PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE AND ROLE OF SIKHS*
Peaceful Co-existence is an issue which is so critical that every community has a stake in it, one way or the other.
Independent India must have hardly witnessed a day when it did not encounter communal tensions or worse, in one region or the other. We are all too familiar with what is transpiring across the region as well these days. The society continues to simmer underneath the delusional lull of silence which only serves to maintain the status quo till another riot occurs or a genocidal campaign is unleashed on one or more communities.
With every new technological advance in transport and communication, inter-community interactions, such frictions are bound to increase, and there is no escaping the fact that co-existence whether peaceful or not, is indispensable for the survival of every community.
But, before we delve deeper into the issue, it's pertinent to first familiarize ourselves with its definition and establish a broad-based common framework for terms of such discussion.
In the oxford dictionary word, 'peace' is variously described as "the situation or a period of time in which there is no war or violence in a country or an area," "the state of being calm or quiet," or "the state of living in friendship with somebody without arguing," while coexistence is defined as "to exist together in the same place or at the same time, especially in a peaceful way," while coexistence is "the state of being together in the same place at the same time."
Let's explore a Sikh stand on ideas of peace and coexistence as explained in the Sabad, the revealed wisdom, and exemplified and demonstrated over the course of our history and tradition.
ਅਬ ਮੋਹਿ ਸਰਬ ਕੁਸਲ ਕਰਿ ਮਾਨਿਆ ॥ ਸਾਂਤਿ ਭਈ ਜਬ ਗੋਬਿਦੁ ਜਾਨਿਆ ॥
Now I have come to accept all as well (within the larger scheme).
I am at peace since I have realized the Source/Origin of the Creation.
It clearly explains that peace is an internalized state of equipoise reached by experiencing a sense of harmony with the creation around us, through awareness and acceptance of the Divine will. Thus, it is an inside out approach where internal peace of an enlightened individual extends to the outside world. It also implicitly points to the undisturbed nature of this internal peace by the external state of the being as a byproduct of that awareness and acceptance. But this assumption may lead to an erroneous conclusion in the context of today's debate, if not further qualified. So, let's consider a few more examples from Gurbani that may help up establish a vision of peaceful coexistence in the society.
ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦੀ ਏਕੋ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਤਾਂ ਦੂਜਾ ਭਾਉ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥
ਮਨਿ ਸਾਂਤਿ ਆਈ ਵਜੀ ਵਧਾਈ ਤਾ ਹੋਆ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥
When the individual through the grace of the mentor/enlightener realized the One,
The fear of the other disappears.
When the mind is thus at peace in the celebration of that one love,
The individual is accepted/ acclaimed.
Elsewhere, Gurbani states:
ਧਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਸਤ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਹਮਾਰਾ ਜਿਤੁ ਮਿਲਿਐ ਹਮ ਕਉ ਸਾਂਤਿ ਆਈ ॥…
ਧਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ ਹਮਾਰਾ ਜਿਨਿ ਵੈਰੀ ਮਿਤ੍ਰੁ ਹਮ ਕਉ ਸਭ ਸਮ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਦਿਖਾਈ ॥
Truly being is my true enlightener, meeting whom I have found peace…
Truly wisdom of the Divine is my true enlightener, who has given me the insight to look upon friend and foe alike.
The message is loud and clear. The biggest contributor to peace and coexistence in any society is the enlightened consciousness of the Divine and the biggest threat to it is the ignorance of mind, and the the perception of otherness; a human perception that does not see the Divine in all.
Another significant thing to observe here is that peace in Gurbani is associated with every lively, vibrant state of love in Divine awareness which sees no duality and in turn no otherness. This description is a significant departure from the dictionary definitions, which define peace simply as silence or absence of turbulence, in an otherwise charged environment where there is little room for any improvement. This reflects popular sentiments in which peace is seen through a pessimistic worldview, with an expression of, "I tolerate you, you tolerate me." I am sure this is not the kind of peaceful coexistence we Sikhs envision.
