed you. Your trauma shouldn’t be leveraged to convince us that it’s time to change. We all know it is.
This moment is bigger than any individual, any gurdwara, and any family. My thoughts that follow pertain to our community as a whole, including, but not limited to Gurdarshan Singh’s assault case. I’m also thinking of the myriad of survivors* in our community whose stories, both past and present, fall upon deaf ears far too often.
We must figure out: What do we do with people who do harm and how do we prevent it from happening again?
As I’ve seen my community scrambling to find an answer to these questions, what keeps coming to mind is the following: What are we teaching our young people? The nameless survivors? The kids that have only ever heard their parents talk about sex in the context of abuse? How can there be a ‘right’ way to express trauma? And what incentive is there for those that have done harm to admit to it?
I’ve heard many speak of the need to focus on healing, on change, and on forgiveness. Of course we do. I believe that people can change. I also believe that when a community’s instinct is to assume accusations of harm are baseless, too old, already dealt with, or seeking to ruin reputations, that it is very clear that our community does not want to change. When we talk about how a person’s ‘goodness’ outweighs the harm they’ve done, we create an inaccurate, silencing vortex that tells survivors only a monster can harm them. In reality, ‘good’ people do harm. People that we love harm us. People that we respect harm us. Recognizing that harm is harm, no matter how much you respect the person that commits it, is something our community often fails to do.
In addition, there have been many times in the past few months where I catch myself thinking of the brave survivor that initiated this conversation. I think of the trauma she must carry, the way it’s been publicized and picked apart. And I can’t help but wonder, have we actually done anything to support her? To be frank, I’m thinking of many of the young Sikh men that have co-opted the conversation. From the Sikh sisterhood grapevine, I know that many of these male ‘advocates’ consistently sexualize, slut shame, and silence the Sikh women in their communities. Why are they the ones controlling conversations about how to support survivors?*
And what’s changed in the past few months? Have we begun to build any infrastructure or supports for survivors? Rehabilitation for harm-doers? We can’t just leave the conversation here, digging up trauma without any ways to process or heal.
To those outside of the DMV Sangat, I thank you for shining a spotlight on my community and pushing us to address patterns of abuse. But I also ask, are you ready for this conversation to come to your doorstep? I hope so, because we need every gurdwara, every camp, and every sangat to be talking and unpacking and healing.
And finally, because I hate when people ramble without any action items, I leave you with these ideas:
- Make sure you’re processing. I rely on these resources in addition to my therapist, family, and friends:
-Video Series on Accountable Communities from Survived and Punished:
-Justice in America Podcast on Abolition & hat happens when cycles of harm are replicated
-Interview with Chanel Miller, a survivor of sexual violence (TW: graphic description of assault)
- Donate to the Sikh Family Center. They are the only Sikh organization in the US with a focus on gender-based violence. Follow them on instagram too @sikhfamilycenter
- Invite the South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance to do a workshop at camp, Punjabi school, or with your friends. They’re even based in MD!
- Write to your gurdwara board about what you think our community needs. Can we have licensed mental health professionals at gurdwara? Are there safe ways to report assault and/or violence outside of the legal system? What measures of support can we take for survivors that don’t want to report? What ways are there to remove stigma around conversations about sexual health? Do our gurdwara boards represent the needs of our sangat? What happens when the overwhelming majority of board members are elderly Sikh men?
- For our leadership in gurdwaras and camps: Call in the people that regularly work with issues related to sexual violence and ask them to help us create a plan to move forward. Compensate them for their work & make sure they are not affected individuals from our sangat. It’s okay to ask for help from organizations like the Sikh Family Center, the Sikh Awareness Society, SAKHI NYC, etc. (a full list of orgs can be found here)
- Use trigger warnings! Please! Continue to talk about sexual violence, but understand the emotional weight and traumatic nature of these conversations. A trigger warning can go a long way.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time. I’m not an expert on any of this — rather I’m just a young woman from the DMV who is trying to process. Sending love to my DMV sangat, Sewa family, and always to my parents, brother, and sister who have these conversations when nobody else will!
Bhul Chuk Maaf Karna ❤
*I use the word survivor to describe people that have experienced sexual violence. Not everybody survives their assault. I stand with all individuals that have experienced sexual violence.
*By no means do I intend to imply that Sikh men are not survivors of sexual violence. They certainly are.