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Caste, Race, Ethnicity and Sikhism

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Neutral Singh, Jul 30, 2004.

  1. Neutral Singh

    Neutral Singh
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    Some Sikhs claim that they do not believe in caste but in the same breath they claims to be a true Sikh of the Khalsa and also believe in racial differences amongst Sikhs ?

    What are your views on...

    1) Can you differentiate between caste , race, ethnicity etc in the context of Sikhism?
    2) Is there a sinister campaign by castists to undermine Sikhism?
    3) Can you believe in racial difference amongst Sikhs and still be a Sikh?
     
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  3. truth_seeker

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    Human Equality in the Sikh Tradition

    The principle of human equality is an integral part of Sikh scripture and lived tradition. Statements affirming the inherent equal status of human beings were expressed by the first Sikh prophet-teacher, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), and recorded in the original sacred text of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak was the first in a lineage of ten Sikh Gurus who formulated the principles of religious liberty and freedom of association. He was a radical egalitarian who viewed differences based on birth as irrelevant to the sanctity of the individual. Guru Nanak taught there is one God and one creation, and that inherited differences have no meaning in the relationship between humans and God. In the Sikh religion there is no basis for discrimination in regard to caste, race, sex, religion or socioeconomic standing. Sikhs are enjoined by sacred ideals to assert a high standard of human equality, and be models of fairness and tolerance.

    The social context in which the Sikh Gurus taught was thoroughly colored with caste considerations. A hierarchy of caste relations existed in India for several thousand years before Guru Nanak, and this prejudice continues today. The division of society along caste lines was embedded in the social fabric of India as a way of ordering social roles and occupations. It was this social hierarchy that Guru Nanak repudiated. He rejected the notion that status ascribed by birth determines the rank of humans.

    In the foremost sacred text of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, Guru Nanak decries the existence of the caste system: "Caste is worthless and so is its name. For everyone there is only one refuge." Guru Nanak denied the accepted dogma that only higher castes could achieve spiritual liberation: "Recognize the light, do not ask about caste. Further on there is no caste." Guru Nanak's successors reiterated this anti-caste sentiment. For example, Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru pronounced: "There are four castes and four stages of life, but the one who meditates on God is the most exalted."

    The compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib, arranged by the fifth Guru, Arjan, exhibits this non-discriminatory policy. Included in this exalted book are poems by Ravi Das, an outcaste leather worker, and poems by Kabir, a low-caste weaver. Both poets make a significant contribution to the Guru Granth Sahib despite their low social standing.

    In practice the Sikhs Gurus endeavored to break down the caste barriers. The early Sikh Gurus established the tradition of a free community kitchen called langar. This practice became an institution at Sikh places of worship. Every person, regardless of social status, is invited to eat the same food with everyone else while sitting side by side. No exclusion is permitted. The principle of human equality is demonstrated at every Sikh gathering through the practice of eating together without any accorded privilege.

    The tenth Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, furthered the principle of equality by establishing the order of the Khalsa. The first five members of the Khalsa came from different caste backgrounds, and three were from lower castes. Though their caste ranking was mixed, Guru Gobind Singh asked them to drink from the same bowl, an act contrary to caste pollution rules. Furthermore, they were all given the same last name, Singh, in place of their family name, which would indicate their caste. Similarly, Sikh women were given the name of Kaur.

    The current Sikh Rahit Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct), which is the standard guide for the Sikh way of life enjoins the Sikhs to eliminate caste considerations: "Reject caste distinctions and untouchability." The Rahit Maryada also states that Khalsa initiation may be received regardless of caste, creed, or nationality. These statements affirm that caste discrimination has no place in modern Sikh society or Sikh ceremonies. Even though caste considerations are often taken into account for marriage among the Sikhs, this practice has no sanction in the Sikh religion.

    In Sikh tradition, there is no written or remembered authority, which denies women equal standing with men. This verse by Guru Nanak is the standard marker for gender equality: "Man is born from a woman, conceived in a woman, engaged and married to a woman . . . Kings are born from women, how can women be bad? From a woman, a woman is born. Without a woman, there is no one." In this verse, Guru Nanak is speaking against those who would value women less than men. In regard to current practice, the Sikh Rahit Maryada states there is no office or ceremony from which women are restricted. Although male gender bias survives in Sikh society through a preference for sons, discriminatory practice finds no support from traditional sources of religious authority. The Rahit Maryada also prohibits a cash dowry in return for the marriage of a daughter or son. The continuation of dowry practice has been contested by Sikh activists.