The peace that emanates from the text of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is so dynamic that it widens its ambit beyond the dichotomies of life and harmonizes them, for peace is not mere absence of conflict or war. Prof. Puran Singh beautifully captures this idea of harmonizing duality thus:
His Nam is a lullaby sung in my ears by the angels through my own lips. I am wrapt in sound sleep all day long while my body is acting, and all night long, while it is as dead. I am a myriad others know not yet. My religion is ineffable peace that glows with life; not dead peace, but the peace that is also ringing heroically in the music of war.
Let's also take a few moments to reflect on what kind of coexistence Gurbani visualizes. Guru Granth Sahib's verses never lose sight of the colorful diversity of creation and the Divine will to have it like that; so it celebrates it.
It is the concept of a cosmopolitan city where every citizen of the world would love to live:
ਬੇਗਮਪੁਰਾ ਸਹਰ ਕੋ ਨਾਉ ॥ ਦੂਖੁ ਅੰਦੋਹੁ ਨਹੀ ਤਿਹਿ ਠਾਉ ॥
ਨਾਂ ਤਸਵੀਸ ਖਿਰਾਜੁ ਨ ਮਾਲੁ ॥ ਖਉਫੁ ਨ ਖਤਾ ਨ ਤਰਸੁ ਜਵਾਲੁ ॥ ੧ ॥
ਅਬ ਮੋਹਿ ਖੂਬ ਵਤਨ ਗਹ ਪਾਈ ॥ ਊਹਾਂ ਖੈਰਿ ਸਦਾ ਮੇਰੇ ਭਾਈ ॥ ੧ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਕਾਇਮੁ ਦਾਇਮੁ ਸਦਾ ਪਾਤਿਸਾਹੀ ॥ ਦੋਮ ਨ ਸੇਮ ਏਕ ਸੋ ਆਹੀ ॥
ਆਬਾਦਾਨੁ ਸਦਾ ਮਸਹੂਰ ॥ ਊਹਾਂ ਗਨੀ ਬਸਹਿ ਮਾਮੂਰ ॥ ੨ ॥
ਤਿਉ ਤਿਉ ਸੈਲ ਕਰਹਿ ਜਿਉ ਭਾਵੈ ॥ ਮਹਰਮ ਮਹਲ ਨ ਕੋ ਅਟਕਾਵੈ ॥
ਕਹਿ ਰਵਿਦਾਸ ਖਲਾਸ ਚਮਾਰਾ ॥ ਜੋ ਹਮ ਸਹਰੀ ਸੁ ਮੀਤੁ ਹਮਾਰਾ ॥ ੩ ॥
Begampura - 'a place without sorrow' - is the name of the town. Suffering or sorrow does not abide there. There are no tax worries on commodities and property. There is no fear, blemish or decline.
Now, I have found this great place to reside. Fellows, it is always peaceful there.
Sovereignty is stable and eternal there. No one has second or third class status - all are equal. That city is populous and eternally famous. Its residents are prosperous and content.
People stroll about freely as they please. Inhabitants of that mansion are fully aware; there are no hindrances. The emancipated shoemaker Ravidas proclaims: my fellow citizens are my friends.
It is indeed a Divine wish to see an equitable, free and open world, built upon dignity and liberty for all, and based on love and justice. Further, Guru Arjan Dev remind us of what the internal dynamics of such a society should be:
ਹੁਣਿ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਹੋਆ ਮਿਹਰਵਾਣ ਦਾ ॥ ਪੈ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਕਿਸੈ ਰਞਾਣਦਾ ॥
ਸਭ ਸੁਖਾਲੀ ਵੁਠੀਆ ਇਹੁ ਹੋਆ ਹਲੇਮੀ ਰਾਜੁ ਜੀਉ ॥
Now the merciful has ordained; no one shall harass anyone,
all reside in peace, such is this benevolent rule/dominion.
Thus Sikh vision of a peaceful coexistence is a vibrant society of enlightened individuals who see One in all and appreciate difference as a means to enrich life and Divine experience. Based on this vision, world will always and should always remain multi-colored. A Sikh's job is to make sure that this coexistence is spiritually united, harmonious and celebratory in nature.
