(Continued from the issue dated December 28, 1984)
The “Amrit”? Ceremony, the baptism of the Sikhs, the one ritual of the Sikh Faith, the initiation of the Sikh to life as a “‘saint-soldier’”’ dedicated to prayer, service to mankind, and readiness to fight oppression, is now referred to as an “oath in the name of religion to commit acts of terrorism.”” The government propaganda has been successful in getting many people to believe the victim to be guilty.
The most recent phase in this genocide started after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. Her assassination gave the rulers of India and the unruly mobs working on their behalf an excuse to kill and burn everything and everyone connected with the Sikh religion. Government sponsored mobs of militant Hindus massacred Sikhs all over India and the police “looked on.” There have been reports of the police actively participating in the arson, looting and massacres. The Sikhs in India are asked to give up the symbols of their religion and the open practice of their faith to escape the wrath of the rampaging mobs.
For almost seven months the Indian government has been singularly successful in isolating Punjab from the rest of the world. However, these massacres and the large scale arson were recorded by newsmen from the free world who happened to be in India to cover Mrs. Gandhi’s cremation. The government has kept up its efforts to prevent the truth from reaching the free world. Photographers and cameramen have had their films confiscated. An Associated Press reporter is facing charges of sedition for telling the truth in a report published in the United States and Britain. A Canadian journalist was arrested for entering Punjab. In spite of all this control over the news, information has come out that very clearly brings out the pattern of escalating government violence against the Sikhs. The world is witnessing the extermination of a religion. Thanks to the existence of a free press in the United States, the world now knows some of the gruesome reality of being a Sikh in India.
III. WHO ARE THE SIKHS?
a. Not Hindus.
The Indian Constitution approved in 1950 deems “Hindu’’ to include “Sikh.”’ This is wrong. The Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly protested against this and refused to sign the Constitution. The Sikhs have argued that they are not Hindus but a distinct religion. To class Sikhs as “Hindus’’ is about as logical as to class all Christians as Jews because Jesus Christ was born a Jew.
The Sikh religion is only about five centuries old, and many of the Sikhs had Hindu ancestors. However, the Sikh religion is quite different from the Hinduism. Many western writers, and following them many Indian historians, have characterized the Sikh Religion as a reformist movement. They describe the Sikh belief as a mixture of Hinduism and Islam. It has been said that Guru Nanak and the succeeding Sikh gurus took the best features of the two major religions of India at the time to create a new faith. Kennedy, in “History of the Great Moghuls’”’ states: ‘“‘Sikhism, though descended from Hinduism, is absolutely distinct therefrom.” To determine the origin of the Sikh religion, it would seem fair to see what the Sikh gurus themselves said about their mission. Guru Arjun Dev in Guru Granth Sahib has clearly endorsed Kabir’s words: “I do not fast nor do I observe Ramzan, I only serve One God who always protects me. I do not go on Hujj to Kaa’ba nor do I go on any pilgrimage. I serve only one and no other … I am not a Hindu nor am I a Muslim.” The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh said: “T was called by God into His presence. He told me, ‘I have appointed you my son. I have blessed you for the propagation of the Faith.’’’ The Sikhs consider their religion to be a divine creation. According to Bhai Gurdas: “Nanak, the true guru, appeared. The fog (of ignorance) was dispelled and there was light in the world.” In a verse the Sikhs recite daily the first line is: “The Faith was started under orders of God.” Bhai Nand Lal refers to ‘“‘Panth Nirala”’ meaning the different way. Guru Gobind Singh said: ‘‘so long as Khalsa Stays’ distinct, I shall give it light. When it adopts the ways of the Brahmins, I shall not recognize it.” To describe the Sikh Religion as a sect of Hinduism or an artificial combination of other religions is totally incorrect and contrary to the Sikh scriptures and Sikh beliefs.
