In Sikhism By Daljit Singh, I.A.S. (Rtd.)

(Courtesy: The Sikh Review, Calcutta)

THIS is in reference to Dr. Cole’s book: Sikhism and its Indian Context. The book is interspersed with a number of unfounded conjectures and inaccuracies and if one was to comment on all of them one would have to write a small volume. But! Mention only two assertions of Dr. Cole, first one is the statement that Sikh militancy was the result of Jat infiltration among the Sikhs and not really the result of a decision by the Gurus. The suggestion was first given shape by Dr. Macleod. At best, it was a wild conjecture because Macleod gave no facts to substantiate his theory or to show that Jats formed a majority of the Sikhs at the time of the martyrdom of the Fifth Guru. Prof. Jagjit Singh in his paper that appeared in the Journal of Sikh Studies, Guru Nanak Dev. University, Amritsar, examined piece by piece and argument by argument the Jat theory and showed that not only was there no basis for Macleod’s conjecture but all available facts pointed to the contrary. In 1981, Jagjit Singh brought out his book, The Sikh Revolution. Therein also be demolished MacLeod’s Jat theory. In Jagjit Singh’s book Perspectives

On Sikh Studies, one of his essays covers a discussion of this subject. He has given what Professor Harbans Singh of Punjabi University calls a coup de grace to MacLeod’s Jat Theory

It is indeed unfortunate that on grounds even scantier than those given by MacLeod and in complete black out of the contemporary literature on the point, Dr. Cole has chosen to reassert the Jat Theory. Fair scholarship required, as was done by Jagiit Singh in regard to statements of MacLeod, which the former’s arguments should have been stated and controverted. It is not easy to believe that a scholar like Dr. Cole was unaware of a methodical and factual paper opposing MacLeod’s views. There are grounds to suggest that Cole was fully conscious of it, but chose not to refer to it both in his book and its bibliography. May be, Dr. Cole’s reason for ignoring it is his belief that opposition to MacLeod’s Jat Theory came mostly from non Jats. The fact is that the chief meaningful and detailed discussion against the Jat Theory is by Jagjit Singh who himself comes from the Jat stock. And Dr. Cole has actually reviewed his booked, The Sikh Revolution, in which the relevant paper and other materials appear.

Apart from repeating MacLeod’s conjectures about the role of Jats, the only new argument induced by Dr. Cole is that during the minority of the Sixth Guru, it was very likely that a regency council, with powerful Jats as its Members, was responsible for conducting the affairs of the Panth. Like MacLeod’s assertions, this conjecture, too, has no basis in fact or in any historical writing. Dr. Cole could not be unaware that the most respected Jat, Bhai Budha, who performed the installation ceremony of the Sixth Guru, actually remonstrated with the Guru to give up his martial activities.

The second conjecture made by Dr. Cole is: “Perhaps there is some truth in the suggestion that Bhai Gurdas aspired to the position of Guru and that his remarks contain some trace of jealousy” (page 253). Here again we are not aware of any contemporary or recent writing making this suggestion. May be, the suggestion is by Dr. Cole himself. Students of Sikhism are well aware of the role and status of Bhai Gurdas in Sikh history hence on this point the less said the better.

For some time past some persons who have worked at or been associated with the Christian Missionary Center, Batala, have on the plea of modern scholarship, obliquely tried to attack the landmarks of Sikh history and institutions. Though some have felt differently, the reason for it a nears to be 2 basic misunderstanding of the Sikh. Ideology because such scholars make the superficial assumption that Sikhism i a part of the Indian Bhakti or Sant tradition. Having made that fundamental mistake about its ideology, that feels perplexed at the appearance of Sikh militancy and the institution of the Khalsa, Instead of being scientific and trying to revise their assumption since those do not explain the final growth, they arrogantly persist in their mistake and seek to attribute Sikh militancy to extraneous or environmental causes like the so called Jat factor. If one wrongly identifies the very genus of a plant one can never correctly explain or anticipate its development or the fruit it would bear. The unfortunate part is that persons brought up under the influence of an ascetic, other wordly, or ahimsic tradition do not normally understand Sikh militancy as a natural religious growth of the Sikh thesis itself, Sikhism is not a salvation religion where personal liberation is the only goal. Salvation religions are all other worldly and mostly ascetic, monastic or aphasic. But Sikhism aims not only at personal union with God but simultaneously at the improvement of society and world. It is the logic of it’s basically life affirming theology that naturally leads to a wholehearted and virtuous participation in the affairs of man. It is because of this thesis that It on the one hand categorically repudiates monasticism, ascetism, rifualism, ahimsa and celibacy and, on the other hand, insists on the importance of work, equality of men and women and a virtuous participation in worldly life. At the same time, Sikhism makes a clear recommendation for the discriminatory use of reason and force in aid of righteous causes and the consequent acceptance of social responsibility as a religious obligation. And| it is Guru Nanak who proclaimed and laid down these doctrines.

That is exactly the reason that votaries of otherworldly ascetic or ahimsic religions feel puzzled at the growth of military in the case of Sikhism and Islam. For the same reason, persons like Toyhbee with a Christian background have been severely critical of the politico militant role of Prophet Mohammad which naturally followed from his religious thesis. That is also why persons like Gandhi, Tagore, Jadunath Sircar have attacked the military activities of Guru Gobind Singh through these flowed from the doctrine of Guru Nanak. It is not an accident that six out of the ten Gurus took up politico military activities. It is during the time of Fifth Guru, the first Martyr of the Faith that the Sikh Panth had been organized into what Dr. Hari Ram Gupta calls “a State within a State”.

Nonpartisan criticism by western scholars like Dr. Cole, unconnected with the Batala Centre is welcome. But, may be unconsciously we are all burdened with the prejudices of the tradition in which we are brought up. Therefore, none of us need claim to be sitting on a higher pedestal and look down on others. That is hardly the way to invite cooperation between Sikh and non-Sikh scholars. The idea is not to discourage any scholar but to promote discussion of every point of view so that the suggestion with which Dr. Cole concludes his ‘book is fruitfully served.

Article extracted from this publication >> March 18, 1988