Kids Corner


Let Us Talk About Your Book:
Arvind Pal Singh Mandair -
"Religion & The Specter of The West"

Q & A with Author by SIKHCHIC.COM





Continued From Last Week ...





   I am intrigued by your idea of a “Singh Sabha 2”. If I understand you correctly, it allows the Panth to continue to inherit the sovereign resources of its heritage, but at the same time enables the Panth to develop a new skin, as it were, an updated ‘vehicle’ with which to engage the new world we are living in.

So, what’s stopping us … what stands in the way of adopting a new model (Singh Sabha 2)?

A    It is a structural problem, a problem of the modernist ideology created by ‘Singh Sabha 1’. The modernist ideology was borrowed from Christian metaphysics and when it operates at the political level, it does so by creating the ‘friend-enemy’ distinction.

What I am saying is that the nature of modern Sikh politics has inherited something quite insidious from the Western monotheisms, and that is a religiously based ‘friend-enemy’ distinction. It is a product of metaphysics, pure and simple. The only way that Sikhs have been able to enter into politics in the 20th century, for example, is by creating the figure of an ‘enemy’.

This is actually a defense mechanism. So those who create the enemy are 'defenders' of the Panth.

Now at the structural level, this model worked very well for a few decades (just look at Akali politics and how it worked – the Muslim and the Hindu were used as the enemy when it suited Akalis to play this card, with Akalis as the defenders of the Panth, and the usual battle cry – “The Panth is in danger,” etc).

But after 1947, things began to go quite wrong, not surprisingly, because to continue to make this model of politics continue to work, you ultimately need your own nation-state, or you need to be able to define yourself as a secular entity. And the Sikhs, did they ever develop the skills to properly engage the ideology of secularism?

So the Congress was able to outsmart the Akalis at every turn, because they possessed both of these things. Ironically the only way the Akalis were able to escape Congress’ stranglehold on Sikh politics was by forming an alliance with their own worst enemy: the BJP!

Anyway, I don’t want to go too much off the point here. So let me bring it back to what I wanted to say, which is that the problem is a structural one that afflicted ‘Singh Sabha 1’ from the very beginning.

The logic of this system that takes on a purely defensive role is that when an actual enemy cannot be found, the system sees its own body as an enemy. What I am trying to say is that the ‘Singh Sabha 1’ model, at the same time that it inherited Christian metaphysics into the structural logic of its world-view, it also inherits the principle of “autoimmunity”, or what can be called an “autoimmune logic”.

Those readers out there who are health practitioners will know that the term autoimmunity has a destruction whereby the body’s immune system produces antibodies or lymphocytes that work against substances naturally present in the body.

Now there are strands of recent political philosophy which have adapted the preservation of some thing that in fact leads to that thing’s own destruction. So, to suggest that a system or model is autoimmune is to claim that it is threatened internally by its very own logic. This internal compromise or flaw is in fact a crucial component of all modern democratic systems. The modern nation-state is also afflicted by this autoimmune logic.

Now, it doesn’t take much intelligence to recognize that the ‘Singh Sabha 1’ model has worked in a similar way. This is very obvious when we look at the history of the Akali Dal and the SGPC. It all started out in a very heroic fashion at the time of the Gurdwara Reform Movement, but within three decades, had descended into vicious communal politics and the SGPC-Akali complex developed into the Panth’s official ‘religious-police’. It had clearly identifiable external enemies to attack and defend itself against.

But after the early 1990’s, they had run out of external enemies. But the structural autoimmune logic remained in place and it filtered down into the fringe groups and other much lower level organizations who, whenever it suits them, turn on the body of the Panth and begin destroying it from within.

These lower tier fringe organizations have done so mainly by attacking those Sikhs who try to give expression to a ‘Singh Sabha 2’ by demonstrating alternative ways to think about current issues, new insights.

Apart from these fringe organizations – which are very small in terms of their actual numerical representation - there are also a few incredibly egotistical and utterly hypocritical individuals who have tried to take on the persona of the Panth’s ‘religious police’ but are in fact nothing more than hoodlums -- or ’goondas’, to borrow from the subcontinent’s parlance -- masquerading as community leaders or pseudo-intellectuals.

