From Relocating Gender in Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity
(Author: Doris Jakobsh) A Critical Analysi
s by Baldev Singh Ph.D Guru Gobind Singh’s Tenets
I am not privy to Prof. Jakobsh’s early education. However, if her Ph.D. thesis is any indication of her past, then I can draw a picture: she had been a weak student all along. Either her teachers missed the obvious flaws or simply let it go hoping someone else down the education echelon will end up catching her. Now it seems nobody caught her and the weaknesses magnified beyond proportions and they reflect in her thesis under analysis here. Let’s start with something so profoundly basic to Sikhism: the meanings of simple words:
1.“The term ‘Sikh,’ meaning disciple was replaced by ‘Khalsa,’ which in the seventeenth century reflected its usage by the Mughals for revenue collection on lands that were directly supervised by the government (Grewal 1967: 113-15).”1
It seems she understands neither the meaning of “Sikh,” nor of “Khalsa.” A “Sikh” means learner of truth and Khalsa means pure. Truth means pure (without blemish)¾khalis. So Sikh and Khalsa are synonymous terms. That is why Bhai Gurdas says that Guru Nanak became prominent in the world by establishing a Panth of the pure:
Nanak became prominent/renowned in the world by establishing a nirmal (pure) Panth¾Khalsa.
Bhai Gurdas, Varan Bhai Gurdas, 1, p. 18.
Truth is higher than every thing but higher still is truthful living.
AGGS, M 1, p. 62.
However, when Guru Gobind Singh created a “uniformed military force”¾ the Khalsa Order, every initiate was required to take “Khande Di Pahul” and keep five Ks: Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (small comb tucked in the hair), Kirpan (small sword in a baldric), Kara (a steel bracelet on a wrist) and Kashera (a specially designed knee length breeches). Thus a Khalsa is a Sikh who keeps five Ks.
2. “The British administration, which admired the martial resonance of Khalsa ideology, turned to the tenets of Guru Gobind Singh for guidance and took it upon themselves to stem the tide of the Hinduization of Sikhism through their recruitment tactics.”2
Guru Gobind Singh’s tenets were the same as that of Guru Nanak, enshrined in AGGS. That is why Guru Gobind Singh conferred Guruship on AGGS. All the Gurus were one and the same spiritually. Guru Nanak’s successors enriched and strengthened Nanakian philosophy (Gurmat); they added innovative practices in the Sikh movement from time to time to meet the threat from ever-pernicious caste ideology and the Mughal rulers.
Al-Beruni who spent many years in northern India in the eleventh century observed that Hindus did not cut body hair.3 Devout Sikhs too have kept uncut hair from the time of Guru Nanak. It is also known that Sikhs started learning the art of warfare from the time of Guru Angad and there were sizeable number of Sikhs during the time Guru Arjan, being the finest horsemen and expert in wielding arms. Guru Hargobind’s victory in several skirmishes with Mughals and Khatris is a strong proof of that. Before coming into military conflict with the Mughals, Guru Gobind Singh fought and won several battles with the Rajput chiefs of Shivalik Hills. He knew that sooner or later, the Mughal Emperor would come to the aid of his vassals, the Rajput chiefs. To meet that challenge he needed a well-disciplined and well-trained army firmly committed to the cause of the Sikh Panth. Therefore, he sent invitations to Sikhs throughout India to attend the Baisakhi of 1999. On this historic day he created the Khalsa Order on the line of a disciplined army with a unique dress and code of conduct. The initiate was required to take “Khande Di Pahul” and wear five Ks to embody the spirit of a “saint soldier.”
