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December 20, 1999


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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle


My mind is in a more chaotic state than usual. It's the result of a periodic affliction, under which spells I suffer greatly but emerge none the wiser. I'm wondering, could the current virus lead me to new ideological plains? See, after the Kamala Das episode, I had "words" with my Sardar. It began with his expressing admiration for her courage to forsake all for Love, and continued through sizzling attacks which had nil to do with the dippy dame, and ended with light spanking. All in all, very stimulating, indeed. And educational, too. For I unexpectedly got a glimpse into a mindset I never associated with Sikhs -- that of the minorities. MY Sardar?! I quietly died.

I've always been baffled by the large chunk of hate mail from Singhs. It's as easy to delete the trash from the Sens and Nambiars (label them "pinko"), as from the Khans. But, Sardars?! I just couldn't fathom why they hated me to death, and why there should be more of those who hate me. To my mind, Sikhs just couldn't be all that goes by the Indian aberration known as "secularists." They form nearly 33 per cent of the Indian army, and I couldn't see them as stupid, limp-wristed wimps. I liked them, and so they *had* to like me. Therefore, each hate mail was a personal breach of faith.

Now I find that I never knew them at all... Of course, I made the classic boo-boo of bunching different individuals under one tag, and I'm doing it again by ascribing one Sikh's thoughts to the lot -- but that's how things work in the real world. Here are my findings: Sikhs believe Sikhism to be a very distinctive minority religion of India. Sikhs detest me because they see me as a symbol of a majoritarian threat to their identity... When I finally managed to drag this out of my reluctant Sardar, I was too shocked to react, let alone rebut. Actually, I burst into tears.

There are about 18 million Sikhs in India, comprising 1.8 per cent of the population. They form 62.95 per cent of Punjab's 20 million people while... Screw stats, here are vignettes of what attracted me. 1860: Baba Ram Singh, leader of the Namdhari movement, raising the banner of revolt against the British regime... 1913: The founding of the Ghadar Party in SF to liberate India from the British yoke... Udham Singh's defence of his assassination of Lt Gov Michael O'Dwyer: "He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him"... 1942: Their taking the lead in Netaji's Indian National Army for the liberation of India, with Gen Mohan Singh organising the Sikhs of Malaysia against the British... 27 October, 1947: "The British Indian Army transformed into the Indian Army, with the first Sikh regiment arriving in Srinagar to save it from the marauding tribesmen sent from across the border by Pakistan"...

But that ain't the point. While arguing, I'd said: "Why would I even blink if my daughter wanted to marry a Sikh? There'd be no cultural or religious disparity she'd have to face." Which had brought forth the Hinduism-wants-to-swallow-our-identity line... Thing is, Hindus are conditioned to regard Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism as "panths" or sects. My folks told me that the elder son would become a Sikh while the younger remained Hindu; that the Gurus were devotees of Ram and Krishna; that the Marathi sant-poet Namdev's hymns are included in the Granth Sahib; that, prior to the tenth Guru, there was no separate name for the followers of Guru Nanak and they were considered a part and parcel of Hinduism; that Guru Govind Singh gave the name "Sikh" to those who were willing to fight the tyranny of the Mughals. I was taught that Hinduism is a generic name given to all the faiths which have roots in India and believe in Parmatma (God), Prarthana (prayer), Punerjanma (reincarnation), Purushartha (Karma) and Prani Daya (kindness to all living beings). Sikhism believes in all...

So my Sardar said, "We believe in martial traditions; we do not believe in a caste system; and we most certainly do not worship idols." And I wondered, is the Kshatriya not martial? Is there no caste among Sikhs? One of the greatest modern Sikh leaders, Master Tara Singh, petitioned the GoI to provide special benefits to Harijan Sikhs! He was also one of the founding members of the VHP! At a meeting in Bombay on August 19, 1964, Tara Singh declared, "Sikhs and Hindus are not separate. Sikhs will survive only if Hindus survive. Sikhs are part and parcel of the Hindu Society. Guru Govind Singhji brought in Gurumukhi the wisdom and philosophy from our scriptures and Puranas. Are we going to give up this heritage?"

And as for idol worship, what few understand is that Hinduism is monotheistic as well as catholic. Parmeshwar, or Brahmatma, is the pivot, the godhead, into which Man will merge on achieving moksha. Its catholicity lies in allowing Man to think for himself and find his own path to moksha. Hinduism has its icons -- like Islam has the Ka'ba -- which are only a means of concentrating the mind. Sikhs worship the Granth Sahib and pictures of the Gurus -- aren't they icons? Till Durgayana Mandir was built, Durga's idol was worshipped in the Harmandir Saheb!

I wondered, when did this wedge of irreconcilable differences get driven between Hindus and Sikhs? What are the roots of Sikhism...? Here are some stanzas from the Gurus and the Guru Granth Saheb:

* Taha hum adhik tapasya sadhi / Mahakal kalika aradhi ~ Guru Govind Singh
(There I worshipped and did penance to seek Kali.)

* Ram katha jug jug atal / Sab koi bhakhat net Suragbas Raghuver kara / Sagri puri samet Jo en Katha sune aur gaave / Dukh pap tah nikat na aave ~ Guru Govind Singh
(The story of Ram is immortal and everyone should read it. Ram went to heaven along with the whole city. Whoever listens to or sings His story, will be free of sin and sorrow.)

