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Is Sikhi Being Wasted on Sikhs?

by JOGISHWAR SINGH

 

 

As a Sikh permanently settled in Switzerland and observing events affecting Sikhs in India and elsewhere, I wonder more and more whether the Sikhs of today are really fit for Sikhism. I get the feeling that the message of the Sikh Gurus is so oriented to liberation from all kinds of superstitions, rituals, baser instincts and basic follies that Sikhs are just not intellectually up to a level where they can understand its full import.

The message of Sikhism is so universal, humanistic and elevating that it can only be imbibed and practiced by very strong individuals, capable of rising above basic human instincts like prejudice, envy, racism and ignorance.

I feel that the Gurus were way ahead of their times with their universal and egalitarian message which had to be understood by the masses that ostensibly converted to their teachings. Different social groups became Sikhs for different reasons but, leaving aside a tiny committed kernel, most of them seem to have converted to Sikhism for reasons other than a full grasp of the philosophical message being preached by the Sikh Gurus.

The jutts (farmers) seem to have become Sikhs in large numbers during the 17th and 18th centuries but to have done so more to establish a privileged status as land holding gentry than out of adhesion to the principles being conveyed by the Gurus' teachings.

In the Hindu caste system, the jutts would have remained classified as the lower caste of Shudras, notwithstanding their desperate efforts in manufacturing vaunted genealogical trees for themselves, showing them as descendants of Luv and Kush of Ramayana fame. Even a so-called former Sikh High Priest [a jathedar, really, because we have NO priests, leave alone 'high priests'] has propounded this convoluted thesis in recent times.

One only needs to see young jutts, mostly without turbans, sporting beards seemingly mown with lawn mowers, wearing designer brand clothes, mouthing a very approximate English syntax, preening around in most Punjab towns to realize that they are materially well situated but are miles away from any basic understanding of the message of the Gurus. Pride, vanity, absence of intellectual curiosity and aggressive posturing seem to be the main characteristics of this rural-reared Sikh society not only in Punjab but also in foreign lands today.

This is not to suggest that any of the other Sikhs are any better. However, we shall come to that later.

Jutt Sikhs constitute the major group in Sikhism, therefore, they are being considered before the others.

Banda Singh Bahadar shattered traditional land holding patterns in Punjab by taking land away from established landholders and redistributing it to smaller peasant proprietors, mostly jutt Sikhs, or those who subsequently became Sikhs because of this fact. Banda's role as a leading land reformer needs more ample consideration on its own. I get the subjective feeling that a large number of jutts became Sikhs in this period not because of any understanding of the essentials of Sikh philosophy handed down by our Gurus but for sheer economic gain.

They had a good chance of earning title to land by becoming followers of Banda Singh. Their physical attributes made them good fighters. Their experience of tilling the land made them good farmers. They provided the emerging Sikh society with the means to fight oppression from ruling cliques and feed itself by producing staple diet items in Punjab.

They deserve the encomiums showered on them in later times. But did they grasp the Gurus' spiritual message?

I honestly do not know. Was attachment to the Gurus' message the principal factor in their becoming Sikhs in such large numbers? In my opinion, the jury is still out on this.

The advantages to jutts in becoming Sikhs are obvious. From a low social status in Hinduism, they acquired a privileged social status in Sikhism, reaching a climax in the empire constituted by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. By becoming Sikhs, they acquired titles to their land holdings under Banda Singh Bahadur. They were able to mask their traditional penchant for robbery, plunder and aggressive posturing in the garb of a liberation struggle being carried on by Sikhs against genocidal political authorities. The consolidation of their social and political status continued even after the swift collapse of the Sikh Empire in 1849.

The British conducted a scientific policy of "divide et impera" (divide and rule). In this context, they selected the jutt Sikhs as one of their favoured "martial races", recruiting them in the British Indian Army in numbers absurdly out of proportion to their numbers in the total population. They cleverly used their patronage by conferring titles of 'Sardar Bahadur', 'Sir', etc on rich collaborators who were more loyal to the British Crown than to their fellow Sikhs or Indians.

French collaborators who collaborated with the Nazis during 1940-45 were either shot or ridiculed after the Germans were expelled from France. Our collaborators who aided the colonial power against their own people were honoured with titles, land grants and other privileges such as an elite education in chosen schools like the Aitchison College in Lahore. Collaboration with foreign invaders was a badge of honour in India rather than an eternal stigma as it should have been, especially in Sikh society based on values taught by the Sikh Gurus.

This should in no way take any merit away from the thousands of jutt Sikh participants in the freedom struggle but hardly any of them are part of the ruling political and social jutt Sikh elite dominating Punjab politics and society even today. A lot of the so called Sikh elite of today are direct descendents of collaborators, toadies of the British. No amount of chest thumping posturing and splurging of wealth should be allowed to mask this basic historical fact.

As for the other Sikhs, it seems to me that the Khatris originally became Sikhs also because it gave them an even more privileged status than they had in Hindu society since they could claim kin with the Sikh Gurus, who were all born in khatri families. It is ridiculous to classify Sikh Gurus as khatris since they had risen so far above such petty classifications. It is equally ridiculous to consider bhagats like Sant Kabir ji, Bhagat Ravi Das ji or Nam Dev ji as belonging to lower castes. Any person considering such elevated souls as belonging to such or such caste, high or low, reveals his or her own stupidity rather than a proper grasp of the message being conveyed by them.

