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






(On Dr Harjot Oberoi’s Academic work in reference to the objectives of the Endowment Trust Fund Contract between UBC, Government of Canada and the Federation of Sikh Societies on behalf of the Sikh Community)

A meeting of visiting Sikh scholars from India with Dr Harjot Oberoi, other professors from U.B.C., and Dr Hugh Johnston of Simon Fraser University, was held on July 22, 1994, 5:30 pm - 8:30 pm, in Room 604, Asian Studies Centre, 1871 West Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Attendees of the meeting included:

1. Dr Balkar Singh
2. Dr Darshan Singh
3. Dr Kehar Singh
4. Dr Gurnam Kaur
5. Dr Harjot Oberoi
6. Dr Hugh Johnston
7. Dr Kenneth Bryant
Also present were the members of the Sikh public.

The meeting’s main agenda was to deliberate upon Dr Oberoi’s work as UBC Sikh chair holder, in reference to the Objectives of the Endowment Trust Fund contract establishing the Chair.

The findings of the Sikh scholars visiting are stated on the following pages:

1. It is our opinion that none of the publications submitted address the objectives laid down for the Sikh  chair, including Sikhism’s doctrines, religious practices, philosophy, and the subjects of Sikhism and Sikhs  and Sikhism in Canada.
2. More specifically, the said publications, as to the content, tone and tenor, are visibly incompatible with the objectives of the Sikh chair in question.

3. These publications seem to us an irrelevant exercise in historiography.

4. In our opinion, the works of Dr Oberoi suppress the crucial historical record and, as such, are grossly unfair and harmful to Sikh sensibility.

IN VIEW of the hurt caused to the Sikh community by the writings of the present occupant of the UBC Sikh Chair, we are unanimously of the opinion that the incumbent, Dr Harjot Oberoi, is not contributing to the fulfilment of the objectives laid down in the agreement concerning the Sikh Chair at UBC.

The following material was reviewed for this report.

1) The memorandum of agreement between the Federation of Sikh Societies (representing the Sikh community of Canada), University of British Columbia, and the Government of Canada, dated March 16, 1985 and February 25, 1987.

2) “Construction of Religious Boundaries” by Dr Harjot Oberoi, published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1994.

3) Article, “Popular Saints, Goddesses and Village Sacred Sites: Rereading Sikh Experience in the Nineteenth Century”, read at UC Berke1ey, February 1987.

4) Article, “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-- Sikh Question”, Sikh History and  Religion in the Twentieth Century, University of Toronto, 1988.

5) Article, “Sikh Fundamentalism: Ways of Turning Things Over”, Presented at the Annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Anaheim, November 1989.

6) Article, “Sikh Fundamentalism: Translating History into Theory”, Fundamentalisms and the State, University of Chicago Press 1993.

7) Article, “The Worship of Pir Sakhi Sarvar: Illness, Healing and Popular Culture in the Punjab,” Studies in History, special number on Popular Culture, vol.2, 1987.

8) Article, “Popular Saints, Goddesses and Village Sacred Sites”, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31, 1992, pp. 340-78.

9) UBC Report of Activities of Chair in Punjabi Language, Literature, and Sikh Studies, covering the period 1987-1992.

10) UBC Report on administrative and technical matters relating to activities of the Sikh Studies Chair, with a forwarding letter dated February 7, 1992, signed by Al. McClean, Associate Vice- President (Academic).

1) Article, “Popular Saints, Goddesses and Village Sacred Sites: Rereading Sikh Experience in the Nineteenth Century”, read at UC Berkeley, February 1987.

2) Article, “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-- Sikh Question”, Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century, UOT 1988.

3) Article, “Sikh Fundamentalism: Ways of Turning Things Over”, Presented at the Annual meeting of the American Academy of Religi6n, Anaheim, November 1989.
4) Article, “Sikh Fundamentalism: Translating History into Theory”, University of Chicago Press 1993.

5) Article, “The Worship of Pir Sakhi Sarvar: Illness, Healing and Popular Culture in the Punjab”, Studies in History, special number on Popular Culture, vol. 2, 1987.