The Sikhs are more distinct from the Hindus than Christians are from the Jews in that the Sikhs do not believe in any of the Hindu scriptures, gods or rituals. They do not believe in the caste system and do not worship idols. They believe in one almighty God and in union with God through God’s Word conveyed through the Sikh gurus. Their religion is unique in emphasizing equality of sexes, equality of all people, sharing and charity. Sikh places of worship run free kitchens accessible to all regardless of caste, religion or race
The tenth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, transformed the Sikhs and created the “Khalsa” in 1699 A.D. The Sikhs who elected to become ‘‘Khalsa,’’ through a ceremony much like baptism or confirmation, were to be “‘saint-soldiers.’’ They were to live by the highest standards of morality and courage and, as one of their distinguishing marks, wear their hair unshorn. The ‘Khalsa’ were required to bear arms and be proficient in their use. However, because of the insistence on high standards of morality and devotion to God, there was never a question of these arms being misused. The role of the “Khalsa”’ has been to defend their faith, protect the weak, and to fight oppression by unjust authority. According to Guru Gobind Singh, ‘Khalsa is God’s joy, Khalsa is God’s army. Khalsa is my special form. In Khalsa, I reside.’’ Any member of the ‘“‘Khalsa’”’ not living up to the high standards required of him are subject to excommunication. This system of self-discipline has insured the posture of power with restraint. In his ‘History of the Sikhs,’’ Cunningham wrote about Guru Gobind Singh’s ‘‘Khalsa”’ in these words:
“A living spirit possesses the whole Sikh people, and the impression of Gobind has not only elevated ‘and altered ‘the constitution of their minds, but has operated materially and given amplitude to their physical frames. The features and external form of a whole people have been modified, and a Sikh chief is not more distinguishable by his stately person and free and manly bearing, than a minister of his faith is by a lofty thoughtfulness of look, which marks the fervor of his soul, and his persuasion of the near presence of the Divinity.”
Gupta, in “Later Mughal History of the Punjab,” writes:
“There are in these world men who are endowed by nature with a great capacity for attaining perfection. In the days of peace they work for the solace or instruction of mankind, and strive to smooth the way for the chariot of progress. In the days of calamity they are seen suddenly to emerge upon the scene to guide the people, and with stoicism to expose themselves to the shocks of adverse fortune. The grateful world would recognize Guru Gobind Singh as one of such persons
They (Sikhs) were inspired with the belief that the Panth (the general body of the Sikhs) which stood for fighting the wrongs of the world, was the creation of God, Who was always present with them, and therefore, every Sikh working in the cause of the Panth was bound to be victorious.”
Contrary to what the Indian government would like everyone to believe, the Sikhs are not militant. Their mission has always been to protect the weak and to serve mankind. According to Gupta:
“Service involved two principles discipline and sacrifice. The Sikhs were to undergo physical, mental and spiritual discipline. They were to exercise a strict control over their desires, passions and emotions, to offer implicit obedience to their leaders, and never to think in self-interest but always in term of the Panth.”
Guru Gobind Singh’s four sons died young. The youngest two were bricked alive by the then government and the older two died fighting the mughal army. Upon their death he is said to have told his wife Sahib Kaur that all the Sikhs were his sons. To this day the Sikhs like to call Guru Gobind Singh their true father, Sahib Kaur their true mother, and give their address as Anandpur Sahib, the place where Guru Gobind Singh baptized the first five Sikhs. During the various peaceful agitations all Sikhs have been giving this parentage and address to the authorities, much to the annoyance of the latter. Guru Gobind Singh declared ‘‘Khalsa is my special form. In Khalsa I reside.’’ Guru Gobind Singh’s life of a “saint-soldier’ described above by Gupta has been the ideal every Sikh strives to emulate. The Indian government has elected to declare this ideal anti-national and its pursuit by Sikhs a terrorist activity.
c. Religious Freedom for All.
The Sikhs believe in religious freedom for all. Tolerance of other religions is an integral part of their faith. Guru Gobind Singh forbade criticism of other faiths. As Sant Bhindranwale pointed out on many occasions, there is no provision in the Koran for the salvation of a Hindu, nor is there any provision in the Hindu religion for the salvation of a Muslim. A Hindu is not welcome in a mosque. A Muslim is not allowed to worship in a Hindu Shivdwala. However, Guru Granth Sahib, the Word of God that the
Sikhs regard as their guru for all time, contains works of many Hindu and Muslim men of God in addition to the compositions of the Sikh gurus. Among those whose writings are included in Guru Granth Sahib, Sheikh Farid was a Muslim. Various castes of the Hindus are represented in Guru Granth Sahib including Kabir, a weaver; Ravidas, a cobbler; Beni, a potter; Dhanna, a Jat; Jaidev, a Brahmin; and Namdev, a washerman. In Sant Bhindranwale’s words: ‘‘who didn’t find a place in our scripture? Has anyone ever been denied access to a Sikh place of worship because of his’ religious belief, race, caste or any other reason?” Recently there have been several incidents of militant Hindus burning the Sikh scripture. In contrast, over the entire history of the Sikh religion, there has never been a case of a Sikh burning or being disrespectful to the Hindu scriptures even though they (the Sikhs) do not believe in them.
d. History of Persecution.
