An Opinion on the Challenges facing Sikhs in the 21st Century – The Significance of Sacrifice
In the 21st century, Sikhism remains one of the world’s top five religions, despite its relatively recent revelation in the 15th century (CIA, 2012).However, the measure of success of a faith and its people is not in demographic domination, but in its impact and significance. And what is better way to relay significance than through individual and community sacrifice? Sacrifice is a fundamental humane institution of Sikhism which promotes selfless service by its Sangat for the betterment of society (K. Singh, 1997).Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) contains religious documentation outlining the importance of selfless and complete sacrifice. The doctrine of Seva is of great consequence because it allows the egotistical individuals to transcend their own consciousness to experience the expansive nature of Wahe Guru (Khalsa, 2003).
Guru Amar Das Ji says:
ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਸਫਲੁ ਹੈ ਜੇ ਕੋ ਕਰੇ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਇ ॥
ਮਨਿ ਚਿੰਦਿਆ ਫਲੁ ਪਾਵਣਾ ਹਉਮੈ ਵਿਚਹੁ ਜਾਇ ॥
ਬੰਧਨ ਤੋੜੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਹੋਇ ਸਚੇ ਰਹੈ ਸਮਾਇ ॥
ਇਸੁ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਅਲਭੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਵਸੈ ਮਨਿ ਆਇ ॥
ਨਾਨਕ ਜੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਸੇਵਹਿ ਆਪਣਾ ਹਉ ਤਿਨ ਬਲਿਹਾਰੈ ਜਾਉ ॥
Service to the True Guru is rewarding, if one performs it with his mind focused on it.
The fruits of the mind’s desires are obtained, and egotism departs from within.
One's bonds are broken, and he is liberated; One remains absorbed in the True Lord.
It is so difficult to obtain the Naam in this world; it comes to dwell in the mind of the Gurmukh.
Nanak, I am a sacrifice to one who serves his True Guru. ||1||– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 644
Guru Nanak says:
ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥ ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥
ਇਤੁ ਮਾਰਗਿ ਪੈਰੁ ਧਰੀਜੈ ॥ ਸਿਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਕਾਣਿ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥
If you desire to play this game of love with Me,
Then step onto My Path with your head in hand.
When you place your feet on this Path,
Give Me your head, and do not pay any attention to public opinion.– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1412
Sacrifice and martyrdom are significant aspect of Sikh socio-political and historical context, from the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev Ji in 1606 to the 1984 Anti-Sikh Genocide. In Ardaas, reverence and tribute is given to martyrs.
The Ardaas says:
ਪੰਜਾਂ ਪਿਆਰਿਆਂ, ਚੌਹਾ ਸਾਹਿਬਜ਼ਾਦਿਆਂ, ਚਾਲੀ ਮੁਕਤਿਆਂ, ਹਠੀਆਂ, ਜੱਪੀਆਂ, ਤੱਪੀਆਂ, ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ, ਨਾਮ ਜੱਪਿਆ, ਵੰਡ ਛੱਕਿਆ, ਦੇਗ ਚਲਾਈ, ਤੇਗ ਵਾਹੀ, ਦੇਖ ਕੇ ਅਣਡਿੱਠ ਕੀਤਾ, ਤਿਨਾਂ ਪਿਆਰਿਆਂ, ਸਚਿਆਰਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਕਮਾਈ ਦਾ ਧਿਆਨ ਧਰਕੇ, ਖਾਲਸਾ ਜੀ, ਬੋਲੋ ਜੀ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ |
Let us lovingly remember the Five beloved ones; the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh; the forty liberated ones; those who have meditated upon the Naam, and shared with others in need, without thought of reward. Those who held firm to their faith in the face of adversity and hardship. Those who have taken up the Sword to defend the weak and oppressed. Those who saw the faults in others, but overlooked those faults, and instead saw the Spirit of God in all people. Thinking of their deeds, Khalsa Ji Sahib, Bolo Ji, Sri Wahe Guru - – SikhiWiki, 2012; I.M. Singh, 2012
However, there exist many vital differences between Sikhism and other religions with respect to sacrifice. In Sikhism, the motivation is not to obtain personal salvation, as in Christianity and Islam, or to please the Gods and Goddesses, as in Hinduism, but to recognise the will of God (K. Singh, 1997).
Despite these precise instructions on achieving peace through sacrifice, many challenges persist for the Sikh people in the 21st century.
