Role of Sikh Intelligentsia in Present Day Crisis-ridden Sikh Society
The State of Punjab, today, is in a state of turmoil. Punjab is no longer the number one state that it once boasted to be. It lacks behind miserably and perhaps, it is somewhere, right at the bottom of the list. The condition of the common man is miserable. Sikh society specifically in Punjab seems to have touched the nadir of its political, religious, social, cultural, educational and environmental degradation. The total scenario is very gloomy and depressing. Social and political inequalities are blatant, the poor and weak are groaning under the weight of injustice being heaped upon them. The common man is being maltreated by the ruling class aided by local government functionaries. The leadership is absolutely unscrupulous, selfishly ambitious and morally bankrupt.
There is vote bank politics and corruption is rampant; no nation can progress under this menace and it is enough to doom any state. The contemptuously opportunistic political leadership is indulging in economically disastrous unviable, populist measures in order to garner votes; it is thriving on its patronage of drug, land and sand mafias for consolidating its grip over political power. These so called public servants i.e. the government, the administration, the police, and the government functionaries are enemies of the public and thoroughly corrupt. Elections are not free and fair and muscle and money power is used immensely during voting. Freedom of speech which is a fundamental right is being curbed and so is the freedom of the press. Punjab is beset with divisions, resentment and poverty. The people hate their corrupt rulers. They despise their corrupt and selfish elite. Outsiders are exploiting these divisions and chaos is not very far away. Enemies from within and outside are growing increasingly powerful and sinking their fangs deeper into the hapless people of Punjab, especially the Sikhs.
The political class is used to lip service and giving false promises; they can build bridges where there are no rivers and they can run with the hare and hunt with the hound at the same time. The highly dysfunctional governance structures of the Punjab state are mired in rampant corruption. Nepotism and quasi-elite systems of patronage riddled with debilitating bureaucratic mismanagement is making any form of effective long term fiscal planning untenable. More than 60 years ago John Maynard Keynes had said that the long run really didn't matter, because by then we'd be dead. People elect governments to look after short term well-being. Frighteningly Punjab heads into a major crisis, led by a government that has no clue about what to do. These maladies and the declining life indicators across all major sectors including literacy, health and employment have given rise to very bleak future prospects for the majority of its inhabitants.
Laws are either not allowed to be passed or if they somehow manage to see the light of day after being ratified, they have no meaning at all. Punjab is a lawless state. The police are meant only to protect the politicians and the common man is left to fend for himself. Elsewhere people run to the police for help, but here people run away on seeing the police. Rather than making videos via the u-tube and trying to build an image for themselves, the police should enforce laws and then traffic accidents and crime will automatically be cut down drastically. When asked as to why the police do not catch the culprits; their reply is that when they catch anyone, there is a phone call from a minister or a VIP. The conclusion is that the police is under the control of the government and meant only to suppress the poor and loot the people. There is a nexus between the government, police and the goonda (criminal) elements. The government does not want to let go of the police because if they do so then they will all be behind bars.
Under such abject conditions one is reminded of the famous verse of Guru Nanak.
The age is like a knife
Kings are butchers
The law hath taken wing and flown;
In the dark night of falsehood
I cannot espy the rising of the moon of truth;
I have searched everywhere and wearied of the quest;
In the dusk I cannot find my path.
Pride that is within is the root of sorrow
Oh! Nanak how shall we be saved (on the morrow)? (Majh ki Var)
The religious leadership, hand-in-glove with handpicked pliable clergy and parasitical privately owned Dera owners is polluting and eroding the core Sikh values of Sikh religion. Ritualism is being promoted and the preaching and propagation of the Sikh Gurus' gospel and teachings and also the proud Sikh heritage among the Sikh youth through the timely and systematic use of the highly effective modern tools of social media is severely lacking. The management and functioning of Gurdwaras is degenerating leaving a wide gap between concept and practice, Sikhs have forgotten the teachings of their gurus and fifty percent of Sikhs are drifting away from gurdwara and patronising and seeking solace in deras (abode or habitation) of self- styled gods and there are large scale conversions to Christianity among the marginalized Sikhs.
The most important feature for any nation, culture or people to develop is education; it is the basic quality for any or everything that can lead to progress. But alas! There is very poor quality of education especially in rural Punjab. A section among the teachers do not know their subjects and know not what they are teaching because they have not been selected on merit and do not deserve to be teachers. They have got the job either on reservation or on recommendation from a minister or high ranking relative. There is lack of skill providing education system that is resulting in unemployment among the unskilled Punjabi/Sikh youth.
