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Who is A Sikh?
A Response to the 'Judgment'



The following are some thoughts triggered by reading the 'Judgment' - see article and document titled "THE JUDGMENT - Gurleen Kaur v. The State of Punjab", as posted in the RESOURCE LIBRARY Section of - and some of the readers' comments posted therein:   


To me, it is heartening that reported the Indian judiciary's judgment on the perennial question, "Who is a Sikh?" But it is not a judgment that heartens me.

I expect a more vigorous, even a heart-rending, debate will follow, but perhaps the night is young.

Suzy Kaur has raised some fundamental issues that must not escape us. They are too important to be left to the caretakers of our gurdwaras and institutions, just as war is too important to be left to the generals. They affect us all, and mine is a call to action - not arms.

Like the generals in war, our caretakers have a personal stake in the outcome but we, the common folk, will pay the price and live with the consequences.

In the rush to judgment, we are forgetting some fundamentals. There are two matters that I will present briefly.

History tells us that perhaps as many as 80,000 came to Anandpur when Guru Gobind Singh staged the drama of Vaisakhi 1699 and instituted the Khalsa along with its specific code and requirements of the faith.

History further tells us that perhaps 20,000 became Khalsa during those fateful days. The remaining 60,000 did not. Many may have become Amritdhari Khalsa over time, but certainly some never did, such as Bhai Nand Lal, who, nevertheless, remained a close associate of the Guru.

There is absolutely not a scintilla of evidence or even a suggestion that the Guru rejected or discouraged those who did not become Khalsa from remaining within the Sikh fold. He did not say to them, "Get out of my face - you are no Sikhs of mine."

From the time of Guru Nanak to the present, the fundamental message of Sikhi is clear and unchanged: It is a path and a way of life open to all. People with all their imperfections, flaws and virtues congregate to walk the path. As long as they consider themselves as Sikhs, they will stay on the path and "Sikh" is the label they shall wear. Though on the same path, not all will be at the same place on the path at any given time.

A Sikh, then, is one who claims to be one. No man and no organization may come between a human and his definition of self.

The one time it matters how a Sikh lives his or her life is when the personal lifestyle and persona have ramifications for the life of the community. This happens when, for example, a person represents the community in contentious matters that impact the community, somewhat in the position of a role model or a designated spokesperson.

The Sikh Code of Conduct (Rehat Maryada) is a document that codifies Sikh belief and practice.

It is not the minimum definition of a Sikh. It emphatically does not mean that any person who does not fulfill each and every clause of the code is not a Sikh.

Keep in mind that gurdwaras and Sikhi are not merely for "perfect" or "ideal" Sikhs. Sikhi exists for imperfect people striving mightily to walk the path of Sikhi and looking to it for ways to become more productive and honest people.

To me, the minimum definition is "anyone who calls himself or herself a Sikh."

So, let's absolutely not be sitting in judgment of others - busy banishing people out of Sikhi.

Thus, I read the Sikh Rehat Maryada to say that no one is excluded from the tent of Sikhi, which is larger than that made by any definition that we might make.

Yet, such questions as have arisen are not unique to us. A look at Judaism, Christianity and Islam brings us face to face with intractable divisions within each faith - internal disputes that could not be resolved and have produced permanent fissures within each.

The second issue is more intractable, but it needs our critical attention.

We all know that our (Sikh) administrative structure and institutions took root in the struggles of the 1920's. India was then ruled by the British. Sikhs won the struggle to win control of their own gurdwaras from the corrupt administrators appointed by the British after a titanic struggle that shook the British Empire to its core.

But India was not a free country then and Sikhs were not a free people. And when the control of their own gurdwaras passed to the Sikhs, it came in the shape of a law enacted by the British government. Thus was the SGPC (Shiromini Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) born.

This was a historical necessity, but it made the government - of British India then and of free India after 1947 - the arbiters of how this government-mandated body was to come into existence and function.

Whether it was to be a definition of who is a Sikh, who could or could not be counted in the inevitable electoral process to form this body, or how the SGPC would respond to challenges to its structure or authority, the task finally came to rest with governmental institutions (Legislative Assembly or Parliament) and the country's judiciary.

