THE NATURE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN THE SRI GURU GRANTH SAHIB
Like other institutions, religions too have an organizational structure in which people are united by a common creed, by the rituals and practices. The doctrines of the religious scriptures have a unique role in the socio-political and religious development of the society. According to sociologist Melford Spiro, religion is an “institution consisting of culturally patterned interaction with culturally postulated superhuman beings.”1 In this modern world, the religious doctrines dominated the socio-political realm of the nations that follow democratic and secular values. In other words, religion is both individual and social. In the case of India, the doctrine of Varna Asrama Dharma is one of the major concepts of Hinduism, which has two faces. In the religious realm, it has classified the people on the basis of caste and in the socio-political realm it divides the people on the basis of higher and lower and inferior and superior entities. Casteism affects the economical self-reliance of the so-called depressed classes. Similarly, Jain philosophy has restricted its people from injuring living beings and even insects. This religious restriction compels the Jains to refrain from farming and agriculture. It is possible to say that the notion of freedom and societal flourishing are intertwined with the religious doctrines. The doctrines of the religions played a crucial role in the socio-political and economical development of civil societies. The term civil society has different usages in this modern world. “It is sometimes considered to include the family and the private sphere and referred to as the ‘third sector’ of society distinct from government and business.”2 According to political thinker John Rawls, the notion civil society guarantees “equal rights, powers, opportunities, income, wealth, and equal liberty, which includes the right of all people to vote and hold public office, freedom of speech, conscience, association, the right of private property and equal opportunity to compete for any position in society.”3
As a religion, Sikhism gave prior importance to the existence of God and faith. Meanwhile as a religious institution, Sikhism supported the idea of an ideal civil society. The Sikh gurus believed that the earthly life must be based on righteousness, compassion and devoted to God. The concept of Miri Piri synthesized the spiritual and temporal aspects. The truthful life contains a strong attachment towards internalized values and social norms, which is the characteristic of ethics. Again, Sikhism totally abstains from the practices like asceticism, monasticism and celibacy. In the case of day-to-day life, the Gurus told the people to synthesize the spiritual and temporal aspects. In the ideology of whole life system, the people must seek God with specific obligations and responsibilities. The revolutionary ideal of Sant-Sipahi was the inevitable outcome of the combination of spiritual and temporal aspect of life. Again, it urges the need to lead a balanced life avoiding the extreme spiritualism and extreme worldly life. When we compare the Sikhs with other religious groups, it is possible to see a greater level of creativity, mastery, courage and hard work. Thus, a Sant-Sipahi is a person who always offsets any negative events in the life with positive ones.
The cross-cultural and inter-cultural communications of the Sikh Gurus led them to construct a perfect social order which is free from all kinds of discriminations. Gurus studied the religious texts of other faiths and reinterpreted these from a new dimension. Knowledge about the human relationships and community life are the necessary factors for the development of the society. Gurus envisioned a civil society in harmony with nature and proclaimed to the people to live together in justice and love. Guru Nanak promoted the idea of an ideal civil society which is all inclusive and homogeneous. He said that there is no Hindu and no Muslim. Thus, in the very beginning itself, Guru Nanak dreamed of an ideal civil society in which people are united in the name of God irrespective of religious differences. In Sri Guru Granth Sahib there is space for secular thought, political freedom, and democratic values for the socio-economic development of the community. Sri Guru Granth Sahib has played a major role for the transformation of the caste-ridden community into an optimistic and vibrant society. The Sikh Gurus urge their devotees to purge the individualistic and consciousness centric bias for the wellbeing of the community. The Guru said that the Creator is One, has no name, no place, no caste, nor form, nor colour, nor any sign.
Yea, the First Person, the Embodiment of Compassion,
Not born from the womb, and perfect, in the beginning of all.
Who has no nationality, no dress, no form,
No distinctive marks, no attachment.
And who, here as well as there, and in all direction,
Has spread out as love.”4
In this sense, it is the duty of the realized people to build a community which is free from casteism, gender bias and inequality. The sense of fellow-beingness urges the need to accept the society as a spiritual unity. The ultimate aim of the religion is to lead the believers to the state of this realization and this state could not be achieved without serving the people.