Because of their firm faith in their religion, the authoritarian Governments in Delhi have seen them as troublesome people. This has made them one of the most persecuted communities in the history of religions. The Sikhs have suffered in the cause of religious freedom and have a long and glorious history of martyrdom. The fifth guru was tortured to death in 1606 A.D. because, according to the then ruler, not only Hindus but many simple-minded Muslims had started following him. The ninth guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded in Delhi for asking the mughal emperor to be just and fair to the Hindus. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh struggled against the tyrannical government all his life. His four sons, his mother and a very large number of followers achieved martyrdom. In the eighteenth century, the Sikhs were hunted down. Tens of thousands were massacred in the several holocausts perpetrated by the intolerant government. Professor Ganda Singh describes the first holocaust in his “Sikhs and Their Religion”’ as follows:
“The more daring and desperate people being out of the reach of the Government, the wrath fell upon peaceful, and innocent Sikhs living in towns and villages. They were brought to Lahore in hundreds and were offered the choice of Islam or the sword. There were no exceptions made. Saints and scholars, peasants and tradesmen, women and children, all who wore long hair and followed the path of Sikhism were condemned to the same fate. On refusing to give up his faith, the hair of Bhai Taru Singh, a pious and devoted Sikh, were scraped off his head with a cobbler’s scraper. Sabeg Singh of Jambar, who had persuaded the Khalsa to accept a Jageer, was also caught and broken on the wheel along with his young son, Shahbaz Singh. The situation for the Sikhs became worse during the governorship of Yahiya Khan, the son and successor of Zakariya Khan, who had died on July 1, 1745. ““The Governor, Yahiya Khan,’’ says Syed Muhammad Latif in his History of the Punjab, ‘‘now issued a proclamation for a general massacre of the Sikhs, wherever they could be found. Death was to be the punishment of all persons who invoked the name of Guru Gobind, and a reward was offered for the heads of the Sikhs. Thousands were put to death daily and their heads brought before the Sudebar of Lahore for reward.” It was during this time that all Sikhs living in Lahore were arrested and made over to sweepers for execution on March 10, 1746. A huge army under the personal command of Yahiya Khan and his Dewan, Lakhpat Rai, marched against the Sikhs in May, and some ten thousand of them were estimated to have been killed in a few days. This holocaust is known in Sikh history as the first Ghalughara.”
He does on to describe Mir Mannu’s campaign against the Khalsa:
“He (Mir Mannu) ordered Adina Beg Khan to round them (the Sikhs) up in the Jullundur and Bari Doabs and to destroy them root and branch. At times Mir Mannu himself rode out for the hunt and brought in a large bag of Sikhs. “Hundreds of Sikhs,’’ says Syed Muhammad Latif, ‘‘were brought daily to Lahore and butchered at the Nakhas, or Shahidganj, outside the Delhi Gate, in sight of multitudes of spectators.” Finding the homes of the Sikhs depleted of men, their women and children were seized and brought to Lahore. The dark and narrow dungeons where they were imprisoned, starved and tortured, and where little babies were cut to pieces and placed in the laps of their mothers, can still be seen in the Gurdwara Shahidganj in the Landa Bazaar, Lahore. But all this persecution does not seem to have produced any effect upon the Sikhs, as is apparent from the following song of Sikh bravado coming down from those days:
Mannu asadi datri, asin Mannu de soe
Jion jion Mannu wadhda Asin dune sawae hoe.
Attempts to. Exterminate the Sikhs have continued unabated after the British takeover. The British policy attar the conquest of the Punjab was “‘they have to be humiliated. They must be made to feel dirty.’’ Also “The strength of the Sikhs lies in their religion. The best way to control them is to control their religion.’ The Golden Temple was under the direct control of the British government from 1848 to 1863. Even after that the custodians of the Sikh places of worship continued to be appointed by the government till 1925 when the Sikhs, after a prolonged peaceful agitation in which thousands were killed and tens of thousands jailed, were able to persuade the British to hand over control of their historical shrines to elected representatives of their religion. Typical of the government’s efforts to undermine the Sikh religion was the hiring of Dr. Trumpp who made highly derogatory comments about the Sikh gurus in his ‘‘Adi Granth.” In the first thirty years of British occupation, the Sikh population of Punjab decreased by about 50 percent. Even though the British recognized the Sikh as a good soldier and the Sikhs were recruited heavily to the Indian army, they remained the targets of suspicion and especially cruel treatment. Any dissension, however peaceful, was severely punished. During the nonviolent freedom movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, over eighty percent of those who died at the hands of the British authorities were Sikhs even though the Sikhs constituted only about two percent of the population of India. The most recent chapter in this history of persecution began after India’s freedom from the British rule. (To Be Continued)