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Understanding Socio-Religious Roots of Indo-Sikh Conflict [Op-Ed]

March 26, 2018 | By

by: Dr. Jasvir Singh

Indian socio-political elites’ bitter reaction during and after Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau’s visit, reflects a deep-rooted hatred towards the Sikh community.

On the contrary, some secular and liberal Sikhs’ reaction is based on renowned factors and incidents of recent history; in their view the main causes of the Sikh Diaspora’s anger towards India is the failure to provide justice for the November 1984 Delhi carnage, and the rise of right wing Hindutava forces. Although these factors are important, it is too simplistic to define these as the major causes of contention between Sikhs and India.

This type of simplified reaction by the Sikh elite, on the one hand leads to a reduction of the seriousness of deeply rooted socio-religious and political causes of the Indo-Sikh conflict, and on the other seems to suggest that they are still not ready to theoretically question the Indian State’s over-simplified interpretations of the origin of the Sikhs, commonly depicted as an “offshoot of Hinduism”, a “reform movement of Hinduism”, and the “sword hand of Hinduism” etc.

This is not only the belief of Hindutava forces, but the dominant perspective from which Indian society sees Sikhs.

Questioning Indian views about origin of Sikh religion

It is perplexing that academics in other parts of the world so readily accepted the Indian reductionist interpretation of the origin of the Sikhs as “a reformist sect” of Hinduism, as with movements related with “Bhakti Tradition” led by Bhagat Kabir, Saint Ravidas and others respectively.

Contrarily, it is necessary to analyze the origin of the Sikhs in South-Asia as a socio-religious phenomenon that is wholly different from the established Hindu religious order.

The first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his next three successors categorically rejected and abandoned the socially constructed identities of Indic culture that are known as “Hindu”. The Guru founded their own normative order and social collectivity. The fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Ji compiled Sikh episteme developed by the previous four Gurus into “Guru Granth Sahib Ji”. The sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji politically fixed the meaning of Sikhs’ actions on the basis of the normative order constructed by previous Gurus and developed the institution of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib. Later the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh firmly established the objective reality of Sikhs into a unique order by ending the tradition of a living Guru and gave “Guru Granth Sahib Ji” the place of eternal Guru, creating the Khalsa normative order for syncretising the political and sacred power of Sikhs. All of these norms, values, institutions, organs and the Sikh knowledge system created and developed by the Gurus became the body of traditions for the Sikhs. These traditions are not only providing Sikhs with a sense of solidarity and consciousness, a particular national character, but also constructs their ideals and shapes their interests.

This normative order of “Panth” not only differentiates the Sikh religion from Hinduism, but also constructs the limits of appropriate knowledge of religious boundaries, which are established on the basis of collective memories of the Ten Gurus, a belief in the “Guru Granth Sahib Ji”, and institutions developed by the Sikh Gurus.

It is sociologically approved that the religious norms and values provide a normative system which not only bind people together into a community, but also transform human action or interaction systems into a social system. The famous sociologist Talcott Parsons described how a societal community became the core of a social system in the form of the patterned normative order through which the like of a population is collectively organized. As an order, it contained values, and differentiated and particularised norms and rules, which require cultural reference in order to be meaningful and legitimate. It also displayed a patterned conception of membership as a collectivity, which distinguished whether the individual belonged to it or not.

The reductionist and oversimplified approaches to the “origin of the Sikh religion” established by Indian scholars surreptitiously, ignored the above sociological assumptions on inter-relations among the process of the evolution of human communities from action systems, and religion’s role in producing these communities.

Through these theoretical assumptions, it is possible to explore the built in differences between Hinduism and the Sikh religion.

Different normative-linguistic codes of Hindu and Sikh Religions

Hinduism is basically developed through several religious texts including the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and other sacred epics, poems, kavyas, dramas and tantras. All Hindu rituals, norms, values and even deities are based on these sacred texts.

The Vedic religious norms, values and even deities, without any doubt, provided the solution to problems of meaning and order in ancient Hindu society. This process later developed a sacred normative order through which the life of Aryan immigrant people living on the banks of the Sindhu or other six rivers was meaningfully ordered and organized. The main agencies of this transformation were “Brahmans” using their language Sanskrit. The Brahmans absolutely monopolized this language for their total control of the Hindu societal system.

This differentiation resulted in a wide gap between the religious system of “Brahmans” and the Indic societal system of “Hindus”. It is a fact that Brahmanical monopoly over the “Sanskrit language” and their absolute control on caste based social hierarchy resulted in a great distance between their “Gods” and the human conditions in an Indic society. The revolutionary poetic versus of famous medieval saints like Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Ravidas and Bhagat Namdev respectively provided a sound evidence of the startling conditions of “Indic society” at that time.

Rejecting the reductionist Indian approach about the origin of the Sikhs, it is evident from one sociological evolutionary theory of the origin of religion that Guru Nanak founded a new religious system by rejecting the Indic (Hindu) normative order and the vast collectivity that was organized and controlled by Brahmanical forces. The focal point of this development was “language”. Guru Nanak made the ordinary people’s language, “Punjabi”, a part of his new religious-social system by abandoning the “Sanskrit” language.

Talcot Parsons viewed that a language is not merely an aggregation of symbols which have been used in the past but it is a system of symbols which have meaning relative to a normative code. A linguistic code is a normative structure parallel to that composed of social values and norms because written language vastly extends the range and power of the normative cultural order or system. On the basis of the above sociological assumption, it is argued that Guru Nanak’s socio-religious innovation was also based on the utilization of the “Punjabi language” for originating a societal community called “Nanak Panth”, and generated a patterned normative order for this collectivity.

Later, the other nine Gurus not only continuously developed this normative linguistic code, but also used it for producing a religious community and a socio-religious system. In more than two hundred years of their life span, the Sikh Gurus transformed social action or the interaction system of Sikhs into a powerful social organization, a collectivity with a patterned normative order.

It is a fact that Brahmanical forces trampled two other rival religious normative orders such as “Jainism” and “Buddhism”. Thus, the Indo-Sikh conflict is mainly a clash between two rival socio-religious normative orders. Five hundred years of Sikh history is replete with Brahmanical forces’ physical and psychological attacks on the Sikh community for the destruction of the latter’s patterned normative order.

Not discounting some secondary political reasons, the Indian attack on “Darbar Sahib”, “Sri Akal Takhat Sahib” and other religious institutions of the Sikhs in 1984 reflected this clash of two patterned normative orders. Brahmanical forces now control the vast sovereign state of India and its splendid socio-political, economic and military resources. On the other hand, Sikhs are stateless and live under the constitutional grip of the Indian state.

The moot point is how they (Sikhs) counter the Brahmanical forces and Indian unitary States’ physical and psychological attacks that are destroying the Sikh normative order, and survive.



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