* Kahaiya Hinduan daro na ab tum / Im likho pathon dil sain Guru Nanak ki gadi par / Ab hain Tegh Bahadur Unko jo Muhummadi kar lihoon / To ham hain sab sadar Arya Dharma rakhak pragatiyo hain ~ Guru Tegh Bahadur
(Hindus, do not fear, Guru Tegh Bahadur is Guru Nanak's successor. If Muslims bother you, I'll take care of them. For I am the protector of Hinduism.)

* Tin te sun Siri Tegh Bahadur / Dharam nibaahan bikhe Bahadur Uttar bhaniyo, dharam hum Hindu / Atipriya ko kin karen nikandu Lok parlok ubhaya sukhani / Aan napahant yahi samani Mat mileen murakh mat loi / Ise tayage pramar soi Hindu dharam rakhe jag mahin / Tumre kare bin se it nahin ~ Guru Tegh Bahadur's reply to Aurangzeb's ordering him to embrace Islam.
(In response, Shri Tegh Bahadur says, My religion is Hindu and how can I abandon what is so dear to me? This religion helps you in this world and that, and only a fool would abandon it. God himself is the protector of this religion and no one can destroy it.)

* Sakal jagat main Khalsa Panth gaje / Jage dharam Hindu sakal bhand bhaje ~ Guru Govind Singh.
(The Khalsa sect will roar around the world. Hinduism will awaken, its enemies will flee.)

What's more heart-breaking is the new-found empathy between certain Sikhs and Pakistanis. How could a "Sang Sabha" of Sikhs -- at Lahore -- listen to the Jamaat-e-Islami say: "Do not consider yourselves alone in the fight for freedom. All the Muslims of the world are with you." Have they so soon forgotten the Hindu and Sikh corpse-laden trains from Pakistan? In June, N S Malik wrote about the training of Paki soldiers: "To Pakistan's army, 'the only good Indian is a dead Indian,' and the funniest item of the Pagal Gymkhana in their cantonments is the beating given to a sickly looking man depicted as a Sikh, a symbol of India. Children and adults are blindfolded and made to take a stick and hit this effigy. The audience gets fantastic fun out of it." Such Sikhs are the progeny of the clergy of the Golden Temple, led by Arur Singh, who had honoured the massacring Gen Dyer by declaring him a Sikh, on condition that he renounce one cigarette a year...

I've been told that Sikhs feel "betrayed badly by India." Or, "I can't understand how they can fight for that country or wave the flag merely because they were born there." Or, "Do you expect them to stand up for India if they had seen their near ones die?" Look at it this way: There's Papa, Mama, Big Brother, Little Brother, Sister. One day, Big Brother badly beats up Little Brother for being naughty. So Little Brother throws stuff around, does considerable damage and leaves home. Next, he calls Mama "that woman," and demands a share of the estate on the threat of blowing up the family... I'm sorry, but I spit on this type.

The Blue Star fiasco cost India many brave jawans since they were ordered to minimise the destruction of the Golden Temple and thus were unnecessarily exposed to militant fire. However, the crux is: The Sikh community itself bears as great a share of the blame as Mrs G and the Congress. For they turned a blind eye to the militants holed up in the/ gurudwara and who ventured out to murder and create mayhem at will. As one of my Mallus had said, "If Guruvayoor or Sabarimala were being used in such a manner, I'd be the first to cheer along a military action to flush out the bastards."

I'm sick of hearing about how Sikhs feel aggrieved by the 1984 massacres. If they're so aggrieved, how and why did 62.95 per cent Sikh Punjab vote Congress...? Did Balasaheb or Rajju Bhaiya lead the rioters in Delhi? Did Hindus murder Sikhs -- or did the acolytes of the Nehru-Gandhis...?

And, of course, the pinkos... Vijay Prashad, an assistant professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, and a member of FOIL, wrote about the Tenth Hindu Conference in NYC, where a resolution was passed urging "all the Hindus of the world to act in a broad and nationalistic manner rising above their personal beliefs and creeds, parochial languages, and provincial and sectarian considerations such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamilian, Telugu, Bengali, Jains, Sikhs, etc." Prashad's note: "The VHP offers the Hindu (and Sikh and Jain!) migrant an easy task: give money for work in India, to help those Hindus who are in 'distress'."

A Singh, professor at RI College commenting on a book on Tipu Sultan: "...surely most of butchering of Sikhs in the 18th cen took place at the hands of invading Muslims or Moghuls, but many Hindu rulers and/or Hindu ministers, for example, of Sirhand and Lahore governors were effectively responsible for much violence against the Sikhs. But we tend to evade or suppress these facts to present Sikhism as an anti-Islamic tradition allied unambiguously with Hinduism." What to say?

Since May 1941, pinkos have advocated the multinational theory. A CPI resolution classified 16 Indian nations (Pathans, Punjabis, Sikhs, Sindhis, Hindustanis, Tamils, Kannadigas, Malayalees etc) and stated that each should be granted the right of secession. Bhindranwale convinced thousands of Sikhs -- one of the most industrious and prosperous groups -- that India made slaves of them, and the Intellectuals stressed that because they had been wronged, they have the right to separate. The destruction of the Babri by Hindus is "vandalism," but the terrorism of Khalistanis and Kashmiri Muslims is a "resurgence of sub-nationalities." They set the stage -- and the Sikhs danced. What a tragedy...

Varsha Bhosle

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