This meant that the fundamentals of the faith were to be determined, in the final analysis, by organs of the Indian government, not by representatives of Sikhs themselves.

The results have been quite predictable and chaotic.

We Sikhs have entered the 21st century now, but have failed to explore and devise an ecclesiastical judiciary and a system of justice of our own.

Circumstances are now different.

The Gurus willed us a system of justice for internal conflict resolution, but to develop and refine it further according to the needs of the time is our responsibility, and that has fallen by the wayside.

Dear readers, can you name one other religion where its fundamentals are debated and decided by parliaments and by legislators who are not believers of that faith or have no particular training, skill or specialty in that religion?

We definitely DO NOT need an All India Gurdwaras Act. We don't need more from the government of any country. We need to develop our own mode.

Some courts, particularly in the U.S., have recognized the dilemma we are in.

You all know of the many gurdwaras in North America that have ended in civil courts over election disputes. Many of the judges have been most reluctant to step in what they see as an internal dispute on matters of religious practices. But they have been forced by our hard-headedness and the absence of a workable system of internal justice into matters that are technically not their bailiwick - and many judges have said so from the bench.

And this, to me, is the second fundamental question.

The two matters are inherent and intertwined in Suzy Kaur's very pertinent note. Engaging only one front promises endless heartache.

The judgment by the Indian court is not at all a matter of joy. It does not impact what we believe, but it can open a Pandora's Box.

June 29, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Karimul Fateh (India), June 29, 2009, 5:15 AM.

"Many may have become amritdhari Khalsa over time, but certainly some never did, such as Bhai Nand Lal, who, nevertheless, remained a close associate of the Guru." I am not as knowledgeable as Dr. I.J. Singh is but whenever there is a debate like this going on, you'll definitely find the example of Bhai Nand Lal given. Aren't we missing something here, by giving a wrong example all the time. Instead of giving the Bhai Nand Lal example, can't we give the example of Guru Gobind Singh himself, that he partook amrit from the panj pyare that very fateful day and he himself set us a example to follow.// Again, "To me the minimum definition is "anyone who calls himself or herself a Sikh." Another way of making this statement would be: One should call one a Sikh if one follows the high ideals set by our Guru himself, otherwise one is merely striving to become a Sikh or, I should rather say, Gursikh. I fall in the latter part.// "It is a path and a way of life open to all. People with all their imperfections, flaws and virtues congregate to walk the path". Yes, very true and a much needed statement. But the problem arises only when people with those imperfections and flaws claim to be genuine and perfect Sikhs.

2: Balwinder Kaur (Edinburgh, Scotland), June 29, 2009, 5:51 AM.

Karimul has made three points. Re # 1 - you have summarily declared the Bhai Nand Lal example as "wrong", without giving any reason for this conclusion. Just because it doesn't fit into your interpretation? Re # 2: All you've done is simply repeated what I.J. Singh has said, with one exception - the truth is that all of us fall in the second category - those who are learning and striving ... i.e., "sikhs"! Re # 3: No one is claiming to be perfect. The question on the table is "Who is a Sikh?" You have inserted the word "perfect" to suit your interpretation.

3: Karimul Fateh (India), June 29, 2009, 6:55 AM.

I summarily reject the example of Bhai Nand Lal ji because the prime ideal to be followed by Sikh should be of Guru Sahib himself. The problem with us is that we are looking at everywhere but not to our Guru.If looking at Guru Sahib as an ideal is wrong, then I pray to God let me be wrong as I know "I am blessed".

4: Balkar Singh (Patiala, Punjab), June 29, 2009, 7:13 AM.

I am an amritdhari and have been for four decades now. That doesn't make me a better Sikh than any other - what it does for me is my personal business. I think it is a travesty against Sikhi and our Gurus for anyone to think he/she has the right or the ability to judge others or to delineate Sikhi within certain boundaries dictated by the ideals of Amrit Sanchaar. Go home, O Sikh brothers and sisters, and concentrate on your own lives. Leave the rest to the Guru ... please! Stop fretting on how wrong everyone else is, and how blessed you yourself are ... it'll only lead you to a dead end. Practice, practice, practice. Don't preach.