The Sikh Identity Crisis: Threats to the Theology
There have been attacks on Sikhism by the Indian Government, through the denial of the religion’s existence and through organised attempts of genocide. Any attempts by the Sikhs to rally against this have resulted in discrimination against Punjab and in the series of events which led to the 1984 Anti-Sikh Genocide (M.S. Gill, 2002). However, “disturbances around 1984 did erase [the Sikh’s] visibilitybut to a limited extent only” (T.S. Gill, NA).In 1975, when the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency Laws restricting human rights and liberties, it was the Sikhs who organised the protest against the injustice, courting arrests of over 40,000 Sikhs. These sacrifices of the community to ensure freedom for all are “a religious responsibility and have religious sanction” (K. Singh, 1997).
The most basic Sikh philosophy of “Guru Maneyo Granth”(Granth Be Thy Guru) has been sacrificed by certain groups. “Guru Maneyo Granth” is the pivotal statement made by Guru Gobind Singh Ji before his death, establishing the SGGS as his successor and terminating the line of the living Gurus. However, there has been a promotion of sectarian differentiation through the rise of “Babaism,” where certain Sikh leaders have assumed the role of “Guru” (M.S. Gill, 2002).
The Sikh Rehat Maryada says:
Regarding the ten Gurus, the Guru Granth and the ten Gurus' words alone are saviours and holy objects of veneration. (SGPC, 1994)
Another fundamental Sikh moral principle which has been disregarded by some Sikhs is the basic tenet of equality. The caste system was banished by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the late 15thcentury, and Guru Gobind Singh Ji extended the equality between all baptised Sikhs through the assignment of the name of “Singh” for the men and “Kaur” for the women (D.P. Singh, 2004; Khaira, 2000). The rejection of Caste system is also incorporated in the Sikh Rehat Maryada(SGPC, 1994).However, Sikhs have appointed their own classifications, such as Jatts / Khatri / Pothohari / Ramgarhia and Khalsa / Amritdhari /Keshdhari / Sehajdhari, sacrificing these important Sikhism’s philosophies (D.P. Singh, 2004; M. Singh, NA; Khaira, 2000).
Guru Ram Das Ji says:
ਤੁਮ@ਰਾ ਜਨੁ ਜਾਤਿ ਅਵਿਜਾਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿਓ ਪਤਿਤ ਪਵੀਛੇ ॥
ਹਰਿ ਕੀਓ ਸਗਲ ਭਵਨ ਤੇ ਊਪਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਸੋਭਾ ਹਰਿ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਦਿਨਛੇ ॥ ੨ ॥
ਜਾਤਿ ਅਜਾਤਿ ਕੋਈ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਧਿਆਵੈ ਸਭਿ ਪੂਰੇ ਮਾਨਸ ਤਿਨਛੇ ॥
ਸੇ ਧੰਨਿ ਵਡੇ ਵਡ ਪੂਰੇ ਹਰਿ ਜਨ ਜਿਨ@ ਹਰਿ ਧਾਰਿਓ ਹਰਿ ਉਰਛੇ ॥
Your humble servant, whether of high class or low class, O Lord - by meditating on You, the sinner becomes pure.
The Lord exalts and elevates him above the whole world, and the Lord God blesses him with the Lord’s Glory. ||2||
Anyone who meditates on God, whether of high class or low class, will have all of his hopes and desires fulfilled.
Those humble servants of the Lord who enshrine the Lord within their hearts, are blessed, and are made great and totally perfect. ||3|| – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1178
Kabeer Ji says:
ਗਰਭ ਵਾਸ ਮਹਿ ਕੁਲੁ ਨਹੀ ਜਾਤੀ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਬਿੰਦੁ ਤੇ ਸਭ ਉਤਪਾਤੀ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਰੇ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਬਾਮਨ ਕਬ ਕੇ ਹੋਏ ॥ ਬਾਮਨ ਕਹਿ ਕਹਿ ਜਨਮੁ ਮਤ ਖੋਏ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਜੌ ਤੂੰ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਬ੍ਰਹਮਣੀ ਜਾਇਆ ॥ ਤਉ ਆਨ ਬਾਟ ਕਾਹੇ ਨਹੀ ਆਇਆ ॥ ੨ ॥
ਤੁਮ ਕਤ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣ ਹਮ ਕਤ ਸੂਦ ॥ ਹਮ ਕਤ ਲੋਹੂ ਤੁਮ ਕਤ ਦੂਧ ॥ ੩ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਜੋ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੈ ॥ ਸੋ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣੁ ਕਹੀਅਤੁ ਹੈ ਹਮਾਰੈ ॥
In the dwelling of the womb, there is no ancestry or social status.
