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Sikh Personal Law
Bhagwant Singh Dalawari
I have no pretensions about understanding of Indian Law. Nor am I presumptuous to believe that my words of “wisdom” would make any valuable contribution. But I have definite faith that Sikh Personal Law based on our Gurus’ divine words, our Gurus’ lives and deeds and our Gurus’ dictates on the Sikh Way of Life can give us, not only a trouble-free life in material terms, but also make us spiritually strong to defeat all evil designs and devious onslaughts on our freedom. In an article for a Sikh magazine in Canada, I had said at the outset : “Believe it or not, a Sikh has no problems.” Our Gurus have equipped us to face any eventuality. Why are we in doldrums ? Why cringe before others for this demand and that ? And why do we not understand what is meant by Sikh Personal Law ? Obviously, this kind of law would mean that for Sikhs, our primary sources of discipline, say Reht Maryada, Rahit Namas, Gurbani-dictated ways of living and our traditions and Gurus’ own lives, would be taken into consideration. Now let us examine our Reht Maryada to find out the meaning of a Sikh, for whom Sikh Personal Law is needed.
Chapter III, page 8, Section Two of Reht Maryada, published by Dharam Parchar Committee, October, 1994, translated into English by Sardar Kulraj Singh states, besides other things :
A Sikh’s personal life should comprehend —
i) meditation on Naam (Divine Substance) and the scripture,
ii) leading life according to the Gurus’ teachings and
iii) altruistic voluntary service.
1. A Sikh should wake up in the ambrosial hours (three hours before dawn), take bath, and, concentrating his / her thoughts on One Immortal Being, repeat the name Waheguru (Wondrous Destroyer of darkness).
Moreover, a Sikh should recite Nitnem Banis and offer Ardas as prescribed. I have personal knowledge of the fact that most of us including the highly placed intellectuals, well-meaning image-building editors, journalists, advocates, generals and civil servants, judges and others do not follow this Reht Maryada. Then for whom are we thinking of this Sikh Personal Law and for whom do we complain about the absence of this Law, if, by definition itself, which includes the above conditions and the amrit bequeathed by the Tenth Guru and the commands of Guru Granth Sahib, (Guru Ram Das : Gur Satgur ka jo Sikh akhaye, Sau Bhalke uth Har Naam dhayawe....), and Baba Farid : Pichchal raat na jagion jivandrian moyon, (if you don’t get up at amrit vela, you are a dead body), most of us are not Sikhs. My further chagrin is that most of us do not even plan to live the Sikh way of life — even after taking amrit.
Let me remind you that those who once tore Article 25 of the Constitution are now — after having sworn by the Constitution — Ministers, Chief Ministers, aspirants for Vice-Presidentship, Governors, or Chairmen of Public Bodies. Then where do we stand ? Have we any consistent policy of Sikh Personal Law and are we serious in believing that by merely being clubbed with Hindus under some laws, we are not treated as a separate religion or a separate entity ? I think, Artticle 25 itself loudly proclaims that Sikhs have a distinct separate religion and even today, this entitles them to have something which no one else has got. Read Explanation I under Article 25 — The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh Religion.
My dear sisters, brothers and young people, do you not understand that this article itself declares that your Sikh Religion is not only different from Hindu Religion, but is distinctly different as you alone can carry kirpans, both boys and girls, men and women ? Now you yourself have thrown away this right by not wearing and carrying kirpans (remember, even if you are not amritdhari, you can carry them in terms of this article if you look like a Sikh and profess the Sikh Religion, which could be distinguished by your turbans and beards). I wonder whether we should fault anyone, but ourselves. Again, if we have decided not to become amritdharis, it is our own fault. Again, if we decided not to follow the Reht Maryada even after taking amrit, it is our fault. I have been repeatedly saying that our problems arise from our own derailment. And, it is natural that others should take advantage of our weaknesses, our surrender to temptations of money, sex, position or drinks.