6) Article, “Popular Saints, Goddesses and Village Sacred Sites”, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31, 1992, pp. 340-78.

The reported Work of the Chair has, from all known accounts, been below standard in quantity and quality and what is worse still, it suffers from lack of academic integrity. We briefly record below some salient points which need specifically to be gone into in order to bring the work of the Chair upto the mark.

1. The report which should have been an annual feature, gives account of five years, and the output of the Chair is extremely inadequate.

2. All papers, less than half a dozen, published over a period of five years, are nothing but a reproduction or rehash of the chapters of the thesis of the author for his Ph.D. In fact, the book being published is also virtually his thesis done before he came to the Chair. The plea that this is done by all young scholars is unacceptable. Even his published paper ‘Fundamentalism and the State’ is just a slightly expanded version of the earlier paper read at Anaheim. Thus, none of his papers are a product of any work done during the five years of the Chair.

3. Apart from quantity, the quality is even more inadequate, and displays clearly lack of knowledge of the subject by the author. Dr Oberoi is repeatedly writing about Sikh religion and its fundamentalism. In all his papers, there is not even a single quotation from the Sikh Scripture supporting his view. He writes that Kahn Singh created the Hindu-Sikh divide. His ignorance is so blatant that he does not even know that for 240 years, Ten Sikh Prophets lived and preached a separate religion, thousands made the supreme sacrifice for their faith including three Prophets, an authenticated Scripture was given, said that they were neither Hindu nor Muslims and organised a community with specific principles and world-view, the ethics of which, spiritual and moral, have yet to be surpassed in quality.

In the entire Sikh Scripture, there is nothing fundamentalist. In fact, the use of the word fundamentalism in the case of Sikhism is an ignorant misrepresentation, for, its embodied principles are eternally true and valid, and the only fundamentalism is that truthful living is the holiest truth.

The papers of Oberoi have been reviewed and called incorrect, superficial, mischievous, ignorant and lacking in academic conduct. A copy of the reviews of his papers is enclosed. The quality of his papers has been so poor that Dr(s) Noel King (one paper), Kharak Singh (one paper), and G.S. Dhillon (three papers) have published papers specifically against his formulations being ignorant, incorrect and perhaps motivated. Against Oberoi’s observations of Sikh Fundamentalism - a creation of the nineteenth century, Dr King said in his paper, ("Fundamentalism’ ‘modernity’: Sikhism a Tertium Quid”): “At base, it was the continued unfolding of the unseeded, encoded nature of Sikhism as originally propounded by the first Mahala and the other nine…The same spirit told forth the same truths as they applied to that stage of life.  Let us give but one brief example. It was not one person, however brilliant, saying Ham Hindu nain hai late in the nineteenth century but the First Teacher coming up from the Three Day Waters saying Hai nain Hindu, Hai nain Mussalman which is basic”. All the five papers were analyzed and were found to be factually and rationally baseless, ignorant both about Sikhism and the Punjab Problem (copies enclosed).

4. The conduct of Oberoi has been equally unfortunate. Only two examples are given:

i) Since the writings of Oberoi, he has been repeatedly invited to conferences of Sikh Studies to defend his point of view. In December, 1988, Dr Oberoi was invited to respond to the opposite view of Dr G.S. Dhillon on the subject of his paper at Long Beach, University of California. He avoided it. Again, a   conference was held on 2nd December, 1990, at his own University campus at Vancouver, and he was invited to defend his papers against the points of view of Dr King, Dr Kharak Singh and Dr Dhillon which were to be expressed at the conference. The conference was attended by Dr Johnston, and ministers from the government who sent their messages and representatives to address the conference. Yet, Dr Oberoi failed to appear, much less defend his views or propositions. The following day, when our deputation met the Director of the Department, we were amazed to learn from him that on 2nd December, Dr Oberoi had informed him that he was leaving the department to attend the Conference. Does not his conduct show that both his consciousness and his formulations are baseless, and his non-observance devoid of ethics?