These people attack the Sikh body in another way - by targeting those individuals who wish to think independently of the crowd, by orchestrating inquisitions and witch-hunts against them.

  Why do you call them ‘goondas’? Aren’t they merely the garden-variety ‘fundamentalists’? Isn’t it enough to identify them as such, because it then immediately puts them outside the very pale of Sikhi?

  I think the term ‘fundamentalist’ is too respectful for these types.

The people we tend to normally call ‘fundamentalist’ can be of two different varieties: ‘religious fundamentalists’ and ‘secular fundamentalists’. They sound completely opposed but in fact both groups rely on the same autoimmune logic but put it into practice in slightly different ways.

I won’t go into the differences here. Suffice it to say that ‘fundamentalists’ tend to stick to a belief system, to certain fundamental principles which they will not compromise whatever the cost. Their ‘fundamentalism’ is a badge of honor that they won’t compromise.

No, ‘fundamentalist’ is not the right word for them.

The right word is goonda.

[Goonda is a term in subcontinental English for a hired thug. It is both a colloquial term and defined and used in laws, generally referred to as the "Goonda Acts" by the respective Courts and Parliaments - (Wikipedia).]

The reason for using this term is that they deal in lies and falsehoods. Some of these goondas may be from established professions -- or  formerly from one, or retired -- and parade themselves as ‘defenders of Sikh dharam’ but in fact they are utter hypocrites who knowingly spread false information.

The sad thing is that while increasing numbers of ordinary Sikhs are beginning to realize that the current ‘Singh-Sabha-1’ model is outdated, many are simply confused by the lies and false propaganda being spread by these goonda types, because they are the ones who tend to shout the loudest, while the majority of decent Sikhs remain silent because they are too embarrassed even to face these goondas.

Most decent people simply walk away because if you try to register a disagreement with them, you are labeled an enemy of God or the Panth, or both.

In some ways, the silent majority has allowed these goondas to drag Sikh discourse into the depths of depravity. Except for sites like (and a few others like sikhnet, Sikh Studies Forum and some of the more responsible Punjabi newspapers), the public discourse on some of the marginal Sikh sites has reached a very low level indeed where these goondas have been allowed to carry out mock inquisitions against soft targets … such as scholars, for example.

But let me hasten to add something else here.

Despite their show of bravado, the goondas are actually cowards motivated by a deep-seated anxiety. They are afraid because they have begun to realize that the romanticized world they knew is now becoming totally irrelevant – especially in Punjab! Because the world has changed, peoples’ attention has gone elsewhere. They have nothing positive to actually contribute to Sikh society, so they put all their efforts into stopping others who can contribute.

In this sense their actions smack of desperation and childishness at the same time. They simply want attention of the Sikh public, and they do it by putting on side-shows like the ‘anti-McLeod’ campaign.

In the 1990’s they couldn’t find real enemies, so they began a campaign against holders of Chairs in Sikh Studies. Their tactic was to spread fear and panic amongst ordinary Sikhs that the Panth was in some kind of danger from scholars of Sikh studies. Those, for example, who had had some kind of association with Professor W.H. McLeod. 

The late Khushwant Singh (the journalist-scholar who wrote the popular two-volume “A History of the Sikhs“) made a very pertinent point at the time. He said that there should never have been an issue here at all. Hew McLeod was asking some quite legitimate questions about Sikh history, and it was the task of Sikh scholars to provide answers to his questions.

McLeod may have been wrong on certain issues (and I have dealt very firmly with some of these issues in my book, especially chapter 4). But the whole issue should have been handled at a very professional level.

Instead what his detractors did was to inflame passions of the Sikh masses by spreading lies, rumors and endless charges of blasphemy. It was utterly shameful and deeply embarrassing to the image of a diasporic Sikh community trying to establish its reputation in an already hostile environment after 1984.

To outsiders, it gave further credence to the stereotype that Sikhs were simply a hot-headed bunch of fanatics, totally incapable of handling, much less conducting, an intellectual debate via the accepted channels and protocols.

To be Continued Next Week …

April 14, 2014

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Arvind Pal Singh Mandair -
"Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part XIII"

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