By Gurbhagat Singh
The present unrest in Punjab as manifested in the militancy of Sikh youth, is rooted partly in the history of Punjab and partly in the problems that have arisen due to the development of a stream rolling and unjust capitalist production system threatening a nationality which has its own institutional structures. The way to deal with the present unrest cannot be piecemeal, or narrowly pragmatic. It has to be a futuristic and totalistic one that may evolve a new model for reorganizing India to accommodate the various distinct national identities struggling §silently or violently for recognition of their ontological being.
“Ontological being” here means a self-conscious identity that has shaped through historical specificity, language, folklore and spatial isolation even if that was not for a long period, but long enough to develop special features.
To understand the present Punjab crisis it is important to know the structure of Punjabi nationality as it shaped after the advent of the Sikh Gurus. The Sikh movement under the veil of “religion” was basically, a political movement born out of sharp contradictions between the interests of the peasantry and the Mughal imperial system. Historians like R.S. Shatma and Irfan Habib have testified that the peasants, deprived of communal agrarian rights, were the most exploited lot. The Sultanate used to extract 50 percent of their produce and levy additional taxes. How miserable the life of the peasantry was has been detailed in the “Baburnama.” The traders formed a small middle class, except those who had business links with the imperial palace and its officials, traders also merely survived. They had little freedom to practice their independent way of life. Apart from bearing the utterly exploitative system centered around the Emperor and his collaborating ruling elite, the peasantry and the small trading class had also to put up with the depressing feeling of belonging to a lower class in the caste hierarchy perpetuated by the Brahmanical priesthood,
The most devastating aspect of this Emperor centered politico economic system and the Brahmanical thought 8ripping the non-Muslims masses were that they had internalized their worldview. In simple words, the imperial and Brahmanical structures had succeeded in producing a kind of subjects who accepted the universe i monastic, no dualistic or Unitarian terms and in whose minds Class conflict and transformative violence had hardly any place.
When the Sikh Gurus came, the most vital thing that they did was to set up a parallel ideology to alter the thinking of the subjects. Recent thinkers like Althusser, Therborn and Larrain have all drawn our attention to how ideological sets interpellat6e. To counter interpolate, the Sikh Gurus evolved a worldview of their own. Their universe too was presided over by God; the Almighty. But their God did not sit in his abode disinterested with the goings on in the world. He was rather the “true Emperor” and the “true Lord” who punished “bloodsucking” exploitative Sultans and their officials. This “true Lord” not only protected the gurmukhs (God realized heroes) as he was concerned about the holistic evolution of life, but also punished manmukhs (egotists), including antisocial State administrators, the privileged upper class and the Emperor himself. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, developed “sword” as the symbol of God. In the “Dasam Granth” the Guru says: “I salute Him who is the most deadly sword that destroys the demon enemy and conquers the field with its miraculous might.”
The life of vishmaad (wonder) and anhad naad (unstruck melody) in which human beings are in harmony with themselves and with the world cannot prevail unless the most deadly sword a form of god himself is allowed its sway. Those who wield it are “gurmukhs” or “Saint Soldiers” of Guru Gobind Singh, very dear to him. The point to be understood here is that the Sikh way culminating in the creation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh shattered the monistic world view in which being and consciousness were identified. This identification had not been allowing people to think in terms of taking action for bringing about a change through conflict. In his famous prayer, “Deh Shiva”… Gutu Gobind Singh petitions to God to bless him with courage so that he remains fearless before death and does not hesitate to die a martyr in the battlefield. By keeping a hawk on his hand and wearing a sword and)a shield, the tenth Guru became a living emblem of the saint solider out to change history.
A vital step was taken to resolve some basic contradictions first, by creating a new ideology and then, moving towards the establishment of a new way of life elevating the importance of work and of sharing of resources. They had a clear vision of the future which became further explicit when Banda Bahadur made the armed struggle a crusade for the liberation of the peasantry.
The Sikh Gurus had to work under certain limitations like the absence of the middle class. In Europe, it should not be forgotten, the revolution against monarchy and feudalism was led by those who came from such a class. The Guru’s instruments were oppressed peasants and landless workers. There was neither science nor technology to revolutionize the production system. The Guru led peasantry had only a vision and organizational concept of an egalitarian society without a blueprint of a new economic order. Despite these hindrances in the realization of their vision they however succeeded in producing a person with conviction for change through battle. This was a dialectical development.
What is vital for the student of Punjab is to know that the dialectical ideology that the Gurus generated was transmitted by them through bani (met poetry). The structure of this bant is strategically made up of a fierce dialectic haloed by a Tran’s dialectical vision, so that the dialectic at the same time also transcends itself leading to a glimpse of futuristic possibilities. The transformational activity in vitiated by the bani is not dissimilar from the kind of intellectual activity that Gramsci, in our own times, has said is necessary before a revolution. The essential thrust of these bani is subversive. It is a war with the ideological structures, considered responsible for the exploitation and near slavery of the then contemporary peasants, landless workers and the small middle class engaged in petty trade.