Sikh Gurus formulated a bio-centric view in which all the creatures have the equal share and freedom to live in this world. Guru said that, “the sources of creation, egg-born, womb-born, earth-born, and sweat-born and oceans, mountains and sentient beings; He, the Lord, knows their condition, O Nanak, having created the beings the Lord takes care of them all.”5 According to the Gurus all creatures are born free and equal in dignity and rights. No one shall be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment in this beautiful world.
In Sikhism, it is the duty of the realized person or Gurmukh to inclucate self-confidence in the community, to protect the values and liberate the people from oppression. With the support of the disciples, gurus developed new townships to promote trade and business among various groups irrespective of caste and religious identity. Even though, the entire Punjab region was under control of the Governors of the Mughal Kingdom, the gurus succeeded to unite the people from various religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups in one place. The Sikhs who came to know the importance of rights and responsibilities through the messages of the Gurus welcomed the people to the new townships. In general, townships have been developed in response to the changing needs of agriculture, business and new residents. The development of new towns gradually increases the revenue and income of the society. This gives confidence to the inhabitants and also the idea of identity and self-respect. Again the economic freedom in the society increased the joint ventures among the various trade guilds and increased the exchange of goods and labor force. The first town in the history of Sikhs is that of Kartarpur Sahib which was developed by Guru Nanak in the year 1522. Guru Angad developed the village of Khadur into Khadur Sahib. Guru Amar Das founded the town Goindwal. Guru Ram Das founded the town Chakk Ram Das. The fifth Guru Arjun Dev transformed this small village as the Holy city of Sri Amritsar. He also founded the towns of Gobindpur (Hargobindpur), Tarn Taran, Kartarpur (in Jalandhar) and Chheharta. Guru Hargobind developed Keeratpur Sahib and also developed the village named Charnauli. In Charnauli he maintained good horse-riding troops. Guru Tegh Bahadur founded Chakk Nanaki and Guru Gobind Singh founded Paonta Sahib and Anandpur Sahib. The religious and political tolerance in the Sikh Holy Scripture gave protection to the fundamental human rights in the society. The sociologist argues that “to the extent that intelligent, entrepreneurial and hard working individuals are drawn to a society and expand its productivity by making more efficient use of its resources, they will enhance economic development and growth. This is true not only in terms of attracting migrants to settle in a territory but also in attracting merchants with whom to trade.”6 Thus, the Gurus succeeded in bringing inter-religious and intra-religious relations and levels of economic and political stability in the community.
The Gurus visited various towns and pilgrimage centers of other religions and personally experienced the pains and suffering of the people. They advised the people to be wise, agile and refined, capable of developing an ideal society. The ideal civil society Begumpura is a world envisioned by Bhagat Ravidas in which there is no suffering or fear and all are equal. In other words it is an all inclusive world. Guru Nanak said that God is away from all sorts of discrimination. He encouraged the suppressed classes to overcome fatalism and defeatism. The significance of Begumpura is that it opened new space for co-existence and reflected the need to live in harmony with one another and to achieve universal brotherhood, peace, equality, fraternity and cooperation between nations as contemplated by Bhagat Ravi Dass,
“The regal realm with the sorrowless name:
They call it Begumpura, a place with no pain,
No taxes or cares, none owns property there,
No wrongdoing, worry, terror or torture.