3. Jakobsh has made absurd and false statements about “Khande Di Pahul,” an initiation ceremony for Khalsa and the appellations of Singh and Kaur. 4
Let me just cite two examples to show her lack of understanding of “Khande Di Pahul.” According to her, Khalsa has an aversion to saffron colour 5 because this colour is associated with Brahmans. How ridiculous! Saffron and blue are the colours of the Khalsa attire. Moreover, the Nishan Sahibs (religious flags) in Gurdwaras, Sikh parades or meetings are adorned in saffron. She goes on to say that women were not allowed to wear blue,6 which is also false. She is impervious to the understanding that “Khande Di Pahul” marks the “rebirth” of an initiate as he/she makes a clean break from the past. Maybe Jakobsh is ignorant of the “Nash Doctrine”7¾total rejection of the caste ideology by Nanakian philosophy¾Guru Gobind Singh enunciated on the Baisakhi day of 1699 upon choosing the Panj Piaras (five beloved ones). Khalsa is free from:Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=33324
a. Varanasrarm Dharam (caste based religion),
b. karam kand (Hindu rituals and ceremonies),
c. bharam (superstition),
d. kul (family lineage),
e. krit (caste based occupation restrictions).
If Jakobsh were really interested in understanding the meaning of Khalsa and the significance of “Khande Di Pahul,” she could have consulted contemporary Muslim accounts. Mughals were watching the activities of the Sikhs very closely as they saw in the growing Sikh movement not only a political threat but also an impediment to Islamize India. Ghulam Mohyiuddin who witnessed the creation of the Khalsa Order on the Baisakhi of 1699 reported to Emperor Aurangzeb that in spite of opposition from orthodox men, thousands of men and women have taken the baptism of steel (Khande Di Pahul):
He has abolished caste and customs, old rituals, beliefs and the superstitions of Hindus and banded them into a single brotherhood. No one will be superior or inferior to another. Men of all castes have been made to eat from the same bowl. Though orthodox men have opposed him, about twenty thousand men and women have taken baptism of steel at his hand on the first day. The Guru has also told the gathering: ‘I’ ll call myself Gobind Singh only if I can make the meek sparrows pounce upon the hawks and tear them; only if one combatant of my force faces a legion of the enemy.8
Being voluntary, Khalsa Order was/is open to both men and women without regard to caste, creed and color.
4. Jakobsh goes on unimpeded by making an odious statement that the appellation “Singh” and “Kaur” were used to “Rajputanize”9 Sikh identity. In support of her argument she cites Jeevan Deol’s article: “Rajputising the Guru? The Construction of Early Sikh Political Discourse.”10
Firstly, Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS) and the “Nash Doctrine” reject and denounce the caste system. Second, Sikhs do not look “high” on the Rajputs; instead they look down upon them. Why? The following few reasons should suffice: Like Mughals, Rajupts were also the bitter enemies of Sikhs. They were responsible for the execution of Guru Arjan as Emperor Jahangir who ordered the execution of Guru Arjan, was the son of a Rajput princess, whose brother, Man Singh was the commander of Mughal army at that time. The Rajput chiefs of Shivalik hills declared war on Guru Gobind Singh and later on collaborated with Mughal rulers until the Sikhs defeated both parties. It was Massa Ranghar, a Muslim Rajput who desecrated Darbar Sahib and there are other instances of Rajput perfidy. That is why there are not many Sikhs of Rajput ancestry and those Sikhs who are of Rajput ancestry, generally, call themselves Jat, not Rajput. Besides, Rajputs may have honorable position in Hindu society but Sikhs regarded them as “degenerates” because they violated “Sikh notions of honor”¾not submitting to tyranny--by submitting to Muslim rule and offering their daughters by wholesale numbers to Mughals from the time of Emperor Akbar until the end of Mughal empire. The hypocrisy of Rajputs knew no bounds. While on one hand they regarded the Muslims as malesh (unclean, polluted) and wouldn’t even drink water from the Muslim’s house, but on the other hand to win favors they offered their precious daughters to fill the harems (concubine quarters) of the Muslim rulers. Even today it is unthinkable for an ordinary Rajput to marry his daughter to a non-Rajput Hindu, not to speak of non-Hindus. Incidentally, most of Punjab’s Rajputs converted to Islam. Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=33324
Whenever Rajputs asserted their superiority in Sikh villages, Jats retaliated by addressing them with derogatory terms. Jats called the Chandel Rajput as gireve (degenerate) and now they call themselves Jat, not Chandel. Those who insisted on their Rajput-ness were called “mahto,” a derogatory term. It is not my purpose here to slight anyone or to project the superiority of Jats, but to expose the absurdities put out by McLeod, Deol, and Jakobsh:
