The Concept of Social Justice in Guru Granth Sahib
Gurpreet Singh & Satnam Singh
Guru Granth Sahib is the torchbearer of universal harmony. The Holy Scripture promotes the message of equality of all beings and reveals that Sikh believers should deal with all mankind with the spirit of universal brotherhood, equality and fraternity. Discrimination of all types is strictly forbidden in Guru Granth Sahib. The concept of equality is based on the basic tenet “Fatherhood of God” which states that no one should be reckoned low or high. Guru Granth Sahib preaches that all its believers, adherents and disciples should reckon the entire mankind as equal and no one should be discriminated or privileged on the basis of caste. Sikh Gurus explicitly denounced caste. Guru Granth Sahib promotes the concept of equality by highlighting the fact that we are made of the same flesh, blood and bone and we have the same light of God with us. Our building bricks are the same. These tenet features of Guru Granth Sahib had not only emerged as a reaction of Gurus, Saints and Bhagats but against the Varna system of their contemporary period also but these principles of social justice and equality were deliberately developed as the guiding principles for all the mankind forever.
Justice is a moral concept that is based on humanitarian values. Although in modern times justice has been interpreted in political and legal terms. But while analyzing in historical and theoretical perspective, it emerges as laying its foundation deeply rooted in religion also. Justice means the morally justifiable apportionment of rewards or punishments, each person being given what he or she is due1 . It has several dimensions including economic, political and social. Social justice is the paramount prerequisite for establishing justice in broader terms in any society. Social justice means improving the lot of the downtrodden and weaker sections of the community and removing untouchability.2 The concept of social justice emphasizes on the right of the weaker to the protection of the state against the ruthless competition of life. It means treating human being as a human being that includes equality of treatment, equal opportunities for betterment and equality of status to all.3 In Indian scenario, the term social justice means eradication of caste system and special provisions for the upliftment of the lower castes and the weaker sections of the society.
Caste has been the distinctive feature of Indian society since times immemorial. The Hindu society was originally divided into four Varnas namely the Brahmans (Priest and Teacher), the Kashtriyas (Ruler and Warrior), the Vaisyas (Trade), and the Sudras (Servant). The theoretical basis of the four-varna system as described in the Dharmasutras was systematized in the Manu-Smrti, which was compiled between 200 B.C. to A.D. 200. It is stated in the Manu-Smrti that the Sudra Varna was created by God for the purpose of serving the Brahman and that any wealth amassed by the former belonged to the latter2. The Sudras were at the lowest in the Hindu hierarchy. The Sudra was strictly forbidden from participating in the Veda religious ceremonies of the Aryans. Accordingly,
If a Sudra intentionally overhears the Veda chants, he shall have his ears filled with molten tin and dark-red pigment. If a Sudra dares to recite the chants himself, he will have his tongue cut out; and if he learns the chants by heart, his body shall be split in twain.4
Later on these Varnas came to be known as castes. The Sudras were again at the lowest ebb in the caste hierarchy. Certain sections of the Sudras have been termed and treated as the Untouchables (the so-called Out-Castes) for centuries they have been the victims of social injustice. Due to the oppression of centuries, these Sections have remained backward in all respects and eventually have continued to occupy the lowest place in the society. Poverty, illiteracy and unemployment are the major problems being faced by this deprived section of the Indian society. As of now, they are more known as Dalits.
The caste system is not as rigid in Punjab as is in certain other parts of India. Undoubtedly, the social status of the Dalits is also lowest in Punjab. But no section of Dalits is considered as untouchable in Punjab. Moreover, the Brahmans do not enjoy such dominant status in Punjab as they enjoy in certain other states. It is because the region has been witness to many social movements, including some against untouchability. Beginning with the Sikh Gurus who preached against the practice of caste, the state has witnessed several reformist and radical mobilizations. The Sufi and Bhakti saints and the Sikh Gurus condemned caste inequalities and discrimination. Most of the social reform movements aimed at providing the depressed class people an equal status in the society and to save them from oppression. The depressed classes’ people were easily attracted by the ‘ideology framework’ of these movements. Hence, their followers came largely from the lower castes and classes. Sikhism, in general, had a great appeal, particularly in the reorganized Punjab in which the Sikhs constituted 63 per cent of the population.