Those who grasp the message of the Sikh Gurus and Bhagats find it impossible to understand how Sikhs can continue to be mired in the shackles of casteism, totally antithetical to Sikh philosophy.

In this context, khatri Sikhs considered themselves as the apex of Sikh society. They vaunted the fact of their being of kin to the Sikh Gurus. Hindu society had placed them below the Brahmins. They sought the spot of the top dog in Sikh society. Even some children of the Sikh Gurus were not immune to jostling for the top spot. The first, second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh Sikh Gurus set aside their children or their eldest son in favour of outsiders to the family or younger sons as their successors. The influence of khatri Sikhs diminished with the large scale entry of jutts into the Sikh fold in the 18th century but, till then, they pretty much ruled the roost in Sikh society. Even today, it is not rare to see them preferring their own caste kin as marriage partners for their children. Some of the sodhis, for example, go about preening themselves as direct descendants of the Sikh Gurus, totally forgetting the message of equality preached by their own ancestors.

It appears to me that even the non-khatri, non-jutt Sikhs were attracted to Sikhism more by the temptation of improving their social lot compared to what they were getting in Hindu society, than by genuine understanding of and attachment to the Gurus' message of sublime equality. Even they did not get rid of their caste attachments when it came to marriage.

This group of Sikhs is as mired in ritualism as the other Sikh social groups. They have acquired a reputation as sharp businessmen, cutting corners for profit. There is the stereotype of such Sikhs going to the Gurdwara early in the morning to rub their noses at the doorstep before going over to their shops to fleece their customers with all sorts of unsavoury practices. How can we reconcile their practices with the story of Guru Nanak getting fixed on "Tera, tera, tera" - ("This is all Yours, Yours, Yours ... O, Lord!) - while doling out foodgrain rations to customers while working at the shop in Sultanpur Lodhi?

The Gurus' message of unflinching adherence to ethics and morality in every aspect of the life of a Sikh does not find true reflection in the business practices of this category of Sikhs. Posturing seems to have gained the upper hand over substance.

The mazhabi Sikhs have got the rawest deal of all with the evolution of Sikh society after the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The tenth Guru said "Rangretey Guru key betey" ("The Rangretas are the Guru's children"). We have the sad spectacle of mazhabi Sikhs being obliged to have their separate gurdwaras because they are not allowed to participate as equals at the gurdwaras controlled by the other groups. This paradox should make any true Sikh revolt with passion.

But it does not seem to be even creating a ripple. Even in places like the U.K., separate Gurdwaras seem to have been set up by mazhabi Sikhs. This total negation of the Gurus' teachings is a direct reflection of the theme being developed in this article, that most Sikhs today do not even have any proper understanding of their own Gurus' teachings. If they did, there would have been a massive social upsurge against the treatment reserved for mazhabi Sikhs.

A Sikh fully conscious of and living his/ her Gurus' teachings simply could not tolerate such social injustice. A true Sikh should see Waheguru Almighty's image in each and every being, let alone in every Sikh. In such an awareness scenario, an affront to a mazhabi Sikh should be considered as an affront to Waheguru Himself since every being is in His image.

If this sounds far fetched and theoretical, this just goes to prove that the message of our Gurus is far ahead of us in time. Will we ever get to the stage where we shall start to actually implement the Gurus' message in our everyday lives is an open question.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar was keenly interested in Sikhism as an alternative to Hinduism for his dalit followers. A minute examination of Sikh social reality showed him that it did not conform to the Gurus' message. How many people in the present day Sikh leadership are actually trying to redress these social injustices, leaving aside political hypocricy being spewed about by all political parties to garner Sikh votes?

Talking of jutt Sikhs, khatri Sikhs, arora Sikhs, ramgharia Sikhs, gora Sikhs, mazhbi Sikhs, etc., is an oxymoron for any Sikh imbued with the true essence of our Gurus' message. We can only talk of the Gurus' Sikhs, nothing else.

However, even a casual look around Sikh society today in India and overseas establishes that it is anything but this. The fact that a large majority of Sikhs continue to revel in their caste tags shows that they have the outward form of Sikhism without understanding an iota of what its basic message is.

Even the outward form is now difficult to distinguish since large numbers do not even keep unshorn hair or tie a turban, both absolute necessities demanded by the tenth Guru. Many Sikh women keep the karva chauth fast. Aartis are done on a regular basis. Dowry is widely prevalent, as is female foeticide, an absolute shame.

A low profile lifestyle, full of gratitude to Waheguru Almighty at all times, has been shunned in favour of a high profile materialistic lifestyle, flaunting wealth. Historical gurdwaras are being destroyed by Kar Sewa babas with impunity, wiping out centuries of architectural heritage in favour of marble spattered mausoleum like structures. This is supposed to be sewa?

A British historian, Lord Acton, wrote in 1891, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

With reference to contemporary Sikh society, ignorance is bliss and absolute ignorance is total bliss! This is what I feel when I see modern day Sikh marriage ceremonies, bhog ceremonies or other manifestations of Sikh social behaviour. People with long flowing beards behave no better than clean shaven "Sikhs" flaunting thick iron "kadas", Khanda symbols on their T shirts and Khalistani slogans on their cars.

