Opinion An Urgent Sectarian Crisis Ahead For Sikhism? Why?

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Jun 17, 2004
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Holier Than Thou[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Sikhism is facing an urgent and violent sectarian crisis. Why?[/FONT]

[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][/FONT][FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]IN A LITTLE over two years, sectarian violence has engulfed Punjab and certain areas of Haryana for the second time. Hopefully, like the previous incident, this one too will be brought under control. Yet, this once again underlines the explosive nature of the caste divide that permeates Punjab.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Recurrence of such incidents at frequent intervals brings back horrendous memories of the late 1970s, when sectarian violence concerning Nirankari sect spiraled a ****** phase of terrorism in the border state.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]While two years ago, it was the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda which was at the centre of the controversy, this time it is the 109-year old Dera Sachkhand Ballan. The provocation for the violence in Punjab was the armed attack on the dera head, Sant Niranjan Dass and his deputy, Sant Ramanand in Vienna, Austria on Sunday (May 24, 2009). The two leaders, who were in Austria to conduct a special service, were attacked by people reportedly affiliated to another Sikh gurdwara in Austria. While Ramanand succumbed to his injuries the following day, Niranjan Dass is recuperating from gunshot wounds in a Vienna hospital.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Though full details of the incident and identity of the attackers is not known, the attack reflects the failure of the Indian diplomatic mission in Austria, which should have been more alive to the simmering differences between Sikh groups in that area. Moreover, in the wake of the possible fallout in Punjab, it should have sounded an alarm back home as soon as the incident took place. Had the government in Punjab been alerted well in time, a curfew could have been imposed in the affected areas on Monday morning. Failure to do so resulted in damage to government property running into several crores.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Although the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, who founded the Khalsa, had included all sections of society, including dalits, into the Sikh fold, sectarian divide is most pronounced in Sikhism today. There are more than two dozen sects and nearly a hundred deras who owe allegiance to Sikhism in some form or another, but have their own distinguishing characteristics. Many of them have living Gurus, which is anathema to mainstream Sikhs, who consider the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru ordained.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]One such sect is Dera Sachkhand, which was originally called Dera Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Dass Ji Maharaj Sachkhand. Its followers (Ravidasi Sikhs) adhere to the teachings of Sant Ravidas, a 15th century untouchable preacher, whose bani (teachings), like that of many other preachers across different religions at the time, form a part of the Guru Granth Sahib. Yet, when discrimination against the dalits continued in gurdwaras, separate Ravidas gurdwaras started surfacing in the middle of the 20th century, where portraits of Guru Ravidas are also displayed. According to one estimate, there are 75 gurdwaras of Ravidasias abroad.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Mainstream Sikhs, especially the radical elements among them, are piqued with the Dera Sachkhand on a number of counts. For instance, most Ravidasias, who do not sport a turban, insist on referring to their places of worship as ‘gurdwaras’, where the Guru Granth Sahib is worshipped. Soon, ideological differences too cropped up when dera followers started believing in a living Guru — Sant Niranjan Dass enjoys that status now — an issue on which Sikhs are extremely touchy. Earlier, differences with Dera Sacha Sauda came to the fore when its head, Ram Rahim Singh was accused by Sikh groups of trying to copy Guru Gobind Singh in dress and form.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Many of the two dozen sects and hundreds of deras have living Gurus, anathema to mainstream Sikhs[/FONT] [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Incidentally, the mainstay of most other Sikh deras and sects are either the dalits or the poor. Among the reasons for their mass appeal are the dera-run charitable institutions like hospitals and schools.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Since these deras also emphasise education and condemn child marriage and drug abuse, they are seen by the poor as a panacea for their misfortunes. Properties of these sects dot not just Punjab but almost all states in north India. Moreover, they are liberal in the form of Sikhism they practice.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Political observers in Punjab feel that the recent incident should act as a wake-up call to the government and religious organizations like the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) to start the process of social reconstruction in the state. Late Prof Teja Singh, in his treatise Essays on Sikhism, argued for the need to take all sects into the wider fold of Sikhism. However, this advice had few takers. In the late 1970s, when the Nirankari sect clashed with the Sikh groups, reconciliation efforts were initiated. But they did not fructify.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]SGPC has been cagey on initiating reforms for fear of drawing flak from orthodox elements. Also, SGPC leaders feel that any relaxation of the norms on Sikh identity could weaken the Khalsa identity and would result in more people opting out of the form of Sikhism as ordained by the tenth Guru. In fact, a decision on the issue of the Shahajdhari Sikhs being given the same rights as the Keshadhari Sikhs (baptised Sikhs) is pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. A girl student, who was denied admission in an SGPC-run medical college for having trimmed her hair, had moved the court.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Widening the schism is the still prevalent separatist tendency among the Sikh diaspora abroad[/FONT] [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Another underlying reason for the SGPC’s reluctance to introduce reforms and provide acceptability to other sects is the fear that it could drastically alter the power equation within the SGPC, which acts as a handmaiden of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) in Punjab. They worry that power would slip out of their grip. SGPC is already out of reckoning in Delhi’s gurdwara politics and the demand to have a separate gurdwara body in Haryana too is growing. As Sikhs move to different parts of the world, independent streaks are becoming more pronounced. For example, a gurdwara in Europe has decided to modify the ardas (daily Sikh prayer), which the SGPC leaders resent.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Widening the schism is the continuing separatist tendency among powerful sections of the Sikh diaspora abroad. In many places abroad, especially Canada, gurdwaras are controlled by radical Sikhs. Many left Punjab at the height of militancy when there was a crackdown by the security forces, forcing them to seek political asylum abroad. This includes Canada and a number of European countries. This has a great destabilising factor, especially when there is comparative peace back home in Punjab, as in the recent case.
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[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Fortunately, Punjab has come a long way since its earlier violent phase when politics, both at the Centre and in the state, added fuel to the fire, unmindful of the suicidal repercussions. Now, the UPA government at the Centre and the SAD-BJP government in Punjab appear to have wisened to the fact that if they play with fire, the consequences are dangerous. [/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]WRITER’S EMAIL
sankanwar@gmail.com
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Feb 19, 2007
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Delhi India
Narayanjot ji,

