‘Construction of Religious Boundaries’
Dr Anurupita Kaur
Since the time Oberoi was openly accused of the academic offence of suppressing Rose’s evidence about Sikh approach to Sakhi Sarvar, he has been a very controversial figure in the field of Sikh studies. Unfortunately his present writing does not in any way enhance his reputation as an objective student of Sikhism. Oberoi’s garrulous pouring of words about irrelevant matters and events, which brings out little evidence to support his pet nostrum that Sikhism is no religion, only leads to a sense of boredom in the reader. Oberoi never quotes the Guru Granth Sahib to support his view except the well known hymn of the Fifth Master:
“I do not keep the Hindu fast, nor the Muslim Ramadan;
I serve Him alone who is my refuge,
I serve the one Master who is also Allah,
I have broken with the Hindu and the Muslim,
I will not worship with the Hindu, nor like the Muslim go to Mecca,
I shall serve Him and no other,
I will not pray to idols nor say the Muslim Prayer;
I shall put my heart at the feet of the One Supreme Being;
For, we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmans”
Strangely enough, even this categoric statement of the Guru about the independence of the Sikh religion, is disregarded by Oberoi. For, like the three proverbial wise beings, his mind is made up, and he is disinclined to hear, say or see anything different from what he believes in.
The main failure of Oberoi is his lack of method in organising his study. He does not take the line of a scholar of religion, and thus fails to identify that Sikhism is a societal and whole-life religion, which discards and disowns all major elements of Hinduism or any other salvation religion, namely, faith in Vedas, caste system, the doctrine of Avtarhood, pantheism, monism, or henotheism, values of asceticism, monasticism, Sanyasa, celibacy, Ahimsa and the like.
He does not take up the role of a historian either to explain why it is that the Sikhs alone successfully turned back a thousand year wave of invaders fromthe Ghadder rebellion against the British, while Gandhi and other Indian leaders were readily co-operating with them, why it is that in the Independence Movement, they sent 92 persons to the gallows, and 1,557 to suffer life-imprisonment out of a total of 127 and 2175, respec-tively, and why it is that they were the only ethnic group to organise a protest movement and send 40,000 volunteers to prison when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in India in 1975 abrogating all civil liberties in the country. One does not understand why Oberoi is fond of suppressing facts, for, he could not be unaware of the wellknown statement of Vijay lakshmi, the Former Indian Ambassador: “Punjab which had always been in the forefront of resistance to oppression, kept its colours flying, during the Emergency also. It was in Punjab and Punjab alone that a large scale resistance was organized against it. The worst thing that happened during the Emergency was that a brave nation was frightened into submission, and nobody spoke except in hushed tones. In Dehra Dun, where I was, I hung my head in shame, and wondered if this was the Bharat for which we, the freedom fighters, had suffered. Even those, not actually in prison, were no less than in jail. Only in Punjab the Akalis organised a Morcha against this. Punjab’s lead in such matters should continue.”
Historical events like those mentioned above are numerous, but Oberoi not only fails to explain them on the basis of his view, but is evidently inclined to avoid the very mention of them.
Nor is Oberoi very serious about his role as a scholar of cultural history. For, on the basis of his study, he is again unable to explain the distinguishing Sikh cultural ethos as noted by Kazi Nur Muhammad, the chronicler of General Abdali. The Sikhs had suffered the worst persecution at the hands of the Mughals. Their Gurus were martyred, and price was put on every Sikh head. But, the Sikhs during their rule, treated members of all religions, including Muslims, liberally gave them fun and equal participation both in the army and the civil administration. The highest posts in the Artillery and the Ministries of the Khalsa Sarkar, were manned by Muslims. Their confidence had been won, and none of them betrayed the Khalsa Sarkar during the Anglo-Sikh Wars. This is what Gardner wrote about the Khalsa Sarkar: “The Maharaja was indeed one of those masterminds, which only require opportunity to change the face of the Punjab. The Punjab Was not the same, semistarving, terrified, looted by the rulers, and poorly clothed during his reign. It was a prosperous, homogeneous and peaceful state with all the communities, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, fully satisfied partners in the government, in military and civil ad-ministration, and it was the happiest state communally in Asia. The Maharaja visited the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim places of pilgrimage. It was the only state in India, which was the most prosperous, the most flourishing and most contented.” It was a time when Europe and Russia were maintaining Ghettos and carrying out pogroms against the Jews and at Pune low untouchable castes could appear on the public roads only during fixed hours lest their shadows should defile the higher castes.
Religious and ethnic differences and distinctions have deep roots, and are social realities that just cannot be wishfully ignored, as Oberoi has done; nor can they be artificially created by external agencies or forces. These realities are based on new spiritual ideologies, centuries of sufferings and blood of martyrs. It is easy to say thatChrist said nothing new, or what was already not there in the Jewish thought or theology, or that the stories of redemption and resurrection are a myth. But his crucification, thousands of Christian martyrs, and centuries of Christian sufferings have made them a reality, which no historian or social scientist can ignore or erase. So is it with the Sikh identity, which Oberoi attempts to demolish with his laboured use of pointless verbiage.
In his entire book, Oberoi paints only one-time pictures without understanding them in their long-term historical perspective and growth. For, just taking a snap-shot of a crowd consisting of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, cannot lead to the inference that relations between the communities have always been cordial, or have developed homogenously. Making a black-out of important his-torical events and conflicts, and ignoring evidently known realities are the major flaws of Oberoi’s book. For example, the present reality is that Punjab is the only riparian state in the country, 75% available waters of which stand diverted to the non-riparian states. The suggested reasons for this unprecedented discrimination are ethnic dif-ferences between the communities. Thus, sidetracking socio-political and religious realities, and instead rushing to superficial conclusions, cannot be perceptive understanding of history, much less can it be considered scholarly appraisal. Oberoi’s book gives us just a journalistic picture, though even a knowledgeable journalistic assessment would not normally ignore contemporary realities as has been done by the author. Even in its style Oberoi’s writing would have been more readable and useful if it had been precise.
Copyright Institute of Sikh Studies, All rights reserved.
Designed by Jaswant (09915861422)