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Khalsa : Its Role In 21st Century

Gurdip Singh

1.1 We have two very high pedestals from which to launch ourselves into the Twentyfirst Century. The two inseparable lofty pedestals are : the Sikh Religion and the Sikh Nation.

The Religion
2.1 The raw religious consciousness is innate in every person. Evolutionary and sociological research has established the presence of religious sense in human kind since its very existence. An inner religious structure is infact an essential characteristic of our being human.

2.2 The pulls of the modern and materialistic world and the stress on individualistic freedoms are creating a wide spiritual vacuum. However, the basic feelings of religion in Man will drive him to accept one or the other religious philosophies. Sikhism has the capacity to universally fill this vacuum.

2.3 Sikhism which is today the sixth largest religious denomination and authoritatively acclaimed as the “Treasure of Mankind” has the potential of greatest appeal in the modern world. Sikhism is a religion with a message of hope, optimism and universal brotherhood.

2.4 The full significance of the role of religion in the international arena can be grasped from the prediction of scholars that the Westphalian separation of religion and internal politics is coming to an end and religion is increasingly likely to intrude into international affairs. This futuristic prediction synchronises with our doctrine of Miri-Piri.

The Nation
3.1 Sikhs are a nation — a nation not in the sense of a country or a state but a nation which defines an ethnic group having strong and vibrant affinity for its religion, language, culture, social identity, achievements, sufferings and ideals. Even today these characteristics derived from a proud heritage remain strongly and qualitatively dynamic.

3.2 This nation of Sikhs is not lacking in talent, it is not deficient of resources, last but not the least it has never been found wanting in offering supreme sacrifice. Therefore, it is natural for a vast majority of us to agonise upon why we are failing to reclaim our rightful stature ! On the contrary, in the recent past, we have been sliding downhill and have still to find the angle of repose before we can reverse the trend.
3.3 That brings me to the challenges that are facing the community.

4.1 There are three major challenges that I perceive must be addressed before we can fully develop the role of Sikhism in Twentyfirst Century. And these in order of priority, are:

a. The prevailing indifference of Sikh scholars in the affairs of the Sikhs.
b. The alienation of the Sikh youth.
c. The issues pertaining to Khalistan.

Indifference of Sikh Scholars
4.2 I feel that the indifference and lack of involvement of the Sikh scholars is our primary concern today. This concern is magnified due to the recent shenanigans witnessed during various Panthic activities. Why have the wise among the Sikhs made themselves irrelevant in the affairs of the Panth ? Why are they sterile ? Why are they callous ? Why are they not organised ? As an answer to the above questions I can only quote from the editorial of The Sikh Review (August 98 issue) which refers to the stark materialistic indulgences of the nouveau riche. “... They are willing to leave the day-to-day observances of religious duties to Granthis and Panthic issues to Jathedars who are, by and large, unschooled in the dynamics of religious thought and out of step with the challenges of modern times.” We cannot remain stuck in such a paradigm.

4.3 Too much cannot be said. Too much needs to be done. The debasing of institutions must be prevented. The guardians of Sikh institutions need to pay attention to Guru Nanak advising about moral deeds.

Nanak answered the Hajis, ‘Due to lack of good deeds both (Hindus and Muslims) suffer.’

4.4 A viable intellectual mechanism must be made operative (and sooner than later) within the ideals and doctrines of Sikhism. It is absolutely necessary for the strategic treatment of significant Panthic topics. The approach must encompass wider conceptual horizons. We have experienced system failure even for the present-day responses, so evidently it is entirely ill-adapted for the future.

4.5 Taking a lead from Gurbani, our scholars should have been the flag bearers for human rights causes in all parts of the world much before it was advocated by other cultures, over a hundred years ago. The principles of democratic governance and common-wealth of nations should have emanated from Sikh scholars far ahead of the Western thought. Even today the issues that need to be emphasised and propagated in keeping with Sikh traditions are :

i. Sewa in a most humble, selfless and egalitarian manner as against the practice of status, power and greed.
ii. Brotherhood of man.
iii. The empowerment of women.
iv. Respect for Nature.

