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Divided We Stand

Discussion in 'Essays on Sikhism' started by Aman Singh, Apr 2, 2005.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh
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    Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    There are two kinds of Sikhs in the world: kattarhs (hard-core, often unquestioning, sometimes rigid, committed believers) and cutters - those who challenge, but often without studying or practicing.

    If there is any room for generalization to be applied to the types of 'groups' that have appeared in Sikh circles following the punthic issues of the recent past, the above can be considered to be the closest one. Various issues, ranging from the authority of the Reht Maryada, the Sikh Code of Conduct, to the institution of lungar to issues concerning writers like Gurbaksh Singh (Kala Afghana), have seen these two groups locking horns.

    Apart from being interesting, an analysis of the two camps may help to understand some of the issues and their consequences. Kattarhs are those who want Sikhi to be followed and propagated in a traditional way, not questioning the scriptures, and abiding by the authority of the Akaal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs.

    The other group, the cutters, wants Sikhi to be propagated in a 'modern' and 'contemporary' form, accepting every claimant to be a Sikh irrespective of whether they fall into the definition given in the Reht Maryada. The first salvo by this group is fired on the age-old traditions and even the scriptures that are a part and parcel of the Sikh community. This group regards Sikh traditions as Brahminical rituals such as were prevalent during the times of the Guru Sahibs and were condemned by them. Thus, cutters try hard to convince people to get rid of such practices. The infamous, ex-communicated writer Gurbaksh Singh is an example of such an advocate.

    Sikh Reht Maryada

    The first issue of debate between these two groups is the Sikh Reht Maryada, which was accepted by the Sikh punth in 1945 after more than 13 years of deliberations involving Sikhs from all over the world.

    Kattarhs respect the Reht Maryada as the word-of-law and consider it as a hard fetched document that the community got after many years of struggle. For Cutters, the Reht does not hold any credibility. According to them, because it is not the word of the Guru, it can be changed and even trespassed. Sometimes they go a step further and criticize it.

    The reason to reject the Reht is simple - once this well accepted document is rejected and made void, it will be easier to attack the Sikh scriptures and Sikh traditions. There are many examples of a head of state being granted immunity from legal procedures but to deliberately reject the law before breaking it is somewhat absurd. Reprobating the Reht is un-knitting a well designed framework of rules and regulations accepted by the punth in the most democratic possible way.

    Kulraj Singh, who translated the Reht Maryada into English, writes in the Preface, "The Sikh Reht Maryada, as the ensuing preface to the original Punjabi text will show, is the product of collective Punthic wisdom. What is more, some of the greatest Sikh scholars and savants of all times contributed to it and deliberated on its contents. So this work should take precedence on any sectional beliefs and preferences. In a wider context, the contents of the Reht Maryada should be taken as the final word as to the matters they deal with. That will foster punthic cohesion."

    Sikh Traditions and Customs

    Another bone of contention between the two groups is the concept of faith. What is faith to the first group is sometimes considered blind-faith by the second.

    The difficulty in differentiating between faith and blind-faith is not new to the Sikhs, especially to the youth, for whom Sikhi is and has to be propagated with utmost rationality. This is understandable because there is a very thin line that separates the two.

    Once, while sitting at the Gurudwara in the University in Amritsar, I was asked by a new comer what I thought acts such as taking the charan dhoor, kissing the manji, bowing in front of the Guru Granth Sahib again and again - genuine questions that concern a lot of youngsters and hence deserve a satisfactory answer.

    The only answer that I can think of is that such acts are an expression of shardha - love and devotion. We all love our mothers, but the intensity and our ways of expression are different. Some prefer to hug, others kiss and hug again and again and some others just refrain from either of these. Similarly, we have to see everything that we and others do, in the practice of faith, through the eyes of love. Once love goes out of our expression and greed comes in, faith becomes blind-faith and everything degenerates to ritualism and superstition.

    'Revolutionary' writers

    Frustrated by the pathetic state of Sikh polity and its inability to guide the community on important issues and followed by a constant fear of big-brother intimidating and undermining the Sikh identity, some Sikh writers take extreme steps. For them everything they see in the practice of Sikhi - be it Sikh traditions, customs or even scriptures - is adulterated. Without considering the consequences of their writings, either on the psyche of common Sikhs or on the organizational institution of the punth, such writers do more damage than help in the resolution of issues. The uproar in the Sikh community on the writings of Gurbaksh Singh that lead to his ex-communication is a recent example.

    Again, the two camps are divided on this issue. Cutters consider these writings revolutionary and that they instill the essence of rationality in the Sikhs. For kattarhs, these writings are blasphemous, a slanderous attempt to demolish one's own house in the guise of constructing a wall with the neighbors. For them, these writers in Sikhi saroop but with the same ideology as communists are doing extreme damage. According to them the communists talked of filling the sarovar around Durbar Sahib and growing grain on it and these writers talk of the same thing but in a different tone.

    Confusion between faith and blind-faith drives these controversies. Without giving a second thought, some of us reject all Sikh traditions just because everything is seen as a deliberate attempt by the 'enemy' to diffuse the Sikh identity. But what those who subscribe to this school of thought forget is that Gurbani is the ultimate source of education on the values of Sikhi and Gurbani teaches us to be rational. Following the path of Guru's rationality is Gurmat. Today, Sikhs take this liberty from Gurmat and define rationality according to their own beliefs, or munmut. If we need any guidance, Gurbani is there to help us out. But the attempt by these writers to highjack Gurbani and misuse it in order to harm the very structure of Sikhi is unacceptable.

    We also have to consider the fact that in Sikhi there is emphasis on the concept of organizational institution, the punth. If this is not to be undermined then we need to respect the way an institution is run, which means that no one as an individual should comment on or criticize any aspect of Sikhi be it traditions or scriptures that has found a firm ground among the Sikh masses.

    Sikhs have suffered a lot in the recent past. They have been deceived by the punthic leaders again and again. They need to be lifted. The youth is confused. The absence of Sikh media has forced them to be attracted towards Western culture. The lack of teaching Sikh history at a higher plane in schools has made them less interested in Sikhi. They question the importance of religion in general and the Sikh saroop in particular. They need to be rejoined to Sikhi. The 'revolutionary' writers and their writings will not help. They will only add oil to the burning fire in the youth.

    Love for the Gurus and love and faith in what they achieved and bestowed upon us, (Sikhi), love and pride in the traditions (Maryada), has to be instilled in the youth. Love and faith are the strong and firm foundations on which the structure of Sikh rationality can stand. Rationality alone, wearing the robe of atheism and apostasy, is knocking on our doors.

    Ripudaman Singh is a PhD student at the Institute of Human Genetics, University of Aarhus in Denmark
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  3. devinesanative

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    Sep 11, 2005
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    Panthic Differences can be reconcilled , but the new differences may crop up which will divide sikhs on region basis.

    As , Sikhs are present World Over , It has been observed that sikhs living abroad consider themselves to be superiors to the Sikhs living in India.

    More over, they have a pre concieved concept that if any sikh tryies to communicate them , then he/she is communicating them to befriend and easy route to go abroad.

    This immatue thinking may divide the sikhs into different regions.
  4. Sinister

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    May 4, 2006
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    THAT IS SOOOOO TRUEE!!!!! very well put
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