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  Gur Panth Parkash
Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




‘Construction of Religious Boundaries’

Gurtej Singh

Thanks to the reputation of the group to which the author belongs and the sort of theme developed by his  companions in the recent past, one had a fair idea of how the book would turn out even before one picked it  up from the shelf. Added advantage was that one was aware of the articles written by the author which  form the nucleus of this book. The work of his group can be understood in the context of India’s recent  history, particularly since 1947. It was felt that since the Constitution of 1950 contravened all promises  solemnly held out to the Sikhs and other nations comprising the Indian sub-con-tinent, and that since its  purpose was to establish and maintain a political dominance of the permanent cultural majority over all  minorities, a revolt against the scheme could be expected. The Sikhs in particular could not be expected to go on kissing their chains for ever. It was to obviate such possibility that the theme so popular with Harjot  Oberoi and the group to which he belongs, was evolved. It attained some sort of misplaced academic  acceptance abroad with Dr Hew McLeod, and has since the early seventies been beamed back to us in the  transparent wrapper of ‘Western scholarship’. Those interested in the indigenous variety, will find it in the  pronouncements of certain leaders of the Congress party and in the political writings of the ultra- Hindu  Rashtriya Sewak Sangh.

The burden of the song is that Sikh identity is inconvenient and hard to digest. It has to be subtly dissolved and permanently subsumed without in anyway jeopardizing secular and democratic pretensions. Lala Achint Ram MP and some of his colleagues invited their Sikh friend Professor Niranjan Singh, a well known ‘nationalist Sikh’ and a brother of the fearless Master Tara Singh, at a place in Delhi, immediately ‘after independence. They praised his secular and nationalist credentials profusely, and ardently requested him to now strike a big blow for national integration. The plan was simple. Sikhs and Hindus were no different in any significant aspect, except in physical appearance. So he was requested to lead the Sikhs in shaving off and becoming truly integrated with others around him. He was only a first generation convert, and was expected to agree. But he was totally disgusted with his erstwhile colleagues whose true colours were revealed to him for the first time in many decades. His reply was, that if that was all the difference between a Hindu and a Sikh, would they consider the other alternative of leading the Hindus in letting their hair and beard grow long for the sake of national integration? The theme has been pursued ever since. Like his mentor Dr McLeod, Harjot Oberoi has also taken up the strings.

The main thesis of this work is built on the false premise that unlike in the Semitic religious sphere of influence, religious boundaries have never been clearly defined in India. Indians of all faiths are supposed to have borne their religious identities on their sleeves. This is a strange thesis to propound in a sub-continent which has seen great religious turmoils. Almost half the population of which stands con-verted to Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity and of course Sikhism. History of the violent reconversion of Buddhists to Hinduism, destruction of their Stupas and monasteries, burning of their libraries, and razing of their educational institutions to the ground, took place in this land a thousand years ago. In the eleventh century Alberuni could go to the extent of saying, “the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs”. The story of the Buddhists has been an oft -repeated one. It was repeated in 1947: vivisection of the country on religious basis was performed leading to the violent death of atleast a million people. In 1984 every Sikh in the country was clearly iden-tified. The Babri Masjid was pulled down in December 1993. The diffusion and overlapping of religious boundaries, which Oberoi sees all around, in fact does not exist and has never existed in history, as is borne out by the recurring communal holocausts. From such baseless abstractions, he comes straight to his main business of assailing Sikhs and Sikhism. He dwells at length on the alleged pluralistic nature of Sikhism and the existence of more than one Sikh identities. For pursuing the point he has to make two mis-statements in the Sikh doctrinal and historical field, and he makes them rather enthusiastically. It is the very basis of the Guru Granth Sahib that all Gurus are one, have the same spirit, and merge spiritually to form the Word, the Guru Granth Sahib, the eternal Guru and the only Sikh canon. There is no justification for claiming differing identities in Sikhism. It is pure ignorance and gross heresy to assert that Guru Nanak’s religion was different from that of Guru Gobind Singh. Moghals were very well acquainted with the fact that the Order of the Khalsa was the direct result of Guru Nanak’s preachings. In the general order of genocide, issued in the early eighteenth century, the Moghal Emperor clearly asserted, ‘those who follow Guru Nanak (Nanakpras- tan), be done to death wherever spotted’.