Sikhs consider Guru Granth Sahib a spiritual guide for all mankind. It plays a central role in guiding the Sikh way of life. Guru Granth Sahib is the prophet of universal harmony. The Holy Scripture promotes the message of equality of all beings and states that Sikh believers should deal with all mankind with the spirit of universal brotherhood, equality and fraternity. Discrimination of all types is strictly forbidden in Guru Granth Sahib. The concept of equality is based on the basic tenet “Fatherhood of God” which states that no one should be reckoned low or high. Guru Granth Sahib preaches that all its believers, adherents and disciples should reckon the entire mankind as equal and no one should be discriminated or privileged on the basis of caste. Sikh Gurus explicitly denounced caste. Besides, Kabir, Ravidas and Namdev, who were from the so-called low-castes, have also condemned caste in their devotional poetry, which has been incorporated in Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Granth Sahib promotes the concept of equality by highlighting the fact that we are made of the same flesh, blood and bone and we have the same light of God with us. Our building bricks are the same. These tenet features of Guru Granth Sahib had not emerged as a reaction of Gurus, Saints and Bhagats only against the Varnasystem of their contemporary period but these principles of social justice and equality were deliberately developed as the guiding principles for all the mankind forever.
Guru Granth Sahib conveys the message of egalitarianism and the brotherhood of whole mankind. Its holy couplets are used as the slogans of equality even today. It preaches the mankind the message of universal fraternity as:
ਅਵਲਿ ਅਲਹ ਨੂਰੁ ਉਪਾਇਆ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕੇ ਸਭ ਬੰਦੇ॥
ਏਕ ਨੂਰ ਤੇ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਕਉਨ ਭਲੇ ਕੋ ਮੰਦੇ॥ ੫
First, God produced his sacred creative glow. By his sacred creative power, nature has created all humans equal. From one sacred glow, the entire universe welled up. Hence, no one is good, no one is bad.
Guru Granth Sahib disseminates the message that all men and women, without any distinction, should be recognized as equal. Guru Granth Sahib explicitly expresses that one’s arrogance due to his caste is a useless and foolish deed and hence is condemnable. All human beings are equally dignified creatures created by God.
ਜਾਤਿ ਕਾ ਗਰਬੁ ਨ ਕਰੀaਹੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬਿੰਦੇ ਸੋ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮੁਂ ਹੋਈ ॥
ਜਾਤਿ ਕਾ ਗਰਬੁ ਨ ਕਰਿ, ਮੂਰਖ ਗਵਾਰਾ! ॥ ਇਸੁ ਗਰਬ ਤੇ ਚਲਹਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਵਿਕਾਰਾ ॥
ਚਾਰੇ ਵਰਨ ਆਖੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬਿੰਦ ਤੇ ਸਭ ਓਪਤਿ ਹੋਈ ॥
ਮਾਟੀ ਏਕ ਸਗਲ ਸੰਸਾਰਾ ॥ ਬਹੁ ਬਿਧਿ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਘੜੈ ਕੁਮਾਰਾ ॥੬
No one should be proud of his caste. He alone is a Brahman who knows his Lord. O stupid fool, be you not proud of your caste. From this pride many sins well up. Every one says there are four castes. But they all proceed from the lord’s seed. The whole world is made of the same clay. But the Potter has fashioned it into vessels of many sorts.
It has been revealed by Guru Granth Sahib in a manifested manner that those who follow the so-called caste system and discriminate with others due to their caste are actually contrary to the principles of religion. Those who profess belonging to the upper caste and acknowledge others as lower caste people actually disrespect and dishonour God itself.
ਏ ਪੰਡੀਆ, ਮੋ ਕਉ ਢੇਢ ਕਹਤ; ਤੇਰੀ ਪੈਜ ਪਿਛੰਉਡੀ ਹੋਇਲਾ ॥੭
These Brahman call me low-born; your honour, O Lord, shall be stigmatized.