5: J. Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), June 29, 2009, 8:52 AM.

Bhai Nand Lal ji became Bhai Nand Singh. There is no reason to think he didn't become amritdhari. Secondly, why is that we must constantly re-define a Sikh? According to Gurbani, a Sikh is someone who rises early (amritvela) and meditates on God through the Naam ... Guru Sahib has all the answers, if we are only willing to read Gurbani. We think ourselves clever and can write essays upon essays on the definition of a Sikh; however, Guru Sahib's definition is quite clear. Let's try to be Sikhs of the Guru rather then be Sikhs of our own matt (mind). Anyone can call themselves anything, but it's what the Guru Sahib approves that really matters.

6: Harinder (Jalandhar, Punjab), June 29, 2009, 9:16 AM.

A Sikh is a person who does not disobey the way of life as enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, and for me personally, also in the Dasam Granth.

7: Kaviraj Singh (Braintree, MA, U.S.A.), June 29, 2009, 11:01 AM.

Taking Amrit is between the Sikh and his/her Guru, not for the sangat. What your actions are is what society needs to look at, not whether you have taken Amrit or not. The issue that needs to be addressed more seriously is the second one that Dr. IJ Singh brings up: do we need courts to define Sikhism for us or run our institutions. Personally, I feel ashamed and embarassed on behalf of the Sikh Panth when I hear the local police have been brought into a gurdwara to resolve a dispute. It is even more sad that many gurdwaras have gone to court to resolve disputes. Taking a look at the current situation of the Palantine Gurdwara in Illinois brings this point to the forefront. Our gurus made gurdwaras so that we could go there to learn, reflect and listen to gurbani, partake in langar, and share in the sangat. We have made these places into melas, no one listens to kirtan, and then we fight, with the committee or some idea they have or with each other because we can not "agree to disagree." The concept becomes thus: lets open a gurdwara, run it, and then a fight will occur and the gurdwara will split, then we will open another one ... and repeat the process. Take a look at how many gurdwaras are in the NY area and you will see what I mean. If we work towards getting our gurdwaras back to the way the gurus envisioned them, only then will Sikhi flourish and grow and then we can work on the important issues of being Sant-Sipaahis, fighting injustices in the world. There is a lot more to say, but I would like to hear other opinions.

8: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), June 29, 2009, 12:49 PM.

Balkar Singh ji ... I bow to you with respect ... This I do after understanding what your few heavy words hold. I respect Sant Jarnail Singhji Bhindrawale because he taught me that when a Sikh swears at you or hits you, tell him go ahead and do more if that is what pleases you. What Karimul ji is trying to illustrate is the various attacks on the Sikh faith in a planned way. Balwinder Kaur ji, everybody does say he is a Sikh and that is the reason I see Dera Sacha Sauda, Nirankaris and Radha Soamis with so many stupid turbaned followers. I don't think they deserve to call themselves Sikh. Do they? I am, like you have all told, not a complete gursikh, but when disgrace or harm is done to my faith ... I don't understand how can I even exist in such shame. My words may have been harsh but they come from an individual who wanted to join the Indian army when I was a child and now feels disgusted at the thought of being an Indian. The history I have read: Nehru's false promises. Blowing up of our sacred and revered places. Hunting us, butchering Sikh youth, raping our dignity and ridiculing us, is all that I have learnt the Indians of a free India have given us. I went to school and got teased as "Baarah baj gaye", "Haath mein kada, sir pe vadaa", which was a bit different from the "Kacch Kara Kirpan, Bhejo Pakistan" and "Ikki Dukki Kehan nahi deni, Sirr te pagri rehan nahi deni" chanted by Congressmen in Delhi and the minions of Indira and her regime. I hate myself and am sad of the fact that Sikhs fail to unite, be it anything, and that is what has been our downfall. "Je Sikh nu Sikh naa maare, Eh quom kade na haare!" Please help any Sikh you find in your life who needs it. Smile and fold hands (do Sat Sri Akal) to every Sikh you meet who you may not even know. Now somebody would tell me why not Waheguruji ka Khalsa, Waheguruji ki Fateh in place of the Sat Sri Akal. And I say, do whatever is in the Sikh faith and that helps both of you Sikhs. I love you Sikhs wherever you are and whatever you do. But please respect other Sikhs and help them.