Oh my brother, I have come to take it as my own,
My distant home, where everything is right.”7
The social philosophy of Sikhism encourages the formation of independent associations to support the voiceless groups into the political process and also to change the society into more inclusive and responsive. Guru Nanak raised a strong voice of protest against political oppression. He condemned the invasion of Babar as barbaric and cruel. He also strongly criticized the religious hypocrisy of the priestly classes. He emphasized the need of oneness of God and brotherhood of mankind to his disciples and totally departed from Hinduism and Islamic religious fold. Guru Arjun and Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed their lives to counter the forces of tyranny and injustice. Guru Gobind Singh established an alternative society under the name “Khalsa” to eradicate inequality, casteism and injustice from the community. The Sikh scholar Nirbhai Singh explains that Khalsa is an Arabic word which means royal or not subordinate to anyone. Thus Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed that there is no stigma attached to any profession. Khalsa was called upon to discard superstitious beliefs, concept of Karma and Avatara of God. The Sikh Gurus maintained a moral code of conduct in the society and asked the people not to commit any social offences like demanding dowry, using intoxicating drinks and tobacco. Gurus never tried to interfere in the religious beliefs and practices of other communities. Nobody has the right to interfere in the sovereignty of one’s faith and belief. The Gurus taught that a Muslim should be a true Muslim and Hindu must be a true Hindu. This view very much resembles the postmodernist view that questioning the truthfulness of another’s religious views is morally offensive. As per the latest survey which is published in the Times of India, it said that Punjab ranks first in India in terms of lowest rate in communal incidents and casualties related to communal violence. The report said that in “Punjab the communal incidents have just 0.5 incidents per million populations.”8 It is possible to assume that the Sikh ideology has been a positive infleunce in maintaining peace and harmony in the Punjab region.
To protect the community, the Sikh gurus fought vehemently and resisted the invasion of Mughal army into the Sikh territory. Thousands of Gurmukhs sacrificed their lives for upholding the righteous in the community. Gurus won the battles against Mughals in many places, even though, they did not try to establish an independent nation. Gurus maintained an army and gave military training to the Sikhs to safeguard the community. It is a fact that politically stable environment is an essential precondition for economic investment and societal development. In the peaceful times, Gurus encouraged farming and trade in the newly developed towns. Sikhs developed an ideal community in which the family members worked hard to increase agricultural production and save the land from natural calamities. Thus, the responsible and effective management of natural resources led to food and financial security. Guru Arjan got ponds dug in Amritsar and Tarn Taran and constructed Gurdwaras near by the sarovars. The believers feel the presence of God and experience peace and tranquility in their mind. On the other hand, Guru realized that development of new townships and population growth increase the demand for water reservoirs and it is our moral and social responsibility to conserve the natural resources. Sixteenth century witnessed severe draught in the Punjab region. Guru Arjun introduced the drought management techniques through constructing wells (in Chheharta) and ponds in the name of God to save the community from natural calamities.
Like other religious traditions, Sikhism encourages public activities that derive from the Holy Scripture. Due to the struggle of Gurdwara Reform Movement or Akali Movements, the Sikhs restored the purity of the Sikh shrines in the early 1920’s. This led to the introduction of Sikh Gurdwara Bill in 1925 which placed all the historical Sikh Gurdwars under the control of SGPC. Again, the activities like Langar, Sewa, and charity require management skills. In the very beginning itself, The Gurus developed interpersonal skills and the ways to co-ordinate the activities among the disciples. Even today, the Sikh community has been systematically maintaining charity services like eradication of poverty, help of the sick and vulnerable, free education to poor children, hospitals, and free transportation services to the community like it is done by government organizations. The Sikh religious charity trusts and non-governmental bodies are efficiently dealing with social evils like drug addiction, use of tobacco and smoking which diminish the possibility of economic security in the families. Thus, Sri Guru Granth Sahib encourages the people to create a harmonious world order in which people enjoy greater economic opportunities, freedom, equality, mutual help and the freedom to express ones’ religious beliefs in personal and public life.
1 The sociological perspective of Religion, (Web page) P.9
4 Shabdarth Dasam Granth, P.7
5 Sri Guru Granth Sahib, P.467
6 Anthony Gill, The University of Washington and Timothy Samuel Shah Georgetown University, Religious Freedom, Democratization, and Economic Development: A Survey of the Causal Pathways Linking Religious Freedom to Economic Freedom and Prosperity and Political Freedom and Democracy, research paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture, Washington, D.C. April 13, 2013, P.18
7 Sri Guru Granth Sahib, P.
8 English Newspaper, Times of India, 20th September 2013, P.8
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2014, All