............It is time for the Sikhs to introspect
...................Himmat Singh Gill
................Tribune May 19, 2002
THE Sikhs are but young by birth when compared to other world religions and masses. Outgoing, virile and sure of themselves, they have, in spite of their fewer numbers on the population charts, made their mark in every field connected with Indian society. Humorous by nature and always willing to accept a take on themselves, they have, in the true spirit of the Gurus that they follow, reached out to help out others in the alleviation of their difficulties and distresses. Many of then have lived with the plough from down to dusk, others have served the armed forces of the country with courage and distinction, and yet many more have flourished in business and trade and in rural and urban artisanship. The sardars have been the leaders and have been looked up to with respect. In the public perception, a Sikh generally could do no wrong, and would ever let down anyone once he has given his word.
The Kashmiri Pandits received succor at their hands during the days of the great Gurus and during the Partition of 1947. They protected their other Punjabi brethren as an article of their faith and calling. They fought the Mughals, the Afghans and the British, and the only time an Indian king held power and sway till as far as distant Herat on the Iran border was during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
Later on, the British rewarded them for services rendered in the Army during the two world wars, and the Sikhs went on to reclaim the wastelands in present-day Pakistan by constructing canals and irrigation systems and brought fortune and prosperity to the sturdy peasantry in the whole of north India. The Sikhs could not have had it any better.
The Partition first, and then 1966, 1978 and 1984 put an abrupt end to the special standing and station of the Sikhs. 1947 saw the land of the five rivers break up in two, with two of the rivers being partitioned away with all their irrigation and hydel power. The loss of land, life, business, home and hearth was unimaginable for all the Punjabis. The cruellest cut for the Sikhs is that they have been forsaken and left to fend for themselves by their own so-called leaders, writers and intellectuals. Happy in their pelf, power and luxury, the majority of them neither lead, nor raise their voice for the betterment of their people. More concerned with their chairs and the growth of their offspring in political life, the leaders have abdicated their responsibilities and charter.
Most of our writers and intellectuals are more concerned about awards and Rajya Sabha memberships. The Sikh leaders have always been very gullible and short-sighted, with few clues about statesmanship and vision. Master Tara Singh got short-changed by Nehru when India gained Independence, Sardar Baldev Singh was only a passenger at the London Transfer of Power talks, Swaran Singh was always suitable because he never talked, and none of the present-day leaders, political or religious, can be said to be far-sighted visionaries.
Everyone knows how and why Punjab was chopped up in 1966 with the resultant state hugely truncated in size and resources. Then in 1978, the Akali-Nirankari clash, engineered by a political party to unseat another, sowed the first seeds of strife and disharmony. The Anandpur Sahib Resolution coming in at about this time created suspicion in the minds of the non-Sikh Indians. The ever-present bitter struggle between the Akalis and the Congress in Punjab, and the greed of the Congress at the Centre led to the dysfunctional Rajiv-Longowal Accord, and, finally, in the monstrosity of an Operation Bluestar.
In all this, the Akalis have never realised that they will never have a future in India unless they better their performance and become an All-India party from the regional one that they are. The Sikhs in the Congress have long forgotten their Punjab. Thus, for one reason or the other, the voice of the Sikh in Punjab and much of the rest of the country is heard in a feeble and "unauthoritative" note.
Today, the Sikhs find themselves at the cross-roads of a decision-making process, and they will have to think with care. The first and the foremost is the question of their identity— the debate on the Amritdhari and the Sehajdhari Sikhs on one plane, and the way they should look, on another. For a young religion to grow both the strains would need to be welcomed, and as a complementary follow up, it would need to be examined by all Sikhs whether in the voting for the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandak Committee, the SGPC, the Sehajdharis are to be considered or not. This is not the case today. This is not a thing one can or should do in a day, but the Sikhs must start considering a larger representation in the SGPC. The question is that if a Sehajdhari Sikh can enter a gurdwara and pray, should he not be permitted entry into a Parbandak or Administrative committee,too?
The other facet of identity, the visual one, is the turban. It is sadly being gradually replaced by caps and patkas of assorted sizes and shapes. A Sikh is required to wear a turban and not a cap, even if it is made of cloth. He can wear a cloth patka at home, but not outside, as many of our cricketers, policemen and many of our Sikh soldiers in the Army are doing. This is a flouting of the dress code and violators need to be reined in. Along with this, the suffixing of the Singhs and the Kaurs along with Sikh names would be a step in the right direction as it adds a distinctive identity and harms no one.
The role and the functioning of the SGPC. and the Shiromani Akali Dal, SAD, too needs a deeper look. The SGPC is supposed to administer the gurdwaras, train granthis, publish literature and execute a host of other worldly chores. Its performance has often been lacklustre. Even within the country, the SGPC’s hold is restricted to an odd state or two, and they have just no control over the gurdwaras in other states, much less in Pakistan or other countries. These are important matters of jurisdictional control and the SGPC and the SAD must take it up with the central government for a speedy resolution. In my view, the new All India Gurdwara Act needs to cover the whole country. The SGPC should also construct more and more hospitals, schools, engineering and medical colleges and defence universities where the Sikh youth should get priority admission rights.. The SGPC should have a new system of intake in which the old are replaced by young blood from time to time. It is meant to administer Sikh institutions and gurdwaras and would function better if it stayed away from the Akali Dal politics. It should never get into any controversy with the revered Akal Takht, which occupies an unparalleled and supreme position of its own in Sikh psyche and faith.
The Akal Takht forms the bedrock of the Sikh religion. The Sikh maryada, the hukamnamas and riding those that preach apostasy are all matters that fall squarely under its gaze and no interested party should be permitted to interfere in these issues. It is for the Akal Takht to take a note of the many ‘deras’ that have sprung up over the years and enforce one uniform religious code for all the Sikhs to follow. Thus, the appointment of the jathedar of the Akal Takht and the Singh Sahiban assumes an all-time importance and any inroads into their status and station must be studiously avoided.
The days of the morchas and the dharam yudhs are long past. We tend to live too much in our past glory. In the days of the computer and the internet, we will have to prove ourselves and set examples. Clean and honest visionaries, who are thoroughly apolitical, must be sent to our legislatures and Parliament, and appointed to the higher seats of learning. Anyone found to be corrupt must be exposed in public.