MAKING SPARROWS HUNT THE HAWKS
An advantage Guru Nanak had over Bhakti saints was his high caste background. While Kabir, Nam Dev, Ravdas, Sain etc. were apologetic as if by meditating on God they were intruding into the forbidden preserve of high castes, Guru Nanak could unhesitatingly challenge the spiritual heads of different sects and promote the cause of weaker sections. The priests and the people in authority had to listen to his ethical arguments. Sole criterion for promotion and up gradation employed by Guru Nanak was purely excellence. It was unsullied by personal and emotional considerations. What he picked and chose in this process of selection was merit and quality, whether it was the literature of the saint-poets, the core of the religious traditions or the fitness of a successor. Secular reflections like caste, gender, family or social and sectarian status of the individual were totally ignored
He purposely kept personal issues segregated from the spiritual quest. Mediocre minds may raise issues like non-selection by caste, gender or emotional factors of a spiritual successor or matrimonial alliances within the social fabric as possible instances of relaxation of the standards, but he strictly demarcated the secular from the spiritual. He did not interfere in the succession of his mundane assets to his sons, but applied the spiritual benchmark in selection of Bhai Lehna to succeed him in his mission. The direction to his Sikhs is clear that anyone from any varn/caste can achieve spiritual and intellectual heights. Any claim to superiority due to mere birth is ludicrous. (Updes chohu varna ko sajha.)
From the lofty ideal of the gurdwara being essentially The Gateway to Enlightenment, what we find today is the short-sighted and small minded persons making fiefdoms of the institution, what was selfless community service. Nearer home and in Diaspora, the issue of casteism has assumed alarming proportions, degenerating the basic Sikh concept of a casteless society to the extent of putting the caste above the religion, ignoring the essential dogma of equality in the congregation, the sangat. The malady should have been nipped in the bud but those who should have taken up the cudgels were silent spectators till it burst into a torrent, carrying the sore and disgruntled sections away, so vital to the Panth, relapsing into false practices from which the Gurus had with hard effort emancipated them, the abhorrent idol worship, blind faith, magic and miracle seeking, old superstitions, stagnation in the confines of old brotherhood (bradari) syndrome of varna ashram, stance of ‘individual-before-sangat’ and casting away the sabd-guru in preference to pseudo-sants. The hard work of hundreds of years and unsurpassed sacrifices of the so-called weaker sections in service of the panth is dissolving by a relapse into the stringent web of those who had caste them away as untouchables.
With worldwide presence of the Sikhs in various countries, it has become necessary to establish Sikh management committees to uniformly accord the religious and cultural needs of those communities, to maintain regulatory respect of Guru Granth and Guru Panth. All such regulatory bodies must be approved by Sri Akal Takht and should keep the supreme seat fully posted of all contradictions to sort out.
Firstly, this business of indiscriminate opening of caste-ridden Gurdwaras must stop which has attained the colour of commercial venture without license from a panthic management board; the casteist labels should be strictly taboo. It is sacrilegious and sheer impudence to name a Sikh place of worship associated with any caste or tribe. Moreover, the management of any existing casteist gurdwara must admit and involve with immediate effect all eligible persons available to create multiform/casteless managing committees. It must be remembered that the Sikh Gurus in general and Guru Gobind Singhji in particular outlawed caste as the basic condition to all initiates who are equal in the eyes of the Guru and Creator. The brotherhood that is Sikhism draws its prime strength from the ‘Nash’ doctrine. Those wallowing in caste pride are rebelling against Guru Nanak’s essential structure of ‘sangat’.
The hold of caste and sub-caste is so strong that in deference to the Guru’s instruction to disuse caste and family distinctions, they started using the name of the village/town after their names, forgetting the adage of all belonging to Anandpur, their father as Guru Gobind Singh and the mother, Mata Sahib Devan. It is argued that with the increase in the number of Sikhs, it becomes difficult to identify persons bearing identical names. But it could be a similar situation if there is more than one person from the same village/town. In the times of Misls, there were instances of Jats adopting or appointing non-Jats to succeed them as leaders, totally on the basis of merit. People could freely join any formation irrespective of their past castes and change their allegiance from one misl to the other without restriction. It is a shameful admission that after three hundred years, even the misls have become gotras as rigid as varnas, like Ramgarhias and Ahluwalias with their sub-castes like the pre-Sikh ancestry and this menace is increasing day by day. Now, they have gurdwaras, schools, industrial institutions, shops and other institutions labeled as such, grossly flouting the Guru’s directives.
Like all superstitions of ancient faiths, it is a fallacy to expect that people of one’s own clan or caste behave in an identical way. Each person develops in accordance with one’s circumstances in life and how others around treated him/her and one’s reaction to those experiences. Caste is the stupidest myth evolved. There is definite class consciousness in every society more than the Hindu Varna/caste; the rich and the poor; the well read and the uneducated; the artist and the gourmand; the urban and the rural; the philosopher and the buffoon; the talkative and the silent. There are endless combinations of diametric opposites. It may happen within any society. The class conflict is economic as well as a cultural divide. It is difficult to bridge it merely by belonging to the same spiritual practice as much as the same caste. The priorities and prerequisites of the rich and poor or the urbanite and the rural are, indeed, quite dissimilar and therefore their field of interest vastly differs. What the rural person considers simplicity is taken as lack of sophistication in the urbanites; expressions considered as truthful in village may pass as crude, while the silky speech of city folks is suspected as crafty. The class conflict is usually misunderstood as a caste rivalry.