9: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 29, 2009, 12:53 PM.

Much is being said here on the attributes of a good Sikh, and I absolutely agree. The purpose of an ideal is to help us focus on where we are headed - the direction and the way. Without that in sight, the journey will not happen or one is likely to veer off the path. (And that happens often enough to many, if not all of us.) So the most critical reality here is the journey along the path of becoming a Sikh, not the accident of being one by birth or familial circumstance. The ideal is not a point of beginning the journey; it remains to guide and direct the process. That's why gurbani also tells us that humans without exception are prone to error. That's why, at a personal level, the label Sikh comes to a neophyte as well, whose ways are far from perfect. Not all Sikhs are going to be good Sikhs; not all Sikhs are going to be ideal Sikhs. Hopefully, all Sikhs stay on the journey of becoming a Sikh keeping in mind Sikhi as defined by textual sources from gurbani, Bhai Gurdas and from tradition, that many readers appear to be thoroughly familiar with. But the ideal is not the issue here, is it? As I have also said - and I agree with Kaviraj Singh - that many of our definitional problems are rooted in the absence of our own judicial framework. And that is an important issue here today. How do we address and redress such matters?

10: Kaviraj Singh (Braintree, MA, U.S.A.), June 29, 2009, 12:55 PM.

I would actually like to correct myself: your actions are not to be judged by the sangat either, those are to be judged by Waheguru. As a Sikh, you should worry about your actions and helping your sangat along the path of Sikhi, you can help someone who seems to be going astray ... but it is not up to us to judge someone. We can only learn from their experiences and know what is right/wrong and apply that to our lives. But, as for judging someone, leave that to Waheguru.

11: Gurwinder Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), June 29, 2009, 2:51 PM.

Bhai Sahib ji: Thanks for sharing this article with us. I felt that your statement about Bhai Nand Lal was very conclusive and superficial as to him not having been blessed by Guru Sahib with Amrit. There are many historians who have different opinions about him but we have to remember that these are all opinions. Some argue in favor of him being Amritdhari and others not. However, the reality is that only Guru ji and Bhai Nand Lal ji know about their divine, loving relationship with each other. Let's leave that there. This is exactly the point I think you wanted to convey in your article, that let's leave things between the Guru and a Sikh alone, and that we should not be interfering and judging this personal relationship superficially. A Sikh is a Sikh, if he worships God and follows the Guru as his/her Guide. And the Guru inspires the Sikh unconditionally: "One who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru, the True Guru, shall rise in the early morning hours and meditate on the Lord's Name." It is heartbreaking when Sikhs with unshorn tresses and knots consider themselves better than who do not have them. However, at the same time, it is painful to hear when our Sikh brothers and sisters try to justify cutting hair as being okay. We all have imperfections, whether tresses or not, but let's not waste our time in looking for the imperfections of others or justifying our own. Time is slipping, but the Guru has always been open to embrace us with our imperfections. Let's pray that with Guru's grace, we Sikhs (while full of imperfections) can begin the journey towards our beloved Guru. Let's not divide but inspire each other to unite in the name of the Guru and work together for the welfare of all beings on earth. Bhai Sahib ji, thanks for reminding us in your article that we do not need earthly courts or laws to delineate our relationship with our Guru. It is a personal affair between Guru and Sikh. Let's keep it that way.

12: Kiranjeet K. Dhillon (Shah Alam, Malaysia), June 29, 2009, 5:29 PM.

Thank you, Bhai I.J. Singh for a thoughtful response to the 'Judgement'. I was quite disturbed after reading the document re the categories of what a Sikh is. I believe, as a third generation Sikh in Malaysia, that the answer to who a Sikh is really boils down to the person himself and how he has been brought up as a Sikh. As he grows up, he'll be able to learn deeper re being a Sikh. As for me, my life has been influenced by the culture that exists in Malaysia, but that doesn't make me a terrible Sikh, I hope. I do go to the gurdwara, but as mentioned in a few responses above, the scene is not dissimilar here. What I'm trying to relate is that no matter where we are, we will always be Sikhs (maybe not exactly as prescribed in the Rehat Maryada).