Societies witness instability and chaos whenever there are two currents, one hegemonic and another counter hegemonic. Root of many religious, ethnic or other discords lies in this identity assertion. One dominant group attempting to shove their identity and ideology down the throat of the others. Continued unrest in the world society is symptomatic of continued human struggle for rights and justice, while safeguarding their identity in language and culture through adequate representation in power. This is where the role of Sikhs becomes vital in today's age.
Now, let's look at some anecdotes in history that help us establish Sikhs stance on the issue that is in consonance with the Sikh canon and further exemplifies it. We will look at four instances in the continuous effort by Sikhs to forge a peaceful coexistence. Two of these are from the times Sikhs were out of power or were not a political force to reckon with. The other are two from a period when they had established their sovereignty in the political domain.
Guru Nanak Dev arrived on the world scene when intolerance and domination were at its highest, be it political, social or religious. Mughal rulers were busy forcing down their faith on the repressed masses. He not only confronted the political rulers for their repression of the masses but also questioned the preacher class for its hypocrisy and for misleading the faithful. He questioned the Hindu Brahman (priest), the Muslim kazi and the yogi (monk) in their own fiefdoms. Guru Nanak Sahib championed the cause of the unrepresented. First time ever in the human history of South Asia, weaker sections of the society became aware of their dignity and raised their voices to claim their rights.
Either Guru Nanak Dev is guiltyof disturbing peace and harmony in the society by instigating people against each other, or our understanding of peace is very much flawed. The history is unforgiving and it continues to repeat itself. It's high time we took cue from it and learnt our lessons.
Guru Nanak Dev's stance forces us to realize that peace is not unidirectional. It is not merely a function of mutual goodwill; it should also be reflective of an equitable society with dignified existence and justice for all as its basis.
But Guru Nanak Dev also established genuine dialogue across the spectrum of religious denominations and their leaders to bring about understanding. Even though the results of many such dialogues were short-lived, it demonstrates the Sikh resolve to exhaust all means of peaceful resolution, to establish a cordial social environment. But the short-lived nature of such dialogues also demonstrates limitations of such engagement.
As Sirdar Kapur Singh points out, "… Sikhism, freely recognizes that search for a fundamental unity of religions or the attempts at the religious rapprochement have their limitations, for, there are fundamental differences in the conceptions of Reality and attitudes toward the world, permanently impending a real and lasting synthesis among basically incompatible elements. Sikhism preaches frank and unreserved dialogue between various religions, and the human groups that owe allegiance to these religions, so as to arrive at the experience that transcends religious particular-ism and realizes a basis of identity underneath all modes of religious expression. As a corollary thereof, Sikhism favours a plural, free, open and progressive human society, God-oriented, non-aggressive but firm and ever ready to combat against rise and growth of evil, through organized resistance, and forward looking yet non-ambitious."
There are a few important lessons to be learnt from this. First, that intercommunity conciliations cannot be absolute in terms of the extent and duration. Second, there is still a need to have a free and frank dialogue on all issues across the board. Third, to forge an open space for itself as a community to be able to express itself freely in politics and society with respect to self-determination.
Even with these seemingly paradoxical conditions, Sikh history is replete with instances of open and spirited relationships established. Cross-community personal relations can be traced throughout the Founder-Gurus- period that displayed exceptional bonhomie through their friendships that surpassed the conventional group boundaries. Not only do they set standards for interpersonal relationships, but also demonstrate what it takes to bring about a harmonious and vibrant coexistence.
It's well nigh impossible to imagine Guru Nanak Dev and Bhai Mardana without each other. Guru Arjan Dev's relationship with Sai Mian Mir, Guru Gobind Singh's bonding with that of Ghani Khan, Nabi Khan, Pir Budhu Shah and Bhai Nand Lal are prime examples of the kind of relationships that we need to forge.
These relationships were not some run of the mill encounters of religious leaders based on some tolerance protocols that required both sides to tone down their religious fervor to be acceptable to each other; what we seek to do today in the name of co-existence. I tone down my religious lifestyle a bit, you do yours so that we can possibly live together peacefully without inciting each other ignorant darker sides.
