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Mool Mantar - Affirmations Amidst Adversity



In moments of reflection during the silences that briefly emerge between the noises of my work, between the crackle and fire of guns and bombs, and the torrents and thunder of rains and winds, I try and get oases of  meditation going so I can re-balance myself amongst the chaos and conflict that surrounds me in the war zones, in which I live.

After 15 years of the constant hum of war and fleeting moments of peace, I have found that, amazingly, a clear relationship has emerged between who I was born to be and what I do in this life. I never searched for this affinity, it just happened.

Since coming to this realization that I am living the principles of a Sikh and I am a Sikh and that they are the same thing, I feel much more at ease with my path in this life.

When I first started to work in places like Bosnia, where there had been war crimes and rape being committed among ethnic groups (Bosnians and Serbs and Croats) who had formerly been neighbours and friends; in Iraq within families and communities who formerly had all been just ‘Muslim‘ but were now divided and killing each other among the Shia, Sunni and Kurd sects of Islam; in Sri Lanka, where Tamils and Singhala fought and died over access to power and recognition over a small island; in Afghanistan where violence is used to achieve peace and western concepts are used to build an Eastern democracy; and in all places women and children become victimized in the conflict and disasters ... I felt that nothing makes sense, nothing is fair and nothing is safe.

All of the above experiences showed me that at the core of most conflicts and disasters in the world, there is a blatant disregard for truth, justice and peace, the concepts on which the mool mantar stands.

If one looks at the mool - our core belief - the very preamble, the key, to the Guru Granth Sahib, the elements of "one truth", "justice for all" and "guarantee of non-violence" are clearly set out as the trinity of defining concepts for Sikhs.

So this is it, I proclaim! And then everything else becomes so easy.

Choices about what to do in terrifying conditions and difficult circumstances become easily made, when one realises that there is one source for all beliefs and that equality and non-violence are the foundations for all beliefs.

Throughout my work, two of the principles of the mool that have mostly informed everything I have done are: equality and non-violence. And, well it seems so obvious to me that this is what I am supposed to be doing, so why even think about how my work lies in confluence with Sikh principles?

I believe that one must reflect on these affinities from time to time since the challenges and adversity that we face every day as we witness genocide and destruction and this can shatter that delicate relationship and make you unbalanced and then irrational in your understanding of the world.

One has to keep these values at the centre of their mind while all of the chaos surrounds oneself, otherwise we would go mad. There is a base assumption from which we operate so that we do not lose sight of reality and sense in the world. I can truthfully say, since I guess it is the work that I am engaged in, that equality and non-violence have not been as common as I wished it could have been and I mean this, both from the perspective of the actions of people from the war zones and from those who aim to help them.

I suppose that I have come to realise that the very definition of a war and of disaster zones do not include as one of its aims or features, equality and non-violence.

So I see things like: "women in prison," locked up as guarantors for bail that was set for their sons who are accused of crimes, but who have fled from police custody in Northern Afghanistan; people bathing in a polluted river since they have no access to water and sanitation facilities in Southern Sudan; or families running away from places engulfed in clashes between government and rebel forces in Sri Lanka.

I realize that I am being challenged to maintain my faith, while still dealing with the reality of violence and inequality. And so the real question is what does one do with that challenge?

The only thing that has helped me is to believe that I am only a small piece of the larger puzzle that is being put together and so I cannot always gauge the "what and why" of the situation. But I do know the "where, who and how."

And so I have to keep doing the work with my principles in my mind and know that it is what it is meant to be. Ik oankaar, sat naam ...


[Jasteena Kaur Dhillon is a Sikh-Canadian/ Briton who is currently engaged by Harvard University in their State-Building and Human Rights for Afghanistan/Pakistan program as a research fellow looking at issues of rule of law, formal and informal justice in the context of human rights in the tribal areas. Her overall research and advocacy research interests centre on international law, justice and human rights in conflict, post-conflict and transitional countries and regions.]

November 24, 2009  

Conversation about this article

1: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), November 24, 2009, 9:51 PM.

Jasteena Kaur: I am so very impressed by what you do; it is no piece of cake. How many of us would even want to venture out to Afganistan, let alone work for human rights. Another one of the qualities of the Mool Mantar is Nir bhao - without fear. Since you reflect on the Mool Mantar, that quality of being without fear has descended onto you. In this, you are truly following in the footsteps of the Guru. My best wishes.

2: Jasteena (Boston, U.S.A.), February 07, 2010, 3:25 AM.

Ravinder ... thank you. I am honoured to be able to do this work.

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