Blatant Distortion of Sikh History and Religion
– Sikh Studies in the West –
Dr Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon
The imperative to address the multi-dimensional challenges Sikhism faces in the wake of anti-Sikh literature produced by Western scholars and the need to rebut this literature has been underlined from time to time. It is becoming increasingly clear that there are definite political motives behind these controversial writings, aimed at degrading and humiliating the Sikh community. The issue has to be approached not only at the academic level but also at the sociological and cultural level. An awareness campaign needs to be set in motion to keep the Sikh community vigilant about the fraud that is being committed by the Western scholars in the field of Sikh studies, in the name of new knowledge formations.
Most of the readers are familiar with the name of W.H. McLeod who, at one time, was a Christian missionary at Batala in Punjab. He was also in charge of the Christian Institute of Sikh Studies at Batala. He chose to give a materialistic interpretation of Sikh religion and history. Earlier it was Dr. Trumpp, a German missionary, who had presented a distorted version of Guru Granth Sahib, which had created a storm in the Sikh circles. McLeod decided to play a more subtle game. In a sudden dramatic turn, he gave up Christianity and turned an atheist so that Sikhs may not suspect his motives. He wrote a number of books in which he lowered the status of Guru Nanak as a prophet, called him a mere saint and a pacifist who preached a religion of interiority. He refused to take cognizance of the integrated world-view of the first Sikh Guru which combines the spiritual as well as the material aspects of human existence. He denied the role of Guru Nanak as a social reformer and tried to propagate the misleading notion that the next Sikh Gurus deviated from the pacifist mission of the first Sikh Guru. Distorted versions of Sikh world-view, Sikh religion and history have already generated unsavoury controversies. Recently, the ongoing debate has degenerated into an almost ugly academic war. This calls for a deeper pondering over the issues.
Nine Chairs of Sikh Studies established in the West owe their existence to the hard-earned money spent by dedicated Sikhs. Foremost aim of these Chairs was to present true versions of Sikh religion and history. But they have deviated from their aim and have fallen prey to the devious designs of the vested interests. They all follow the methodology and pre-conceived model laid down by McLeod. In other words, a fraudulent version of Sikh history has been made easy by McLeod. Others just blindly toe his line. The tragedy is that so many unsuspecting Sikhs have not seen through McLeod's game. It was quite shocking when even 'The Sikh Review', issued from Calcutta, dedicated an entire monthly issue to McLeod after his death. Why? Are the Sikhs so ignorant?
Anne Murphy, Assistant Professor at the British Columbia University has tried to propagate the view that Sikh culture is nothing but a material culture. She tries to belittle the significance of the Sikh scripture, the Sikh Gurdwaras and the five religious symbols of the Sikhs i.e., the five K's. Murphy dons a Salwar-Kameez, can speak Punjabi language and tries to impress the unsuspecting Sikhs by claiming that she is making a very useful contribution in the field of Sikh Studies. During her visit to Punjab, she was the honoured guest in so many Sikh homes. Bhai Mohinder Singh of Birmingham gave her a lavish financial grant, apart from the hospitality bestowed upon her by so many Sikh families in England. Little do these worthies know that her book, 'The Materiality of the Past-History and Representation in Sikh Tradition' strikes at the very roots of Sikhism and Sikh identity.
Another Western scholar Louis E. Fenech also subordinates his judgement of Sikhism to the arbitrary and invented formulations of McLeod. His book, 'Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition: Playing the Game of Love' misrepresents the Sikh concept of martyrdom by dismissing it as a mere rhetoric of the Singh Sabha leaders. Yet another Western scholar H.S. Oberoi looks upon Sikhism as a peasant's faith with a parochial vision. He studies Sikhism in terms of an economic struggle of Sikh peasantry. He takes no cognizance of the Sikh ideology, institutions and Sikh Gurus' world view.
Pashaura Singh, who had McLeod as his Ph.D. guide, tries to prove that the task of compiling of the Sikh scripture, in 1604, was accomplished by fifth Guru Arjan along other members of the team who should be duly acknowledged, along with the Guru.
Arvind Pal Singh Mandair who occupies the Sikh Chair at the University of Michigan is even more outrageous than McLeod in so far as he distorts all the key concepts of Sikhism, dilutes the Sikh identity, undermines Guru Nanak's status as a prophet and propagates a new brand of Sikhism, which is nothing but a caricature of Sikhism. He openly and rather aggressively promotes the interests of Western culture, and toes the line of the political establishment in America and Hindu communal outfits in India. He seems to be more of a propagandist than an academician. His book, 'Religion and Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Post-coloniality and the politics of Translation' is a book so bad that it makes bad books look good. It is the worst book written so far by a Western scholar. And yet a fellow Western scholar Balbinder Singh Bhogal acclaims it as the best book on Sikhism. It is not uncommon among unsuspecting Sikhs to send their children to Michigan to attend Mandair's lectures on Sikhism as they are not aware of the damage he is doing in the field of Sikh studies.
Western scholars claim to be mainstream academicians and try to extend their influence through a network of universities, which award them generous grants, scholarships and Ph.D. degrees. They also collaborate with major publishing houses like the Oxford university press, the Columbia University Press, the Penguins etc. It is indeed unfortunate that the field of Sikh Studies has been overpowered by the so-called Western scholars.
Need of the hour is to expose, combat and rebut these spurious writings on Sikh religion and history in a more effective and systematic way. Here it will not be out of place to cite an example of the Christian world. Dan Brown's book titled 'The Da Vinci Code' (2003), a fictional account, was based on a theory that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that the blood line of Christ continues to date. It led to wide-spread protests in the Christian world. Thousands of copies of this book were burnt. The Vatican had to appoint a cardinal to rebut the claims of this outrageous work, even though it was fictional. The book, came to be dubbed as a sack full of lies. The Sikhs too should rise to the occasion and take appropriate steps against Western writings that denigrate the mission of Sikh Gurus and distort Sikh tradition and identity. For more details see author's book, 'Critique of Western writings on Sikh Religion and History.'
Enlightened and genuine Sikh scholars must realize the gravity of this well-calculated challenge and launch a vigorous crucial crusade to rebut it with projection of a correct perspective on fundamentals of Sikhism.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All