13: Harpreet Singh (Corona, U.S.A.), June 29, 2009, 10:35 PM.

I completely agree with Karimul Fateh that Guru Gobind Singh himself took Amrit to clearly state its importance and supreme place and authority in Sikhism. That is our benchmark: the rest is a rhetorical discussion. If taking of Amrit is optional, then everyone is a Sikh without taking any responsibility for their spiritual evolution as laid by the Shabad Guru and the Rehat. Faith without practice generally is a lack of inner conviction and commitment. Most people want an easy and convenient path suiting their needs. We are learners and we need to learn from the Guru by changing the building blocks. There have been attempts made to change Gurbani from within and outside of the Sikh fold. There is no end as to where the folks who call themselves as Sikhs would go to change the core principles of Sikhism. Please let us not make taking Amrit and maintaining Rehat irrelevant. We are making a mockery of all the shaheeds who laid their lives for the Panth and did not give up the core principles including their Rehat under extreme circumstances. It's a game of spiritual surrender, we cannot cheat with our intellect.

14: Atamjot Singh (U.K.), June 30, 2009, 4:19 AM.

I see no reason to debate the definition of a Sikh afresh. The definition is clearly given in the Sikh Rehat Maryada. A Sikh is a follower who follows the Guru's hukam. Claiming that "anyone who calls himself or herself a Sikh" is a Sikh is actually opening the Pandora's box. This is akin to hitting the organizational structure of Sikhi in its guts. I wonder what else any anti-Sikh organization would also like to see, if not that anyone who claims to be a Sikh can be a Sikh. Secondly, to the point raised by I.J. Singh that this judgement is an 'interference' of the Govt. in Sikh affairs, let us not forget that even the judges in this judgement categorically stated that they are not redefining a Sikh, but are reiterating what has already been written and accepted. I personally believe that this is a great judgement. As for the issue of the number of Sikhs getting more or less, let us not forget that numbers have never been that important in Sikh history. Sikhs have been in minority and will always be. That is the beauty of being part of the Sikh commonwealth.

15: Suzy Kaur (Oxford, England), June 30, 2009, 7:06 AM.

In the other thread, I said that you can immediately wipe out the population of Sikhs in the UK to around 50,000. I would say there are even fewer than this, going by this definition. The last census in the UK showed there were approx 340,000 Sikhs in Britain. Let us say that figures were undercounted, and there are 400,000 Sikhs in the UK. I would estimate that between 5 to 10 % of Sikhs in the UK are amritdhari. So going by this definition, the actual Sikh population of Britain is around 40,000, probably less. As much as Atamjot Singh revels in the 'beauty' of being a minority, Sikhs in the UK constantly claim signifigance and relevance by joining the 'numbers game'. So I hope they adjust accordingly and instruct all Sikhs to abandon the religion and to not put their religion down as Sikh on the next census. Especially when matters of government funding, media attention, parliamentary attention and so on are being discussed. So, will anyone address this point? Will all Sikh activists, 'community leaders', 'community spokesmen', who are so desperate for recognition, funding and attention address this? Or are you too hypocritical to want the kudos that being part of a significant minority is all about, whilst promoting the diminution and marginalization of 90% of the people whose existence you happily claim for your statistical purposes? Or are you too busy wallowing in the bliss of the Sikh minority commonwealth? Personally, I can see the future, and as these pressures persist, the marginalization of Sikhs can only continue, and the diminution in size will be ongoing, and internally powered.

16: Jasvinder Singh (Malaysia), June 30, 2009, 7:13 AM.

The Gurdwara Act of 1925 should be repealed by all means pertaining to the interpretations on the divisions created about who is a Sikh. A Sikh is a Sikh and the basic Sikhism tenets are provided for every individual Sikh to follow. Having the divisions mentioned in the Act 1925 is akin to professing the caste system which has been whole heartedly rejected from the times of Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh. Yet we find that the caste system is still prevalent today in some Sikh communities, unfortunately.

17: H. Singh (U.S.), June 30, 2009, 10:24 AM.