They do not have the gumption of obeying their tenth Guru's injunction to keep the five symbols of the Khalsa but go around posturing as the crusading knights of Sikhism.

Dante Alighieri wrote the "Divine Comedy". Were he today to write about Sikh society, he might give his writing the title, "Hilarious Comedy".

A major damage being caused by present day Sikhs in contact with non-Sikh societies is the distortions of Sikh religious requirements that they communicate to others. I have never understood why people who abandon the basic tenets of the Gurus' teachings feel this desperate need to flaunt themselves as good Sikhs. It is almost as if they feel that Sikhs alone have the patent on being good human beings, which, obviously, is nonsensical.

"Maanas ki jaat sabhey ekey pahchanbo" - "Treat all mankind as one!" - said our Gurus. So where is the question of Sikhs being better human beings than others? Driven by this need to flaunt their Sikh identity, such people confuse the needs of their personal comforts with the requirements of Sikhism. They come up with notions like the Khalsa being created only by the tenth Guru, in complete disregard of the fact that all ten Gurus have to be considered as an integral entity, one "jot".

They ask for proof of this in a laboratory. Anyone seeking experimental proofs in any religion is barking up the wrong tree. It is a matter of faith and personal enlightenment, not of laboratory experiments. As more and more Sikhs emigrate to overseas countries, more and more of them mask their personal penchant for comfort as a doctrine of their religion. This creates confusion in the minds of non-Sikhs about what exactly Sikhism stands for.

I am convinced that the root cause of Sikh social morass today is the basic fact that large majorities of various social groups  embraced Sikhism not because of conviction about its message but because of relative social advantages that they sought out of it. This was true in the time of our Gurus and this is true today. This is why most of them were not able to transmit a living heredity to succeeding generations.

One of the finest compliments I ever received in my life was when a Muslim industrialist, at the head of one of the biggest industries in Pakistan, told me after a personal meeting in Lahore that I should convey his sincere regards to my parents who had managed to transmit such a strong set of values to their son who, in spite of being married to a Swiss Caucasian woman, living in Switzerland, had not abandoned his identity. More importantly, the son had not attempted to justify the needs of his own personal comfort or ambitions by distorting the message of his religion.

I conveyed this message to my mother last year just before she passed away. My interlocutor told me that he travels frequently to the Indian Punjab and nothing saddens him more than seeing swathes of Sikh youngsters belonging to families of his Sikh friends who have abandoned their identity and their mother tongue. This is the view of an educated Muslim about contemporary Sikh society.

Of course, there is a microscopic minority of Sikhs who live out the Gurus' sublime message in their daily lives. Such people do not go around broadcasting this fact from rooftops. The irony is that those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know!

In the middle of swirling Sikh ignorance and cupidity, the Gurus' message remains a beacon of shining light, waiting for those who understand its import, not just for Sikh society but for the whole of humanity.

To end on an optimistic note, when kaliyuga  gives way to a better epoch, the sublime message of the Sikh Gurus in the form of their teachings might just be better understood and actually practised in their daily lives by Sikhs who would then rise above casteism, dowries, drunkenness, drugs, ritualism, corrupt ignorant leaders, heritage destroying sant babas, rampant female foeticide, braggadocio instead of intellectual ability, and pride in stupid behaviour.

This is not going to happen in my lifetime. I sincerely hope that it happens some day.

Till then, I remain convinced that the essence of the Sikh Gurus' message is so spiritually elevating that most present day Sikhs are just not capable of comprehending its liberating thrust, leave aside actually putting it into practice in their daily lives.

 

[First published, in its original form, in The Sikh Review, January, 2010.]

February 8, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Navraj Arora (London, United Kingdom), February 08, 2010, 8:04 AM.

An excellent article. Should be printed and displayed on notice boards of all gurdwaras.

2: Pardeep (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 08, 2010, 9:28 AM.

Fantastic article. How many real Sikhs are afraid to speak out for fear of being lambasted by those so called Sikhs who are running the charade of modern day Sikhism!

3: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), February 08, 2010, 10:11 AM.

Let's all stop condemning ourselves and start celebrating and living more vigorously than ever before. It's just evolution going on, that's it.

4: N. Singh  (Canada), February 08, 2010, 10:39 AM.

Excellent article! Explains why there is a large section of Sikhs who still view themselves as hindus and are reluctant to leave this behind. Typically it is those who come from 'well-to-do' families in India and have gained advantages under the present regime. Also the attack on Harmndar Sahib in 1984 was run by two so-called Sikh Generals - K.S. Brar and Dayal - both of whom felt that their loyalty to their uniform was above loyalty to humanity, justice and Sikhi. The so-called 'counter-insurgency' movement was ruthlessly crushed by Punjab's own police officers from the top down in pursuit of money and promotion, men such as K.P.S. Gill, Amarjit Sandhu (who is still rumoured to be alive and settled in Canada) and S.S. Virk. Their inhumanity and cruelty not only matched but exceeded that of the Mughals during the time of the Gurus!

5: Karam Singh (New Delhi, India), February 08, 2010, 11:11 AM.

I knew something had gone terribly wrong the day we got a Jathedar who went by an extraneous name - by choice - 'Vedanti'!

6: Jagdeep Singh (India), February 08, 2010, 11:17 AM.

