Khushwant Singh Caste wars THE RECENTeruption of violence among sikh groups in Vienna and its repercussions in Punjab reminded me of a Punjabi saying: Where there is one Sikh, there is one Sikh; Where there are two Sikhs, there is a Singh Sabha; Where there are three Sikhs, there is rawla-rappa (turmoil) When I first went to Vienna, I did not see a single fellow Sikh in the week I spent in the city.On my second visit a few years later I was told by our embassy officials that a few Sikhs had been given asylum bythe Austrian government because they claimed they had fled India as they were followers of Sant Bhindranwale and would be eliminated by the Indian police if they stayed on. They had formed a Singh Sabha and set up a Gurdwara. They were Jat Sikhs. Later, other Sikhs followed who were largely non-Jat belonging to Scheduled Castes. They did not feel comfortable going to a Jat Sikh run gurdwara and set up one of their own down the same street. The inevitable rawla-rappa followed. When a sant, head of the sect of the second gurdwara went on a visit, Sikhs of the first gurdwara stormed in, assaulted the head and killed his aide. The victim’s followers in Punjab went on the rampage in many cities — Jalandhar, Amritsar, Ludhiana,Patiala — and set fire to buses, trains, public and private property. The Prime Minister appealed for peace and reminded them that Sikh Gurus condemned caste distinctions and preached community harmony. It fell on deaf ears because there is no truth in the assertion that Sikhs do not have a caste hierarchy.As a matter of fact, they pay lip service to a caste-less society, but in practice subscribe to it. Its vicious hold is not seen in cities or large towns, but is found in the countryside: separate gurdwaras, separate wells and separate localities. Caste-intermarriages which are rare even among the well-to-do and educated are unknown in villages. That is the principal reason why hundreds of derasheaded byBabas and Sants flourish all over Punjab and Haryana. They welcome people of all castes as well as Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The Granth Sahib is read and revered;however the focus of attention is a Babaji or Santji. The one attacked in Vienna is the creation of followers of Sant Ravi Das,who was a chamar (cobbler) and whose hymns are incorporated in the Granth Sahib.