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As the Sikh movement was born of a unified experience of the multiplicity of life, it was multifacet. Some of these facets appeared to assume, in their development, the dimensions of being almost independent movements, but all of them, emanating as they did from the same core experience, were linked intimately to one another as well. We take a brief notice here of a few important aspects.
1. Social Significance
We can take the help of political science to narrow down the circle of issues which should remain really open for discussion. Revolutionary movements are qualitatively different from non-revolutionary movements, and so is the revolutionary phase of a movement different from its own non-revolutionary phase. Secondly, social and economic tensions alone do not create revolutions; what is missing is a humanitarian ideology and a leadership and organization committed to that ideology. The very objective of a revolution, according to Hagopian’s definition, is to abolish, or radically reconstruct, one of the three traditional systems of stratification;1 and this makes humanitarian ideology the pivotal point around which a revolutionary movement must revolve. All other factors become irrelevant or secondary. Thirdly, revolutions are made; they do not just happen.
Given these premises, arrived at scientifically, it should not be difficult to follow the genesis of the development of the Sikh movement. There are no two opinions as to who originated the Sikh ideology, or as to what the Sikh ideology is, as it is authenticated in Guru Granth Sahib. Nor is there any difference of opinion that the Sikh Gurus were the undisputed leaders of the movement during their lifetimes, and that the Sikhs followed them with implicit faith. And, what the Sikh movement achieved under the circumstances on the practical plane, from the point of view of the down trodden and the oppressed, socially, politically, and historically, is remarkable and is an open book.
Most of the contradictions in interpreting the Sikh movement, we find, arise, because it is not distinguished from non-revolutionary movements, or from its own post-revolutionary phase. This leads the scholars to apply a logic, which may or may not be appropriate for explaining non-revolutionary mass movements, but is certainly inadequate for understanding a revolutionary upsurge. The straightest course for comprehending a revolutionary movement is to trace its ideology, and the leadership and organization committed to the fulfilment of that ideology. What is one to say of interpretations of Sikh history which take minimal notice of Sikh ideology, or do not take it into consideration at all.
Some scholars are so much preoccupied with the class/caste interests of the constituents of the Sikh Panth that they turn a blind eye to the glaring outstanding fact that the very growth and development of the Panth would not have taken place, in the manner it did, without the overwhelming integrating power of the Sikh ideology. It is the Sikh ideology and the charismatic leadership of the Sikh Gurus that generated a centripetal force which welded the disparate, even hostile, caste elements into the egalitarian Sikh Panth. “The four-footed dharma (was abolished) by integrating the four castes into one.”2 Like national movements, genuine religious movements are all-class movements; and it is simple arithmetic that dispersive elements, held together by centripetal force, can be held together only so long such a force dominates over the sectional centrifugal forces. We repeat that the question is not whether centrifugal forces are eliminated or not; the issue is whether or not the centripetal force overrides the centrifugal tendencies, and this too is valid for a particular period.
In fact, it is not understood why the question of class interests should be introduced at all. In the Indian caste system, caste predominated over class to such an extent that the whole economy and polity were moulded into the caste structure of society, and it is ritual taboos and not economic interests that governed castes. Telis, who sell oil, preserve caste barriers against telis who press oil.3 Secondly, in the low-key rural economy of medieval Punjab, where the Sikh movement struck roots and where barter was still the rule rather than an exception, economic differentiation, if any, was marginal. Hence, the social problem that was acute was caste and not class; and it is in this background that the social significance of the Sikh movement should be viewed. Because the three main pillars of the caste system were the caste ideology, the Brahmin sacredotal caste, and the penalties enforced by the caste society against defaulters of caste norms and rules; and, as all these pillars rested on religious or socio-religious sanction of one kind or other; the caste could be counteracted effectively only by ante-dating caste ideology with an anti-caste religious ideology and by breaking away from the caste society. This is what the Sikh movement did.
It was a long-standing Indian tradition that the obligation of obedience to the guru took precedence over loyalty to family.4 The Sikh Gurus tried to transform the plane of loyalty to the Sikh ideology. “He is disciple, friend, relative, brother, who abides by Guru’s (God’s) Will.”5 The same view was expressed by Jesus that those who “do the Will of God” are truly his brothers, sisters and mothers.6 The important point in both cases is that the “adept owes blind, unquestioning obedience to the messiah because of the holiness of his work.”7 Although radical messianic movements do have a predominantly lower-class appeal, that appeal also cuts across social and economic divisions. “Religious beliefs alone, no matter whether it was held with fanatic conviction or for political expediency, could bring together the divergent interests of nobles, burghers, and peasants over areas as wide as the whole of France.”8 “Religious experience, being fundamental, constitutes the basis of a communion of a most intimate character, boring deep into the beds of impulses, emotions and thoughts which are common to all men. The subjective religion has, at all times, proved potent enough to unite and integrate people who are otherwise widely separated by differences of descent, profession, wealth or rank. A study of the social status of those who followed the prophets, teachers and founders of religion will reveal the surprising social heterogeneity of the motley groups who became one when united in a common religious experience. It is not necessary that the objectification and formulation of this experience will lessen division and separation, but undeniably greater leeway for such inferences is offered by an articulation of the expression of religious experience.”9
It goes to the credit of the Sikh Gurus that they took the greatest possible care to channelise the faith and loyalty reposed in them by the Sikhs towards serving the egalitarian cause the Sikh ideology stood for. In fact, they went to the extent of emphasizing the supremacy of Sikh ideology even on the spiritual plane. Guru Nanak touched the feet of Guru Angad when he nominated him as successor Guru, and Guru Hargobind touched the feet of Baba Budha, a Sikh. Bhai Gurdas repeats it again and again that there is no difference between the Guru and a true Sikh. Guru Gobind Singh requested with folded hands the Five Beloved Ones to initiate him in the same manner he had initiated them earlier. It was this egalitarian spirit, and its continuous cultivation in this manner, that made the Brahmins and Khatris bow before the Jat Masrands, and goaded the Brahmins, Khatris, Jats and others to accept the Sudras and untouchables (Rangrettas) as brothers in Banda’s army and the Khalsa Dal.10 In the long history of the Sikh movement, even upto the post-revolutionary period of Missals, there is not a single word in Sikh literature or tradition about the Sikhs having ever grouped on caste lines. And yet, without naming the people who grouped on such basis or their leaders, or without mentioning the occasion when they grouped or the purpose for which they grouped, it is simply supposed that those who came from a particular caste or ethnic group and happened to be in majority (again not factual but supposed) must have given a particular direction to the movement according to their traits.
Here there is another fallacy. Brinton devotes two chapters to show how the same set of people behaved quite differently in the four modern revolutions (the English, American, French and Russian) when they were under the spell of a revolutionary urge and when they were not.11 Within the Sikh movement itself, Qazi Nur Muhammed has paid high compliment to the Sikhs for certain outstanding qualities of character which the Jats conspicuously lacked before they joined the Sikh movement and then again in the post-revolutionary period.12