A thought provoking article on disturbing trends of division within our community on casteist lines (jutt, arora, mazhbi, khatri, etc.) when the message is of Universal Brotherhood and 'Maanas ki jaat sab ek hi pehchanbo". At the same time, I wish the author had come out with some suggestions for improvement. Can we start with a simple one? - that all gurdwara parbhandak committee members should be amrit dhari and should reflect the essence of Sikhi.

7: Baljit Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), February 08, 2010, 11:40 AM.

Anyone who is seriously moved by this piece and wants to do something ... I suggest, should start with something that takes litle effort and no sacrifice: drop your third name forthwith and revert to use of "Singh" or "Kaur". It's ONLY a FIRST step, but it will reflect your commitment to yourself that you are indeed willing to do something. There is no dearth of what steps can follow ... those wiser than I will guide us.

8: Kanwar (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 08, 2010, 11:58 AM.

Excellent article, both honest and refreshing. We Sikhs spend too much time applauding ourselves over material gains. We like to think that our faith is somehow (supernaturally?) linked to our success as a community but how can that be when we largely ignore, misrepresent and distort so much of the teachings handed down to us. I would be curious to know how the author viewed the 3HO Sikhs in the U.S.A. and abroad. After a recent visit to the community in New Mexico, I was largely impressed by their adherence to Sikhism in both letter and spirit. It was a unique experience and left me with some considerable hope that the Guru's word would endure in spite of (most) Sikhs ... myself included.

9: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), February 08, 2010, 12:00 PM.

I have to question the real intention of the article. I agree there are remnants of caste and class and there are other problems. But undermining the worthiness of all of the current day Sikhs! I have to question if the author knows any positive aspect of our history. Stereotyping jutts (and others) as getting into the fold of Sikhi for 'status' benefit without any devotion whatsoever is plain ridiculous. That status meant choosing death in those days - Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and countless other martyrs, were of jutt extraction who paid the ultimate price of their devotion, willingly, smilingly - they planned for it and welcomed it! The same applies to other communities the author has stereotyped - their contribution to shaping Sikh history is tremendous.

10: Onkar Singh (Sydney, Australia), February 08, 2010, 12:51 PM.

You have obviously over-simplified our past by glossing over large swaths of Sikh history. But your point is well made. It is entirely valid and indisputable. And if I may put in my two bits: No institution can correct these problems until and unless each one of us, as individuals, start correcting the errors in our own lives. Not tomorrow, not next week ... but starting today! Thank you, S. Jogishwar Singh ji - we needed to hear what you had to say. Now, I hope with all my heart that Sikhs around the world will prove you wrong by doing something positive with their lives ... again, starting today! Now!

11: N. Singh (Canada), February 08, 2010, 12:54 PM.

Irvinder Singh ji: how is the reverting to casteism 'evolution'? Are we moving forward or backwards into the fold of hindu thinking? Gurmeet Kaur ji: yes, excellent point about the shaheeds ... let us never forget them!

12: Gurpal Singh  (Wolverhampton, United Kingdom), February 08, 2010, 2:30 PM.

A great opening paragraph with some honest observations on mazbhis; but the rest of it appears to be little more than a rant and is both mocking and insulting to one's intelligence. I understand and appreciate what the author is trying to say but the way it has been done makes this the worst article I have possibly encountered on sikhchic.com over the years!

13: Gur Singh (Boston, U.S.A.), February 08, 2010, 2:50 PM.

As we understand, comprehend and begin to correct our mistakes, let's be clear what are the main bottlenecks to reach the highway of Sikhism. First and foremost is the use of jutt, ramgarhia, etc. last names and avoidance of use of SINGH and KAUR in our daily lives as was asked by our Tenth Master. May I request sikhchic.com to start an online crusade requesting all Sikhs to remove fancy last names and use only Singh and Kaur in day to day life, whether it is online networking sites, day to day interaction, or whatever.

14: Gur Singh (Boston, U.S.A.), February 08, 2010, 3:31 PM.

I have a question for the author. I learnt that Ambedkar didn't choose Buddhism by priority, since it was his second choice, and that his entry into the Sikh panth was rejected by the short-sightedness of the Akali leaders at that time. Ambedkar fully understood that Buddhism would wane as it did happen in the case of Shankracharya's attempt and the dalits would find themselves trapped in brahmanism. Why do the current dalit leaders and their followers in India not do a rethink on this aspect and baptize as Sikhs to reap Sikhi's benefits? They can control all the Sikh political institutions because of their sheer majority and Sikhism would benefit as more people would be made to understand why the Guru Granth is supreme.

15: Supinder Singh  (Leicester, United Kingdom), February 08, 2010, 5:07 PM.

An excellent and thought-provoking article that deserves wide circulation.

16: Hardev Kohli (Canada), February 08, 2010, 9:34 PM.

A very true title but the author has used a very wide brush in the text. I do not believe that the traits can follow several generations. Not many can name beyond their great grand parents. If we go a little further back, we may find many of us have blood-lines traced to the foreign armies that invaded Punjab through the last two millennia. Yes, I strongly believe that what is written here is one of the major factors but we cannot rush to conclusions. The present day scenerio of Sikhs is because of our societal failure to screen our beliefs, history and literature through Guru Granth Sahib which was our Guru, is our Guru and will remain our only Guru. Our conduct has not been aligned to the Guru. My two cents will not be complete without expressing my thoughts on our present leadership which has abandoned Sikhs in favour of political expediencies. The S.G.P.C. is being managed by political parties who has political links with the RSS through the BJP. Our Jathedars are nominated by them,such power in any individuals. It is a mess. The Sikhs in general do not find a place where they can fill their spiritual needs from our institutions. We cannot blame people to go to deras or sants who at least pretend to offer what they want. We as a community have failed as we are always looking outside, it may give us results if we start looking inside ourselves for a change. If we do not know what is wrong with us, how it can be fixed?