There is environmental degradation, absurd deforestation and land and sand mafias are operating with impunity in order to line their pockets and consolidate their grip over political power. River waters, being polluted with toxic industrial waste and other litter, are having a negative effect on the health of the people. Once picturesque idyllic and lush green, Punjab is being converted into a desert and an urban jungle with narrow roads and heaps of garbage. After the Green revolution of the 1970s having peaked and reached its optimum yield, there was degradation of soil fertility due to excessive and indiscriminate use of fertilizer and pesticide, depletion of underground natural aquifers due to excessive drawing of water and consecutive crop failure due to ecological and environmental imbalances and chemical-resistant insects, which have virtually turned the soil to poison.
The political-builder's nexus and its senseless urbanization of a primarily agricultural Punjab State by forcibly acquiring fertile agriculture land, without paying adequate compensation and without creating any commensurate industrial entrepreneurial corporate income generating structure is having an adverse effect. All these maladies have misled the simple and credulous Punjab peasantry and taken a heavy toll on them by creating an agrarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude. This has led to the prevalence of rampant drug addiction (supplied under the State and its police protection) among the desperate peasantry and Punjab youth. The film Urda Punjab aptly depicted the state of Punjab under the rampage of drugs. But the Punjab Government denied hard facts and after failing to stall the film started an advertisement campaign against it. Further this has resulted in a failure and breakdown of the health of the people of Punjab. Diseases like cancer and tuberculosis coupled with other ailments, disorders and infections are spreading in an uncontrolled manner. Health services are very poor and the doctors and hospitals in the private sector are swindling the people.
Culturally and socially Punjab is at very low ebb. There is a tragic collapse of Sikh value system based on earnest hard work, contentment, sharing and maintaining moral integrity in the face of various kinds of temptations. Sikh way of life, culture and Sikh identity are being eroded at a fast pace partly due to lack of effective propagation of Sikh culture and partly due to the audio-visual impact of dominant consumerist culture. Coupled with this is the senseless expenditure on social and family functions and adoption of unsustainable urban living life styles, irrational craze among Punjabi Sikh youth for foreign lands without having any skill, and their exploitation by unscrupulous travel agents, farmer suicides, exploitation of Sikh brides by the spurious diaspora bridegrooms and the most deadly and highly distressing malice of all - rampant drug addiction among the Sikh youth presents a horrible spectacle. In commensurate with its total population in the country, Punjab that once boasted of producing the maximum officers in the armed forces and Central government services and also the maximum sportspersons is way down the ladder today.
With the resurgence of Hinduism, the official commitment to secularism is being reduced to a meaningless clause in the constitution. The emphasis on Sanskrit and Hindi, study of Aryan classics, changing of history and converting mythology into history, insertion of cow protection as a directive clause of the constitution, the increase in the number of cow-protection societies, the lynching of innocent people, the growth of Hindu political groups such as the Bharatiya Janta Party (now in power at the centre) and the militant R.S.S. with its satellite organizations, and the suspicion with which other minorities have come to be regarded are but some indications of the way the wind is blowing. These groups have camouflaged their political interests behind the banner of religion.
The looming threat of majoritarian intolerance (Hindu, Hindi, Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra), monstrosity of caste oppression (caste system, whatever its origin, is simply unpardonable), cow vigilantism and hyper-nationalism and violence and discrimination against minorities is posing a critical threat to minority communities and integration of India. Hindutva is a 19th century attempted Semitization of the religion, which has led to violence, hatred, and the 'othering' of minorities. Recent research affirms that there has been a lot of intolerance and violence displayed by Hindus in the past. In any case, in spite of its own inherent plurality, both in terms of spiritual and creative progress Hinduism seems to have hit a roadblock. The values of freedom, justice, equality and fraternity as stressed in the Constitution are essentially spiritual values, but they are under threat today. Under the present conditions, Sikhs being a minority community, find that their interests are in peril.
After having enumerated all the ills that are plaguing the Sikh community under present circumstances, it is more essential to find ways and means to tide over this crisis and especially the important role that Sikh intelligentsia can play in present day crisis-ridden Sikh society. Unlike in the past, the tools in the hands of Sikh intelligentsia are vast. They include books, publications, radio, news papers, cinema, television, internet and social and electronic media; with these the intelligentsia can influence the attitudes and opinions of people and manipulate the environment.
