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Politics of Sikh Identity

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Admin Singh, Sep 29, 2009.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    Politics of Sikh Identity
    by Gurmukh Singh UK

    Any mention of “Sikh identity” in the diaspora to promote acceptance of Sikhs as a distict entity sets off alarm bells in certain quarters. The spectre of “separatism” is raised in the collective mind of the Indian establishment.

    It is important that types of “Sikh identity” activism is analysed and understood.

    Part reason for the high degree of Indian sensitivity attached to the question of Sikh identity is the Hindutva activities which go back to the revival of Hinduism towards the second half of the 19th century. This same Hindutva agenda became the root cause for the start of Muslim separatism in the early days of the Indian Congress and resulted in the creation of Pakistan, a state now on the verge of political bankruptcy and collapse.

    Assertion of Sikh identity following the Singh Sabha reformation and reorientation of Sikh ideology in the late 19th century, has been the main plank of Sikh politics in Panjab. Identity based Sikh politics has continued into the post Indian independence period.

    Assertion of Sikh identity has been a reaction to external challenges and threats coming mainly from Hindutva activists, including Arya Samajis, in the late 19th century. Sikh separatism continues to be given credibility and sustenance by those threats. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s response to the Hindutva predatory activities to absorb and destroy Sikhs as an independent ideology outside the “Hindu” conglomeration of sects and cults, became the basis for Sikh politics “culminating in the idea of a sovereign Sikh state before 1947.” (Dr J S Grewal, introduction to his “The Sikhs” p. xvii)

    Independent Sikh religio-political identity arguments are based on the Khalsa miri-piri tradition of Guru Nanak- Gobind Singh mainstream Sikh movement. Based on the authority of the universal teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the movement has been mostly inclusive. However, it has been necessarily exclusive when we look at Sikh organisational needs and pursuance of Khalsa miri (temporal) objectives to safeguard the independence of the ideology. After much agitation, the management of gurdwaras and central Sikh institutions was taken over by initiated (Amritdhari) Sikhs who form the core of the Khalsa Panth, the Sikh organisation.

    It seems that politics of Sikh identity can be divided into four distinct categories.
    The two earlier Sikh identity movements aimed for a Panjabi speaking Panjab within a federal Indian system; or, a “Sikh homeland with a special constitution and a special relationship with the Indian Union” (Grewal). Then came the Khalistan movement with its political objective of a sovereign Sikh state. This Khalistan movement was taken to the Sikh diaspora by dissatisfied Sikh emigrants and asylum seekers from Panjab and was further fuelled by the events of 1984.

    There is a much larger fourth category of moderate progressive Sikhs in the diaspora, who continue to assert independent Sikh identity in the context of the multicultural societies they live in. In the UK, Sikh activists in this category have agreed Sikh aims and objectives to play a fuller positive role at local and national level. A “Sikh agenda” prioritises objectives in fields such as better understanding and acceptance of Sikh religion; promotion of Sikh education, heritage, social activism, welfare, and advancement through effective representation in national politics. Headings under pursuance of “human rights” become blurred and overlap in an attempt to accommodate the objectives of the whole range of Sikh identity activist categories mentioned above.

    It is important that the Indian political establishment understands and supports collective assertion of Sikh identity and rights in the countries they live in. It should withdraw its direct or behind the scenes opposition to positive initiatives such as separate monitoring of Sikhs to secure their religio-political rights as distinct lobby group. It is this last category of Sikh politics based on and promoting Sikh identity, which is likely to gain ground and find expression in positive Sikh “social activism” including Sikh sewa charities outside the gurdwaras.

    Gurmukh Singh

    About the Author

    Sardar Gurmukh Singh is a distinguished member of the UK Sikh community.

    He was born in India (11 September 1938 at Bhuj in Kutch) and received his school education in Malaysia. He arrived in the UK in 1960 and joined the Department of Trade and Industry in December 1962. He achieved four promotions during a changing race relations period while retaining his Sikh identity. He held many high profile positions including departmental representation at European forums and the World Trade Organisation (ex-GATT) at First Secretary equivalent position, and retired as a policy Principal in 1996.

    Following retirement in June 1996, S. Gurmukh Singh has devoted his full time to community service, supporting and advising many nationwide Sikh organisations, local representatives and Members of Parliament. Through his catalytic role and contact with different groups within the community, he has played a significant role in keeping Sikh affairs on an even keel.

    He writes extensively and has produced some publications and numerous articles on topical issues affecting British Sikhs. He has given frequent talks and media briefings. In recent years, he has interpreted Sikh scriptures in the context of 21st century issues. The topics include environmental and the Earth Charter topics, Sikh religious view on ageing and care of the elderly, issues concerning advances in science, and many other educational and welfare topics.

    He was honoured by the Canadian Sikhs with “Sirdar Kapoor Singh” award in 2001 in recognition of his scholarly interpretation of Sikh ideology.

    He is a member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ACIS), and Member of the Chartered Management Institute (MCMI).
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  3. harbansj24

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    Feb 19, 2007
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    Aman Singh ji,

    A beautiful and a highly sensible article.

    Despite some fringe elements in the Indian Establishment, there is large section of highly intelligent, liberal and influential people who would be open to such an approach. It must be appreciated that unlike Muslims, Sikhs in India hardly suffer any social or governmental discrimination at present. However occasional talk of Khalistan among fringe Sikh elements only serves to vitiate the environment. Lets admit it, Khalistan is not a viable option.

    In my opinion in the forum of SPN also we should discourage the occasional talk of Khalistan that comes up once a while.
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