    As with caste and gender, the Sikh Gurus regarded the rich and poor with an equal eye. No preference was given to the wealthy over the dispossessed. Every Sikh has the same personal sovereignty, regardless of income. Again, the source is Guru Nanak: "The one who knows God sees equally, like the wind which blows alike over king and poor man." The Sikh community ideal is to create value through work and then give at least one tenth of the proceeds to charity. This is part of Guru Nanak's credo, kirat karo (create worth or earn) and vandh chako (share the results). Though Sikhs vary widely in terms of income, no preferential treatment is permitted for the wealthy in religious observances.

    Sikh teachings do not discriminate on the basis of religious affiliation. Universal tolerance is underscored by the inclusion of Hindu and Muslim poets, in addition to Sikh poets, in the Guru Granth Sahib. The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, confirmed this attitude of religious equality by stating: "God is in the Hindu temple as well as in the mosque. God is addressed in both the Hindu and the Muslim prayer; all human beings are one though they may appear different . . . They are all of one form and one God has made them all."

    In the Sikh understanding, the apparent differences between caste or class, gender, or religion are irrelevant in the realm of the human spirit. To demean someone on the basis of color, creed, sex, or ethnic origin is contrary to the spirit of human fairness and equal judgement that the Sikhs Gurus' wisely envisioned.

    Could not have said it better!!
     
  4. CaramelChocolate

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    Well, they SHOULDN'T believe in this... But some do... I once had a female amritdhari call me a dog and a white *censored* amongst other names in Punjabi online. This is because a question I asked was blown out of proportion and taken in the wrong way, even though I did not ask her the question!

    Muslims can be racist, Hindus can be, Christians can be...
    We can have ideals but they are not always practiced unfortunately... Just remember that all this hate, anger, lust, violence is all part of kal jug.

    ~CaramelChocolate~
    The little philosopher
     
  5. truthseeker

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    That is horrible Caramel veerji, i too have had some silimar problems. My mother is punjbi but my fateh is black so i dont really look like an indain in anyway, my father is catholic soo growing up i always learnt about the Catholic faith and i even went to a catholic school, and then i would learn about Sikhi at home with my mom and attended the gurdwara very rarely but even tho im not that old i made the choice to become a sikh but even now, ppl that i kno make comments about ppl of other races/castes/ethnicities without even realising that they are making soo many rude comments. Is soo hard to think that kuljag has effected us in soo many ways yet most ppl dont even realise that it is takin other their mind, instead or accepting others they critisize them.
     
  6. KDS

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    Hello Gentlemen and Ladies,

    I have observed some excellent rebuttles on the point of race and caste in Sikhism by one Randeep Singh who is a moderator on www.sikh-history.com. Despite abuse on these issues he has stuck firmly to his guns. I first came across this fellow in discussion on indiaculture.net and punjabi.net.
     
  7. S|kH

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    truthseeker...your half-black?

    that's so awesome, can you share more about what it was like growing up, and how it felt when you became a sikh and stuff, and I assume when you said you choose to be Sikh, you started growing out your hair.

    Post pics!!

    I actually wish I was from 2 different ethnicities...than people can hold more grudges against me, like added-on to the caste-stuff. :D
     
  8. Arvind

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    Honestly, people like truthseeker are great inspiration for me, looking at the obstacles they continue to face (including those by narrowminded Punjabi mindset regarding castes/races/ethnicity etc), but still continue to chose the sikhi way on their own.

    S|kh, my grudge against you is that you are not keeping sNavneet busy enough in philosophizing, and he is All there in the arcade, killing it thoroughly, day and night! Grrrrrrr!!!

    Take care.
     
  9. S|kH

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    lol Sevadaar Singh,

    I'm sorry, the whole God-topic that me and snavneet usually debate on requires long posts, time, and alot of thinking. I have final exams next week, so have been hardly on the site as much, and haven't had the time to sit and think and read his latest posts on that topic.

    Don't worry, in a few weeks I'll revive those topics ;)
     
  10. Randip Singh

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    Re: Caste, Race, Ethnicity etc. in the context of Sikhism?

    Hi Aman and thank you for your kind words KDS ji,

    This entire debate can be destroyed in one swift blow.

    In Gurmukhi and Sanskrit, the word "Jaat" (or Zaat) is used to describe caste..........however the word "Jaat" can also mean race, ethnicity and even gender.

