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Sikhi & The Rule Of Law

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Aman Singh, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Tech Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    Sikhi & The Rule Of Law

    A paper written by the renowned historian, Dr J S Grewal some years ago with the heading “The Rule of Law and Sikh Thought” (Off print from Journal of Sikh Studies, August 1984), invites further research in the modern context.

    According to Dr Grewal, the rule of law “assumes the supremacy of impersonal law over personal discretion and arbitrary use of power. In its constitutional aspect, though it is not inevitably egalitarian, it carries an echo of democratic action and legislation.” Therefore, it is necessary for the modern student of Sikhi to identify those aspects of Sikh thought and tradition, which relate to the “rule of law”. The Sikh theo-political institutions can be studied to see how the rule of law operates in the Sikh system.

    Perhaps Dr Grewal should have mentioned that one danger in doing this and similar research is that subconsciously, Sikhi can be “tailored” to the researchers own biases. Therefore, when seeking Sikh answers to modern questions, no attempt should be made to present Sikh thought so that it is seen to “comply” with what may be fashionable thinking today. The independence of Sikh thought should the underlying postulate when researching Gurmatt based Sikh institutions.

    Guru Nanak Sahib’s Bani shows clear understanding of the socio-religious systems of his times. Asa di Var is just one example of this fact. Guru Nanak identified himself with the common people, with the “lowliest of the low”. He empathised with their suffering and sensed their need for just institutions and just laws. And so he set about laying the foundation of a new system for the New Age, which took into account the needs of the common people.
    In that new system, we look for those ideas in the Sikh tradition and institutions, which relate to the modern concept of the rule of law i.e. which assume “the supremacy of impersonal law over personal discretion”. According to Dr Grewal, the most important of these are the idea of equality and the twin doctrine of Guru Granth and Guru Panth. Although, he does not mention “miri-piri”, it may be assumed that the Guru Granth (piri) and Guru Panth (miri) twin track approach to the whole-life ideology of Sikhi, led to the development of the traditional Sikh institutions which stress equality and collective responsibility.

    Guru Nanak Sahib aligned himself with the ordinary people; with “the lowliest of the low”. No matter what their background, class, caste or social status, ordinary people can follow Guru Nanak’s path. For this reason the universality of Guru Nanak’s message for humankind was “the obverse of his idea of equality.” All human beings are equal before One Creator and they are equal before the Guru. Sangat (congregation representing ordinary people) and langar (common kitchen, representing the welfare aspect of sharing) symbolize that equality.

    As these institutions developed, the Guru person began to be replaced by the Guru Bani in Guru Granth Sahib. As the Sikh became more directly linked with Bani and, collectively, as Guru Sangat, assumed the role of the person Guru, the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, completed the process and removed the Guru person completely. There was no place in this system for intermediaries like masands, gurudoms and derawadis. The temporal power was with the Guru Sangat or Guru Panth empowered to interpret the Guru Bani in Guru Granth Sahib and to direct the affairs of the Khalsa Panth. This became the Sikhi version of “democracy” and rule of (impersonal) law which applied equally to all.

    Yet, the rights of the individual were respected and protected as were those of non-Sikhs. Development of the Dal Khalsa institution strengthened the military position of the Khalsa. The clash between the egalitarian Khalsa Panth and the authoritarian and oppressive state, which was increasingly interfering in Sikh affairs, was inevitable. The Panth was finally victorious after a long and ****** struggle, which required great sacrifices. The Sikh organisational discipline based on central values of human dignity and equality before One Creator, withstood the test. The Khalsa subscribed to a code of conduct based on Gurbani teachings as interpreted by the Guru Panth.

    However, according to Dr Grewal “the inheritance of a noble and comprehensive ideal of equality and collective responsibility, which had a kind of potential to develop into a kind of “rule of law” was lost in the rapid process of erecting kingdoms and empires… the Sikh resurgents of the late 19th century had to discover their inheritance all afresh.”
    Looking around at the Sikh institutions today, it seems we have yet to re-discover our rich inheritance.
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