17: Jarnail Singh, Journalist (India), February 09, 2010, 3:35 AM.

The author is daring and the issues he has raised are valid, but I disagree with his approach. I don't think he is following Sikhism in the right spirit. Sikhism is the only religion in the world which does not pursue conversions with force, economic benefits, jobs or other incentives. Christian missionaries and Islamic maulanas are deeply immersed in such nefarious activities. Christian missionaries are now converting poor Sikhs in Punjab by offering them economic incentives. One must read the history of Christianity and Islam. They have converted people at the point of the sword. Sikhism consistently stood against such behaviour. I must say it is the only religion which has spread with love, sacrifices, its true image, character and teachings.

18: Mandeep Singh (India), February 09, 2010, 4:55 AM.

When it comes to casteism, Sikhs are no better than others. One of the main basis on which our religion was created was to remove caste-based discrimination and we Sikhs have imbibed them in our daily practices. Even the apex bodies seem to disregard this fact. The Chief Minister of Punjab uses 'Badal' as his name. The President of the S.G.P.C. is using a similar name, and even the jathedars do. The latest one being people terming them selves as keshdhari and sehajdhari Sikhs. Did our Gurus give us this option? It all comes from the inherent human quality of choosing the easy path. Good article. Keep it up.

19: I.P.S. (Canada), February 09, 2010, 6:22 AM.

Something that all Sikhs needed to hear. Thank you, S. Jogishwar Singh ji, for being blunt and making us sit-up and think of the path we are following. Now I have a word or two for the people who love to equate Jarnail Singh Bhindrewala with Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Taru Singh. These Bhai Sahibs are true shaheeds of our Faith because they stood up to tyrants and not because they hid inside a fort, like Bhindranwala. Nor did they, like the latter, turn the Darbar Sahib into a fort and waited inside for the tyrant to invade and destroy the Akal Takht. When shaheeds like Baba Deep Singh fought, they did so in the name of humanity, they did not convert gurdwaras into forts; instead they went looking for the tyrant, engaged him in the open battlefield and laid down their lives to achieve immortality, to become shaheed and their martyrdom brought glory to the Panth. And here's some food for thought: Every afternoon, Bhindranwala used to have a so-called durbar on the roof top of the langar building, in open view of the police and army that was occupying the surrounding rooftops. In other word Bhindranwala and his followers was an open target for the snipers. The question is why did the government not shoot him and others and end the 'movement'? [Editor: This is getting completely off the topic ... Readers, please try to focus on the issue before you.]

20: Aryeh Leib (Israel), February 09, 2010, 6:34 AM.

Gur Singh, my understanding of your comment regarding the Dalits baptizing as Sikhs is, that this is precisely the point the author is decrying: "reaping the benefits" in a material sense! What you appear to be explaining is why the Dalits should NOT convert! Aren't there enough people who have become Sikhs for ulterior motives, without proposing to add millions more?! I would humbly, as a self-informed outsider, propose that the only way things are going to get (back) on course is by means of universal education in the principles of Sikhi, with a curriculum devised by those who are respected for their knowledge and for their adherence to Gurmat in their own personal lives.

21: Gur (Boston, U.S.A.), February 09, 2010, 8:17 AM.

Aryeh, a very deep analysis of 'democratic' institutions of India will make you understand why I said that more dalits need to baptize as Sikhs. The precise reason why the Akalis refused to baptize Ambedkar as a Sikh, i.e., they didn't want to lose control of Sikh institutions. The current occupiers can only be removed in this way. Fortunatley, Sikhs won't panic if our leaders are no longer exclusively from the farmer class (since they are fully aware of their limitations), but dalits, a.k.a ravidassias, have still not reaped the social benefits of being Sikh and having dalit leaders at the top will give them a sense of ownership and they will try to undertand the Guru Granth and how the Khalsa have helped destroy three 'dynasties', despite being in minority, and saved India over and over again: The Mughals, the British Raj, and the Indira Gandhi clique.

22: Brijinder Singh (New York City, U.S.A.), February 09, 2010, 8:29 AM.

I don't know what the author's intent was on attacking different groups within Sikhi. Most of the criticisms seem to be the author's own assumptions rather than conclusions drawn from facts. I agree that most Sikhs don't understand what it means to be a good Sikh. They will brag that they have memorized a large amount of the Guru Granth, but they do not even know the meaning of what they are reciting. They are just putting on a show for other people.

23: N. Singh (Canada), February 09, 2010, 10:29 AM.

I.P.S. ji: In response to your comments which as the editor rightly says are off topic, all gurdwaras including Harmandar Sahib were designed to be forts, to be defended and to be armed. Bhindranwale was not 'hiding' but was frequently leaving the complex and could have been arrested at any time. Bhindranwale was attacked not because he was inside the Darbar Sahib but because he was pushing for the Anandpur Resolution and Sikh water rights which are still being violated today by the Central, Rajastan and Haryana Governments: Riparian laws are being contravened at both the national and international level. I also believe it has been decided by the Sikh quom that he is a shaheed!