    Illustrated by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji in:

    Maanas Ki Jaat Ekh Paachano

    or

    Racognise the Human Race as one

    So when you get certain people talking about the fact they do mot believe in caste (which is against Sikhism), but the believe in race/ethnicity (which Sikhism allegedly does not mention) they are talking utter rubbish.

    What they are saying is that they believe in racism which Sikhism condems whole heartedly.

    Just go to www.srigranth.org and do a search on caste or race and watch the word "Jaat" pop up. So caste and race/ethnicity are interchangable in the Sikh concept.

    Sikhism believes in recognising diversity (i.e. we are all different), but we are all equal. That does not mean we should discriminate on this basis. We all have differing strengths and weaknesses.

    There is a sinister campaign by racisits and castists. On the one hand by Brahminist groups who wish to undermine the Sikh faith, and on the other from with, from sites such as www.jattworld.com and www.ramgahiakom.com . Both have a twisted agenda to create division amoongst the Sikh Paanth. Jattworld in particular directly spreads venom and hatred, wheras the ramgharia one is more subtle and sinister.
     
  11. Amerikaur

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    I'm worried that the problems run deeper than the interpretation of Jaat/Zaat.

    Sikhs are less than 2 percent of India's total population. Yet, there are many Sikhs that rightly take a stand when the Indian goverment "forgets" about Sikhs. Yet, some Sikhs refer to the panth as if it were all people of Panjabi ethnicity, "forgetting" that the panth is made up of all colors.

    There are Sikhs that rightly take a stand against how turbans are being viewed and classifying all medium-toned people in the same prejudicial lot. Yet some of the same refer to the rest of the world as "goray".

    The problems that I think are in the caste system are extensive, as it seems to encourage mass-grouping and stereotyping of people...such as the belief that one word can be a summation an individual entire personality and values. Even worse is when such a belief shapes a pesron's vision of another, and all the person sees in another are the traits that support the stereotype.

    But these bad habits go away as one learns to fight off moh, lobh, and ahankar. If we fight these within ourselves, and look to others for advice, and inspire still others to do the same, eventually these earthly ills can fall away.
     
  12. akd89

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    Very well said.
    Sikhism
    Thy Name is Love & Sacrifice
    God is love and love is God. As God cannot be confined, restricted or limited to any particular creed, cult, race, similarly Religion of love cannot be restricted or confined in geographical limits and boundaries. Sri Guru Nanak Sahib's Religion of Love is cosmic and universal in its appeal, holy folds and dimensions.

    It is a Religion of perfect and universal Love totally free from man-made barriers of color, caste, creed and status.

    It is a Religion which radiates with a deep thirst for the Divine and
    with the highest gospel of purity of heart, mind, body, speech and deeds.

    It is a Religion which establishes brotherhood of the whole global community irrespective of color, caste, creed, race and nationality purely on the basis and foundation of love and equality,all being the children of the same lovable God.





     
  13. Prit paul kaur

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    I as a Sikh believe ( and practice )in total equality:there is no place for caste ,class and creed based discrimination in Sikhism.But when it comes to marriage, people marry within the caste or community because they want to have spouses raised with same values and same socialization process.It has nothing to do with discrimination but simply because we as a human being want to lead a comfortable life.
     
  14. KiranC

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    'have spouses raised with same values'

    Surely if you are Sikh and your partner is Sikh you have been brought up with the same values?...to be Sikh and to follow Sikhi?
     
  15. Sikh80

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    Very well said.
     
  16. mkm

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    all jio

    My husband and I dont believe a bit in caste system, we make joke out of it. He belongs to Jatt family and I to Ramgarhya. He calls me jatt and I call him Ramgarhya and we laugh almost every day at caste system. We believe that people who believe in this stupid embarrassing thing are frozen in old times. Cast system should be laughed at loudly, it is evil:down:
     
  17. Sikh80

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    Yes, it may not be good. But still, it does exist. One can laugh or smile and reality cannot be discounted. It has its own face value.
     
  18. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    mkm ji

    You lift my spirits! ;)
     
  19. KiranC

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    I totally agree...it is evil! Did you not have a problem with your parents saying anything about it though...did they just agree to it?
     
  20. mkm

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    KiranC ji

    May be deep in their heart; but I cannot say. I told them, I love him and wanted to marry him only. It was fine. Other people related to my family might have made a big deal out of it, if they were consulted, chance was never given. May be I was fortunate, you can say.:)
     
  21. Lee

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    If you favour one spouse above another because of race or caste, no matter what other considerations that is indeed discrimination.
     

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