News & View
I S C
Why and How of Sacha Sauda Problem
Brig Surjit Singh*
Every right thinking Sikh, who is apolitical must have been highly dismayed to know and see the Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh trying to dress up like Guru Gobind Singh ji and giving ‘Jam-e-Ruhani’ to some of his followers. Presently, he has a fairly large following in the states, especially Punjab, Haryana and Rajsthan. A high percentage of his followers are Dalits, both Hindus and Sikhs. The recent elections in Punjab have proved that this sect has effective influence amongst all classes and castes in the Malwa region. Reportedly, when violence erupted in Bathinda, some Congress MLAs supported Sacha Sauda premis who managed to chase the out-numbered Policemen.
It will not be out of place to mention here that during the earlier elections, the Dera Head had notably sided with the Akalis but this time for reasons well-known to him, he openly supported the Congress Party resulting in victory for a large number of Congressmen in the Malwa belt, which traditionally has been a pocket borough of the Akalis. The question arises as to how has the Sacha Sauda Dera managed to win over such a large number of Sikhs to become its ardent followers. It is not only this dera that has made dent in the Sikh society, various other deras whose teachings are at variance with Sikhism have also sprung up throughout Punjab; the ones in Ropar and Jalandhar districts being most prominent. These deras have large vote banks and for the politicians to upset them is extremely difficult.
Whereas the dera Culture has adversely affected the Sikh society, there are certain Gurdwaras not controlled by the SGPC and various sampardas and saints who have rendered valuable service to the Panth. So they deservedly continue to command genuine respect among the Sikhs.
SGPC is highly politicized, and politics appears to dominate Sikh religion. All religious appointments are approved by the politicians, invariably. Decisions pertaining to religious affairs have a political tinge. Politics in our country is now based on castes. The disease has unfortunately been a major reason for lapses and for the weakening of Sikhism.
Basics of Sikhism are based on Bhagti movement as well as to some extent, on certain aspects of Sufism. These include Humanism, casteless society, service to humanity (sewa), dignity of labour (dasan nuhan di kirt kamae), honesty, fearlessness in performing the right action, honest prayer to one God and hospitality to the poor and down trodden, Naam japna te wand chhakna (meditation and sharing with others). The Tenth Master, reinforced it in the basics of Sikhism and further strengthened the spirit of defiance (which had existed earlier also) against oppression and asked the Sikhs to be ‘saint-soldiers’. Traditionally, all these qualities were already ingrained in the Sikh society through kathas of various parcharaks and prominent saints.
Now unfortunately the Sikh society has a dearth of good parcharaks (preachers). Saints like Sant Attar Singh and Baba Nidhan Singh were able to convert whole of ‘Pothohar’ from Sanatan dharma to Sikhism.
During Punjabi Suba agitation, a lot of propaganda was done that Sikhism would progress once we have Political power. Now we have all that and result is that our area of influence has shrunk and lesser number of people are studying or speaking Punjabi, and following of Sikhism is in ‘reverse gear’.
Today the so-called Dalit Sikhs do not take pride in being part of the Sikh brotherhood. In certain cases they have separate Gurdwaras, separate cremation grounds, and the government has made separate dharamsals for them, thus separating them from the community. All concessions given to them lack grace. In Punjab, unfortunately, the ‘Straight Jacket’ casteism appears more rigid amongst the Sikhs than the Hindus. The Arya Samaj had a healthy effect on Hindu society in Punjab during the 20th century. During the early 20th century, Ambedkar had decided to become Sikh, but on discovering that castelessness amongst the Sikhs was only on paper, he changed his mind and Sikhs lost a golden opportunity to spread Sikhism to the Dalits in other states of India.
Present-day situation is that because of casteism lack of effective preaching, emphasis on outdated rituals, and domination of politics on religion, quite a few Sikhs have strayed away and are trying to find solace in various deras. Some of these deras forcefully preach against consumption of alcohol and drugs and various social evils. Their gatherings give the participants a feeling of brotherhood and spiritual satisfaction. Influence of these deras is expanding. The dera organizations do manage to have linkages down to grassroot levels resulting in dedicated following. The deras give personal touch to individuals, which most of the Gurdwaras lack.
SGPC has become monolithic in the governance of the Gurdwaras at all levels. Some sort of authority is exhibited and seva bhav and humility of old days is much less visible. We lay so much emphasis on meaningless points like calendars and discussions whether Sikh Gurdwaras in Canada can have langer sitting on chairs, etc. A couple of years back, we decided that sehajdhari Sikhs should not be allowed to vote for the SGPC elections (which they had been doing earlier). Unfortunately, the leaders concerned do not want to face the fact that significant number of young Sikhs do not want to have keshas and the most worrying point is that a high percentage of young Sikh girls do not wish to marry keshadhari Sikhs. This serious matter has not so far been taken ‘head on’ by political, religious or purely religious leadership. It is doubtful whether we do have a purely non-partisan religious leadership, as all the Jathedars are the appointees of political leadership. Quite a few of us would argue that these unpleasant points are not relevant to the present issues. No, all these points are relevant. Our disenchantment is because we are not prepared to solve these unpalatable issues. An average person, when disheartened and frustrated, starts looking for other avenues to get solace.
In educational sphere also, SGPC and various other Sikh Institutions have done nothing specially for the Dalit Sikhs to improve their lot. We need to emulate the Christians in this regard. It may be a good idea to go in for the universities to research various aspects of the noble teachings of our sacred scriptures, but it would be better to plan and effectively educate the Dalits, downtrodden and poor children at Primary, Middle and High school levels. Meaningful and attractive religious education should form essential part of education. All this should enable the community to possess a knowledgeable reservoir of good young Sikhs ready to go in for graduation and beyond to become good opinion makers for Sikhism at the grassroot level. Here it would be necessary to point out that for the poor children, economic factor would always be a matter of priority. So all education should be employment oriented. If the Sikhs have the necessary knowledge about their religion and are genuinely proud of belonging to Sikh fraternity, we would not have to worry about the deras.
Economically, despite reservations granted to the Dalits through various provisions, a high percentage of Dalits continue to remain socially, educationally and economically backward. Feeling among them is that of helplessness. Quite justifiably Akali Dal fights for the cause of the peasantry, but never have they taken up any step to specifically fight and improve the conditions of the Dalit Sikhs.
It is essential to point out that in Punjab a large number of Mazhbi, Ramdasia Sikhs are in Sikh swaroop (keshdharis) because of their recruitment in the Sikh Light Infantry and the Bombay Sappers, an important part of the army.
Above mentioned stray thoughts are put forward in an earnest hope that these may awaken us to overcome our weaknesses within Punjab rather than running abroad for parchar and collection of funds, which are already available here in abundance.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2007, All
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