Sikh Law should be about recognizance and acceptance of Sikhs who claim themselves to be ONLY Sikhs. ONLY is the key here which I.J. Singh has missed. In other words, any other identity (racial, national or ethnic) should NOT be recognized associative to being a Sikh. This is how Sikhs have been defined historically as Khalsa. Sikhs claiming themselves to be Sikh-American, Sikh-Canadian, Sikh-Briton, Sikh-Indian, Khatri, Jatt, Ramgarhia, etc. is identity de-construction.

18: Kartar Singh Shergill (Newport Beach, California, U.S.A.), June 30, 2009, 11:51 AM.

Love your entire response to this article, brother Harpreet Singh. There is much truth to your words. Many among us in the Sikh diaspora are trying to hijack Sikhism by re-inventing and/or "modernizing" it to suit our own personal world views. With regard to Suzy Kaur's observation regarding "numbers" and who counts as a Sikh, I think Atamjot has said it best.

19: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 30, 2009, 12:06 PM.

As usual, a completely stimulating and thought-provoking article by Dr. I.J. Singh. In answer to your rhetorical question, the issue of "Who is a Jew" has roiled every government since the founding of the State of Israel. And, yes, this extremely thorny question, along with its wide-raging implications (not to mention complications) is regularly debated in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in which the overwhelming majority are completely non-observant Jews and/or Arabs! This, together with a worldwide establishment of Rabbinical courts, and a well spelled out system of relgious jurisprudence spanning several thousand years! Space considerations don't permit anything close to a full exposition of the subject - but, know that you are not alone in this regard, and you have my sympathy and empathy as you confront the relatively new experience of living in the diaspora while establishing and manintaining some sort of continuity to pass down. My continued best wishes from here in Israel, a place where cyber-sangat is the only show in town!

20: D.J. Singh (U.S.A.), June 30, 2009, 4:33 PM.

Guru Nanak states (GGS:503) that "a Sikh is not affected by actions, responsibilities and entanglements; in the entanglements of his household, he maintains the detachment of a yogi. He conquers the five evils. Within his mind, he meditates on the reality of the Imperishable Lord; and by the Guru's Grace, he finds Him". Guru Amar Das states (GGs:601) that "He alone is a Sikh who walks in the Way of the Guru's Will". Guru Ram Das states (GGS:305): "The one who calls himself a Sikh of the Guru shall rise in the early morning hour, bathe and meditate on the Lord's Name". Bhai Gurdas defines a true Sikh (Vaars 3, 4) as one who surrenders to the Guru, holds the teachings of the Guru close to his heart and expels the ego. Rare is the Sikh who listens to (and accepts) the teachings of the Guru. Based on the above, a Sikh is defined as any individual who faithfully believes in the One Immortal Being; the ten Gurus; the Guru Granth Sahib; the teachings of the ten Gurus; and the Amrit bequeathed by the Tenth Guru. Sikhism is a practical religion. One does not become a Sikh by just calling oneself a Sikh. Guru Nanak declared: "Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is Truthful Living". Anyone who practices truthful living can then be safely called a Sikh. Guru Gobind Singh's Khalsa refers to the collective body of amritdhari Sikhs. The five Kakaars were meant to define the Khalsa's physical and psychological identity and promote the crystallization of the Sikh community. Unshorn hair is the most powerful symbol of Sikh identity.

21: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), June 30, 2009, 7:54 PM.

I am bit surprised how an Indian Court can decide about who is a Sikh or not, when the Indian Constitution does not even recognize Sikhs. It is time for Sikhs to rise above their differences and get the proper recognition in India's Constitution. Oddly, our 'leaders' never ask for this basic right, even during election-time.

22: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A. ), July 02, 2009, 6:12 AM.

Looks like many of us have lost the real meaning of Sikhi. Following are two real examples of what Sikhi is about. 1) My father had a friend named Mathura Das who migrated from Pakistan to India during 1n 1948. Mathura Das (a Punjabi Hindu) had a very good business in India and he regularly attended the gurdwara morning and evening. His first three children died before the age of three. He went to The Golden Temple, Amritsar, prayed that the next born child in his family would be Sikh. After that, he had two sons, both Sikhs and more than 30 years later, they are still running his business while fully adorned in their turbans.// 2) There were two gurdwaras in my home town. The management of both gurdwaras were not very friendly. But both gurdwaras had a common, honest and reliable treasurer/ sevaadar named Mela Ram, who was the Manager of a local branmch of the State Bank of India. Mela Ram was a Punjabi Hindu but believed in Sikhi. He spent his whole life doing this service.

