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The Legacy of Hindu Caste Hierarchy and the Conversion of Jat Peasantry to Sikhism

Baldev Singh*

M S Ahluwalia has used my article, “The Legacy of Rishis and Munis” published on the SikhSpectrum.com, February 2006, to write his article, “The Legacy Of Hindu Caste Hierarchy And The Conversion Of Jat Peasantry To Sikhism”, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 2006, VIII (4), pp. 63-71. My article was earlier posted at www.dalitindia.com and also published in two parts in the Sikh Virsa, May and June 2006.

Since I started writing on Sikhism in 2002, my objective has been to project philosophy of Guru Nanak (Gurmat), Sikh history and the Sikh traditions in a logical and integrated manner that is consistent with the teachings of Aad Guru Granth Sahib. At the same time, I want to popularize the writings of “distinguished scholars” like Sardar Daljeet Singh and Sardar Jagit Singh. To my knowledge these two are the only scholars, who have done an outstanding job in rebutting McLeod and his associates’ fraudulent research on Sikhism under the cloak of academic scholarship. On Internet discussion with readers, I urged them to read Daljeet Singh’s Sikhism: A Comparative Study of its Theology and Mysticism and Jagjit Singh’s The Sikh Revolution: A Perspective View, in order to understand Sikhism in a logical and integrated manner.

In my article, “The Legacy of Rishis and Munis” I have quoted Jagjit Singh extensively in the section on caste system, but the bulk of the article is my own statements/views and my own interpretation of gurbani. I have also quoted other authors – Al-Beruni, G C Narang, Kahan Singh Nabha, Sangat Singh, J S Grewal and Gurbakhash Singh Kala Afghana to support my arguments/views. The theme of my article is to draw a clear distinction between “unique and revolutionary Gurmat philosophy of universal humanism” and “the life-negating and dehumanizing Varna Ashrama Dharama/Caste System.”

On the other hand, it is not clear to me what Ahluwalia is trying to say in his disjointed article? It gives the impression that Jats were attracted to the Sikh faith due to their socio-economic conditions and the fame of Bhagat Dhanna Jat whose hymns are included in Aad Guru Granth Sahib. And the success of the Sikh movement was simply due to Jat peasant revolt against the very heavy burden of land taxes and oppression of the Mughals.

The Jats of Punjab were predominantly peasants and the most outstanding problem of the peasants in seventeenth century, when Sikh faith had taken its firm roots in the Punjab, was that there was a very heavy burden of land revenue coupled with the oppression of the Mughal ruling classes. This naturally provoked peasant revolts. Thus the economic pressure may have forced the Jat peasantry of Punjab, as elsewhere, to resort to armed violence.

It has been forcefully argued by the social scientists that it was not religious but economic factor, which forced the Jat peasantry of Punjab to resort to arms. However, in so far as the major factors leading to Jat revolts in Punjab during the period under review is concerned, the issue is inconclusive and debatable. Again to what extent their sacrifice, sincerity, hard work and patriotism has been rewarded, is yet to be properly assessed.

Ahluwalia has drawn this conclusion from Irfan Habib’s article, “Guru Nanak exalts Jats of Punjab,” Presidential address, Punjab History Conference, Patiala, 1971, and his book: Agrarian System of Mughal India, Bombay, 1963. Instead of questioning or challenging Habib’s gross distortion of Gurmat and Sikh history, Sikh historians have been quoting him in their publications and this fact has not gone unnoticed by others. McLeod and his associates also quoted him in their work to support the theory of “Jat influx” into the Sikh movement.

The title of Habib’s article, “Guru Nanak exalts Jats of Punjab” is erroneous and repugnant because Guru Nanak exalts all and not a single particular group of people of a particular place. His message is universal humanism—love, respect, justice and equality for all. He declared his solidarity with the lowest of the lowest of society:

nIcw AMdir nIc jwiq nIcI hU Aiq nIcu ]
nwnku iqn kY sMig swiQ vifAw isau ikAw rIs ]
ijQY nIc smwlIAin iqQY ndir qyrI bKsIs ]

Nanak will stand by the lowest of lowest, not with the elite. Societies that take care of the downtrodden have the blessing of God.

– Guru Granth Sahib, p 15

From Habib’s article it is quite clear that he is ignorant of Gurmat philosophy and the history of Jats of Punjab. He ignores the simple fact that the numerical preponderance of Jats in the Sikh movement was natural, as Jats were the majority constituent of the population where Sikh faith took its roots and flourished – central Punjab. Though the Jats dominated the Sikh movement numerically, they [Jat Sikhs] were only a tiny fraction of the over all Jat population of India, which was either Muslim or Hindu. Majority of Jats of Punjab were Muslims and the others were either Hindus or Sultani-Hindus – Hindus who were moving away from their temples to the mosques and whose allegiance and devotion was shifting away from gods and goddesses to pirs and fakirs (Muslim holy men). The latter two categories supplied the recruits to the Sikh movement.

Besides, Habib’s theory does not explain why the “heavy burden of land tax” imposed by the Mughals did not impel Hindu or Muslim Jats or other agricultural communities to take up arms against the Mughals? Further, was there no tax burden and oppression on other sections of the population like artisans and the mercantile classes? Moreover, who could be more exploited, persecuted and dehumanized than the Sudras and Antyajatas (untouchables) of India who vastly outnumbered the upper castes? Did they not revolt against the tyranny of caste system? Nowhere in the history of mankind such a large majority has been exploited and subjugated to degrading and dehumanizing conditions for such a long period by a small minority as the Sudras and untouchables of India. Can Ahluwalia or Habib explain why the Sudras and untouchables did not revolt to free themselves from the tyranny of caste system? Was it not natural for them to revolt? Why was it natural only for peasants to revolt against heavy burden of taxes?

The Sikh struggle against the tyranny of caste system and the bigotry and oppression of Mughals continued from the time of Guru Nanak (1469-1539) to 1760s when the Khalsa rule was established over Punjab. It betrays ignorance of Gurmat philosophy and Sikh history or it is a disingenuous attempt – motive to distort or subvert Sikhism – on the part of anyone to characterize the Sikh struggle as a peasant-revolt!

In Ahluwalia’s nine-page article, about four pages are from my article, which he has lifted word for word without reading or understanding the article. For example, he has inserted a passage from my article on page 67 of his article, which is not coherent with the paragraph above or below. Similarly, he has made errors in citations from my article. Further he wrongly attributes Guru Arjun’s hymn (AGGS, M 5, p. 487) to Bhagat Dhanna and he does not give the page number in his citation (19. Sri Guru Granth Sahib.) It seems he did not read the hymn himself; he copied its English translation from some place else! Moreover, he did not study the sources that I have cited in my article. Had he studied Jagjit Singh’s The Sikh Revolution: A Perspective View, he would have learned how absurd and irrational are Habib’s arguments! Jagjit Singh has debunked McLeod’s convoluted and absurd “Jat theory” point-by-point, pp. 260-281.

Finally, Ahluwalia and Habib would benefit from the keen observation of Mohammed Iqbal, a renowned poet and Islamic scholar, about the victory of Khalsa forces over Mughals:

Khalsa shamsheero Quran ra burd,
Andrin Kishwar Mussakmani namurd.

The Khalsa took away the sword and Quran from the Muslims and shattered the dreams of Muslim conquest. In other words, it was their faith, the very gurmat philosophy that inspired the Khalsa to fight unflinchingly with dogged determination and eternal optimism.


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