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If It Looks Like A Duck And Quacks Like a Duck …
Article 25 Of The Constitution of India:
Why Blame Others?

Dr JOGISHWAR SINGH

 

 

 


THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 146



I have noticed that every time elections take place in Punjab, the ruling Akali Dal party ratchets up its talk about demanding a change to Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

A lot of song and dance is made about the immediate necessity of changing the text of this Article to recognise the distinct identity of the Sikhs. However, once the elections are over and done with, the crescendo of noise on this subject very quickly fades away, only to be resuscitated when the next elections approach, either in the mandated time of five years or earlier if the rulers call for early elections.

This ritual has been amusing me ever since the age of 18 or so which means that this parody of a defence of Sikh identity has been going on for over 45 years.

To better quantify what I am writing about, I would like to present the readers of this piece with the full text of Article 25 of the Constitution of India, taken from the official Indian government website. Here it is:



25 (1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to express, practice and propagate religion.

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law:–

(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;

(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.


Explanation 1: the wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.

Explanation II: - In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.


It is not possible to estimate how many tonnes of ink have been put to paper discussing this issue of including Sikhs as Hindus in Explanation II of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

Self-appointed guardians of Sikh identity, whose personal lives are in total contradiction to the principles laid down by our glorious Gurus, cry themselves hoarse about how they will fight to get this absurdity of Article 25 rectified if they are elected.

Then they get elected and forget all about doing something about it till the next election comes along when the whole vaudeville starts again.

Thinking about this issue has made me examine a more fundamental point.

Do Sikhs of today have the moral right to claim that this Article 25 of the Constitution of India does not accurately reflect ground reality as mirrored by present-day Sikh society?

This leads me to examine the state of Sikh society today. Let us take up different aspects, one after the other.

Much of Sikh society today is caste-ridden, just like Hindu society. I constantly hear Sikhs proudly explaining to foreigners who ask about the differences between Hinduism and Sikhism that the Sikh religion does not recognise the division of society on the basis of caste.

This makes me laugh. Apart from maybe a small enlightened minority, most Sikhs are prone to caste prejudices. The only difference is that while Hindu society has Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, Sikh society has Jutts, Khatris, Aroras, Mazhbi Sikhs and what have you. The nomenclature might be different, the prejudice is very much similar.

Many Sikhs do not even use the name ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’ these days, using just a first name and their caste name as family name. They negate the gift of social equality handed down to us by our Tenth Master whose life of sacrifice for the Khalsa Panth should have elevated this gift of the names ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ to an unchallengeable status.

‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ are being abandoned in the name of so called integration into western or other countries. Such abandon displays a total lack of knowledge about our past and what these names represent.

The Toms, Dicks and Harrys masquerading as Sikhs wear thick steel karras while mouthing slogans of Khalistan in several cases, without having even a basic understanding of what ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ have represented in history as cornerstones of a distinct Sikh identity by total rejection of the caste system, a major characteristic of the organisation of Hindu society.

Not only do these hyphenated “Sikhs” not understand the reasoning behind our Tenth Master’s blessing us with ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ as our family names, they also abandon the distinct physical identity which was conferred on us to make us stand out as members of the Khalsa, a revolutionary effort at empowerment of the downtrodden sections of traditional Hindu society.

The Tenth Master said: “Khaalsa méro roop hai khaas; Khaalsey mé haun karon nivaas” - 'The Khalsa uniquely embodies me; I dwell in the Khalsa.'

Reading or even writing these words electrifies my being even at my present age. How many young or even not so young Sikhs today have a distinct outward identity distinguishing them from being taken as Hindus?

This fact was brought home to me last year in a stark manner in Geneva, where I work. Sikh human rights groups from the US, Canada and some other countries had organised a protest march in front of the United Nations office, demanding redressal of various grievances.

Some Swiss journalist friends of mine went to cover this demonstration because they are interested in matters concerning Sikhs after knowing me personally. They were surprised to find that a large number of speakers, even the main spokesperson, did not even have the Sikh identity. They asked me to explain how people who did not even look like Sikhs, who do not have the gumption to follow the teachings of the Tenth Master, could represent Sikhs.

I am not condemning anybody here, just narrating a surprise expressed by my Swiss journalist friends.

The point being made is that fewer and fewer Sikhs have a physical appearance making them different from Hindus.

Let us consider other aspects of modern day Sikh society.