23: Ibadat Singh Gill (California, U.S.A.), July 02, 2009, 11:10 AM.

It seems I.J. Singh is contradicting his earlier writings in this post with regard to the definition of a Sikh. He once said that no matter how much we debate their origin (an obvious reference to Hew McLeod), the Sikh articles of faith form the fundamental basis of Sikh identity. The most reckless and consequential thing about this debate is NOT the court's judgment - it's the danger that anyone who simply wishes to do so may call themselves a Sikh. This very mentality will destroy the Panth as we recognize it today.

24: Gurpal Singh (U.K.), July 02, 2009, 1:04 PM.

With regard to the Mathura Das's and Mela Ram's, there are plenty more to be found in gurdwaras, both in India and U.K., doing nishkaam sewa. Two generations ago, many Sikhs in Doaba had such surnames as Ram, Chand etc. My uncle was Ram Lal, my grandfather Sansara Ram, my Nana was Karam Chand. We are all from devout Sikh families. Weddings were done to vedic traditions (we are talking about 'jatt' farmers, here not 'khatri' traders); other local traditions were followed and no one had even heard of akhand paatth until the 1940's. The elders all wrote in Urdu, not Gurmukhi. How times have changed! We are adamant that there is only one definition of Sikh. We are adamant that Sikhs can only be married by Anand Karaj. When did we become so exclusionary?

25: Manmohan Singh Luthra (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.), July 02, 2009, 3:44 PM.

A Sikh is one who has respect for Guru Granth Sahib and is willing to learn Guru's bani, and practice it in daily life to the best of his/her ability.

26: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 02, 2009, 5:12 PM.

To summarize my position on unshorn hair: Unshorn hair constitutes a fundamental of Sikh teaching and its unbroken practice. It is a requirement of the faith that applies to men and women equally. I have stated this in as many ways as I can. I have also argued that Sikhs range from those who are amritdhari and live its lifestyle; to those who live the rehni (lifestyle), but not always, to those who may be keshadhari but not amritdhari - and some follow the teachings in their entirety, while others do not; and then there are many who are perhaps only fitfully, vaguely and peripherally connected to Sikhi. To me, like runners of a marathon, they are all on the same path of Sikhi, but not at the same place on the path at any given time. Since they are on the same path, I do not write any of them out of the tent of Sikhism. I also differentiate between two facts: at a personal level, anyone who labels himself or herself a Sikh is one. At a corporate level, the definition of a Sikh in the Rehat Maryada prevails. And I refrain from judging others unless their appearance or behavior has ramifications for the life of the community. All these remain matters of internal dialogue among Sikhs, not issues to be interpreted and decided by a non-Sikh jury.

27: Khushwant Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), July 03, 2009, 5:31 AM.

I have a question for I.J. Singh. I am confused about whether un-shorn hair is important to the Sikh faith. The Tenth Guru clearly instructed all Sikhs to follow the Guru Granth which literally means - nothing else other than the holy book. Abiding by his orders, I have tried sorting my confusion by referring to the Guru Granth whether unshorn hair is of paramount importance.

28: Dharamveer Singh (Mumbai, India), July 03, 2009, 12:49 PM.

I am in total agreement with Harpreet Singh and D.J. Singh. I.J. Singh ji, only your last comment on your own article made sense to me.

29: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 03, 2009, 3:29 PM.

Khushwant Singh (Chandigarh) raises an interesting but not unexpected point. But in citing just one fact to buttress his conclusion, he has ignored a slew of history and a plethora of evidence and logic. We can continue the dialogue but first I would recommend to him "Sikh Identity", by Hew McLeod and, if he wants my opinion, to an earlier column of mine etitled "Of Laws & Conventions" on this very site ( - I think it is about #27 or 28 in my list of columns. Dharamveer ji, I am glad the last statement on my column made sense to you. It is something I have said many times and at many places.

