THE SIKHS OUTSIDE PUNJAB
Punjab remained center of Gurus' foundation work on Sikhism. But the sangats formed far away were never neglected by them. Besides Guru Nanak's long udasis, the succeeding Gurus continued to have intimate contacts with congregations in far off places in India and countries of the Middle East and some evidence shows Sikh scriptures in gurmukhi located in Turkistan, Azarbiajan and Old Russian provinces to explain the reach of the Sikh influence. People from different locations were moving in convoys to the abode of the Gurus to renew their faith and discourses on enlightenment. The Gurus appointed gursikhs to steer the congregations to the path of Sikhism in those far off places and provide spiritual knowledge, to keep a regular two-way contact till the time of Guru Gobind Singh. When the Tenth Master moved to the South, many Sikhs accompailied him, especially of Sikligar and Vanjara tribes who settled in those climes.
After Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs waged a life and death struggle for more than fifty grim years. The brunt of the state pressure made the Sikhs to seek shelter in the jungles and wilderness. Although the Sikhs came out successful in that acid test, the contact with the Sikh communities away from Punjab suffered. After the Sikhs regained supremacy on political level, the contact with the communes outside Punjab could not be effectively restored except that the Sikligars resumed to some extent their industry of weapon manufacturing in the territories of Lahore Durbar and lesser Rajas. That was banned after the annexation of the Sarkar Khalsa and occupation by the British, plunging them into misery as they were not rehabilitated for any other profession.
There has not been any serious attempt in the last more than one hundred fifty years to establish links with the Sikhs outside Punjab. However, it is a matter of deep satisfaction and pride that these small clusters of Sikhs have withstood economic strangulation, moral abandonment and eclipse of the spiritual guidance by the Sikh mainstream which remains confined to a small area of Punjab and narrowing down their sights to the politics and problems of the Punjab and its environments. The Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, under the initiative of its President, S Pritam Singh Kohli, (IAS retd) has taken up the cudgels to approach the Sikh Sangats outside Punjab, to study and highlight their problems and their determination to flourish, to achieve self-respect and their due place in the society wherever they have existed so far under stress and without any counsel and assistance. The Sikh sangats in other parts of the country may be the local people who entered the Sikh fold during the visits of the Gurus and the influence of the Sikh missionaries who covered those places or the Punjabi Sikhs who migrated there before or after the partition of India. The matter of deep concern is that these streams are isolated, in many cases without mature leadership to contend and grapple with their problems. They have not joined hands with the Sikhs of the nearby localities to form pressure groups to stand up for their rights as a minority community. Even little that is available from the Central government grants has not been utilised and there is obviously no serious follow up to justifiably ask for more. They remain in confusion of 'pacca' and 'katcha' Sikhs. In such disarray they cannot progress or effectively explain their aspirations to the state government agencies and fellow citizens.
The response to our call for a Seminar, by far, has been encouraging. Such meetings and conferences are absolutely essential so that we all stay in close liaison and help each other on be r understanding of the sacred philosophy of our Gurus, to live our lives in virtue as directed by them and to swim together, strengthening our brotherly bonds. It bridges the gap of about two centuries of neglect. The world is shrinking to the size of a big village and our future efforts will be to keep in close touch with the brethren in other states in India as well as the communities flourishing in the Diaspora. Special reference has to be made about Vanjaras, Sikligan and Satnamis, Johris etc. who deserve our deep sympathies and concern. There are isolated but still vibrant pockets of sikhi inBihar, Assam, West Bengal and distant lands like Kerala, where unfortunately the matters have been lying pending for too long and need urgent attention. A beginning has been made. The Seminar has brought out the negligence on our part. But loading the Sikhs in Punjab solely with the responsibility of monitoring welfare of the settlements inother states is not the best of solutions. The Sikh communities elsewhere must gear up their efforts to provide local stewardship as pressure groups to suggest ways and means for getting maximum benefits of minority development programs provided and funded at state levels which remain unutilized and lapse due to non-awareness of the Sikhs in those states while other communities like Muslims draw maximum benefits as they have better cohesion and sympathy of their numbers in other states and also they wield vote bank clout. In many states, minority commissions do not have even Sikh members to represent their interests. Another possible way out for the scattered small groups is to create a voluntary central legal agency of eminent legal luminaries who could entertain their complaints of any local discrimination and problems arising out of lack of knowledge of Sikh ethos, on the pattern of the legal groups functioning in Europe/UK and Americas and act as a sort of bulwark against bias or inequity. It can be definitely initiated by the more advanced Sikh Sangats of Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, where duly constituted bodies already exist, to join in efforts to provide basic support to the backward units in other states by forming an apex body to render country-wide assistance wherever and whenever need be. The Seminar has shocked us into awareness where we arc lacking. For it, all the erudite scholars deserve applause, who took pains to participate in the Seminar.
The papers contributed to this Seminar in October, 2009, are presented in this volume to explain the vision and desires of the Sikhs outside Punjab so that our understanding of their pending issues becomes clear and remedial assistance is offered where necessary. There is very little knowledge in Sikh circles about provisions in the Indian Law about the minorities' Rights and provisions. It is time to carefully study d1e multi-dimensional irritants and take further steps to get our due share of the stipulations in fiscal, economic, educational and placement fields.
Special mention to the altruistic efforts made by S. Gurcharan Singh Sethi, who meticulously handled his responsibilities as coordinator and by the members of the reception committees who gave full assistance in welcoming the delegates and took care of their comfortable stay at Chandigarh. Mr. Jaswant has toiled to put the valuable data in the volume in your hands.
December 25, 2009
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