All have originated from the Seed of God. ||1||
Tell me, O Pandit, O religious scholar: since when have you been a Brahmin?
Don’t waste your life by continually claiming to be a Brahmin. ||1||Pause||
If you are indeed a Brahmin, born of a Brahmin mother,
then why didn’t you come by some other way? ||2||
How is it that you are a Brahmin, and I am of a low social status?
How is it that I am formed of blood, and you are made of milk?
Says Kabeer, one who contemplates God,
is said to be a Brahmin among us. ||4||7|| – Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 324
The Sikh Rehat Maryada says:
In the congregation, there should be no differentiation or discrimination between Sikh and non-Sikh, persons traditionally regarded as touchable and untouchable, the so called high and low caste persons, the high and the low. (SGPC, 1994)
Cunningham says: It was on the basic principles of Guru Nanak that Guru Gobind Singh formed such a nation which elevated every one politically and religiously after doing away with the caste system. (M. Singh,NA)
The Sikh Identity Crisis: Difficulties and Discriminations faced by the People
In the 21st century, the Sikh identity has been a sensational subject matter for the media. On 22nd September, 2012, there was a picture of a Sikh woman Balpreet Kaur posted on Reddit, a social news website(european_douchebag, 2012). The caption of the online message board thread was “I’m not sure what to conclude from this,” due to the user’s unawareness of Sikhism’s regulation to maintain Kesh(SGPC, 1994). Kaur’s response to the cruel comments was educational (balpreetkaur,2012) and resulted in a full apology from the original poster who admitted that it “completely opened my eyes… I really admire her faith” (Horswill, 2012). This anecdote is a prime example of the sacrifices that modern Sikhs make to maintain their Sikh faith, despite the current sociocultural norms regarding the “ideal” female aesthetic. Additionally, it highlights the double-edged nature of the internet as a medium for discrimination and for education.
Sikhs face societal and legal impediments to the practice of their faith, due to their distinct identity mandated by Guru Gobind Singh Ji during the creation of Khalsa and the Sikh Rehat Maryada (SGPC, 1994; SICV, 2011).
The Sikh Community of Brisbane, Australia, stated that:
“Recent events in Australia have highlighted blatant discrimination and concerns in regards to the freedom of practising the Sikh religion.” (Bouma et al., 2011)
There are many cases of religious discrimination against the Sikh people in Australia, as outlined below. These cases highlight the lack of uniformity with which the freedom for religion is enforced. As the right to freedom of religion and faith for an individual and a community is paramount, there must be fair legal protection. This discrimination has been extended to religious profiling and identification of Sikhs in the media and in security settings, since the events and the aftermath of 9/11 (Bouma et al., 2011).
Cases of discrimination against the Sikh people in Australia:
– A Sikh man was asked to remove his turban in an Adelaide hotel. He could not lodge a complaint because the hotel’s actions were not unlawful under South Australian legislation.
– A Sikh truck driver was unable to unload the contents of his truck at a construction site because he was wearing a turban and not a helmet.
– Sikhs are unable to wear the turban when riding bicycles or motorbikes because wearing a helmet is required by legislation.
– A Gianni Ji who volunteered to go to the Commonwealth Games Village for the provision of spiritual comfort and chaplaincy services to forty Sikh athletes was unable to minister to his people because of metal detectors, which made no allowances for kirpans. It is important to note that the kirpan has been worn for over three centuries with no incidents of misuse.
– Sikhs wearing a kirpan are prohibited from entry to buildings, such as the Parliament House, the Courts or visiting patients at some hospitals, unless they hand over the kirpan. A courier could not gain entry to make a delivery at the Children’s Court.
– A Sikh employee was made to sign a statement under duress that she would not wear her kirpan to work and would be sacked if seen with 5 K’s on company premises.
– Sikhs in sport are asked to remove the Kara, due to rules and regulations regarding the wearing of “jewellery” during play.
– Schools insist that children have short hair, despite the prohibition of hair cutting. (Bouma et al., 2011)
The Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria, Australia,stated that:
“Since September 11, changes in security laws have affected the Sikh community adversely. The laws promote the exclusion of Sikhs from mainstream society.” (Bouma et al., 2011)
There has been a global misrepresentation of Sikhism as a branch of Islam and Hinduism, despite clear expression in the SGGS. In this post-9/11 era, this distortion of the Sikh identity has resulted in many misdirected racial and religious hate crimes, such as the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting (McCarthy, 2012), due to the Sikh people’s superficial similarity to Muslims (SICV, 2011).