A successful strategy that the Gurus used for producing a new person with subversive consciousness was to emphasize the value or repetition of these bani individually and in groups (congregations), when the tenth Guru arrived to baptize the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in 1699 A .D. the bani had already prepared the subversive “saint solider” with a new response system. The Psychobiology of the then Sikh had been first deconditioned and then reconditioned for a struggle for a different way of life.
Herber Marcuse in his “Essay on Liberation” has said very clearly that a revolutionary has to have a different response system. The revolutionary’s nervous system has to be radicalized. In a somewhat Marcusian sense, the Sikh guerillas who fought from the forests of Punjab for about one hundred years possessed that response system which retaliated against an historically outdated political and economic order.
This different and radicalized person, with an altered response system, produced by a special language of bani with counter signs and heavily affective sound combinations succeeded, under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in wrecking the Mughal Empire in the northern part of India. Since the Maharaja (may be due to lack of time or otherwise) could not introduce a new economic order with advanced technology and an effective defense system, his Raj collapsed when it came in clash with the British.
Many Sikh landlords, in that situation, found it convenient to collaborate with the imperialists, but among the common peasantry and a section of the trading class the radicalized Sikh survived. From that radical section of the Sikhs emerged young men like Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his uncle, Ajit Singh. The imperial system could not shatter their radicalized response system. The Sikh institutions like gurbani Kirtan and sangat (congregations) which kept the Sikh lore and history alive, helped in keeping this person intact. In fact these Sikhs with a radicalized nervous system and consciousness deserve to be called avant-garde Punjabis, Avant grade Indians, and even avant-garde world citizens. They dreamt about leaping across history.
This avant-garde Punjabi now called Sikh produced by the bani with its counter interpolative strategies the and related communitarian structures, has refused to be cowed by the capitalist production system that minimizes individual dignity, human freedom and egalitarianism. He has refused to be cowed by the capitalist production system that minimizes individual dignity, human freedom and egalitarianism. He has refused to compromise with the present political and economic order.
The militancy of Sikh youth cannot be understood in isolation. It is a reaction of that avant-garde Punjabi who has survived the feudal and imperial systems. So it does not surprise when a militant Sikh youth organization, in one of its important documents circulated at a public meeting calls the violence practiced in pursuit of the egalitarian and “higher” sociopolitical model of the Gurus as the “poetry of history.”
The bare fact to be understood about Punjab is that the avant-garde Punjabi refuses to die. The consequent and clashing political and economic orders have mellowed him no doubt but he continues to assert himself. Had he been allowed in history to work his model with its possibilities with its necessary structures in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time and not blocked by the British imperial system, it would have turned out to be a unique experiment of humankind. Since its vitality has not been exhausted, it still deserves a chance. Rather it is out to force history to give it one. It will be sad and unforgivable if the ruling elite, to make Punjab a profitable market in the future, decides to crush this assertion. Rather than make it could itself into a Unitarian model, the prevalent Unitarian model needs to be altered to accommodate this regional and cultural assertion, even if that needs to rewrite the Constitution.
The avant-garde Punjabi, with his or her distinct consciousness, the response system and communitarian structures recognition as a nationality. The time has come to state this without any ambiguity serves that Punjab is the home of this avant-garde Punjabi nationality and of all those sister groups who accept the structures and consciousness associated with this avant-gardism. Those who, for class interests or other historical reasons, could not identify themselves with this disruptive and discontinuous phenomenon of Punjab’s history and have sided with the Central ruling elite should fight for getting Punjab accepted as the homeland of the above mentioned avant-gardism.
This means launching a crusade for the development and adoption of a hierological model for the entire country that could accommodate not only the Punjab avant-gardism but also the other cultural communities that have survived with their distinct linguistic and other institutional structures. The term histological model here means an improved federal model that allows each cultural group to function in its own “historically” to use their term from Michel de Certeau. In this model the relation between one ontological group and the other will not be transcendent, appropriative and stream rolling but dialogical and mutually enriching. The task of modernization and development if undertaken at the cost of what Paul Ricoeur in his “History and Truth” once called the “ethical and nucleus basis” of micro cultures which help us in interpreting life; it will prove to be a disaster. Much earlier, Martin Heidegger the well-known German philosopher, had said that the “boundaries” that we draw around ourselves in history only help us in “presenting.” It means that a meaningful being of an individual or a cultural group as contribution to human heritage is always bounded to a specific “space” that needs recognition,
The present Punjab crisis and for that matter the discontent am
So it does not surprise when a militant Sikh youth organization, in one of its important documents circulated at a public meeting, calls the violence practiced in pursuit of the egalitarian and “higher” sociopolitical model of the Gurus as the “poetry of history.”
The avant-garde Punjabi, with his or her distinct consciousness, the response system and communitarian structures deserve recognition as a nationality. The time has come to stae this without any ambiguity that Punjab is the home of this avant-garde Punjabi nationality and of those entire sister groups who accept the structures and consciousness associated with this avant-gardism.
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