24: Harsharan Kaur (U.S.A.), February 09, 2010, 11:06 AM.

I think hypocrisy is a disease of Indian society. Sikhs say there is no casteism or gender inequality in Sikhi but practice these regardless. We tell our children to speak the truth and show integrity but as a community we place accolades on PM Manmohan Singh who openly 'lied' to the UN about human rights violations in India. Here in the USA it is a crime to 'aid and abet' a criminal. If we are saying that Tytler et al are guilty of crimes against humanity and are criminals, what does that make the Congress Party?

25: Davinder Singh (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A), February 09, 2010, 12:58 PM.

This is an amazing article that did more than just tug at the strings of my heart. There are so many youth that connect with this article in every manner. I am greatful to Jogishwar Veer ji for a straight-forward and honest approach that doesn't sugar-coat the issues that plague the panth and 'Sikhs' individually.

26: Peejay (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), February 09, 2010, 1:06 PM.

In my opinion the article was meant to make us think and improve our "actions or deeds" as Gursikhs. I agree with the points raised by the author. A lot of rituals have crept into our daily practices and Sikh institutions like the S.G.P.C. are silent about these and are even promoting some rituals. Sikhs are very generous in giving money but unfortunately this money is not being used effectively to preach the true message of Guru Granth Sahib. To begin with, we have to realize that many of our practices are wrong and only then can we improve ourselves.

27: Arvinder Singh Kang (Oxford, MS, U.S.A.), February 09, 2010, 5:24 PM.

If this article was written to unite Sikhs or with any purpose of awakening Sikhs to move into a specific direction, I believe it will fail in its purpose. All that the author did was label the whole micro-communities within Sikhism with their negatives, while completely ignoring what they brought into the Sikh community as we see it today, for better or for worse.

28: P.S. (U.S.A.), February 09, 2010, 7:21 PM.

I think the author needs to take a more careful approach while making assumptions. Also, I would hold 'parenting' responsible for the gradual erosion of Sikh values over generations. The cure is one and only - Guru Granth Sahib - for one and all.

29: Gurnam Singh (Kalamazoo, MI. U.S.A..), February 09, 2010, 8:34 PM.

I believe that two factors that have stymied Sikhism are our caste practices and the dire lack of devotion to education. The vast majority of us pay only lip service to the Guru's message. Gender equality would be one such example. The younger generation growing up in the diaspora has a better chance of moving towards eradicating these afflictions.

30: Mohinder Singh (Mohali, Punjab), February 09, 2010, 8:52 PM.

Congratulations for a good analysis of today's Sikhs and their transgressions vis-a-vis ritualism and following vested interests under the garb of adopted Sikhism. Yes, they are Sikhs in form only.

31: Aman (Canada), February 09, 2010, 10:04 PM.

So true! You've showed history so clearly, like through a pure transparent glass!

32: Ibadat Gill (California, U.S.A.), February 09, 2010, 10:27 PM.

While there may be a modern generation of Sikh men and women who have a vague and ill-defined connection to Sikhi - this article was offensive. While history shows there is always an element of economics in any mass conversion (see Christian conversions in Punjab today, or Muslim conversions circa 1947), the value of the countless souls that laid down their lives for Sikhi is priceless, and had NOTHING to do with land holdings or monetary gain. With regards to the author's commentary on Sikhism today: If communities within Sikhism voluntarily choose to ignore the innumerable sacrifice made by our collective ancestors in preserving our heritage and faith - that is, unfortunately, their prerogative.

33: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 10, 2010, 7:37 AM.

It is true that those who embraced Sikhism after Guru Gobind Singh enjoy one or more of several privileges as Sikhs. Jogishwar ji, Punjab is crowded with deras and akhoti sants, non-Sikhs and non-Punjabis, they keep sporting beards, wear saropa to look like Sikhs, and help the RSS. Properties and lands are being grabbed by them from those who are in foreign lands and our politicians use them as their vote banks. Herein others have said enough about our corrupt politicians and the S.G.P.C. We need to remember the warning Baba Attar Singh ji gave us at the formation of this 'governing body': that under it, the quality of Gurmat Parchar would decline to its lowest ... and that is what is happening today.

34: R. Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), February 10, 2010, 3:47 PM.

The main thrust about Sikhi being wasted perhaps has a ring of truth to it. It appears that all communities have been guilty of such misconduct and need to get their act together.

35: Paramjit Sira (London, Unite Kingdom.), February 11, 2010, 5:08 AM.

Is Sikhi really wasted on Sikhs? I hope not. In my opinion, there are many Sikhs who for reasons known to themselves do cut their hair, etc. But at the same time, by following the Guru Granth Sahib, are good Sikhs. We must elevate ourselves and make sure we focus on One God and not follow so called sants, babas, etc. Long live Sikhi and do all you can to promote its core message of being decent human beings.

36: Navtej Singh (San Jose, Califonia, U.S.A.), February 11, 2010, 7:37 PM.