Guru Arjun Devi Ji says:
ਵਰਤ ਨ ਰਹਉ ਨ ਮਹ ਰਮਦਾਨਾ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਸੇਵੀ ਜੋ ਰਖੈ ਨਿਦਾਨਾ ॥ ੧ ॥
ਏਕੁ ਗੁਸਾਈ ਅਲਹੁ ਮੇਰਾ ॥ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਤੁਰਕ ਦੁਹਾਂ ਨੇਬੇਰਾ ॥ ੧ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਹਜ ਕਾਬੈ ਜਾਉ ਨ ਤੀਰਥ ਪੂਜਾ ॥ ਏਕੋ ਸੇਵੀ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਦੂਜਾ ॥ ੨ ॥
ਪੂਜਾ ਕਰਉ ਨ ਨਿਵਾਜ ਗੁਜਾਰਉ ॥ ਏਕ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਲੇ ਰਿਦੈ ਨਮਸਕਾਰਉ ॥ ੩ ॥
ਨਾ ਹਮ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਨ ਮੁਸਲਮਾਨ ॥ ਅਲਹ ਰਾਮ ਕੇ ਪਿੰਡੁ ਪਰਾਨ ॥ ੪ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਇਹੁ ਕੀਆ ਵਖਾਨਾ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪੀਰ ਮਿਲਿ ਖੁਦਿ ਖਸਮੁ ਪਛਾਨਾ ॥
I do not keep fasts, nor do I observe the month of Ramadaan.
I serve only the One, who will protect me in the end. ||1||
The One Lord, the Lord of the World, is my God Allah.
He administers justice to both Hindus and Muslims. ||1||Pause||
I do not make pilgrimages to Mecca, nor do I worship at Hindu sacred shrines.
I serve the One Lord, and not any other. ||2||
I do not perform Hindu worship services, nor do I offer the Muslim prayers.
I have taken the One Formless Lord into my heart; I humbly worship Him there. ||3||
I am not a Hindu, nor am I a Muslim.
My body and breath of life belong to Allah - to Raam - the God of both. ||4||
Says Kabeer, this is what I say: meeting with the Guru, my Spiritual Teacher,
I realize God, my Lord and Master. ||5||3||– Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1136
Conclusion: What can we do?
Sikhism is more than just a set of ethical and moral guidelines; Sikhism is a way of life. Over the past few decades, there has been an erosion of this way of life, due to illiteracy of SGGS, organised anti-Sikh sentiment and Sikh diaspora. These socio-political and demographic issues are the major causes of the challenges that face the Sikh religion in the 21st century. Addressing these issues is difficult to accomplish without a dynamic, international, democratic Sikh body which will address Sikh rights and the education of the Sikh and non-Sikh public. The Akal Takhat needs to establish better contact with the Sikh community across the globe and be able to participate in religious, academic, social, and political affairs.
– Public education about the humanitarian theology of Sikhism and the appearance of a Sikh
– The development and implementation of a curriculum intended to educate Sikh youth regarding Sikhism and its lifestyle with specific emphasis on Sikh morality, such as equality
– The critical analysis and review of Sikh literature and documented history with the purpose to highlight significant texts,to annotate works that contradict Sikh theologywith a discussion regarding the author/s motivations and purposes, and to implement new publishing policies in Sikh journals of peer review by their respective editors to improve validity and reliability
– The acknowledgment of the Sikh diaspora in modern Sikh literature which appreciates the international nature of the Sikh population and context, rather than focusing on a Punjab-centric approach
– Political action and lobbying for the freedom to practise religion, through amendments in legislation to allow the inclusion of baptised Sikhs to adorn the 5 K’s.
– Political action and counselling support services for Sikhs facing discrimination
– Public holidays for Gurpurab and Vaisakhi to recognise the significance of these days to the Sikh minority
Selfless sacrifice is at the heart of the Sikh psyche. Fighting in the face of adversity is who the Sikhs are at their core. Without sacrificing for Sikhism and the community, there is a sacrifice of Sikhism and the community.
Bradshaw says: Sikhs must cease to think of their faith as just another good religion and must begin to think of Sikhism being the religion for this New Age. (G. Singh, 2012)
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