The female infanticide ratio in Punjab, even amongst its Sikh population, is one of the highest in the country, after states like Haryana and Rajasthan. I do not have the precise figures but several articles that I have read firmly place Punjab in the top five states in what concerns female infanticide.

These statistics are very much similar to those of Hindu majority states in North India.

Even outside India, Sikh households display a distinct bias in favour of male children, in total contradiction to what our Gurus tried to pull us away from. The birth of a male child is a cause of joyous festivities while the birth of a female child might not cast a pall of gloom but certainly does not lead to much celebration from what I have seen in practice.

How are Sikhs different from others in this male child oriented preference?

A look at the matrimonial columns in any Indian or Indian diaspora oriented newspaper, apart from being one of the finest examples of unintended humour, easily reveals the caste ridden character of current Sikh society.

Jutt girls are looking for Jutt boys, preferably clean shaven; Arora girls are looking for Arora boys, Khatri girls are looking for Khatri boys.

Where are the teachings of Sikhi in all this? There is no difference at all in the matrimonial advertisements between Sikh families and Hindu families. Both look for fair skinned partners from mostly the same caste groups.

No girl or boy is ever dark in these. They might be “wheat complexioned” but never dark. If some extraterrestrial were to read these matrimonials, he/she would think that no dark skinned people exist in any Indian or Indian origin communities!

No distinction of any social sort can be discovered between Hindu and many Sikh communities in what concerns these every day crucial matters.

Sikh society is as dowry ridden as Hindu society, if not worse. Some of the most crass and disgusting displays of bad taste and drunken boorish behavior that I have ever seen in my life have been at Sikh weddings. Such weddings have basically just been occasions to flaunt wealth and gadgets.

Sikh Gurus’ teachings are injunctions to simple living, simplicity, humility. Sikh weddings these days are total contradictions of such values. A whole plethora of ceremonies have been added to prolong the displays of wealth and occasions to get drunk. Instead of Sikh weddings being a matter of a simple Anand Kaaraj early morning in a Gurdwara, Many Sikhs now have ceremonies like “roka”, exchange of rings, “aakhaa”, wedding reception and what have you.

I don’t even remember the names of such numerous ceremonies, totally destroying the pristine simplicity of an early morning Anand Kaaraj with the sublime verses of the “laavans”. I fail to discern any difference in wedding invitation cards sent for Sikh or Hindu weddings. Some of them look like mini novellas, consisting of eight to ten pages in thick, red/crimson colour.

Instead of the simplicity preached by our Gurus, the motto seems to be, “If you have it, flaunt it”.

Another point which we Sikhs keep pointing out as a difference to Hinduism is that Hindus indulge in idol worship while we do not. I do not buy this argument any more. We may not be worshipping idols in the form of stone statues but I can show you innumerable examples of Sikh households where pictures of Sikh Gurus are practically worshipped. Sikhs bow in front of such pictures which are pure figments of the artists’ imagination. I have even seen Sikhs praying to such pictures for this or that boon.

Is this not idol worship? Sikhs put earthen lamps in thaalis to do aarti in the evenings. For those who do not believe this, I can tell them to go to even one of our Takhts to see such a ceremony for themselves.

We are excellent at declaiming how we are different from Hindus but in practice we are very poor at staying true to the quintessence of Sikhi.

I know of so many Sikh families where the women keep fasts like Karva Chauth.

They perform exactly the same ceremonies as Hindu women do on such occasions. I have no problem with people fasting for health reasons but fail to see the logic of doing this as a religious practice on specified dates when Gurbani clearly highlights the uselessness of such rituals for attaining salvation.

We Sikhs have failed in a major way to keep ourselves free from the shackles prevalent in a caste- and ritual-ridden Hindu society which dates from a much longer period.

Lakshmi Pooja at Diwaali is prevalent in innumerable Sikh households. Sikh families go regularly on pilgrimages to Hindu shrines like Vaishno Devi, Mansa Devi and other places. They perform exactly the same rituals at these shrines like Hindus. Any visitor to these shrines can notice this fact.

Our Tenth Master expressly forbade us from following any living Guru after his demise. He designated the Guru Granth Sahib as our Guru thenceforth for eternity.

How do we reconcile this with the innumerable Sikh followers of Sants, Babas, Deras and charlatans in Punjab and outside Punjab? Such deras have mushroomed all over Punjab and other states in North India. Sikhs living abroad are prone to the same fallacy. They travel to India to specially visit such places to get the “mantra” from their living Guru, totally ignorant of the sublime universal message of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Such credulous Sikhs, behaving just like credulous Hindus or others, allow such charlatans to maintain opulent lifestyles, preaching a mish mash of instant salvation formulae.