To celebrate equanimity within the same caste is one of the unfounded myths foisted by the ancient traditions. To maintain strict control on caste categorization, the Hindus have elaborate rules of conduct, Dharma, different for each of the four main divisions, which has sustained their edifice for thousands of years. Surprisingly, similar differentiation is practiced among Muslims, irrespective of the concept of equality in their canon. Culturally the foreign ancestry like Sayyads, Quraishis, Ansaris and other Arabic stock holds them superior to others, followed by families tracing their Turkish, Persian, Afghan, Mughal and any foreign label over the local converts. It makes a difference in matrimonial alliances. Among the Indian Christians, the divide is more pronounced as majority of converts are from Hindu/ Muslim lower strata. It is common to hear a Goan Christian claiming to be “Brahmin Christian,” a status asserting racial superiority. In matrimony (and even in socializing), the Christians as well as Muslims are as sensitive to the background credentials of the suitors as Hindus. The weaker sections find it a strong impediment even when their financial status is equivalent or better than the higher caste suitor. Thus in India, the shadow of the Hindu caste has such a tight hold over other communities, but elsewhere too, the societal differences in education, economic status, traditions and regional habits divide the people.
Caste was rejected outright in Sikhism like many other illusions. A Sikh from any background is rejuvenated on sipping from the common bowl at initiation and loses higher or lower rank in the Sikh society. As stated, cultural or economic differences may persist, which is a social evil to be fought at that level, but caste consciousness has definitely diluted from its old Hindu mould. It is unfortunate that Sikh converts continue to stick to this false notion and it must be condemned by obliterating any mention of caste in name or institution. Guru Gobind Singh amply proved it by raising outcastes and the fourth-rated shudras to heights of intelligence, valour and power, as effective a miracle as any. He did it by simply infusing self-confidence that any objective could be achieved by the Sikh. Those few faithful with their outdated weapons and the so-called rabble scored victories over well disciplined, professional armies. It is a fact that under Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, caste was negated and any scavenger or tanner by joining the Khalsa, was given full respect on his assuming an authoritative appointment, because he was reborn as a ‘Singh’. (That miracle is still working and shall continue to operate.) Similarly, in the field of studies, members of weaker sections, given a chance, scored over higher castes. Caste remained subdued in the Misl period. It is only on the establishment of the Lahore Durbar that a particular section asserted its status of the ruling class and distanced itself from others, weakening the fiber of Sikh ideology. Anybody with such notions, in fact, challenges Guru Gobind Singh’s assertion that all human beings are born equal and his objective to “make the sparrows hunt the hawks.”
Superiority of race, according to the Sikh postulates, is a Brahminical myth and must be shattered. It was strengthened by the Hindu Dogra (Rajput) ministers in the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the virus of superstitions, omens, horoscopes, Hindu rites on birth, weddings and death steadily reintroduced into the simplicity of Sikhism. Scores of our martyrs belong to the so-called outcastes, revered in our daily prayers for their bravery and steadfastness to their faith. We have to decide, as a nation, if we want that miracle to continue to operate for us, as our heritage, or to cling to the baseless and disproved clannish mentality. It has sorely disillusioned Mazhbi and Ramdasia Sikhs, the cherished devotees of our Gurus who offered their lives, families and holdings whatever they were worth, whole-heartedly to the Guru’s cause in the past five hundred years. Signs of their drifting away are a strong warning of our straying from the ideals of a classless society where practice of virtues brings results and not bragging of forefathers. The evil of caste is gripping Sikh society more in allowing caste-based Gurdwaras where even discrimination in serving Prasad is made to the weaker sections, which are now fully aware of their plight and are no more taking it down meekly.
It is the comment of some who have not fully understood the gravity of the prevalent caste hierarchy that the Sikh Gurus should have pressed on with inter-caste marriages within their own families and as a policy in the Sikh Sangat. Matrimonial alliances are the last step in any case, since there are lots of other factors involved in match making, cultural, educational, traditional, family customs and conventions, fiscal and social; caste obliteration is not the sole solution. It has to be kept in mind that the Sikh Gurus never imposed forcibly any edict but put forth suggestions for the devotees to voluntarily adopt the systems and structures. There have been instances when they asked if anyone would come forward to accept alliances in the Sangat. There are many Gurdwaras offering matrimonial prospects and crossing caste barriers depending on other factors. Anyhow, marriage within one’s own caste is no guarantee of smooth sailing as the rising curve of disenchantment and cases of divorce and separation proves.
A beginning has to be made by abolishing the casteist tags which create avoidable fissures in the panth. More than anything else, it promotes clannish pride what the Gurus considered as basic evil of homein.
There are alert bye-standers who take full advantage of this situation of slow disintegration in the Panth. The Gurus have not left any doubts about equality in their blessings to one and all. The gurdwaras must remain non-sectarian and be restored to the status of beacons for the entire community.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All