Role of Intelligentsia in Present Day Crisis-ridden Sikh Society
The Institute of Sikh Studies held a seminar on The Role of Sikh Intelligentsia in the Present Day Crisis-ridden Sikh Society in Chandigarh on Dec. 1 and 2. Many eminent scholars expressed their views on this topic. I was also invited to present a paper.
The Sikh intellectuals should try to understand the causes of the crisis and find solutions to the crisis. There are two main causes of the crisis. First, the crisis is a part of the global crisis. Second, there are internal causes within Sikh Society. The main reasons for global crisis are that the present globalization lacks an ethical aspect as well as a global perspective. There is also an imbalance between the material and spiritual aspects of life. Life is heavily-tilted towards the material aspect, and the spiritual aspect has become so weak that it has, for all practical purposes, disappeared.
The main internal cause is that the Sikh society is facing an ever widening gap between its Sikh principles and its practices. The Universal spirit of the Sikh philosophy is giving up to narrow-mindedness and ritualism. Casteism has re-emerged and is becoming stronger every day. Sometimes, it feels as if the Sikh Society is facing deeper caste divisions even more than the Hindu Society. As opposed to the Guru's teachings, we are putting our historical identity above our ideological identity. The Gurus gave us a clear message that material things alone cannot give us true happiness. However, it seems that the Sikhs are becoming one of the most enthusiastic admirers of western consumerism.
The Sikh religion was started as a religion for the uplifting of the oppressed and the downtrodden. It gave a strong message for social equality and justice. This religion was started for the benefit of Bhai Lalos (the toiling masses). However, Malik Bhagos (the rich and powerful) are gaining more and more control over the religion. Sikh philosophy advocates that we should be motivated by two fundamental principles: Universal concern and Universal welfare. However, we seem to be motivated by anti-others feeling. Before 1947, our leaders seemed to have an anti-Muslim tilt. The community has paid a very heavy price for the decisions made by those leaders. However, now some people among the Sikhs seem to be motivated by an anti-Hindu feeling. This is likely to prove equally wrong.
The root cause for this deviation seems to be de-emphasizing our philosophy, and not understanding fundamental principles of Sikhism. We can give two examples of this phenomenon. The leading community (the Jatts) is showing a tendency to put its historical identity (caste) above its philosophical and ideological identity (Sikh). We can see ample evidence of this phenomenon. Earlier if you asked the question, "Who are you?" The likely answer was, "We are Jatt Sikhs." If you ask the same question today in Punjab, the likely answer is, "We are Jatts." A vast majority of young men have cut their hair. A big majority of girls want to marry clean-shaven boys. Many young men and girls do not like to use Singh or Kaur with their names and only want to use their sub-caste as their last name. All of these reflect a tendency to move away from our Sikh heritage and putting our historical identity above our philosophical identity.
Another example of putting history above philosophy is the emphasis on the concept of a nation or a country before understanding Sikh philosophy and principles. When questioned about this tendency, the answer I got was that the priority for Sikhs should be getting their own home. Once we get our own house, then we will discuss Sikh philosophy. At least to me it appears like putting the cart before the horse. The house for the Sikhs does not mean that it is made of cement and bricks it means a foundation built on Sikh philosophy, Sikh ethics and Sikh morality.
Another example of this phenomenon is that some Sikhs see Jewish community as the role model for Sikhs. They feel that these people control America and they also have their own country. This unprincipled stand denies the fact that every religion is a product of unique historical, geographical, social and cultural conditions, and no two religions can be exactly the same.
The Sikh intellectuals should also understand the role played by the Marxists in Punjab. There is a big similarity of Marxist principles with Sikh principles. Sikhism has three fundamental principles: Kirat Karo (engage in honest and productive work), Naam Jappo (enlighten yourself spiritually), Wand Chako (share your resources for the benefit of society). Marxism has two fundamental principles, Kirat Karo and Wand Chako. There is about 70% similarity. The only difference is of Naam Jappo. However, if we understand Naam Jappo as becoming an enlightened person, then there remains no difference. Moreover, without becoming an enlightened person, you can neither engage in honest and productive work nor you can practice sharing of your resources for the common good. So Marxism is not anti Sikh, it is rather complementary to fundamental Sikh ethos.
Both Marxism and Sikhism consider nature as the ultimate source of all knowledge. Both believe in the theory of evolution of knowledge. It is clear that there is no conflict between Marxism and Sikhism. If we look at the history of evolution of Marxism in Punjab, then it becomes clear that as long as true Marxism was practiced in Punjab, there was no conflict of the Marxists with the Sikhs. Gurudwaras were centers of activity of the Gaddar movement in America because the Gaddri Babas saw no conflict between their being Marxists and Sikhs. Many old Marxists were Amritdhari Sikhs. The first newspaper of the Communist party in Punjab was released with a recital from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The conflict between the two started when we had pseudo-Marxists emerge in Punjab who became anti-Sikh.
When did true Marxists become pseudo-Marxists in Punjab? At first, leadership of the Marxist movement in Punjab came from the ordinary peasantry. These people were firmly grounded among the people and they understood the people very well. However, when the leadership was taken over by the educated lower middle class (petit bourgeois class); they became alienated from the people and degenerated into intellectual elite which almost completely lost contact with the people. This class was orientated more toward western liberalism than their own heritage. The heritage of Punjab is basically Sikh heritage. Therefore, this class started taking anti-Sikh stands.
There are two things which have done maximum damage to Punjab and the Punjabis. These are the Green Revolution and immigration. They have done tremendous damage to Punjab's environment, social relations and stability, cultural, ethical and moral values. They have and are fundamentally changing demographics of Punjab. For example, Chandigarh was built by uprooting people from the villages of Punjab. However, if you go to any village near Chandigarh, you will find that more than 90% of the population is non-Punjabi. What has happened to the Chandigarh area will happen to the rest of Punjab if the present trends of immigration continue.
Punjab's demography will change in three stages. First, exodus of the leading community (Jatts), this is already happening. Second, the Sikhs will become a minority in Punjab, and the third, the Punjabis will be outnumbered by non-Punjabis. In spite of such a serious threat to Punjab and the Punjabis, the pseudo-Marxists still continue to uphold the Green Revolution and continue to support immigration.
I feel that the Sikh intellectuals should deeply study Marxism so that they can differentiate between the true and pseudo-Marxists. The true Marxists will be able to determine the genuine interests of Punjab and the Punjabi people. Like the true Sikhs they are pro-people and pro-nature. On the other hand, pseudo-Marxists are anti-people and anti-nature.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib provides us a comprehensive philosophy of life. It also provides us an alternate model of development to the present western capitalist model. The Sikh religion is the last major religion to come into existence. It came into existence when the capitalist mode of production and the modern age had started. Therefore, the Sikh religion can be truly considered the religion of modern age. It has addressed problems faced by modern man as well as the problems faced by today's world.
The main problems faced by the modern man are: fear, anxiety and feeling of insecurity. All of these have been addressed, and we can take guidance from Sri Guru Granth Sahib on how to deal with these problems. The world today is looking for a truly universal philosophy which can be accepted by everybody. I feel that the philosophy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the only philosophy which can be considered truly universal.
The Sikh intellectuals should promote the concept that whether it is the individual problems of people, or problems faced by mankind or the world, the philosophy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib can help to solve the problems and help us to face the challenges before us. It can also provide the ethical aspect and global perspective to the present globalization, which is missing these elements. The Sikh intellectuals should make the Sikhs aware of the fact that the most precious asset of the Sikhs is the philosophy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which can assure them of a respectable status anywhere in the world.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2019, All