As is stated in the Guru Granth, the path of Sikhi is sharper than the edge of a sword, it is narrower than such an edge and this is the path we have to walk on. We cannot do so by going shopping in the present day super mall of instant salvation promising charlatans. We have turned into ignorant beings who are ignoring the jewel of a teaching which our eternal Guru provides us.

We Sikhs have abandoned our traditional democratic decision-making forums like the Sarbat Khalsa which had been a hallmark of our distinctive separate identity. These forums exist in name but are corrupted parodies of the participative democracy which was our strength in the dark days when ruling powers were trying to eliminate Sikhs in Punjab.

How is Sikh society of today different from Hindu society in what concerns its decision-making forums or procedures? How is the conduct of Sikh politicians any different from the conduct of Hindu or other politicians?

Are Sikh politicians more honest, do they apply the principles of Sikhi to their daily lives?

So why are we so bothered by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution when our society and our daily conduct show no distinction from others?

I believe that if we Sikhs were to follow the teachings of our Gurus, rid our society of the evils which our Gurus tried to eliminate, only then would we have a proper justification for demanding recognition of our distinct identity under Article 25.

Otherwise it is a weak demand based on bogus premises for purely electoral reasons.

In conclusion, I am reminded of an axiom in English, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck”.

I modify it slightly to encapsulate what I believe to be an accurate description of much of present day Sikh society: “If it looks like a non-Sikh, acts like a non-Sikh and is named like a non-Sikh, it must be a non-Sikh”.


THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 146

The above is a cri de coeur -- a cry straight from the heart -- from the author.

What are your thoughts on the issues raised by him? 



[Dr. Jogishwar Singh was with the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) before leaving India in 1984, the year of cataclysmic events for Sikhs in India. With an M.Sc. (Hons School) in Physics and an M.A. in History from Panjab University, Chandigarh, he did his D.E.S.S. at Sorbonne in Paris, followed by a Ph.D. from Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany. Now a Swiss citizen based in Le-Mont-sur-Laussanne, he is serving as a Managing Director with the world famous Rothschild Group in Geneva, having earlier served as Senior Vice-President, ING Bank, Switzerland and Director with the Deutsche Bank Switzerland.]  

March 15, 2015
 

Conversation about this article

1: Preet Kaur (Virginia, USA), March 15, 2015, 9:31 AM.

These are times when we need to tap real deep into Chardi Kalaa. Our Gurus have prepared us well for this and as long as we keep focused, we'll emerge stronger and better than ever before.

2: Gur Singh (Chicago, Illinois, USA), March 15, 2015, 9:59 AM.

The more we have changed, the more we have remained the same. The more we have cried, the more we haven't been heard. The more we have evolved, the more we have regressed. Let's continue introspection!

3: AJ Singh (San Francisco, California, USA), March 15, 2015, 10:44 AM.

The author makes a compelling argument about the subject and the intended or unintended consequences it has had on the Sikh community. The problems plaguing Sikh society can squarely be traced back to India - its Constitution and the kind of politics it spawns. That our leaders are stupid and narrow-minded to practice such politics is a shameful decline of our proud heritage. The silver lining I see is that the younger diaspora Sikhs have started to disassociate themselves from the Indian and the "Punjabi" culture. This is a small start - the diaspora represents a small percentage of Sikhs, but it has the potential to create a cohesive Sikh society that Sikhs in Punjab and the subcontinent can look up to.

4: Gobinder Singh (USA), March 15, 2015, 10:48 AM.

The author has raised several points (all valid) about the current state of Sikh affairs, particularly in India. But in my opinion those do not relate to the Article 25 of Indian constitution and legal term, 'Hindu' used for persons from other faiths like Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Herein lies the crux of the matter. Yes, Sikhs are losing their identity, choosing to use their caste names over universal brotherhood which Sikhism teaches. However, these acts do not make them Hindu. In fact, these practices show why it's even more important for Sikhs in India to make sure their separate identity is enforced legally. The whole reason for Sikhs demanding amendment to Article 25 lies in the basic belief of Sikhs that they are separate and different from Hinduism. And as a free person, anyone who does not want to associate with Hinduism and its malpractices is free to do so, whether they are Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists ... or an atheist, for that matter. I have spent a long time pondering over this issue and still can't understand why it is a 'Sikh' issue where it's an issue of freedom of religion for everyone in India! I can't think of any Supreme Court which would not endorse Sikhs' demands of amendment to this article if we simply change our focus to include everyone. Again, herein lies the problem! We keep making everything into Hindus vs. Sikhs and lose vital support which we could have received for our legitimate grievances from other groups because they think of these demands as a Sikh problem. We should be leading and fighting for everyone's cause but we fail because we take such a micro view of these problems plaguing Indian society. We failed on Article 25 amendment, river water disputes, more powers for States, language protections, release of inmates in illegal detentions ... the list is long and endless.