30: Amardeep (U.S.), July 03, 2009, 7:36 PM.

Yes, as many have pointed out, the definition of a Sikh changes at a personal, spiritual, community/ corporate and divine level. As Guru Nanak has said, "There is no Hindu, there is no Mussalman". We therefore need a defintion of a "Sikh" which fits within that very principle.

31: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brantford, Ontario, Canada), July 03, 2009, 8:33 PM.

Try telling the clean-shaven Sikhs in Canada, U.S.A. and elsewhere that they are not Sikhs. Many of them have built gurdwaras and work so hard, donate daswandh and more. The real challenge lies in the court of India's Sikhs to finally get going and change the shameful clubbing together of Sikhs with Hindus in India's Constitution (Article 25)and the sad ramifications that flow from that dishonesty.

32: Bhupinder Singh Ghai (New Delhi, India), July 04, 2009, 5:24 AM.

Living a life of a keshadhari and wearing a turban, to me is affirming our commitment to the cause of our Gurus. It is the same as living committed in a marriage. You can live-in with any partner you want and might even love the other immensely, but it would not be the same. Therefore, there are Sikhs who are married and some just live-in. Secondly, there are many Sikhs who are not keshadhari, and for some I can personally vouch that they are much better than many other amritdhari Sikhs. So, in marketing parlance, we should first concentrate on the product(quality of Sikhs) and then the packaging (keshadhari/amritdhari). One without the other is no good.

33: Khushwant Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), July 04, 2009, 10:59 AM.

If we need to refer to other reference material what about - 'Sab Sikhan ko hukam hai, Guru manyo Granth." My question remains unanswered. It's the usual answer that I get.

34: Ajit Kaur (Amritsar, Punjab), July 04, 2009, 12:01 PM.

Dear Khushwant ji: If you have truly reached a stage where you are fully immersed in the treasures of the Guru Granth, and every aspect of your life is shaped by its teachings, you need no more ... you are well on your way! But, please do not latch on to the latter part of my answer and shrug off the "If ..." bit. It'll be of little help to you if you rest on the strength of this answer by doing neither - that is, neither following rehat nor following the Guru. Finally, I suggest you seek the answer to your question within yourself, if you're still seeking it genuinely. Imbibe in the Guru's bani endlessly ... and you will find the answer. There are no shortcuts. I.J. Singh ji has done, and said, his bit. The rest of the journey is your own. Good luck ...

35: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), July 05, 2009, 7:35 AM.

That our institutions need to evolve is beyond doubt; how and in what direction is the tricky question. A lot of this discussion falls along predictable lines: most of us are concerned about ourselves as Sikhs in a very private, 'way of life' sense. That is understandable and in that sense, no agency can regulate us. It is between the Sikh and his Guru. But, this position ignores communal ramifications and misses an important part of the message. I doubt that Guru Nanak intended this to be merely a private "love affair" - between Sikh and Guru; the fact that he chose to establish a distinct community with its own framework should give us Sikhs some pause. Quite apart from being private, individual practitioners of the Guru's teachings, we have a collective and social responsibility to carry the vision of our Guru's forward. They made us co-equals as a Panth. We are at a crossroads. Undoubtedly, our instituions (Sarbat Khalsa, the role of the Takhts, etc.) are stagnant, to say the least, but their presence is, at the same time encouraging; it is indicative of the fact that our Gurus did give us a framework that now needs to be tweaked to suit the needs of the community in the 21st century. In this, we could learn from the other major religions. This may not be the right forum to offer solutions, but that is what all Sikhs should be doing - privately and collectively.

36: Amardeep (U.S.A.), July 11, 2009, 3:56 PM.

The Indian judiciary recently passed judgment on the perennial question, "Who is a Sikh?" They agreed on the defintion of a Sikh. Should we, after this case, file a case challenging how the Indian Constitution lumps Sikhs within the definition of Hindus? Does a Sikh need to have all the requirements of a Hindu also? How can Sikh have two sets of traits - the two contradicting each other - at the same time?

37: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 14, 2009, 4:02 PM.

Excellent point, Amardeep.

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A Response to the 'Judgment'"

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