4.6 Quite often the example of Jews is cited as a successful nation. Their movement of Zionism was led by their most renowned scholars. Even during their centuries of persecution, the scholars had played important role in guiding the community. Historians have labelled such periods as “Rule of the Wisest.”
4.7 Sikh scholars have to play their part. They cannot remain passive and scattered. Intervention in our ethos is ordained. Guru Nanak while raising an accusing finger at Yogis says:

sc cµdRmw kUV AµiDAwrw [[
isD Cip bYTy prbqI, kauxu jgqR kau pwir auqwrw

And Sires, you are the guilty ones, for, society cannot be guided and sustained without men of high sensitivity and culture. But you, who possess it, have become escapees.

4.8 We, the knowledgeable Sikhs, are guilty men of Sikhism.
We are guilty of not expressing ourselves according to our wisdom.
We are guilty of not organising ourselves to be effective.
We are guilty of not intervening against miscarriage of Sikh interests.
We are guilty of not sacrificing even minor creature comforts to enable
us to act.

Alienation of Sikh Youth
4.9 The Sikh identity is ideologically sacred. It has been sanctified by the Gurus and evolved through supreme and unprecedented martyrdoms. It has a visible and recognizable form. It has an ideal, and is characterised by a noble and dynamic mission. The kakkars have a mystical aura and the Khalsa is an epitome of the human species.

4.10 The Sikh youth are only nominally following the tenets of Sikhism. They are moving away from the disciplines of the Sikh way of life. They regard the Sikh bana negatively. They find it lacking in modern cultural advancements.

4.11 There is more than a generation gap in comprehending the Sikh identity. Members of our age group perceive the identity through the medium of Gurbani and the community, whereas the priorities of youth are modernism and individualism.

4.12 The young fail to assimilate the words of Sirdar Kapur Singh who has this to say about the bana, “They are an exteriorisation of a psyche and a sense of such high mission the like of which the history of the world does not know.”

4.13 I can emphatically say that we have not reached a point of no return and that a capacity amongst us exists to reverse this trend of alienation. It is extremely urgent that this challenge is prudently attended to.

4.14 The issue of Khalistan confronting the Sikh community has sharply divided the protagonists of opposing thoughts just like Shias and Sunis. It is unavoidable any further that this fundamental approach of empiricity is given a policy direction. Allow me to quote Sirdar Kapur Singh again — the strongest advocate for a sovereign Sikh state, “Sikhism, unlike most other world religions, is not merely a church of worship but is simultaneously a church of social policy also, and as soon as the Sikh people are separated from and deprived of political sovereignty and power, Sikhism becomes eviscerated of its elan and true ethos.”

4.15 The non-supporters of Khalistan project possible disjunction of territorial aspirations from the Sikh nation. The question is posed whether we need to accord it a commanding role in furthering and developing the full potential of our religion and nationhood.

4.16 The economic and technological innovations and unstoppable flow of ideas and capital are acting as powerful socio-political inventions where the sanctity of territory is not absolute. There are matters of international concern like environment, terrorism, atomic weapons, population or human rights that cut across state jurisdiction. There are international institutions like World Bank, World Trade Organisation, International Bank of Settlement, Human Rights Commissions and many others which dilute the sovereignty of a State. These intrusive measures in the domestic affairs of any country force disaggregation or deconstruction of the attributes of sovereignty.

4.17 However, irrespective of the present compulsions of domestic or international circumstances restricting territorial sovereignty, we may find some recompense in the consciousness of “Double Sovereignty” which is ingrained in the Sikh psyche. Double Sovereignty implies that a man of religion must never submit to the exclusive claim of the secular state to govern bodies and minds of men.

4.18 We are entirely firm that a space for Sikh Nation has to be provided but what kind of a space has it got to be ! Is it to be only the conventional statehood or does the weighted balance of Sikh diaspora suggest any other option ? Can there be a legal personality to a non-territorial nation ? When we define the concepts of brotherhood of man and sarbat da bhala, are they not trans-territorial in content ? These issues must be resolved before we stretch into Twentyfirst Century.

Future Trends — International Polity
5.1 I would like to mention two cardinal trends that would play a major role in transforming the international system in the Twentyfirst Century. The rule of the Order of the Khalsa cannot ignore this vision. These are:

a. The civilizational approach in determining the future world order. How clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace but also how an international order based on civilizations is the best safeguard against war !

b. The place of Nations which are not states. Can a course of Prudent Nationalism be followed ?