Historically, during the dark age of persecution, that is, from 1701 to 1760 CE, Hindus in the garb of Udasis became the custodians of Sikh shrines. During the Sikh rule they emphasized their Sikh appearance, and continued in office. During the British rule, we find these people aligning themselves with the rulers and treating the recently enriched shrines as their personal property. It is then that they tried to desecrate the Gurdwaras by admitting images and un-Sikh practices in their functioning. Harjot Oberoi builds his thesis mainly on his observations of this period. He conveniently forgets that the corruption of the Gurdwaras was universally resented, people rose in revolt, led a sustained agitation, made heavy sacrifices, and finally succeeded in liberating Sikh shrines from the corrupt usurpers. They completely rejected their jaundiced views of Sikhism. That all this is of no consequence to the author, shows his bias. He, fcrr instance, notes that caste prejudice had crept into the Gurdwaras but withholds the fact that it was precisely this, which was the starting point of the Akali movement for liberation of the shrines.

His use of the census figures is also defective, because he does not note that they are often manipulated. Census figures in India are always sensitive to the whims of the recording authority, and at best have a formal relationship with reality. The categories under which figures were returned, were decided upon by the Imperial masters in accordance with their convenience. He very ably conjures up the figures upto 1941 to show the diffusion of religious identities, and yet in 1947 every Sikh, Muslim and Hindu was precisely identified. Blood soaked partition of the country on communal basis took place never-theless. This is the concrete reality. So the communal situation con-tinues in spite of the loudly proclaimed platitudes and swearing by secularism. In November 1984 a section of the population was recog-nized as Sikhs and killed most brutally. The murderers are equally well recognized and roam free because they are on the right side of the communal fence; the country’s written constitution not with standing. His argument that, ‘there is no fixed Sikh identity in early Guru period’ is an absolutely false statement. It is clear that the Sikh personality had taken shape at the time of Guru Nanak himself, who created Sikh Dharamshalas, and founded an urban centre to become focal point of spreading his mission. Most of the Sikh pilgrim centres had been established very early. By the time of the Third Guru, Sikh religious identity was recognized by the Moghal emperor and tax collectors alike. Guru Arjun became a martyr in 1604 AD. Mohsin Fani, a contemporary of the Fifth Guru, saw Sikhs all over the Indian cities, also in Afghanistan and Persia. He talked of their distinct path, and could precisely define them. The Sixth and Tenth Gurus had fought all but one of the wars of their careers before the creation of the Khalsa. Evidence is that most people did not “move in and out of multiple identities”, but had, on the contrary, shown eagerness to fight and die for preserving their distinct path.

Professor Jagjit Singh has most convincingly demolished the Jat theory of Or McLeod, but Oberoi clings to it. As is typical of the group, he blacks out all the serious works which have recently appeared to challenge such formulations. He does not even hint that the contrary point of view exists.

It is preposterous to suggest that Guru Gobind Singh gave “new theology”. He formalized the Sikh canon, which now ends at the Bani of the Ninth Guru. He also formally invested it with the status of the living Guru of the Sikhs. The Khalsa rahit is itself firmly grounded in the Guru Granth Sahib. The nomenclature, too, has been borrowed from there. The Tenth Guru codified some of the simplest rules, and popularised them as the rahit or the code of conduct for the Khalsa Order.

Oberoi’s division of the Sikhs into the Sanatan and the Tat Khalsa is both ridiculous and mischievous. He believes that the so-called Sanatan Sikhism “had ancient origins” and dates it to “when the universe came into existence”. The reader may make whatever he can of it! He talks of its having the so called Dasam Granth as its devotional text. If we go along with him, we will end up believing that Sanatan Sikhism ruled supreme from the middle of the nineteenth century to its end, for the Dasam Granth came into existence only then. Completely forgetting the historical context, he makes much of the “Sanatan
Sikh tradition” developed during the early British period. Hinduized custodians of the Sikh shrines were eager to maintain their hold. They were backed by the Hindu population of the state. Hindus had always been at least suspicious of Sikh identity. Both were tacitly supported by the British administration which was trying to tame the volatile Sikhs and attempting to take them back to the apolitical Hindu past. To take the depraved mahants to be proponents of the ‘Sanatan tradition’ is preposterous. Similarly it is strange that he is able to call every non Sikh a Sahijdhari. He even defines the term negatively. It is excusable that such a person does not know that Sahij connotes a state of mind and cannot be a nomenclature for a sect.

