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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 46 New Delhi November 2, 2019

Sikh Organisations: India not a Hindu Rashtra

Tuesday 5 November 2019

by Ram Puniyani

The RSS ideologues and leaders regularly keep stating that India is a Hindu Rashtra. This has been most annoying for the religious minorities, particularly Muslims, Sikhs and all those believing in the Indian Constitution. This Dussera, when RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat in his hour-long speech reiterated the same formulation, a large number of Sikh organisations and intellectuals showed their opposition to it and at many places protests had been planned against this statement.

Editorials in prominent Punjabi newspapers like Punjabi Tribune and Nawa Zamana criticised the statement in strong terms while the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is a constituent of the NDA and has been an ally of BJP, also gave strong reaction to the statement of Mr Bhagwat. Giani Harpreet Singh, the acting jathedar (head priest) of the Akal Takht, said that he believes the RSS’ actions will create divisions in the country. “The statements being made by RSS leaders are not in the country’s interests,” he told the media in Amritsar on October 21. Also Punjab Lok Morcha chief Amolak Singh used stronger language to point out that the statement was part of a bigger conspiracy and must ring alarm bells.

This strong reaction against Bhagwat’s statement from Sikh organisations has a reason behind it. Sikhs are being projected as part of Hinduism by the RSS; so this strong reaction from these organisations. This is not the first time that Sikhs are showing such a reaction. One recalls that in the past also similar statements from Hindu nationalist organisations have drawn such an opposition and criticism. In the year 2000 when K. Sudarshan was the sarsanghchalak, he went on to say that Sikhism is a sect of Hindu religion and Khalsa was created to protect Hindus from Mughal tyranny. The RSS has also floated an organisation, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, to co-opt Sikhism into the fold of Hinduism. Even earlier there were protests in Punjab.

The origin of Sikhism with Sant Guru Nanak has been one of the major phenomena of the sixteenth century in India. Guru Nanaka’s teachings came in the backdrop of prevalent Brahmanism to which he and his successors were opposed.  Sikhism’s teachings drew from Bhakti-Sufi saints in particular. The latter were for egalitarian values away from the Brahmanical rigidities and inequalities dictated by them. Guru Nanak was inspired by Saint Kabir and Baba Farid in particular. Sikhism drew from diverse sources the teachings which focused on humanism and equality of all beings. Nanak denounced orthodox practitioners of Islam as well as Hinduism and placed his emphasis on the vibrant intercommunity relationships based on the sub-altern versions of Islam and Hinduism. His teachings at one level are a synthesis of the values of both the religions like reincarnation and the doctrine of Karma from Hinduism and oneness of God and congregation in worship from Islam. Sikh Gurus opposed Caste, worship of Cow and sacred thread. As this religion evolved it developed its own identity with the Guru Granth Sahib as its major tome and other practices which had deep roots in intercommunity interactions.

The assertion of the RSS about Sikhism being a sect of Hinduism is a part of the political agenda of Hindu nationalism. It begins with the definition of Hindu by Savarkar, where Hindu is one for whom the land spread from Sindhu river to the seas is her/his holy land and fatherland. This definition cleverly puts Muslims and Christians separate from the groups of people who own this land. Going further Islam and Christianity, despite they being very old, were labelled as ‘foreign religions’. The attempt was to bring together all non-Muslims-non Christians in a political mobili-sation for the Hindu nation.

With time due to the political contingencies the definitions kept changing. As initially the word Hindu was used for this land spread from Sindhu river to the seas, the attempt is also on to co-opt all others into the fold of Hindutva politics; in this direction now even Muslims and Christians are now called Hindus in their scheme of things. This is a clever manoeuvre. First to call everybody as Hindus and then to impose the Hindu identity symbols—Cow, Gita, Ganga, Lord Ram—on them as their deities. This is a political intervention into the realm of religion. Murali Manohar Joshi, when he became the President of the BJP (1990), cleverly put that all the Muslims are Ahmadiya Hindus and all Christians are Christi Hindus.

The problems with their formulations are multiple. The confusions which they try to create are also multiple. The Jains demanding minority status had been a long struggle. The followers of Buddhism or Sikhism in no way can forget or give up their own religious identity. Earlier also attempts were made to undermine the Sikh identity and Punjabi language. In the face of that Bhai Kahan Singh wrote a book, “Hum Hindu nahin” (we are not Hindus). While the RSS cabal wants to call them Keshdhari Hindus (Hindus who are not cutting their hairs, long hairs and beard), Sikhs’ own self-perception is that of being Sikhs at the religious level.

So many Sikh ideologues have clearly stated that each Indian should follow her/his own religion and the RSS should not try to impose the Hindu norms on Sikhs, whose traditions have been very syncretic and away from Brahmanical norms. It is in line with this that the Guru Granth Sahib draws from the Saint Tradition, Sufi and Bhakti both. One recalls that it was Miyan Mir who was invited to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple, the major Sikh shrine, where intercommunity meals mark the unity of communities away from caste and religious boundaries.

The Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, an arm of the RSS, is active in Punjab in propagating that Sikhism is a sect of Hinduism. The RSS agenda of Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, which has Brahmanical values at its base, is far away from what Sikhism stands for; so no wonder that most of the Sikh groups and ideologues are standing in unison to oppose the statement that India is a Hindu Rashtra.

(Secular Perspective)

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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