Civilizational Approach
5.2 Civilization, the seed of which is the religion, is a collection of cultural characteristics and phenomena (both material culture and high culture). The Twentieth Century has witnessed multidirectional interactions amongst all civilizations.

5.3 The international system of polity is created when two or more states develop contact based on common interests. However, we find that culture is non-negotiable and is now leading to cultural reconfiguration of global politics. It is visualised that in the emerging world scenario the people’s concerns for politics will be the politics of ethnicity while the groupings for global politics will be the politics of civilizations.

5.4 In the post-cold-war world the determining distinctions between people are cultural. The ideological or economic distinctions are reduced to secondary levels. People with different ideologies but common culture are coming together. However, those with different cultures are regrouping even if they share an ideological bond. This is best illustrated on the European canvas through the examples of European Union and Yugoslavia.

5.5 While there is need for people everywhere to learn to co-exist in a complex, multipolar, multi-civilizational world still symbols of cultural identity are most meaningful to most people.

5.6 Advancing the above arguments Samuel P. Huntington in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, draws the following conclusions :

a. Civilizational consciousness will generate forces for cultural assertions.

b. The interests, associations and conflicts of states will be increasingly shaped by cultural and civilizational factors.

c. There is a possibility that people throughout the world may identify with a distinct global culture which supplements or supplants civilizations.

5.7 It is our faith that such a global culture shall be the Order of the Khalsa. Do we have the will to make it happen ?

Prudent Nationalism
5.8 The government of a State gives security but it is bereft of higher spiritual purpose and is focused on its own preservation. Whereas in the changing world order there is a greater stress on socio-political transformation for higher concerns and co-participation of people.

5.9 There is a greater realisation that consciousness and live feeling of people cannot be trammelled by bald and inanimate pursuits of statecraft. Already there has been palpable shift from passive de jure stand for protection of minorities to active and pragmatic concern for people. In rare cases for the sake of creating safe haven for oppressed minorities the juridical authorisations have been invoked at international level to provide for collective intervention in the affairs of a rogue country. The example of enforcing protected zone for the Kurds in the border areas of Iraq, Turkey and Syria is an outstanding example of this trend.

5.10 Gidon Gotlieb in his book Nation Against State — A New Approach to Ethnic Conflicts and Decline of Sovereignty has developed the above arguments about Nation and State. He further deduces that:

a. National-home distinct from State be recognised as a nation. The National-home regime would stipulate that the national rights are enjoyed in the national-home without prejudice to the integrity of the states involved.

b. Different layers of personal status be adopted as links between the individual and the state as well as those between the individual and his nation.

c. New kinds of attachments or union be created among nations and peoples on the one hand, and between nations and states on the other.

Suggested Approach
6.1 Having discussed the likely trends, we may consider adopting the following two approaches for effective and global impact.

Avenue of Nation
6.2 There are instances when non-state nations have been given the representation of special invitees by the UNO. There are organisations which are associated as consultative agencies with the UNO. Throughout the world there are (stateless) nations which are projected to be members of Association of Nations. These are such nations which have cognizable agenda, are organised and have a voice but are non-secessionist. Such a contingent avenue in the case of the Sikh Nation has been contemplated within certain international affairs intellectual forums — wherein Kurds and other nationalities too are debated. It is argued that these nations should find recognition and status as Association of Nations in addition to existing Association of States. A high calibre Sikh organisation should play a pioneering role in this path-breaking futuristic policy option at the international level.

International Religious Interface
6.3 There are multi-religious bodies collaborating at international level with other institutions in pursuit of creating a better world. World Council of Churches (Geneva), International Muslim League (Mecca) and others have established an interface to co-operate globally, thus nobly integrating human resource medium. Sikh religion lags behind and the tragedy is that while even non-Sikhs logically accept the primacy of Sikhism as a truly world-class religion, we continue to be atrophied by inertia and squabbles. An entity like the World Sikh Council is ideal to act as a pious tool of Sikh Religion to reclaim its due impact on humanity.

World Sikh Council
7.1 All these concepts, discussed in this paper, can be ideally translated by the World Sikh Council. The Council which is visualised as the Grand Collectivity of the Sikhs has the following characteristics and it is hoped that the Council develops its full potential:

a. Its constitution is expansive enough to incorporate widest Sikh institutional representation.

b. The organisation has international reach.

c. Its philosophy is visionary and collaborative.



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