Just Don’t Do It !
Guru Nanak’s message guides man to rise above petty selfish interests, and values promoting distinctions on the basis of caste, status, gender, etc., and to work for the welfare of the entire mankind. The message not only gives a purpose to life, but also to death, as it teaches man never to succumb to pressures, not even at the cost of life, for the sake of love, equality and justice. The aim is spiritual growth of an individual in direct communion with Almighty.
After Guru Gobind Singh, the Khalsa is the deliverer of Guru’s message. The Gurus have given the Khalsa various responsibilities not just verbally, but nurtured and trained the Khalsa by their own actions and sacrifices, leaving no doubt as to the goals to be achieved.
But we have a long way to go to bring about the kind of world contemplated by the Gurus. Their message has to reach every corner of the world, so that man may submit to the Divine Order and live in tune with nature, enjoy dignity of work, fear not and frighten not under a just rule, and offer selfless service to the less fortunate members of society. This Order, in other words, is the Kingdom of God on earth.
Khalsa is the image of the Guru. Its tercentenary is an occasion to see whether our actions and life style reflect that image. Unless we live up to that image, the world will not recognise us.
Over the last few centuries, we have gradually drifted away from the path shown by the Gurus, with the result that the Guru’s message does not reflect in our words or deeds. We are, once again, enslaved by the age-old customs from which the Gurus freed us. For this, we have no one but ourselves to blame, as no foreign hand or outside agency is forcing us to behave in an un-Sikh-like manner so willingly. Some such issues are :
Celebration of Festivals
a) Rakhri festival implies the helplessness and weakness of woman. She is taken as dependent on males and is made to believe that she cannot take care of herself. This is totally in contrast with what the Gurus expect of society and a woman herself. They have equated her with man and equipped her as a man, too. She is not only to take care of herself, but also fight injustice, just like her male counterpart. Thus, instead of being a helpless creature, she is to play an active role in social uplift.
b) Diwali is a festival celebrated by lighting candles and fireworks to mark the coming home of Ram after 14 years of exile. As Sikhs, we must congratulate our Hindu brethren on this occasion. But why should we desperately try to find an excuse to light crackers on this particular day. Sikh history is replete with acts of valour, then how come only the day when Guru Hargobind was released from prison with 52 rajas is celebrated in this manner ? No victory of the Gurus is celebrated thus. Moreover, fireworks, apart from being a total waste of money, result in environmental pollution, loss of property, sight, limbs, and even life on this day every year. Some governments abroad have banned the use of such fireworks. But our contribution to the Sikh way of life is the introduction of firecrackers into the parbhat pheris as well.
c) In a similar vein, Sikhs settled abroad should not start celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday on the lines of Christmas, as has sometimes been suggested. Such practices promote consumerism. And, did we ever stop to consider the utility / futility of lighting firecrackers on this auspicious day ? By the way, does any other community celebrate our festivals ? Why then are we so keen to adopt alien modes of celebrations ?
d) Dussehra is celebrated to rejoice in the death of Ravana by burning his effigy. The death of no enemy was ever celebrated by the Gurus.
Use of Surnames
A casteless society is the very base of Sikhism. All the Gurus specifically tried to rid us of our caste prejudices and complexes by introducing the institutions of sangat, pangat, langar, etc. Guru Gobind Singh initiated us into the Khalsa brotherhood, demolishing all barriers of caste. But today we hold on to our surnames so dearly, forgetting the sacrifices of the Guru, his four sons and countless followers that have gone into raising the status of these clans. Guru Gobind Singh did not care for his lineage to continue, and considered every Sikh his own. But we take immense pride in our surnames that indicate caste, and go to any extent to ensure the continuation of our lineage through these.
Also, unless we give up these surnames, we are not even offering equality to those joining the Khalsa fold currently. What class / caste will the new foreign converts belong to ? We might put them off too with our caste-ridden mentality, just as we have done in the case of Dr Ambedkar and his followers.
Demand of Equality by Women
When the Guru dressed men and women alike, why did we, the women, give up that roop ? Why did we give up the turban for the cumbersome veil ? Why did we indulge in piercing our nose and ears, and display jewellery on our person, only to look like Christmas trees ? Who is stopping us from sticking to the Guru’s image ? We will have to play our role in earning equality. We must first treat ourselves as equals to men, before expecting them to treat us so. Women in Khalsa roop will constantly remind men of the status given to them by the Guru.
Moreover, we expect boys / men to maintain the Khalsa roop, and call them patit if they fail to do so, whereas we ourselves even refuse to cover our head with chunnis. If only Sikh girls could look like Sikh girls, the boys would have someone to identify themselves with. On the contrary, we unashamedly ask for clean-shaven life partners. Let us first justify the claim for equality. And, by the way, on what ground do we expect to be exempted from wearing helmets ?
Role of Decision-making Bodies
Women cannot be granthis or raagis at Darbar Sahib, presumably on account of their monthly periods. They are also not allowed to do sewa at night, since it is not considered safe for them to work with men at night, unless accompanied by a male relative. If this be true, then what type of Sikhi are we planning to propagate, and what qualities are we attributing to the Khalsa ?