My humble opinion: I feel that this is a great opinion article and I agree with a lot of the contentions that are brought up. 1) I will comment based on my perspective. I've been raised a Sikh and have read the scriptures but to no extent would I say I am very devout or any such thing. Furthermore, I will compare it to the other sacred scriptures I have read. 2) There is an increasing divide in Sikhism, from my observation, as he points out our community is divided by "Talking of jutt Sikhs, khatri Sikhs, arora Sikhs, ramgharia Sikhs, gora Sikhs, mazhbi Sikhs, etc., is an oxymoron for any Sikh imbued with the true essence of our Gurus' message. We can only talk of the Gurus' Sikhs, nothing else." If only the latter were true. If one were to say that Sikhism today doesn't fit into this mold today, I'd say one is misinformed. 3) He has an interesting point that we see "romanticized" in the Sikh tradition. You have to infer that the Gurus' messages did not appeal to all so much as the chance to join a community with no "caste". This is a good point and reflects our Sikh tradition today. This leads to my question: "Do we really understand the guru's intentions?" They were able to give us a glimpse into the good life but my question is like the prophets of other traditions, "Were they in this world and not of it?" And if you agree that they are not of this world how can we imagine ourselves to succeed completely in living by these traditions. Are we just wasting our time? Because we are clearly both in and of this world. So how does their message still apply? It creates a golden ideal that is brilliant, but is it attainable here? It all really depends on how you see the world. Do we really value the unshorn hair more than the ideals? Do we really need to increase the size of a gurdwara while ignoring the needs of the youth? Do we understand the Guru's message? Who are we to judge others? From this author's perspective, I would argue no, that this cannot be attained on Earth. As he put it, the Gurus may have been ahead of their time. 4) Nietzsche once said "God is dead", I would argue that Sikh culture is dying slowly in a similar way. In Nietzsche's argument he viewed God as a crutch to the human race, something that we can grow out of. In Sikh culture, I feel that this author points out that our focuses are a crutch to progress. I feel that he believes that we have misplaced our values. We superficially claim to understand the Guru's intentions but we realistically miss the point. Our false ideals cripple our ability to grow and advance and serve only to close us off to others. You cannot have caste in Sikhism, to call anyone a jutt is missing the point. You are all Sikhs the way the Gurus intended it. We use hair today to differentiate. It is superficial. This author doesn't attack jutts as some people feel. I believe he is just pointing out the reality of this issue. There were no Sikhs until several hundred years ago. We all descended from other cultures and races be they Hindu, Muslim, or other. I find the idea of him addressing them as jutts ironic to his argument where he argues against castes and social differentiation. 5) Change of culture is inevitable. After studying other religions and scriptures, you can see how much they've adapted. Look at Christianity and it's shift from being the center of Europe through the Holy Roman Empire to the dwindling power that it is today. Sikh culture must accept that hair is just symbolic of that time and an important part of the tradition, yes, but by no means the only way to show your reverence to God. This author definitely misses this point in my opinion. Yes, we can view the tattoos of khandas as "phony" but that is because they are losing their meaning to this generation. They by no means carry the same weight that they did at the Guru's time, just as a turban doesn't carry the same significance for our culture today, in many ways. 6) Ultimately, this is my opinion and I haven't had a lot of time to go in depth or further analyze it. This is just what I see off hand. For those who have commented saying he is attacking anything, you are being foolish. This is just his opinion. It is not based in fact, they are just observations. Similarly, this is my quick observation. I can re-read the article later on when I have more time and revise/ reword some of the points which I noticed off the bat. This is only what I have inferred from one reading. The author makes some interesting observations in my opinion regarding our culture which hold some truth. He seems to be as much of a Sikh if not more than many that I know. While there are some fallacies, this is a great opinion article that brings up some important ideas.

37: Bob (London, United Kingdom), February 12, 2010, 5:23 AM.

Mr Singh, well done for your observations. Not everyone will agree with them. That's the freedom our Gurus fought for.

38: Gurteg Singh (New York,, U.S.A.), February 12, 2010, 11:20 PM.

Although I agree with the excellent and blunt assessment of present day Sikhs and Sikhi and the brahmanical caste influences on us, we cannot generalize that many people became Sikhs for the sake of worldly benefits. In fact there was a time when there was a price on the heads of Sikhs and only those who were inspired by the Guru's teachings of truth, justice and sacrifice dared to become Sikhs. It is also ironic that many of our young men and women have married outside of our religion, but when it comes to finding suitable matches amongst us, many even amongst the most educated will advertise a match of a particular caste. Why isn't this simple fact not taught to all Sikhs that brahmins invented the caste system to control, divide and subjugate a large majority of the population and gave it a religious veneer?

39: Ikk Mutia (Delhi, India), February 13, 2010, 4:16 AM.

The article is a flawless masterpiece of pen work.

40: Guravtar (Johnson City, TN, U.S.A.), February 15, 2010, 1:02 PM.

The article certainly points to weak practices that are very bitter to swallow. Because they reflect truth in the level of the ethics and standards of many of today's Sikhs. The point of this article is not to kill the messenger; instead, the pointers need to be looked at critically and improve upon them. On February 9, 2010, Aryeh Leib from Israel (Missive #20), being a non-Sikh, gave an excellent suggestion that got lost somewhere. He suggested that we improve education about Sikhi in its real perspective of altruism and pluralism. But, first we have to develop an interest in learning and getting educated. Can we do that? Are we ready for it? Can we really comprehend and promote the philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh behind the gathering of the Five First Khalsa from different castes? Other than the uniform assigned with the 5 Ks, where are rest of the ethics in the modern day Gursikh? These are some of the questions that can help us ponder on the problems mentioned in this article. Then, we can develop materials for improving our education about Sikhi. Other religions having learned the wonderful principles of the Guru Granth and are progressing in social and spiritual development. We can do that too.

