By B.S. Mahal

Watch your step! So warns an old Punjabi folklore of anyone who avows to play the devil’s advocate. It is only thus that cowards advance their thoughts, ideas or feelings. Wearing the devil’s mask helps to throw others off their guard; to excuse the arguer for hitting below the belt; to immunize the objector’s specious reasoning,

Underneath the mask is someone who is forever seeking after praise, someone always questioning the altruism of others, someone who constantly casts a blighting glance at the do goodism of others? A scoffer at heart, he has nothing good to say of anything or anyone. Instead, he wallows in the failures of fellow beings.

Drawing their bloodline from these criticasters are also the don’t rock the voices about the wrongs done to Punjab. Not only they wish us all to emulate the proverbial three monkeys by pretending “to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” they also now wish us to write about no evil.

Most of them take pride in being called “moderates” though they would be hard put to define what that label is all about. One wonders at the pollsters who draw up the Bell curve and then go about neatly fitting others in one place or another in the diagram. The “moderate” are easily noticed since they are the ones who occupy two thirds of the picture. All things considered, one third of the “moderates” must lie to the left and the other one third to the right of the dead center. And surely these “moderates” extending from the extreme left to the far right must encompass a vast spectrum of opinions and views. Yet this is not so because the “moderates” are not defined in terms of issues, planks or a political platform but rather they are simply explained away as opponents of “extremists”. Thus the vast center of the curve is kept forever plastic and pliant; heavily askewed to the right, making a mockery of what is the normal distribution curve.

Given that there are the so called “moderates”, then logically there must exist, too, the antipodal Positions such as the “appeaser’s and the “extremist” or the “militant”. The identity of the “extremist” has been an open and shut! Case. After all he is a persona nongrata who is marching to the | drums of Khalistan, The “appeaser”, on the other hand, remains a mystery the “appeaser ‘is almost|? a nonperson. Yet exist he must and he does so in what may be described as the outer limits of the geopolitical web that is Punjab. He is the wimp who is forever terror smitten. He lives in the hope that the nightmare of the past few years will soon pass away and that he will wake up to a world of peace, love, respect and honors. He is happy to put his pride in his pocket and like Edward Young he believes that time, a formidable ally, will play one false

We bleed, we tremble, we forget, we smile

The mind turns fool before the cheek is dry

If everyone were to run true to form then the “appeaser” will be the one who craves for the status quo; the “moderate” for greater autonomy for Punjab; the “extremist” for an independent fundamentalist state of Khalistan, but such political labels are meaningless and redundant in what is increasingly emerging as religious radicalism. Most of the appeals to the Sikhs are usually of a communal nature and are almost always deeply rooted in religious fervor. Even 1960°s rallying call for Punjabi Subha or the 1970’s demands listed in the Anandpur Sahib Resolutions were masterminded by a highly politicized clergy. Thus things seldom run true to life in the land known for its magic, illusion and superstition

Such a mixing of religion and politics has had unhappy consequences. And history is not always the good teacher it is made out to be. For example, the 18th century Wars against the last Great Mogul despot Aurungzeb a self-admitted Islamic fundamentalist, were fought primarily for religious rights and renaissance i.e. secularism. Not one of the battles was fought for territory or the establishment of Sikh governance. Since long ago the Sikh credo has been to live and let live and the pursuit of happiness through religion-economic sovereignty. And the post-1947 Sikh diaspora bears such testimony However; this religion economic sovereignty was achieved at the cost of a weakened sense of “national” unity and divided loyalty. Unbridled Machiavellianism, factionalism and exploitative religious loyalty have checked development of national} identity and dulled any sense of civic duty.

Even against all odds most Sikhs will make their Custer like last stand to defend their faith and religion but not many will circle the wagons for a questionable political end. No single issue has “been so internationalized as the Sikh image of a brute terrorist. Yet the clean shaven Sikh or the Sikhs in Punjab or New Delhi have little vested interest in restoring the tarnished image since they are not the object of direct ridicule or being seen as less than a human being.

There was a time when the Palestinians suffered a similar fate. But the past two months of searing violence, beatings and killings in the Israeli occupied territories has acted as catalyst to win the hearts and minds of the media and the west. As the violence mounts, even the American Jews feel ashamed. Comparatively the November 1984 Sikh carnage in India was a trillion times as bad as the Gaza-West-bank outrage. And yet the Sikhs have failed miserably to win the sympathy of the westerners.

Why? Because the Sikhs are their own worst enemy. Since 1984 the Sikhs have raged angrily, they have been full of bluster and bluff and they promised to turn the world upside down. The more they promised to change things the more the things stayed as they are. Even at the extradition hearings for the 1986 slaying of the Indian army general A.S. Vaidya, New York streets around the courthouse were cordoned off sharpshooters were perched on rooftops. Sandhu and Gill were heavily chained and handcuffed and everyone was thoroughly searced with metal detectors. Such imagery of the “beastly” Sikh continues to prevail and haunt us all.

The various Sikh organizations, informal Sikh group sand the Gurdwara committees are all going every which way to resurrect the soiled Sikh image. The problem is that no one organization or committee is ready and willing to work under one national umbrella organization. Each of the group is Suspicious of the other: each thinks it has the proper credentials and backing. In reality they have sapped their energies, confused those who were willing to listen to the Sikh cause and forced the world to turn its back on Sikhs.

Look out! So goes another Punjabi saying about one who wears his patriotism on his sleeve. Most of these high profile patriots have not been elected by the community; rather they are the self-appointed guardians of the faith. These patriots have roughhewed tribal loyalty in their own image and one must fall in with their nationalistic values or else they will rain down curses on your head. A few of them are at variance with Sikh teachings and’ have become self-appointed judge and executioner ‘particularly when they seek search and destroy the so alleged communal “informants”. Some of the flag wavers tend to reduce every written or spoken word to a simple referendum on “if you are not with us you are against”. Such aimless pursuit damages the community, subverts the Sikh cause and additionally there lurks the danger that some zealots may ring true William Cooper’s admonition that

Patriots are grown too shrewd to be sincere And we too wise to trust them

Calling them the true believers of Sikhism some of these faithful have gone back to the straitlaced puritism of bygone times. Now that is all fine and dandy provided they let others enjoy and exercise the same free will and not brutally impose their own values on others. After all life is no longer snug bare and simple as it was once. In the distant past life was lived parochially and life’s horizon seldom stretched beyond a hundred or so miles. Today for most of the Sikhs living in the west, not Only life but thinking is becoming increasingly internationalized. In embracing the golden days of yore, some of the devotees seem to lack conviction and appear to fall prey to intellectual dishonesty.

For example they alone decide upon what is to be held religiously inviolable and sacrosanct and when. No doubt some of them readily and willingly submit to the orthodox dress code, wear the kirpans and elect to eat langar squatting on the floor but they do this on Sundays only. They drive in sleek, opulent automobiles, live a luxuriant suburban life, and in the privacy of their homes they care not if they eat their family meals on expensive Queen Ann oak tables, let him who claims to be “my brother’s keeper” to stand up and say so.

Even at the height of His fiery against Mughal tyranny, surely Gobind commanded peasant soldiery drawn from ethnic backgrounds e.g., Afghan, Muslim. He knew His was a just righteous cause which by itself will recruit men of conscience. And He will not have doubted any one’s faith or loyalty. He will not have favorites and He must have loved all his followers. Thus, if we must back in time to the golden age. Jet us draw the right lessons and bear false witness. Above all, let no one usurp the authority and power of Guruship.

Article extracted from this publication >> March 25, 1988