5: Harmeet Singh (Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India), March 15, 2015, 1:36 PM.

The fight to correct the horrendous wrong in Article 25 will be a tough one, but it has to be won. However, the author has reminded us so eloquently ... it is BECAUSE it is an important and a tough fight that we have to be standing tall, straight and erect before we proceed. Otherwise, we might as well sit at home and nurse our wounds ... the way Hindus did in their thousand years of slavery. As the author has also reminded us, if we behave like Hindus, a certain future awaits us. However, if we want it to be markedly different, then we have to stop behaving like Hindus and become Sikhs again, not in name only, but in reality. I couldn't agree more!

6: Harsaran Singh (Indonesia), March 16, 2015, 2:29 AM.

Dr. Jogishwar Singh ji has hit where it hurts the most. There is no doubt that we have a lot of soul searching to do before pointing fingers at others. Article 25 in my opinion is a mere piece of paper which has no value when Guru Granth Sahib is our constitution. We have gradually been drifting away from the very basis of our existence and embracing rituals and practices which have no place in our lives. Sikh Dharam is a vast ocean and Guru Granth Saheb is the ship which should lead us across this mortal world to the shore beyond. Let us contribute towards eradicating these ills facing our social life so that the coming generations are known only as Sikhs, not as jutts, tarkhaan, lubana or bhapa.

7: Ajay Singh (Rockville, Maryland, USA), March 16, 2015, 5:34 AM.

I believe that the Sikh spirit is alive and well, maybe even flourishing. And it is a global phenomenon. There are Sikhs in every shade of humanity, in the Khalsa roop! The problem I think is that we have no institutions that are devoid of "outside" influence. Case in point would be Akal Takht, or the Damdami Taksaal; both these institutions no longer have credibility. Try giving any of these institutions any credibility and you will not succeed. If I say that Sikhi is flourishing, that is because I am not looking in newspaper headlines but in my local gurdwara, not looking in Punjab as the face and source of Sikhi anymore. The biggest problem we have is that we have neglected our institutions, not entirely intentionally. We have infiltration of vicious Indian politics in all of them. We have to get control of our institutions, including the SGPC, Khalsa Colleges, especially the one in Amritsar, etc. These are the institutions that represent us and they are woefully inept and corrupt. In this light, Article 25 must be amended, even if it is meaningless, especially after 1984. We have made a lot of sacrifices for India so I am not advocating Khalistan as a separate nation, but that India is our Khalistan. We need free access to our gurdwaras left behind in Pakistan, we need a constitutional identity, we need land trade routes to and through Pakistan to the Middle East. We need to be able to affect Indian foreign policy that favors Punjab, we need our young to go out into the world boldly from Punjab as entrepreneurs, business folks and not hide and seek asylum. We need that Constitution that allows us to be Sikh-Indians, nurtured by Sikh institutions that give us the backing and courage to be Sikhs.

8: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, USA), March 16, 2015, 6:11 AM.

I have read with great interest the issues raised by Dr. Jogishwar Singh. However, we must be cognizant of the historical background of this burning topic. When the original Constitution was drafted, the Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly refused to sign the document because it did not recognize the Sikhs as a religion with an independent identity. Since that time, Sikh and Hindu politicians alike have deliberately stirred up popular resentment on both sides for political purposes. In 2002 the National Commission to Review the Constitution recommended that the wording of Article 25 be amended to refer specifically to the three religious groups -- Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists -- that are currently covered under the default term 'Hindu', as entities and religious traditions independent of Hinduism. To date, however, this amendment has not been enacted. The Sikh resentment will not go away until or unless this amendment is enacted.

9: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 16, 2015, 10:52 AM.