Al-Beruni (1030 CE), whose direct experience of India was confined to the Lahore area, took the Jats to be ‘cattle-owners, low Shudra people.’ The author of Debistan-i-Mazahib (1655 CE) in his account of Sikhism describes Jats as the ‘lowest caste of the Vaishyas.’ In contrast to this position, ‘under the Sikhs the Rajput was over-shadowed by the Jat, who resented his assumption of superiority and his refusal to join him on equal terms in the ranks of the Khalsa, deliberately persecuted him wherever and whenever he had the power, and preferred his title of Jat Sikh to that of the proudest Rajput.’ That this was all due to the Sikh movement becomes clear if status of Sikh Jat of Sikh tract is compared with other Jats who are his immediate neighbors. About the non-Sikh Jats in the eastern submontane tract, Ibtsen writes in his census report (1881): ‘In character and position there is nothing to distinguish the tribes I am about to notice, save that they have never enjoyed the political importance which distinguished the Sikh Jats under the Khalsa.…
In the Sikh tract, the political position of the Jat was so high that he had no wish to be called Rajput; under the hills the status of the Rajput is so superior that Jat has no hope of being called Rajput.’ Similarly, although the Jats of southeastern districts of the Punjab differ ‘in little save religion from the great Sikh Jat tribes of Malwa’, they remained subservient to the Rajputs up to recent period of British Raj. There, ‘in the old days of Rajput ascendancy, the Rajputs would not allow Jats to cover their heads with a turban’, and ‘even to this day Rajputs will not allow inferior castes to wear red clothes or ample lion cloths in their village.’ In the predominantly Mohammedan Western Punjab, the Jat is ‘naturally looked upon as of inferior race, and the position he occupies is very different from that which he [Sikh Jat] holds in the centre and east of Punjab.’11
Furthermore, the appellations, Singh and Kaur were not that common among the Rajputs. For example, among the four historically well known Rajputs only one was Singh: Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Jai Chand Rathore, Maharana Partap and Man Singh. Similarly, most of the Shivalik Hill Rajput Chiefs, who were contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh, did not use Singh as their last name: Fateh Shah, Medni Parkash, Kirpal Chand, Bhim Chand, Sukh Deo, Ajmer Chand, Salehi Chand and so on. Besides, Khatris, Jats, Gujjars and other agriculturist communities of Northern India also used the appellations, Singh and Kaur. The uniformity of naming Singh and Kaur for “Khalsa/Sikh” males and females respectively signifies equality and nothing else.
The idea to “Rajputanize” Sikh names most probably did not originate in Jeevan Deol’s “still mind,” it seems more likely the product of McLeod’s “churning mind.”
5. Commenting on the do’s and don’ts for the Khalsa, Jakobsh remarks:
Further, a number of customs, some associated with the non-Sikh communities, others prevalent among them, were firmly prohibited. These included the killing of female infants, hookah smoking, intercourse with Muslim women, and the eating of the meat of animals slaughtered in the Muslim fashion known as halal. The anti-Muslim proscriptions would understandably have stemmed from the increasing troublesome relations between Sikhs and Mughals; moreover, the now religiously mandated Sikh warriors would certainly have been viewed as irritations by the Mughal rulers.12
The statement “Muslim proscriptions would understandably have stemmed from increasing troublesome relations between Sikhs and Mughals” would appeal to someone ignorant of the relationship between Sikh Gurus and Muslim populace and the teachings of Aad Guru Granth Sahib. Jakobsh should know that Pir Budhu Shah, a Muslim divine came to the aid of Guru Gobind Singh in the battle of Bhangani against Hindu Rajput chiefs of Shivalak hills. Many of Budhu Shah’s followers and his two sons were killed.13, 14
Guru Gobind Singh’s edict against the slaughter of animals in a Halal fashion stems from both theological and political reasons, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the troublesome relations between Sikhs and Mughal rulers. Let us first look at the theological aspect. According to Nanakian philosophy, God is the creator as well as the sustainer of all living beings. People keep asking for more and more and the Giver keeps giving more and more. Whatever human beings possess is God’s gift. Thus it is sheer ignorance when people make material offerings including animal sacrifice to earn God’s favor. Guru Nanak rejected the Semitic and Hindu practices of sacrificing animals in the name of God. The idea that one’s sins being expiated through the ritual of animal sacrifice is abhorrent to the Sikh theology:
The Giver (Bounteous) keeps giving but the recipients get weary of receiving. Throughout the ages they subsist on Its bounties.