Instead, they were the bonds established on the Divine domain that transcended particularism of the respective faiths. These relationships spiritual witnessed Divine oriented individuals coming together with their love and passion in full glory, complementing each other's experience on the human plane of existence to turn it into Divine, as the Guru seeks to do with an individual in Asa di Var. These relationships were the kind that are still possible despite irreconcilable differences in the dogmas. Mindful of these differences, Sirdar Kapur Singh again beautifully captures the essence of such a relationship, "that aims at transcending of all particular-ism in religion and points towards a religious experience realized as the All-Ground of all-particular religious experiences and which, therefore, does not confront dogma with dogma and belief with belief. And which does not aim at religious conversion so much as the authentic religious life and is thus primarily a bridge-maker and not a universal conqueror or all-leveller."
There are great possibilities for a peaceful coexistence if truly Divine oriented people come together in such an alliance to complement either other's experiences rather than that imposters playing religious. This requires the masses to own up their religious legacy and reclaim it from false religious leaders.
Next we explore the same dynamics through Guru Gobind Singh's Zafarnama, letter of victory written to Aurangzeb. When same setup of religious intolerance and political repression were playing out differently and more aggressively. In a slightly different context, Guru Gobind Singh is indirectly establishing the rules of engagement through a letter between two opposing sides to be able to live together peacefully. In brief, we should analyse Zafarnama, to identify Guru Sahib's focus and the terms on which he engages with Aurangzeb.
Written in 111 couplets, Zafarnama devotes 34 to praising the Divine; that's almost 31%. He takes another 20 to give the context that is the battle of Chamkaur, 15 to reprimand Aurangzeb and his agents for breaking oath and another 36 describing Aurangzeb's failings as a ruler. In between, he also makes the Khalsa's resolve to confront his empire very clear (78, 79), while maintaining his right to self-defense and war as a last resort (21). He also praises Aurangzeb (89-94) as wise and intelligent with good military skills but also chides him for falling short of following Islam in spirit.
It give a few insights into the Guru's approach that are relevant to today's topic. Here we have the Guru, having lost the whole family in war, with dwindled military power, yet he shows no signs of hate or desperation. In a very thoughtful manner, he points out, a) his propensity to keep the communication channels open, b) principle centered struggle free of personal or personality politics, c) confronting domination at any cost, and d) aggression only in self-defense to maintain freedom and dignity of life.
This clearly demonstrates that justice and freedom are at the center of a peaceful coexistence. How far are we willing to go to uphold these principles today? We will talk about it in the closing remarks.
Now, we look at two key examples of Sikhs displaying willingness to share power and their resolve to establish a multi religious / cultural just society. Sikhs have tasted political power twice in the course of history; first one quite short though; however long enough to display the Sikh character.
After Banda Singh Bahadar established the Khalsa Raj, apart from the abolition of land lordship, bringing about land reforms through redistribution of land and alteration of revenue structures, he also did not fail to reinstate many Hindu officials who had been removed from their positions during the Mughal rule along with retaining some in their position under the Khalsa rule, notably the Amil of Kaithal.
Another significant feature of the period is the treatment of Muslims under the Khalsa rule.
The reports of his favorable approach towards Muslims find mention in the contemporary chronicle Akhbarat-i-darbar-i-maulla during Bahadur Shah: "The wretched Nanak-worshipper (Banda Singh) had his camp in the town of Kalanaur. He had promised and proclaimed: "I do not oppress the Muslims." Any Muslim who approaches him, he fixes a daily allowance and wage, and looks after him. He has permitted them to recite khutba and namaz. As such five thousand Muslims have gathered around him."
The second illustration of Sikh willingness to live peacefully with others finds credence during the Ranjit Singh period when they effectively shared power with others.
The state civil and military administration was well distributed among multiple groups with diverse religious backgrounds from Hindu Dogras to Muslims especifically Faqir Aziz-ud-din and many Sikh noblemen along with some Europeans. Every community got representation during his reign. He is also said to have revived the offices of Qazis and Muftis prevalent during the Mughal period.
Even though his reign is accused of ignoring Sikh interests, still in its much dwindled form Sikh inspiration displays an exemplary inclusive streak which speaks volumes about the Sikh spirit of justice.
