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Sikh Clergy – The Tasks Ahead

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

On the Baisakhi Day of 1699, under the shadows of the Shivalik Ranges, Guru Gobind Singh performed a miracle. For centuries we had been invaded, made slaves, our women raped and taken away to distant lands, our dwellings looted and burnt down. The invader boasted, that the dust rising from the hoofs of their horses, send shivers down the spine of these Indians and they simply run for their dear lives.

As a nation and people, we were completely demoralized, drained of all pride, our spirit trampled into dust and we had resigned ourselves to our fate. It was under these harrowing and debilitating conditions that the Tenth Master performed the miracle. When he put his ‘khanda’ (double-edged sword) into that iron pot and stirred the sweet liquid, he stirred the conscience, pride and the very soul of the nation. The sublimity of that ceremony and the magic of the moment is beyond replication. It brought back to life the dead spirit of a people. He gave them a new life, of dignity and pride. A new identity was conferred, their vanquished spirit awakened and caste barriers were forsaken. He gave them a double-edged sword, one edge to cut down the tyrant and the other to defend the defenceless, weak and the meek. It was a momentous and unique event in world history.

Overnight a warrior class was created who were to astound the world with their spirit of sacrifice and valour. They not only stemmed the unrelenting tide of invasions from the North West, but reversed the trend and turned the tide. It was through his spiritual grace and ordained by the Lord, that the Guru brought about this metamorphosis of a people. It was something to rejoice and celebrate not only by the new sect that he created, but all the people of Hindustan.

The controversial godman Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the head of Sacha Sauda sect, allegedly, wearing the dress and attendant accoutrements and impersonating with his actions, tried to replicate the actions of Guru Gobind Singh from that holy, historic and soul stirring ceremony of birth of the Khalsa. It was blasphemy and sacrilege. It is something, which should have met with universal condemnation, disdain and contempt in the strongest possible terms from every Indian rather than Sikhs alone.

Having said that, while it drew violent responses from the Sikh community, which to an extent may be justifiable, the actions of baring swords, sloganeering, burning of effigies and mob fury, forcing a ‘bundh’ are completely out of tune with the times and totally uncalled for from a forward looking and progressive community. It was a throw back to the sequence and play of events of the last two dreadful decades of the twentieth century. Giving this contemptuous and purported action of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh a political colour and opening the lid of religious orthodoxy, the Akali government has done itself, the community and Punjab, great injustice, disservice and harm. Opening the lid and releasing the genie of religious bigotry and orthodoxy was a grave mistake. Under such circumstances, initiative and agenda invariably passes into the hands of radical outfits and issues spin out of control as it happened in the nineteen eighties. The last bout of terrorism lasted nearly fifteen years, and did incalculable harm to the social fabric of the province, its economic well-being, and pushed it back by a few decades. Corruption attained a new high and thousands lost their lives, in some cases entire families were wiped out to gain possession of their properties. Fake encounters and fake killings became a routine affair, either as contract killing or to earn awards. Poor schooling further suffered and an entire generation of young men grew-up in the countryside, with little education or skills. They are unemployable and frustrated. Further, no investment (industry) has come to the province, even years after terrorism had subsided.

As a people we are generally gullible and superstitious. That has led to the growth of innumerable ‘God-men’ and ‘Deras’, each with a sizeble following. These ‘God-men’ plant their own agents to spread the word that their Baba has supernatural powers. These ‘plants’ give their personal and other’s cooked up examples where chronic diseases have been cured by the magical powers of the Baba. The ‘Kicking Baba’ on the Jamuna near Mathura, living in a machan, attracted even VVIPs who yearned to receive a kick on their head from the Baba.

The challenge these Deras pose has to be met, not through violence, or seeking their closure but at an altogether different plane. It calls for introspection by the Sikh clergy and an analysis of the causes, which make people turn away from temples and gurdwaras and seek solace in Deras. The fact that these Deras carry out social work, oppose caste system, run dispensaries/hospitals, rehablitation centers for addicts, educational institutions and training centers to impart skills for useful employment, does appeal to the people. While the SGPC and the Sikh clergy and ‘sants’ have mostly focused their attention on marblisation of Gurdwaras, wasteful ventures and on infighting. This infighting amongst Gurdwaras has even spread to UK and Canada.

The Akal Takht has the moral authority, responsibility and an inclusive role to play than to get embroiled in the Dera issue. The Sikh clergy, at large, too must look inward and see where it has failed in its role, which makes people seek solace and comfort in Deras. There is the abominable practice of female foeticide in the Punjab, more so amongst the Sikhs in the countryside. The youth have taken to drugs and by and large are leading wasteful lives. They fall prey to touts who charge a fortune to send them abroad; they eventually end up in some foreign prison as illegal migrants. There is the issue of vulgar and wasteful display of wealth and extreme ostentation at Sikh weddings. Marriage palaces have mushroomed all over the province and out of sheer social compulsions, marriage receptions are held there when most have to take heavy loans or sell land or tractors to hold these functions. Then there is the shameful and evil custom of dowry and burning of brides. The reprehensible practice and prejudice of caste system has crept back; whereas birth of the Khalsa was to put an end to it.

It is against such evil practices that the Akal Takht and the ‘Sant Samaj’ must bring to bear their moral authority and influence to eliminate these, from the society. Campaign against female foeticide, ostentation and vulgar display of wealth; corruption and conspicuous consumption. Send out a strong message that marriage functions should be simple with limited number of guests. Work towards the up-lift of the community. Seek to remove caste prejudices and discourage rituals and bigotry. Wean away the youth and others from drug addiction and craze to go abroad. Akal Takht, through its actions and diktats, should be able to bring about a sea change in the life of the community and its well being.

Purported actions of the Dera chief need to be treated with contempt, derision and finally, forgiven and forgotten. The SGPC should deploy its huge resources to open educational institutions, de-addiction centers, hospitals for the poor and training centers to impart skills in demand in the market. These institutions must match the best in the country. Launch a special drive for the care and education of the female child.


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