41: Aryeh Leib (Israel), February 16, 2010, 1:44 PM.

Guravtar, thanks for the plug, but it appears from my outside-looking-inside viewpoint that there are two opposing forces at work here. There was once an American Jewish psychologist who came up with the proposition that, just as there is a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast, someone should build on the West Coast - a Statue of Responsibility. The two concepts are co-dependent. While the freedom to find one's own personal interpretation of the Sikh Panth is of great help in tailoring it to one's own particular situation, the very real danger exists of every Sikh taking it to the point of becoming a majority of one, a point that Michele Gibson drives home in her incisive article on these pages. Somewhere, somehow, there must be criteria for an interpretation's being authentically within the tradition - or not. Yet, this flies in the face of what many find so attractive; that there is no such thing as "clergy" or "laity", with the usually-occuring gap between them. I can tell you that without its requirement of Torah learning, there's no way Judaism would have lasted - no, thrived - as long as it has, under every conceivable adverse condition. This precludes, however, the existence of authorized scriptural interpretation. In fact, the Talmud even presents interpretations we don't hold from, just to show that the opinion was considered! As I mentioned, an absolutely necessary pre-requisite is to recognize and empower the wisest and purest representatives the sangat-at-large is capable of fielding. They won't feel themselves worthy of taking on the task - but that's precisely how you'll recognize that they are worthy! And, I don't appear to be alone in thinking that it's got to be done sooner, rather than later ...

42: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), February 17, 2010, 4:12 AM.

The article is cursing darkness in Sikh society. There is a need to light the lamp of knowledge of gurmat to remove this darkness. There have been good responses to this article. In particular, I have liked the suggestions of Aryeh Leib very much. He has taken time to examine the Sikh situation with a sympathetic approach. We need the support of such friends very much.

43: Satinder (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), February 18, 2010, 4:15 PM.

Thank you so much for your excellent suggestions, Aryeh Leib. We need to empower worthy people for leadership. This is going to require some thought within the community. Hope people think things out first during the next election at their gurdwara!

44: Sukhdeep Singh (U.S.A.), May 19, 2010, 6:34 PM.

The approach this author has taken is a somewhat interesting one. But, I do not totally agree with him. Some of what he has stated may be true, for instance the fact that many Sikh boys are cutting there hair and trimming their beard. But, in my opinion, it is the lack of knowledge of Sikhism to blame, and the lack of education in Punjab. Many Sikhs in Punjab do not have access to information that is broken down and simplified for them. We in the west have access to the internet and books and simplified scriptures, but it's not the same in Punjab. And as for the kar seva babas and the marble structures, I don't think this author is looking at the gurdwaras as engineered structures. These structures are wearing down! They needed to be reinforced and renovated. You also have to understand the population visiting the gurdwaras has also increased largely and these structures were not built to withstand such high numbers. The weather, water, etc. wears down the performance of the structural elements. It is important that they get renovated and updated! I suggest the author look at this from the engineering point of view. As for talking about the jutts, ramgharias, khatris, aroras, etc., we should rather look at solutions instead of problems. The author attacked these groups very strongly and I disagree with him. I mean it's wrong to look at people according to their caste but really stating that people converted for social gain is totally wrong wrong and disrespectful. Many converted to Sikhism for what Sikhism had to offer, not because of social gain! I would rather see the author support his statements with facts and understand the people he is attacking and seeing the life they live and have lived.

45: Maninder Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), October 10, 2010, 11:59 PM.

In my opinion, it appears that caste is blamed or used as a brush to paint micro-communities within the Sikh community when it is just a "group" that we identify with. It really doesn't mean anything at all anymore. I myself know I am a jutt and have friends from all other groups and we simply don't care for it. The fact that I know my group is not bad; it is when it's used to show or illustrate how I would be better or how someone else would be less than me is when we are wrong. Let's leave Sikhi for a moment and look at the human perspective. After all, we should question everything as our Gurus have taught us. From a humanitarian perspective, we are all one people and should not discriminate based on caste, colour or creed. Going back to Sikhi, it teaches the same thing. Of course some people converted for social means, but not all. Some initially may have and their children and grandchildren may have stayed Sikh not simply due to economic reasons but due to the lofty humanistic principles that Sikhi has. It is a shame that we differentiate and not try to further integrate, including our fellow Sikhs of different ethnicities as they usually know more about Sikhi than most of us "born" Sikhs do. I myself don't wear a turban and up until recently didn't even wear a kara, not due to my not wanting to wear one, but due to the fact that I feel that it would not add something to my life. I see it benefit my friends and that is great, for them. But for me, I have always felt that the Gurus taught us to look inside the person to see if they are truly a Sikh (read as a great human being). Outward appearances simply cannot be a determining factor as one can find bad people wearing turbans as well.

46: R. Kaur (United Kingdom), November 14, 2012, 2:09 PM.

Sikhism is about living a pure life and connecting with God while living a common man's life.

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