“Ravidassias” or Sikhs? The Vienna incident need not be a distraction from the global remembrance of the 1984 “ghalugharas”, if it marks the beginning of a new awakening in the global Sikh community to eradicate the caste system from within. Khalsa Panth must remain united under one Nishan Sahib, and be guided by One Guru Eternal, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Caste-based derawadi cults in the name of Bhagat Ravidas Ji are an affront to his egalitarian teachings. In the trans-caste galaxy of Bhagats in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Bhagat Ravidas enjoys the same exalted status as the other Bhagats from diverse backgrounds. For the first time in the history of Indian creeds, spiritual attainment was placed above creed, caste or class. Bhagat Ji spoke out against the caste system and the Brahmanic caste supremacy. To return Bhagat Ravidas to a caste based cult system with own temples, is like returning the precious diamond, picked up and placed on a high pedestal by Guru Nanak Sahib, back to the mire of caste-ism. That seems to be the intention of some, who are starting deras (cult centres with sants or guru heads ), and building separate “gurdwaras” in Bhagat Ji’s name. He would have not approved. The website of the Dera Sachkhand (http://www.sachkhandballan.org/home.aspx ) carries the caption, “ Dera Shri 108 Sant Sarwan Das Ji Maharaj Sachkhand Ballan”. The caption is flanked by impressive buildings which look exactly like Sikh gurdwaras. Above the picture of Bhagat Ravidas is the slogan, "Jo Bole So Nirbhay, Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ki Jai", This wording is a direct misappropriation of the Sikh holy jaikara "Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal". In this distortion of words, Bhagat Ji’s name has taken the place of the Timeless Lord (Akal) in the Sikh jaikara. Bhagat Ravidas Ji, a devotee of Akal Purakh, would not have allowed such a sacrilege. Ceremonies like marriages and other rites take place in Ravidas temples in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, where the dera spiritual heads sit on gaddi (cushion, symbolic of spiritual guru authority). They imitate the Sikh Ardaas, do kirtan of hymns from Guru Granth Sahib with emphasis on the shabads of Bhagat Ravidas. In the website, pictures of the spiritual heads of the cult are given in succession order as Pippal Dass, Sarwan Dass, Hari Dass, Garib Dass and Niranjan Dass. Clearly, none of them are Sikhs but with the exception of Sant Garib Dass, the others look deceptively like religious Sikhs with unshorn hair and full Sikh appearance. Wrote Puneet Singh Lamba on a cyber forum, “ What is radical, however, is the manner in which these deras (groups) blatantly and selectively misappropriate the Sikh religion, culture, and symbolism in order to both diminish Sikhism and attract the gullible into their fold.” How very true. It is a sacrilege to see these bhekhdhari sants seat themselves on “gaddi” as rivals to Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the temples of the sect which they call “gurdwaras”, where there is also parkaash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. With the word “Sohun” on their flags replacing the Khalsa Nishan Sahib outside these “gurdwaras”, the deception is complete. Thus they set forth to ensnare unsuspecting marginalised Sikhs with underprivileged backgrounds. Following a series of “dera” related incidents involving bloodshed elsewhere, the incident in Vienna on Sunday 24 May, in a Ravidassia sect centre could have been avoided. The root causes could have been addressed firmly by the Sikh central institutions in Panjab decades ago. The underlying cause has always been the continuation of the out dated caste system amongst the Sikhs. This degrading system should have been abolished altogether as an anti-Sikhi Brahmanic practice. The caste system is totally condemned in Gurbani which includes the teachings of Bhagat Ravidas. Much to the great shame of the Sikh community, the system was practised even in our central institutions like Darbar Sahib until recent times; and today, many gurdwaras are named after castes – a contradiction in itself. Such places cannot be regarded as “doors to the Guru”. Those classified as “low caste” or “dalits” by the Indian religio-cultural environment, continue to be disadvantaged and marginalised. Despite Gurbani teachings, the Sikh institutions like Akal Takht Sahib and the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee remain silent and have done little to eradicate this cancer now spreading rapidly in the community. However, the response from the victims of caste discrimination should have been positive action. They should assert their religious rights as Sikhs, and not set up rival cult-based “gurdwaras” and gurus by copying Sikh symbolism and slogans. Two wrongs do not make a right. Any Sikh link with these “deras” and sects should have been severed from the outset by alert guardians of mainstream Sikh ideology and identity. Once these anti-Sikhi deras have been allowed to take root and link themselves with Sikh identity, the trend becomes increasingly difficult to reverse. Quiescence on the part of the highest Sikh bodies, Sri Akal Takht Sahib and the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee over the decades has been taken as acceptance of the malpractice. The outcome is that those who thrive on divisions and superstitious “derawadi” ritualism, become more daring by the day. The Vienna incident is most unfortunate but does not come as a surprise after so many incidents in Panjab relating to the other gurudoms and sects like the Nirankaris, and more recently, Dera Sacha Sauda followers. A bhekhdhari guru, Darshan Dass was shot in the UK many years ago. Later, there was united Sikh opposition when his followers tried to take out a procession in his memory through the streets of Southall. Bloodshed was avoided. The activities of these cult gurus and babas, pampered by vote seeking politicians of Panjab, are highly provocative and doing much damage to the Sikh image and ideology, identity and unity. Their activities are calculated to challenge and to provoke. Apparently, the sants at Vienna had been preaching along the lines that Guru Nanak's compositions are in Guru Granth Sahib with banis of other Bhagats; then there is nothing wrong in saying that it is bani of Guru Ravidas in Guru Granth Sahib along with other Bhagats ! That is a crude attempt to separate Bhagat Ji from Guru Sahib and other Bhagats. That is divisive talk which can only lead to conflict. Let us be clear. Any “bhekhdhari” guru challenging the status of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji by word or action e.g. by sitting on a gaddi in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, is also knowingly challenging the Khalsa Panth. For that reason, prevention is much safer than finding solutions after ****** incidents like those in Vienna and Panjab recently. The castes which were marginalised by the evil Manuvadic caste system, by adopting Sikhism became the Khalsa Panth. In the 18th century, their sacrifices and acts of courage in setting up and defending the Khalsa raj were legendry. They are part of the Khalsa of the Guru and should continue to assert their Guru given right to so remain and not be misled by un-Sikhi parchaar of deravadi gurudomes. They should return to the mainstream Sikhi fold, and should be supported and welcomed by all Sikhs. The Vienna incident need not be a distraction from the global remembrance of the 1984 “ghalugharas” (pogroms), if it marks the beginning of a new awakening in the global Sikh community to eradicate the caste system from within. Khalsa Panth must remain united under one Nishan Sahib, and be guided by One Guru Eternal, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.