The intelligentsia comprises of highly educated and enlightened intellectuals, thinkers, revolutionary thinkers, writers and academicians. It is a very powerful tool and through their writings and utterances can reform and drastically change the whole outlook of people. They are capable of creating an intellectual revolution, they can awaken the people about their rights, they can expose the oppression of the government and its agencies and finally they can encourage the people to rise and revolt against a corrupt regime and social injustice and inequality and oppression and try for the reconstruction of society on new social and political grounds.
The intelligentsia can speak up for individual sovereignty and liberty, freedom of religion and free institutions and social set-up. They can take up the cause of the oppressed and lash out at old traditions, beliefs, abuses and religious fanaticism. They can awaken the people from their deep slumber and instill in them the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity; they can propound the theory of Separation of Powers i.e. advocate that the legislative, executive and judicial powers of the state must be separated because if any two powers are combined together there will be tyrannical rule and people will not be able to enjoy individual liberty.
Sikh intelligentsia should be the voice of the people and voice of the people is the voice of God. Public opinion carries weight in society and state-laws are made for the good of its people. A century ago, the Sikhs were in a similar crisis, there was disintegration of the Sikh people, decline in moral standards resulting in decadence as evils and malpractices in society thrived unabated; real (devout) Sikhs decreased in numbers. In fact Sikhism itself, was on the wane. Unhappy at the dilution of Sikh doctrines and practices, some Sikhs desired to create an awakening and set right some of the aberrations by seeking to purge their religion of all the grossness that had clung to it by various devices. At this critical juncture, some intellectual Sikhs who were perturbed by the rapid depletion in their numbers, general laxity in religious observances among themselves and other happenings around them came forward to form an association which should adopt measures to defend the Sikh faith. It comprised of enlightened Sikh philosophers, thinkers and writers, along with some eminent and learned men who awakened and enlightened the Sikh masses. Their teachings had a tremendous effect on the Sikh population at grass root level and ultimately they proved victorious.
The Singh Sabha Movement was a reform movement among the Sikhs in the early 20th century. It became a vital rejuvenating force at a time when Sikhism was fast losing its distinctive identity. The Singh Sabha movement arose out of a common awareness of the dangers to the very existence of the Sikhs as a separate religious community. It was led by men deeply religious. As it had a strong and rational basis, it possessed a mass appeal. It influenced the entire community and reoriented its outlook and spirit. In fact it stimulated and has shaped the Sikhs' attitude and aspirations for over a hundred years now. The most important aspects of Singh Sabha movement were educational and literary. Notwithstanding the fact that the Singh Sabha movement petered out, it has left a legacy of a positivity defensive attitude towards Hinduism. The Singh Sabha movement checked the relapse of the Sikhs into Hinduism.
The need of the day is another revival of similar Sikh reformist movement another renaissance and Singh Sabha Movement is required to stop the degeneration and decadence in the Sikh political, religious, social and cultural institutions. An independent body comprising of the most eminent and best people i.e. intelligentsia that the Sikh community can produce should be formed. These people should be, renowned and respected in their fields like great scholars and spiritually enlightened persons of impeccable character and honesty, and role models for the community. Their moral values and honesty should be par excellence. They should analyze the present day politico-religious-socio-cultural and economic malaise in the government; stem the rot and revitalize the society. They need to create awareness among the masses about the corrupt politicians and corruption in governance and society and raise their voice against malpractices and corruption in all spheres of life. They should also be made responsible for selecting candidates for elections and for ensuring good governance and welfare of the people at large. It may not be wrong to say that the intelligentsia should form their own political party and fight elections.
The most important needs for a community are education and health. Quality education for the Sikh youth and health care of a high standard for the people of the state is the first and foremost need and solution to all maladies; once this need is fulfilled the other problems will look after themselves. The need of the day is not only gurdwaras but schools, colleges, training institutes, universities and hospitals with state of the art facilities that will provide health, education, welfare and employment for the Sikh people. There is no dearth of money for the genuine needs of the entire Sikh panth (Sikh people as a whole), but not for the cupidity of some greedy rascals in the panth. It can be said with certainty that with the money being donated by NRI Sikhs and the inherent Sikh psyche to donate to Gurdwara Golak forever and its proper utilization, no needy and deserving Sikh child or any poor and needy Sikh patient can remain bereft of quality education and healthcare. This is where the Sikh intelligentsia can step in and through their knowledge and experience and tremendously improve the standard of education by formulating and implementing policies from grass root to higher and professional education. This can be done through private or private-public partnership.