It is interesting to note here that, a community's ability to accommodate aspirations of others and also establish an honest dialogue, is very much reflected in its internal dynamics. How much does a community or group accommodate and appreciate dissent or differing views within. Every community needs to introspect on this including Sikhs. Today, how tolerant and open to different views and varying interpretation of ideas Sikhs are within the community. A community that cannot accommodate diversity within cannot do it outside.
Additionally, any doctrine that identifies otherness and then tries to tackle it, is bound to fail. Every community needs to address how they perceive and deal with the idea of otherness in their doctrine.
Today, rise in communal strife, is further fueled by complicated power dynamics and identity politics. Peace and coexistence cannot live with intolerance and subjugation. Coexistence completely hinges on the precondition of a just, free and open society. Sikhs as peace keepers and bridge makers have a special role to play in it. Jagjit Singh in the Sikh Revolution reminds us of our purpose. He states, "the character and development of the Sikh movement reveals that it had three main social goals: (1) to build up an egalitarian society, (2) to use this new society as a base to wage an armed struggle against religious and political oppression, and (3) to capture political power by the Khalsa. All these aims were integral parts of the Sikh thesis that injustice, inequality and hierarchism, in whatsoever form, must be combated."
Empty talk does not effect change as long as we do not have the power to bring it about. As we commemorate 30th anniversary of the 1984, we need to ask ourselves, what are the prerequisites for a peaceful coexistence? Is there peace possible without reconciliation? What kind of peace can we establish in the absence of a meaningful dialogue, when the oppressed classes and communities are repeatedly made to stand in the dock?
While there is little we can do to control the behavior of others, let's reflect on what we as Sikhs need to do in our personal as well as collective capacity to fulfil our role as peace makers.
At a personal level, we first need to equip ourselves with the weapon of Divine wisdom- ਅਹਰਣਿ ਮਤਿ ਵੇਦੁ ਹਥੀਆਰੁ -and with that reclaim the Guru-gifted sovereignty first. Today a good number of Sikhs are engaging in empty rhetoric informed more by rationality and logic borrowed from popular movements rather than from a true gurmat perspective. Confusion looms large as clarity eludes. As long as Sikhs do not connect with Gurbani and practice its message, peace and justice will remain a farfetched dream.This personal awareness then needs to seep into our immediate circles of influence, family, friends and community. For ignorance is the biggest cause of strife.
At a collective level, Sikhs need to champion the cause of the oppressed again. When was the last time Sikhs collectively stood for the rights of others? What is the collective Sikh stance today vis-à-vis the natives world over, whom we call Dalits in Indian context? Sikh voice has been predominantly silent on gender rights. Other than individual participation, there isn't much noise made regarding women's rights, if at all, it is a token gesture. Our institutions are a visible proof of women's meagre representation. What is our stand on the Kashmir issue, what is our relation with the Muslims, Christians and other minorities? What do we have to offer to the Nagas, Tamils, the Adivasis and similar other groups continuing to struggle for their rights? The Diaspora needs to reflect on the same questions in their adopted places of residence. We need to reestablish communication lines with diverse groups to bring better understanding, if we wish to play a constructive role in intercommunity peace and harmony.
Sikhs have always fostered peace and harmony in the past, and so will they in the future. Peace or no peace, we need to resolve to carry the flag of universal siblinghood and love forward. As the Guru guides us, we needn't shy away from stepping into the turbulent fields of aggression, to fight for the rights of all, especially the unrepresented, without which there can be no lasting peace. Let Prof. Puran Singh's words continue to remind us of Guru's legacy and our inner quest for dignity and liberty for all: "No man or society that has risen from the dead into the life of the spirit can tolerate political subjugation or social slavery to unjust laws or rules. Politics, in the sense of fighting against all social injustice, all tyranny, all wrong taxation of the poor, all subjugation of man to man were the 'politics' of the Guru. Without freedom no true religion or art can flourish anywhere. Human love, too, degenerates if freedom fails." And that is the sum total of peaceful coexistence.
Though comparatively meager yet qualitatively significant can be the role of the Sikhs in maintaining world peace and creating a paradigm for peaceful co-existence. Illustrated through their theology, philosophy and history the Sikhs are liable to contribute to the promotion of world peace and peaceful existence.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All