AGGS, Jap 3, p. 2.
Eternal is the Lord, Immutable is Its justice, love is Its communication, and It is infinite. People pray and beg: “Give us, give us” and the Giver keep giving. Then what can we offer whereby we may realize It? What words shall we utter with our lips, on hearing which It would love us? “Always meditate on Its excellences and greatness. The Kind One will then give a robe of honour (love), and open the door for salvation.” Nanak, “Thus we shall understand that the Lord Itself enlightens all.”
AGGS, Jap 4, p. 2.
Here Guru Nanak advises the devotee to keep the mind focussed on God’s attributes to earn Its blessing. In a passage directed at a pious Muslim, Guru Nanak explains what kind of Halal (lawful act) a Muslim should perform to please God:
O, Sheikh (Muslim divine) let truthful living be the knife forged from truth. The craftsmanship of such knife is ineffable. Sharpen it on the whetstone of Word and keep it in the sheath made out of virtues. Kill “yourself ' your Haumai with this knife and witness avarice bleeding out. Such a sacrifice will be accepted by God as Halal and you will become one with God.
AGGS, M 1, p. 956.
The second reason for the proscription of Halal for Sikhs is political. The Muslim rulers banned the slaughter of animals for food by any method other than Halal. This is confirmed in Guru Nanak’s composition about the hypocrisy of Khatris. The Khatris were very fastidious about ceremonial sanctity of their kitchen, but they were cooking and eating meat of he-goat slaughtered in a Halal fashion with the chanting of Quranic verses:
The Khatri officials wear mark on their forehead and ochre cloth around the waist (dhoti) at home, but they commit atrocities on the Hindu masses. They wear blue clothes on the job to please their Muslim masters. They worship Puran but depend on Muslims whom they regard malesh, for their livelihood. They eat the meat of a he-goat slaughtered in a halal fashion with the chanting of Quranic verses. They mark their cooking square with a line to keep others out to avoid pollution. But the “liars themselves” sit in it.
AGGS, M 1, p. 472.
Now it should be clear why Guru Gobind Singh issued an injunction to the Khalsa to slaughter animals for food only in Jhatka, not in hahal fashion. Jhatka¾severing animal’s neck with one stroke with a sharp sword is Sikh innovation. According to Al-Beruni, Hindus used to kill animals for food by strangulation.15
1. Doris R. Jakobsh. Relocating Gender In Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 38.
2. Ibid., p. 63.
3. Qeyamuddin Ahmad (Ed.). India by Al-Biruni. National Book Trust, India, third reprint, 1995, p. 85.
4. Doris R. Jakobsh. Relocating Gender In Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 211-237.
5. Ibid., p, 213.
6. Ibid., pp. 113, 197.
7. “Editorial: Nash Doctrine or Five Freedoms.” Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 1995, July, pp. 1-7 and 1996, July-September, pp. 1-13.
8. Sangat Singh. The Sikhs In History. New Delhi: Uncommon Books, 4th edition, 2001, pp. 72-73.
9. Doris R. Jakobsh. Relocating Gender In Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 220-221.
10. Ibid., p. 236.
11. Jagjit Singh. The Sikh Revolution: A Perspective View. New Delhi: Bahri Publications, 4th reprint, 1998, pp. 206-207.
12. Doris R. Jakobsh. Relocating Gender In Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp.39-40.
13. Sangat Singh. The Sikhs In History. New Delhi: Uncommon Books, 4th edition, 2001, p. 77.
14. Gokul C. Narang. Transformation of Sikhism. New Delhi: New Book Society of India, 5th edition, 1960, p. 90.
15. Qeyamuddin Ahmad (Ed.). India by Al-Biruni. National Book Trust, India, third reprint, 1995, p. 237. http://sikhspectrum.com/112006/doris/ch8.htm