The so-called Sanatan Sikhs, come out extremely intolerant and rigid in their beliefs as compared to the ‘Tat Khalsa’ he disap-proves of. They refuse to let Singh Sabha activists address the Sikhs from Gurdwaras, they resort to the extreme measure of excommunicat-ing them, arrange to beat them up physically, forcibly remove Kirpans from their persons and refuse offerings made by their rivals at Sikh shrines. He does not mention it, but reformist Sikhs also had to Court martyrdom in large numbers in the bid to liberate their shrines. In short, “Sanatan Sikhs behave as the worst enemies of the neo-Sikhs”. How deeply convinced the reformists must have been to have persisted in the face of all this!

Their strategy is also something worth singing about. They never gave up the path of reason, education of masses, dependence on the common man and the scripture. It is apparent also from this book that they built schools and colleges; took pains to establish printing presses, publish magazines, newspapers, books and pamphlets. What they turned out is remarkable for clarity, authenticity and sincerity. The sheer volume is mind-boggling. They worked like a people convinced of the truth of their undertaking. One is at a loss to understand why the so-called Sanatan Sikhs made no such effort. Why did they not hit back with the same tools? Why were they content to pass docilely into history? It is a sure sign that the construction placed upon the struggle by the present author is grossly faulty.

One really does not know what to say of his uninformed belief in ‘popular religion’, for he does not define the term. He is exceedingly harsh to a people who tried to retain enthusiasm for life at a time when there were no doctors, no scientifically prepared reliable medicines, no proper rules of hygiene, and epidemics dated the births and deaths in the family. In such circumstances Europe succumbed to witchcraft, black magic, belief in miracle-making saints and efficacy of shrouds and images inspite of fifteth hundred years of Christianity. At such times pagan beliefs made permanent niches into the Christian and even Islamic traditions. By contrast, the Sikhs periodically purged themsel-ves of the burden of the dark past. The pace of such purifications became fast with the higher frequency of conversions. Neophytes are required to undertake the exercise ever so often. There is enough evidence to show that even in the darkest period, the Sarvarias, the Devi worshippers and those of their ilk, had difficulty in finding recruits amongst the Sikhs.

Oberoi has had to misquote to make his view seem plausible. Had he tried to correlate his observations to the rapid growth rate of Sikhs in that period, he would have admired the people. It is remark-able how rude and untutored masses steeped in poverty, tried to lift themselves by the boot strings into better spiritual life with the aid of nothing else but their unflinching faith in the remarkable Sikh Gurus. What a glorious struggle it was! That the self-helping new converts took time to cast off their old beliefs, is entirely understandable. How can their effort be construed to support the non-existent notions of parallel religion?

His views about the activity of the Singh Sabha workers are equally untenable. He conveniently forgets that they had received unanimous support from the Sikh people. That would not have been possible, unless they were perceived to be honestly striving for restor-ing the pristine message of the Gurus. It is difficult to imagine that the entire Sikh world would conspire to subvert its own true faith. Employment of the term “Tat Khalsa” for the real and the only Sikh identity, is a value-loaded use. The aim is to project it as something distinct, extraneous and, therefore, undesirable. This identity has been dreaded by rulers of all ages. They have unanimously resented its tendency to ostensibly support what Oberoi calls “the powerful separatist symbolism”. Since its very birth the current empire has been in perpetual political cQnfrontation with the “surfacing of these sentiments of Sikh separation”. The aim of the state-inspired academic activity has been to isolate it, to establish it as a dispensable superstructure on Sikhism, to deride it as the source of all public ills and then to finally make a determined bid to dissolve it. Harjot Oberoi and his companions led by McLeod, fit neatly into the larger scheme, and have consistently tailored their formulations to suit the design of the ruling classes of India. This is the end they are all serving. They can judge for themselves how laudable their aim is, Obviously they can’t be objective, when they plan to conform to such a pre-conceived sinister design.

It is interesting that in the context of the Khalsa rahit, Harjot Oberoi argues that, “the body was made a principal focus of symbolic concern and central means of projecting ideological preoccupations”. (One is tempted to ask in what period of time and in which society it was not so!). Very recently a high profile seminar was held by a body of Sikhs close to government thinking on rahit. Primarily



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