First of all, I wish to point out that this e mail probably predates the decision of Punjab & Haryana High Court about which I have already mentioned in different threads. After detailed learned arguments, the court has given a clear verdict that only Sabat Soorat Sikhs (total keshdharis are Sikhs) Even women who pluck their eyebrows cannot be considerd as Sikhs.

A Gursikh is one who:

  • Recognizes Guru Granth Sahib as his/her Guru.
  • Has 5ks and does not contemplate discarding them.
  • Does Simran, Kirit and Vand Chakh.
Others who only partly adhere to the above cannot be considered as Gursikhs whatever else they may be. These are the basic and core issues which cannot be compromised .

It is also unfortunately true that a large number of Sikhs practice casteism, strictly forbidden by the Gurus. This because the controling elite of Akali Dal and SGPC are subtley castesist. The lower casts have practically no say running of Sikh affairs. Hence they set up their own Gurudwaras. The higher castes were until recently quite smug about it, until they discovered that many devotees had now shifted to these Gurudwaras.

The contolling elite will have to make sincere afforts to bring them back into their fold.

Another contentious issue is that of a living Guru. There is a lot of confusion being created in the concept of a living Guru and that of a Sant. A Sant acknowledges and accepts Guru Granth Sahib as the only Guru of the Sikhs and treats himself as only as guide for ordinary Sikhs. He does not allow himself to be worshipped. There are innumerable praises sung in favour of genuine Sant in Guru Granth Sahib. Guru granth Sahib actively discourages criticism and illtreatment of a genuine Sant. In Sukhmani Sahib the complete 13th Ashtpadi is devoted against crticism or ill treament of a Sant.

So I think ther is no confusion in the basics of Sikhism.

Gurufateh

Harbans Singh
 

Hardas Singh

(previously Satyadhi)
SPNer
Feb 20, 2007
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I agree with Harbansj24,

I have no problem accepting minor doctrinal differences among different Sikh groups, but when they start having living gurus or following caste system or say that amrit is no longer important then they should not be recognized as Sikhs. We should still show love and compassion to these people and avoid violence when possible, but we must be clear that if you refuse to follow all of the teachings of our 10 human Gurus and only them then you are not a Sikh.
 

Hardas Singh

(previously Satyadhi)
SPNer
Feb 20, 2007
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Well, personally I still call Sikhs who cut their hair Sikhs as long as they realize the importance of amrit and kesh and are working towards recieving those gifts at some point in the future. On the other hand, I wouldn't consider a person who says there is no need for anyone to keep kesh or take amrit anymore a Sikh. Just my opinion...

Some Sikhs may be 60 or 70 etc and still be working towards taking Amrit. I have no idea why it would take them that long, but as long as they are working towards that goal.
 
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