And, do you know, how we have made a mess of the Guru’s philosophy of a casteless society of Sikhism ? Look at this :
- We have castes and sub-castes still prevalent and just by removing surname, they will not vanish, because the practice of untouchability or segregation even in religious places and in villages is still prevalent.
- We have assiduously fought for inclusion of Sikh Scheduled Castes among the beneficiaries of Scheduled Castes for whom reservations have been made. Thereby; we ourselves, have made a mockery of our casteless society. (Remember, Guru Gobind Singh refused to entertain the requests of Hill Rajas to be included in a Superior Order of the Khalsa).
- We still practise the worst kind of prejudices against women about whom Guru Nanak said : Why and how could you call them bad when they give birth to Kings ?
- We still are prejudiced against the girl child. We go to the extent of killing her in the mother’s womb, and we are prepared to burn the bride so as to get more dowry. We violate not only the law, but also our Guru’s commands.
- We still want our marriages, our gurdwaras, our bhaicharas, our functions and our common heritage of Sikhism to be divided into Pothohari, Ramgarhia, Bhallas, Sethis and Gills, etc.
We must be sure, at least, in one principle of Sikhism, both personal and religious. Our maryada at different takhts is different and we have not been able to prevail upon the authorities controlling them to go by the verdict of Akal Takht. By pointing this out, I wish to assert the following :
- When we cannot bring about uniformity in the Guru’s Reht in our gurdwaras;
- when we cannot prevail upon ourselves to maintain one common code of discipline;
- when we do not practise in our lives what our Gurus command us without any force or coercion from outside;
- when we shamelessly boast about increasing revenues through excise duties on drinks; and
- when we indulge in shameless vote-catching for S.G.P.C. gurdwara elections;
how can we demand, complain or agitate against so-called forced denial of Sikh Personal Law to the Sikhs ?
I have already said that a Sikh who adheres to the Guru’s commands in his life, has no problems whatsoever, because no laws can be more liberal, more satisfying, more convenient and more comfortable than the ones which come from the Gurus’ traditions and lives and our present perpetual Guru, Guru Granth Sahib. Obviously, the benefits will go only to the ones who will be “law-abiding” in this respect.
I am now 67 and I do not remember even one instance in my entire life, when I had to compromise my principles in my moveable or immoveable property, foreign travel, religion or nationality of my children, etc. Even if it is true that we have no Sikh Personal Law like the Hindu, Christian or Parsi personal laws, I should think that such a law would easily have come about if we ourselves had paid attention to it, wanted it or were serious about it. As I said at the outset, I am not a legal expert, but I venture to believe that the clubbing of Buddhist, Jain and Sikh religions under the Hindu articles or laws could be due to the need for elimination of duplication of some sorts. Obviously, these Hindu laws are supposed to be applied to Sikhs mutatis mutandis. I would consider that they would apply to us with the necessary changes, which govern our system of marriage, and other customs. I repeat, how would it be possible for the Hindu law to dominate Sikh system or Sikh religion in the presence of a specific explanation that carrying and wearing of kirpans is included in the Sikh religion, which shows it as a distinct separate entity ?
All that I have to deal with now is the authority of our Scripture and traditions in detail. Let me give some quotations from Gurbani, Reht Maryada, Reht Namas and suggest that the inferences, instructions, dictates and suggestions through them are our personal laws, and if we choose to adhere to them there is no authority which can stand in our way.
1. Mann ka sootak lobh hai jehva sootak koor
Akhi sootak vekhana partria pardhan roop
The pollution of mind is greed, that of tongue is un-truth and the pollution of eyes is to have a lustful look at another woman (except one’s wife) and possessive wish at others’ wealth.
Let us examine ourselves, our own conduct not only in respect of other Sikhs and non-Sikhs, but also in terms of our own relationships at home with brothers, sisters, parents and our internal strife with regard to property, false witnessing and un-truth.