It has been further noticed in the Holy Scripture that the caste system has been established by some corrupt and selfish priests belonging to the Brahmin’s class to facilitate themselves and dominate the society according to their will and wish.
ਕਹਤੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਸੁਨਹੁ ਮੇਰੀ ਮਾਈ ॥
ਇਨ ਮੁੰਡੀਅਨ, ਮੇਰੀ ਜਾਤਿ ਗਵਾਈ ॥੮
Says Kabir, Listen, O my mother, these shaven heads have done away with my low caste.
The orthodox and bigot attitude of the Brahmin class and their pre-dominance in the caste hierarchy was challenged to preach the message of social justice.
ਜੌ ਤੂੰ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮੁਂ ਬ੍ਰਹਮਂੀ ਜਾਇਆ ॥ ਤਉ ਆਨ ਬਾਟ ਕਾਹੇ ਨਹੀ ਆਇਆ ॥੨॥
ਤੁਮ ਕਤ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਂ ਹਮ ਕਤ ਸੂਦ ॥ ਹਮ ਕਤ ਲੋਹੂ ਤੁਮ ਕਤ ਦੂਧ॥੯
(If you are a Brahman, born of a Brahmani Mother, then, why have not you come by some other way? How are you a Brahman and how am I of low caste? How am I of blood and how you are of milk?)
Guru Granth Sahib expresses the humanitarian principles of social equality by propounding that the differences of castes are of no value. The hierarchy of castes is totally insignificant and thus strictly overruled in the court of almighty God. Guru Granth Sahib preaches that only pure, moral deeds and truthfulness are admired by the almighty and one’s status in the caste hierarchy is not of any importance.
ਹਮਰੀ ਜਾਤਿ ਪਤਿ ਸਚੁ ਨਾਅੁ ॥
ਕਰਮ ਧਰਮ ਸੰਜਮੁ, ਸਤ ਭਾਅੁ ॥੧੦
The true name is my caste and honour. Love of truth is my ritual, faith and self-control.
The central theme of Guru Granth Sahib regarding social justice lies in the moral faith that the Name of God is the only caste for those who follow the true path of God. The true disciples of God are not recognized by their castes but by the name of God. The true adherents are beyond the hierarchy and boundaries of the so-called caste system.
ਨਾਮੁ ਜਾਤਿ, ਨਾਮੁ ਮੇਰੀ ਪਤਿ ਹੈ; ਨਾਮੁ ਮੇਰੈ ਪਰਵਾਰੈ ॥੧੧
The Name of God is my caste, the Name is my honour and the Name is my family.
The same notions overruling the significance of the status of castes in the path of following God have been expressed at several places in Guru Granth Sahib.
ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਤਿ ਪਤਿ ਸਭੁ ਆਪੇ ॥੧੨
For the follower of God, the Lord Himself is the caste and all honour.
It has been explicitly revealed in Guru Granth Sahib that those who adopt a false route of immorality by ignoring the true path of God have no caste and hounour even if they belong to a supreme caste. Those who infringe the moral values are totally ignored by God irrespective of the fact that what soever caste they belong to.
ਖੋਟੇ ਜਾਤਿ ਨ ਪਤਿ ਹੈ ਖੋਟਿ ਨ ਸੀਝਸਿ ਕੋਇ ॥੧੩
The false one has no caste and honour. No one succeeds through falsehood.
ਤਿਨਿ ਪ੍ਰਭਿ ਆਪਿ ਭੁਲਾਇਞਆ ਨਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਜਾਤਿ ਨ ਪਤਿ ॥੧੪
He, whom the Lord Himself has put on the wrong track, has no caste and no honour.
ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਸਭ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹੈ; ਬਿਸਟਾ ਕਾ ਕੀੜਾ ਹੋਇ ॥੧੫
Without the Name of God, every one is of low caste and becomes the worm of ordure.