Firstly it is my firm belief that any document deemed a "Constitution" of any nation should only refer in its text to its constituents as "People(s)" without any specific limitation over gender, race, religion, caste, creed, colour, etc. Then only can it claim validity ... by recognizing the equality of all of its people. Any group of people seeking to be specifically named or numbered in a constitutional document are basically attempting to disrespect and bring into disrepute the significance and spirit of such an important document, hence deeming it invalid. Secondly, I want to say that, in my humble opinion, bowing to and praying in the presence of paintings of the Gurus, in itself, should not be construed as idol worship. It cannot be equated with the practice of idol worship that we see, for example, in other religions. Finally, I've enjoyed reading this article, it being insightful, interesting and providing a unique perspective.

10: Ajay Singh (Rockville, Maryland, USA), March 16, 2015, 2:11 PM.

@#4 S. Gobinder Singh ji: I think the Supreme Court will not see any issue with Sikhs being called Hindus, since that is what the Constitution says. The Supreme Court can only work within the constitutional frame-work. So, if that is true, we need a constitutional amendment for any Indian court to recognize Sikhs as a separate entity. In fact, they can, and do, use Hindu laws and beliefs to negate any Sikh issues, if and when they so choose. For example, jutts are now a backward class -- shockingly, even if they are Sikh! -- and entitled to quotas hitherto reserved for groups which have been historically excluded from Indian society. Sikhs have never laid claim to such quotas simply because Sikhism does not accept the concept of caste and actively works towards eradicating the blight and its inequities. Curiously, the jutts fought for that demeaning "entitlement" in order to gain access to short-term benefits (handouts) -- and the Hindu majority willingly welcomed them into their caste-infested fold.

11: Brig. Nawab Singh Heer (Ret.) (United States), March 16, 2015, 4:20 PM.

Dr Jogishwar Singh ji has really given us insight into the falling values and standards in many of our lives as Sikhs. He has shown us in the mirror. Notwithstanding the above, there is also a resurgence towards Sikhi and Sikhism is still respected the world over due to still many true Sikhs in the fold. We must not lose heart. We must find solutions. One can only suggest that let us take initiative to shun casteism within, call for austerity in our weddings, dissuade moorti puja (idol worship), carry out a drive against 'baba' culture, encourage Sikh saroop, and get back to Guru Granth Sahib for guidance. We can and we will. At the same time we must not lose sight of our determined demand for amending Article 25. Let us not depend upon Mr Obama too much -- he has done his bit. We must campaign intelligently. And we must not lose sight of Chardi Kalaa!

12: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), March 17, 2015, 2:49 PM.

Going through Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhi leads us to the quintessence of all faiths that had gone before it. Whether Indians accept it or not, Sikhism is the heritage of whole humanity. Its basic aim is to transform a person to a God-conscious person. A person has to discover his/her true self and get reunited with the Source.

13: R.S. Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, USA), March 17, 2015, 5:19 PM.

"Na koi Hindu na Mussalmaan", said Guru Nanak. He connected people directly to God, bypassing middlemen who have a difficult time staying out. The so-called 'lower castes' and the downtrodden have benefited enormously in a democratic system. Earlier, perhaps due to economic and political dependency on landlords, they could not sit on the same level or even drink from the same utensil (they had separate ones)! What really amazes me is how clever Hindu politicians are in forming a Hindutva alliance in a caste-ridden society. They offered sops to the 'lower castes' like quotas, reservations, etc. to prevent conversions, while the Sikh leadership remains totally short-sighted and divisive. One would expect the Sikh leadership to have reached out to all faiths. Of course, being a good Sikh is difficult, for few can walk on the sharp edge of the blade. Even most children of the Gurus could not. It is far better to fall off the edge and accept one's failings in humility than pretend one is walking on it and cause enormous damage.

14: Kaala Singh (Punjab), March 24, 2015, 10:19 PM.

They may insult us by calling us Hindus or by any other name, but we must be clear and sure in our hearts about who we are. For me, they are no better than Nazis for what they did to us in and since 1984, and how they are behaving today.

15: Tony Singh (Kenora, Ontario, Canada), March 28, 2015, 3:39 PM.

Like the followers of other major religions, Sikhs have strayed from the central teachings of their founders. We spend more time arguing about who is a true Sikh than trying to follow the simple and straight-forward teachings of our Gurus. Follow our Gurus' teachings and way of life and you will be the true Sikh that they would approve of. That is, lead an honest householder's life, meditate on Waheguru, serve humanity.

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Article 25 Of The Constitution of India:
Why Blame Others?"









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