2. Hak praya Nanaka us sooer us gaye.
For a Muslim, the right of others is like pork and for a Hindu, like beef, to be shunned for all times.
Are we free from it ?
3. Bisar gayee sab taat prayee jab te sadhsangat mohe payee.
I have lost the sense of mine and not mine ever since I found the company of the Holy.
Have we lost that sense ? Are we able to get along with everyone ? (Sagal sang hamkau ban aai).
4. Sabkau meet ham apan keena ham sabhna ke Sajan.
I have made everyone my friend and I have become the friend of everyone.
Have I received the Grace of my Guru to behave in such a manner so that others would need my intervention to settle their disputes ?
5. Khatri, Brahmin, Sood, Vaish
Updesh chau varna kau sanjha.
The teaching of my Gurus is common to all the four varnas of Hindus.
How have I got entangled into pursuing distinction between this caste and that, and how do I treat my so-called lower castes among Sikhs ?
Before I conclude I would like to point out that there is something inherently wrong in our thinking. There is no doubt that the rulers and others have done many wrongs to us; there is no doubt that promises once made to us have been broken; there is no doubt that communists and others have taken advantage of our weaknesses; and there is no doubt that others would like us to vanish into thin air, but we, it seems, are determined never to look at our own faults and our own inadequacies, so that we can so effectively correct them that others will never dare to trifle with us. I have said on many occasions that Indira Gandhi would never have dared to attack our Mecca, the Darbar Sahib Complex, if she knew that we had not become hollow inside. Zail Singh would never have dared to stick to his chair as President of India, if he was a Sikh of the type we have mentioned above. And he would have never dared to honour the attackers of Darbar Sahib in Rashtrapati Bhavan, if he had not already declared after election as President that he was a Jharoo-Bardar of Indira Gandhi.
Now, let us look at our resources to live as honest, self-respecting Sikhs, without any help from anywhere and without any fear from anywhere. Our divine laws coming to us from our Gurus are not only a permanent guarantee against anyone encroaching upon our freedom but also a ceaseless encouragement to us to do good to the society. Look at our assets !
- Guru Granth Sahib, embodiment of truth and universality (not Sikh Truth alone) in terms of the messages of not only six Sikh Gurus, but also of non-Sikh saints, both Hindu and Muslim. I have often said that any Brahmin, and Muslim, anyone of another sect can study Guru Granth Sahib and become a better Hindu, a better Brahmin, a better Muslim.
- As a guarantee of our universality, our Gurus not only notified that Truth is universal and indivisible, but also included hymns of adherents, which talk openly of respect to Mohammed, Rama and Krishna.
- Khalsa, born out of willingness to die, willing to serve humanity, spreading love of Gurus to everyone, even to the enemy and the evil-intentioned and yet ordained to take up arms when all methods of peaceful and friendly approaches against tyranny have been exhausted.
- Innumerable martyrdoms including that of Guru Arjun, Guru Tegh Bahadur, four sons of Guru Gobind Singh, Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das, Bhai Dayala, Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh and countless others; including also our mothers and sisters, who had their children cut into pieces and thrown in their laps; and last, but not least,
- The assurance of Guru Gobind Singh :
Jab lag Khalsa rahe niara; tab lag tej dion mein sara; but jab eh gahe biprin ki reet, mein na karoun in kee parteet.
So long as my Khalsa stays distinguished and distinct, I shall stand by him, but when it becomes (Andron hor bahron hor) in the Brahminic mould, I shall not stand by him.
I take your leave, sisters and brothers, after reminding you that the only personal law we need to follow now is the law of our Gurus and we do not have to cringe before others to make laws for us. We are a free, independent people, capable of looking after ourselves, only if we adhere to Guru Granth Sahib’s dictates and live in day-to-day life the discipline of the Khalsa and display, without and within, the roop, the Khaas roop of Guru Gobind Singh and prove his words : Khalsa mera roop hai khas, Khalse mein hown karon nivas.