Guru Granth Sahib has refused the unjustified and unethical principle of Varna system that any person is acknowledged as belonging to lower caste if he takes birth in a family of Shudras. According to Guru Granth Sahib the Shudra is that person who performs lower, immoral and false deeds in the society.
ਲਬੁ ਕੁਤਾ, ਕੂੜੁ ਚੂਹੜਾ; ਠਗਿ ਖਾਧਾ ਮੁਰਦਾਰੁ ॥੧੬
Avarice is being a dog, falsehood the sweeper and cheating the like eating of carrion. Slandering others solely amounts to putting other’s filth in one’s own mouth and fire of wrath is pariah.
ਕੁਬੁਧਿ ਡੂਮਂੀ, ਕੁਦਇਆ ਕਸਾਇ
ਪਰ ਨਿûਦਾ ਘਟ ਚੂਹੜੀ; ਮੁਠੀ ਕ੍ਰੋਧਿ ਚੰਡਾਲਿ ॥੧੭
Evil-intellect is the she-drummer, heartlessness is the she-butcher, other’s slander in the heart is a she-sweeper and deceitful wrath is a pariah-woman.
Guru Granth Sahib has totally denied the hierarchy of caste system through heredity. Nevertheless, Guru Granth Sahib has laid paramount emphasis on one’s deeds and actions which make anybody superior or inferior. It preaches that those who perform moral and sacred actions and follow the true path hold the status of supreme caste in the court of God even if they belong to the lowest class in the caste hierarchy established by the Varnasystem.
ਹਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਨਿ, ਨੀਚ ਚਹੁ ਕੁੰਟ ਜਾਤੇ ॥੧੮
By remembering God, the low-born become renowned in four directions.
ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਪਤਿਆ; ਅੁਤਮ ਪਦਵੀ ਪਾਇ ॥੧੯
Remembering God, men of low caste, obtain the high dignity.
Sikh Gurus had not only denounced caste discrimination in theory but also established rituals for Sikhs to marginalize the unjust system of caste. In Sikh Gurudwaras, meals are served from the common kitchen (the Langar) to everyone without distinction. This strikes at the very root of an important aspect of caste system and there can be no doubt that the practice was instituted for this very reason. While founding the langar Khalsa in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh introduced the ceremony of initiation in the form of baptism requiring all candidates to drink from a common bowl, striking once again at the notion of ritual purity. The anti-caste quality of the Khalsa is further strengthened by the belief that the first five to accept baptism included representatives ranging from high-caste Khatri middle-caste Jat low-caste barber and washer. Furthermore, the sacramental food, Karah Prasad, is prepared from offerings by persons of any caste in a Gurudwara.
Thus, it is a universally accepted fact that Guru Granth Sahib disseminates the sacred notion of universal fraternity and equality of whole mankind. Guru Granth Sahib is a holly path-provider to humanity. Hence, the whole mankind, irrespective of their religious and social identities, should follow the true path shown by the Holy Scripture to make the world free from social injustice, discrimination and inequalities.
1 Andrew Heywood, Politics, Palgrave, New York, 2002, p. 425.
2 R.R. Prasad Singh and B.K. Jha, “The Concept of Social Justice: A Theoretical Analysis”, in C.P. Barthwal (ed.), Social Justice in India, Bharat Book Centre, Lucknow, 1998, p. 46.
3 T.P. Tope, “Social Justice in India” in N.R. Madhava Menon (ed.), Social Justice and Social Process in India, Indian Academy of Social Sciences, Allahabad, 1988, p. 217.
4 Gaut, XIII, as quoted by Gen’Ichi Yamazaki, “Social Discrimination in Ancient India and its Transition of the Medieval Period” in H. Kotani (ed.), Caste System, Untouchability and the Depressed, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, 1997, p. 6.
5 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1349.
6 Guru Granth Sahib, pp. 1127-1128.
7 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1292.
8 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 484.
9 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 324.
10 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 353.
11 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 713.
12 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 117.
13 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 23.
14 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 42.
15 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 426.
16 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 15.
17 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 91.
18 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 263.
19 Guru Granth Sahib, p. 733.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2011, All