Education and health are the best gifts that can be given to the people. The intelligentsia can help set up institutes all over the state for skill providing education, training in sport disciplines (Sports academies) and also preparing and training youth for all types of competitive examinations relating to state and central government jobs and entry to various institutions. They can play an important role to fire the imagination of Sikh youth about their potential to acquire good basic education, processional skills and even higher education in pure sciences and social sciences. This is where one is reminded of the famous Chinese proverb – 'If you give a starving man a fish, he might survive for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he may live for years.' This is precisely what the Sikh intelligentsia has to do. The small hill State of Bhutan which has free education and health care is today rated as the happiest country in the world.
The sadest part of all is the corruption that has set in and is eating at the very vitals of the gurdwaras. Intelligentsia can help improve the standard of gurdwaras by selecting priests and Gurdwara management committees and managing and spending gurdwara funds in the way they deem best by ensuring that all the gurdwara funds are pooled and utilized on properly identified right priorities. Their decisions should be unquestionable and acceptable to all. This may perhaps not suit the Akalis, but it is the only way that we can circumvent this problem. They can impress upon authorities managing religious shrines and religious bodies to utilize public donations and Gurdwara budget for proper and effective propagation of Sikh religion, culture and heritage through the services of a dedicated cadre of Sikh preachers and social media platforms and curb wasteful expenditure on senseless rituals. In addition they can impress upon mofussil Gurdwara managements to manage their Gurdwara funds judiciously prioritizing the financial need for education of local poor students and health care of poor elderly Sikh men, women and children. This body of Sikh intelligentsia should impress upon a regulatory body that can control the construction of new gurdwaras.
Then there is the case of the Sahajdhari Sikhs (during the period of persecution of Sikhs after Banda's execution on June 19, 1716, the word Sahajdhari came in vogue, until then the word was khulasa as distinct from the Khalsa). There are a large number of Sikhs today, who have shorn hair or may even be clean shaven. There are Hindus who largely follow Sikhism; among them there are Nanak panthis, Kabir panthis, half Hindu-half Sikhs and a large chunk of Sindhi population. And some of them may be more devout Sikhs than the Sikhs themselves. Once, the Sahajdhari Sikhs were allowed to cast their vote in the Gurdwara elections. The reason why were they stopped from voting by the SGPC and Akalis is very obviously political. They must be given suitable representation in Gurdwara Management.
Sikhs being a minority community, it is of paramount importance that Sikh intelligentsia take cognizance of the looming threat of majoritarian intolerance and take adequate measures to safeguard Sikh interests through literature and education of the Sikhs against this dangerous and malicious enemy. They must help rescue both the Indian Constitution and Hinduism from the clutches of the political project that calls itself Hindutva, and which has nothing to do with religion as such.
Along with education and health, drugs is the biggest problem being faced by the state of Punjab. The intelligentsia must launch a public campaign against the drug trafficars and pressurize the Government to take strong counter measures and increase drug de-addiction facilities in the State. The people must unite with the intelligentsia/media and if need be take to the streets. Street power today is a very potent weapon and can bring the government to its knees and force it to listen to them by taking all possible measures against drug addiction, including offering free psychological and psychiatric counseling to drug addicts and farmers under depression in cooperation with village panchayats and village Gurdwara managements to raise the self-esteem of indebted farmers, landless labourers and unemployed youth.
There is so much that Sikh religion, the Gurus and the land of Punjab has bestowed upon its people and yet we as a society are suffering. Politics is dwarfing all real issues. However as long as the Sikh spirit of 'never say die' and to fight back still persists, the Sikhs will bounce back as they have always done. They will rise like the phoenix from the ashes. The Sikhs are at their best in an adversity or crisis. The people should no longer rely on the government and pin their hopes on self help and self reliance. A lot of money is flowing in from foreign countries and a lot of organisations are coming forward to help the people in all spheres. These organisations are doing tremendous work in the fields of education, creating jobs, upliftment of the downtrodden, drug de-addiction, helping farmers and in many other fields. Keeping in mind the determination, persistence and resilience of the Sikh community, things are bound to change for the better.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2019, All