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Educating Sikhs

Nanak Singh Nishtar*

Since 1994, we have been representing before the Andhra Pradesh Backward Classes Commission to include Sikligar community in the list of backward classes, but the list is yet to be finalised. In January 2006, we successfully got included the Sikligar community in Andhra Pradesh list of Central Backward Classes Commission. The State Commission visited their places for physical verification of the facts; I would like to share with you an observation made by the then Chairman, Justice Puttu Swamy. He said, “ We were astonished to see their living conditions. I know the Sikh people spent crores of rupees on festivals and buildings, I can not understand how can they ignore their own brethren like this? ”

This situation is not confined to this particular community only, but most of the common Sikhs are living around the poverty line. To substantiate my contention, I would like to draw your attention towards the Government of India Census 2001, showing the literacy percentage of the Jains 84.1%, Christians 69.46%, Buddhists 62.16%, Sikhs 60.55%, Hindus 54.92% and Muslims 48.05%. Among the Sikhs, the illiteracy is much higher in Punjab. For census purpose, a person is considered literate if he is able to read and write with understanding in any one language; regular education is not necessary. This alarming rate of 39.45% illiteracy among Sikhs is just because of poverty only. This shows that about half of the Sikh population is living in poverty or below poverty line. They are ranked third from the bottom, i.e., slightly better placed than people who do not have shelter on their heads and do not get even one square meal a day. They can not dream of educating their children, and are prone to conversion into other religions due to their attractive incentives. The May 2008 issue of The Sikh Review is an eye opener. An article “ Are Sikhs being targeted for conversions? ”, shows the fact that even after crores of rupees are spent in the name of Guru and Panth every year how terribly are Sikhs being aggressively converted into Christianity in their own home land of Punjab. Let us frankly admit that we have utterly failed in resisting the conversion of our people in other parts of the country as well.

I appreciate some organisations and individuals who are rendering services for the Sikligar people. Their present services are like watering a plant from their own sources, whereas making them avail the benefits is like spreading the plantations at the cost of the Government. It will be more beneficial for the Guru Panth, if they could extend their activities among the under-privileged Sikh people also, whom they need to search and serve. Let us start a crusade against illiteracy and poverty among the Sikhs at our own individual level. Kindly do not blame others for not doing any community welfare activity, just think how much you are capable of doing, which are not doing presently ?

The minorities including Sikhs throughout India are given handsome scholarships by the Government of India from class 1 to 10. Under this scheme, the last date of submitting application is 31st July 2008. Date for submission of applications for post-matric scholarships, up to doctorate level will, be notified shortly. I would like to suggest you to acquire and provide the information to the deserving students, locate, teach and help them to avail all the Government benefits, fixing them within the prescribed framework of the Government.

For availing these opportunities for minority scholarships, the procedure is very simple. The income of the parent should be less than one lakh per annum and the previous final examination marks should not be less then 50%. The candidates of class 1, need not submit any marks. More than 2 candidates from a family are not entitled. For obtaining the religion’s certificate and income certificate one need not go to any tehsildar or any other officer, your personal separate declarations are sufficient. We can visit the website www.minorityaffairs.gov.in for details and application format. We have to just fill up and submit with enclosures to the head of the institution, where the candidate is studying. The offices of every district collector, minority welfare department or Minorities’ Finance Corporation may be in a position to welcome and help you. Now-a-days, information in detail and application format is available on internet and we can visit and download from our own State website also.

Today’s burning topic of the country is the recent agitation of the Gujjar community’s claim for inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes, which took many lives and crores of private and government properties are lost so far. The agitation was started in Rajasthan, and soon spread to the nearby states. From this we can understand the importance and benefits of getting reservations for the community’s welfare. After the Justice Sachar Committee’s recommendations, some of the Muslim communities have been given Backward Class status in almost all the states and the Muslims got reservations in admissions and services.

On these lines, some of our leaders are demanding a committee to be appointed to survey the economic and social status of the Sikhs and inclusion of Sikligar, Banjaras and Satnamis in the list of Scheduled Castes. I am afraid, if such a committee is appointed, we may be losing the advantages for which we are now entitled as a minority at par with Muslims and other minorities of the country. I would like to refer to the constitution of Shah Commission for looking into the discrimination and grievances of the Sikhs. The terms of reference were not in accordance to our demands. Master Tara Singh and the Khalsa Panth rightly boycotted the commission. Even now, if any such committee is appointed, it will meet with the same fate.

I would like to share a few words about Sikligar, Banjara and Satnami Sikhs. The Sikligars have been the keshadhari Sikhs for generations. The Banjaras and Satnamis are Hindus, who when they embraced Sikhism had to be looked after by our people and at the cost of our funds. Initially, when the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were listed and those who embraced Sikhism were kept out from enjoying the privileges. A strong agitation under the able guidance of Master Tara Singh compelled the Government to change its stand. Now the Government of India and all State governments are also extending the benefits to people who embrace Sikhism. Here in Andhra Pradesh, we have successfully represented the cases of converted Sikhs from Banjaras who are listed as Scheduled Tribes and are now enjoying the benefits of the community they belonged to previously. Similarly, throughout the country, we should stand by them and represent their cases for getting the conferred rights and facilities after embracing Sikhism. Banjaras and Satnamis are listed as Backward in some of the States; we should get the list from the Social

Welfare Department and help them to get the government facilities.
The Sikligar community is listed as Scheduled Caste at least in three states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. In most of the other states and Union Territories, the Sikligar community is listed as Backward and eligible for all sorts of reservations in admissions and services, other benefits and scholarships at all levels. Any number of members from a family are eligible for scholarships, no minimum percentage of marks is required for them and a different income limit is also prescribed. The Head of the Institution, District Social Welfare Officer or the District Collector office may be contacted for further details. Now-a-days, information in detail and application format is available on internet and, as mentioned earlier, you can visit and download from your own State website.

Our problem is that we are not aware of utilising the conferred privileges nor we try to get acquainted with any such information which the government is providing to the deserving people for which we the Sikhs are also entitled. In Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, some of the communities of Sikhs are listed as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes. We are not at all bothered to make them avail the government facilities, which will continue for them lifelong and even for their next generation.

Unfortunately, Sikhism has been converted in to a religion of enjoyments, pomp and show in festivals and celebrations to boost the ego of the office-bearers of the leading Sikh institutions, who have become Event Managers for arranging the spectacular shows. The object of Sikhism is for the individual person to change one’s own life style according to Gurmat. Instead of that, we have formed several committees for Kirtan Smagams, Rein Sabais and Yatras to historical places, whereas all these practices are repeatedly condemned in Shri Guru Granth Sahib. We don’t want to spare any time to do social service or at least show the needy Sikhs the right way simply by collecting and passing on the information about schemes for betterment of an individual introduced by the Government or by any other voluntary organisation.

We have a tradition of not learning any lessons from the observations or experiences of others nor from our own. Instead of the fruitless discussion on the role of Sikh organisations and gurdwaras, I would like to draw your attention towards the service you can render in your personal capacity on the basis of “One To One” formula. This is not any imaginary theory, but proved to be most successful outcome based on my personal experiences, experiments and achievements during more than half a century’s working. Kindly make up your mind to donate your offerings to those trusts that serve the poor and disadvantaged instead of dumping your daswandh in the ritualistic manner in the hands of those persons who criminally waste your most valuable contributions for non-productive activities in vulgar show of wealth and strength to boost the image of few individuals.


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