Observance of Fasts / Symbols / Rituals
Many Sikh women observe karva chauth and other fasts, use bindi, wear mangal sutra, etc. Apart from a vulgar display of wealth at many Sikh weddings, even the ceremony of Jaimala is performed before Anand Karaj. Majority of Sikhs throng certain gurdwaras on pooranmashi, considering this day and those gurdwaras more auspicious than others. Many a Sikh is seen dancing to the dictates of pundits in the hope of altering their destiny. If pundits had any control, would they not have improved their own lot by now ?
Thus, we can see how we have lost the essence of Sikhism. We were not expected to perform any rituals, but instead to give them up. But are these so deeply ingrained in us that we find their decoding impossible ? Celebrations, rituals, etc., affect the psyche of a person. It is, therefore, imperative that these be carefully re-examined in the light of Gurmat so as to enhance the spiritual growth of an individual, rather than arresting it. For example, the simultaneous singing of the pious hymn palle tainde laagi and the handing of the groom’s palla to the bride by her father should be excluded from the wedding ceremony, as it implies nothing short of kanyadaan. This hymn should instead be sung during the amrit ceremony, where it aptly applies. In the briefing or sikhiya also that follows, additional verses from Gurbani are selected and misinterpreted to deify the husband and to brainwash the wife to worship him like a bonded slave.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, apart from caring for our youth, our programmes must include dissemination of the Guru’s message to foreigners, including blacks, whites, yellows and browns. People who convert to Sikhism after being convinced of its essential features make better Sikhs. The reason that Sikhs often cut a sorry figure today is that the majority of them are Sikhs by birth only. We are actually doing more harm to Sikhism than good. Sikhism is not a faith that you can lay claim on by birth. It is a faith that requires commitment and conversion by choice. That is the reason history has witnessed unparalleled dedication to the cause of love, justice and equality by the Sikhs of yore. Majority of them were converts. Today our youth pays the barber to cut his / her hair, whereas the foreign converts, men as well as women, adorn themselves confidently in the Khalsa roop. We must strive for quality, rather than quantity. Once Guru Nanak alone attracted millions of people, but today millions of us are unable even to hold those going astray.
Every deed we do and words we utter convey values and thus mould personalities and characters. Let the Guru’s words echo through our actions. Let us weed out un-Sikh practices, as we embark upon the real mission of disseminating the Guru’s message of love for all creation, and action as an expression of that love, to the entire mankind.
Some Positive Pointers
As we give up un-Sikh practices, let us channelise our energies for taking some positive steps. Many a project could be undertaken simultaneously, with immediate effect, and many Sikhs would contribute liberally for these. Now, when we offer money at the gurdwaras, it is the management of these gurdwaras that decides about its use. We have no say in it whatsoever. But, generally, every individual feels more concerned about a particular cause as compared to others. Thus, if separate bodies could be formed for separate projects, it would enable everyone to donate for a cause / project of his / her choice. And, in this way, the Panth would be in a position to set the priorities. Below are suggested some projects that are urgent needs of the 21st century :
– Let us make adoption of less fortunate children a part of our tradition. Each one could adopt one. Those who are unable to adopt on a permanent basis, could offer to pay for the education expenses of children in need. The Panth should be responsible for providing quality education to every child, even in villages; otherwise the state of affairs will worsen in times to come. Bodies, say Khalsa Adopts and Khalsa Educates, could make the mediation between donor and recipient convenient.
– Also, some money could be pooled under, say Sachi Taksaal, that could be spent on opening schools everywhere, in line with Gurmat. Let us catch the youth of the 21st century young.
– The need for a Sikh Press and TV channel cannot be over-emphasised. Money for this could be collected by another body, say Khalsa Calling.
– Panth could pool money, say under Khalsa Cares, for spending on the needy, such as those hit by famine, flood, war, or riots, etc., in any part of the world.
Sikhs being a minority community everywhere in the world and facing hostile and uncongenial environment, greater responsibility lies with us of our own people. In urgent need of assistance are the Punjabi farmers. Their state was bad enough before the recent rains caused further losses. Farmers could be given loans, without interest, till they are able to stand on their feet once again. Further, since India does not need more wheat and rice any longer, the farmer must be guided to switch over to other crops — crops that can be preserved, so that he is not at anybody’s mercy, e.g., tomatoes that can be stored as puree; onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, etc., as powder; mushrooms as pickles; dairy products as powder milk, ghee, etc.; poplars, eucalyptus, etc., as plywood; cotton as fabric; and so on. The industrialists should be encouraged to install processing units for the same. If, for this switch-over, the farmer has to be supported for a year or two, then the Khalsa Cares could come to the rescue. Export possibilities should also be studied. The farmers should also be made aware of the pollution caused by fertilisers and pesticides to Punjab’s air and water, so that these may be used sparingly.
Let us not look to the governments for anything. We have everything : the wisdom and trust of the aged, the finances of the well-placed, and the vigour and vitality of the youth. What can’t we achieve ? All we need is to get organised and put in an integrated effort.
Let the senior members of the Panth take the initiative and responsibility of taking the Panth to glorious heights. They should not retire from their duties as Sikhs. Rather now is the time for them to contribute the daswand of their life. They should unite at city, state and nation level, and then select from among themselves those that could provide effective guidance to various bodies.
If dedicated and trusted senior citizens of repute could handle the finances of bodies like the ones mentioned above, there would be no dearth of donations. And with funds abundant, any project could be successfully carried out by the energetic youth. Let us all rise to this occasion on the tercentenary of Khalsa and do our bit.
Let us become self-sufficient and rise to the status of a nation — a nation dedicated to the welfare of all.