ii) In his paper, Oberoi wrote that late in the nineteenth century Singh Sabha leaders were the first to object to the worship of Sakhi Sarvar by the Sikhs. This is baseless. The Gurus in practice and in their hymns specially condemned the worship of Sakhi Sarvar and goddesses. His contrary view could be due to ignorance or motivation. In fact, motivation appears evident, because he indulged in deliberate suppression.  Rose, a known authority on the subject, and Oberoi quotes him profusely, wrote that the Sikhs in the villages not only disregarded the worship of Sakhi Sarvar, but were hostile to those who worshipped him. He stated that comparatively few Sikhs were followers of Sakhi Sarvar, and there was in fact a sort of oppression in the Central Districts between the Sikhs and the Sarvarias, one party worshipping the Sikh Guru, and the other worshipping Sakhi Sarvar, i.e., one party were Sikhs, and the other were ordinary Hindus who followed Sakhi Sarvar. He added that the worship of Sarvar spread eastward in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was the prevalent cult at the time of the development of Sikhism, and that most of the conversions to the Khalsa were from the erstwhile worshippers of Sakhi Sarvar. This, he explains, was the probable reason of opposition between the two forms of faith, i.e., between the Hindu Sarvarians and the Sikhs opposing their cult. He added that in the nineteenth century Sarvarians were looked upon as ordinary Hindus. And yet, while fully knowing all this, Oberoi, we believe, deliberately suppressed the above clear conclusion of an authority like Rose, and also Macauliffe, and made the distortion that Singh  Sabha leaders were the first to object to Sakhi Sarvar worship among the Sikhs. Evidently, his entire article would be found to be baseless mis-representation. Such a conduct would, we believe, be unpardonable of an ordinary person, but much less can it be glossed over in the case of an occupant of a Sikh Chair. Further, such conduct is unacademic, unethical and violative of the terms of the Agreement with the University.
Clause (2) of the Agreement reads: “All instruction and research shall be in keeping with the established academic standards and every possible effort shall be made to present the teachings and practices of Sikhism in an accurate manner.”

Undoubtedly, Dr Oberoi has violated the conditions of the Agreement by knowingly suppressing facts about accurate Sikh practices, established academic literature and Sikh Scriptures and history by making conscious concealment of truth, and by expression of inaccuracies.

5. We have not detailed here all the inaccurate, misleading and malicious statements of Dr Oberoi. However, those misrepresentations are analyzed, discussed and exposed in the five papers referred to above. But, he continues and persists. The latest is his paper published in the book “Fundamentalism of the State”. In that paper, he repeats his earlier formulations made at Anaheim and elsewhere, and which stand controverted in the earlier papers of the authors mentioned above, both in regard to Oberoi’s facts and arguments. Yet, he remains completely silent about those papers published in the books and read at the conferences. A copy of the letter addressed to the Editors of the Fundamentalism project is enclosed.

6. Finally, it is our considered view that the matter about Oberoi’s academic work and conduct is too serious to be brushed aside. Not only his conduct is unacademic, but he has been consistently work-ing in opposition to the objectives accepted in the Agreement. His violations have been specifically indicated above. We wonder if the conduct shown by Oberoi can, in any sense, merit his continued presence in an academic forum, much less as an occupant of a Chair. We, therefore, suggest that a way should be found to dis-pense with the services of Dr Oberoi. Another important fact is the publication of his thesis in the form of a book. We fear its publication is vetted by some authority on Sikh religion, lest it should also be a problem for the author, the community and the University. Already, the publication of a thesis by the Toronto University ‘has offended the entire community for its being considered blasphe-mous and incorrect. Over a score of papers have been published against the Toronto work, and the SGPC, the highest body of the Sikhs, has taken note of it for its libel and inaccuracies. In the interests of amity it is suggested that the publication of Oberoi’s book should be properly checked, lest it should create a serious but an avoidable problem for the University and the Sikh community. Already the Sikhs who have been contributing towards the Chair at Toronto, have been seriously concerned about the work done there and have represented to the University accordingly. In all sincerity we wish, as citizens of Canada, that no controversy should arise concerning the work of the Chair in this university.



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