The rise of Christianity in Panjab was discussed last week. In fact nearly 150 years ago, concerns about Sikh conversions to Christianity in the second half of the 19th century were one of the many reasons for the start of the Singh Sabha reform movement. Sikhi was clearly identified as a distinct way of life by the great Sikh scholars of the Singh Sabha movement.
A Sikh code of conduct was derived from Gurbani as the Sikh rehat (Sikhi way of living). In this process, ancient Sikh Reht Naamay by individual scholars with own biases were checked with Gurbani teachings and collated into one Panth-approved Sikh Reht Maryada.
However, erosion of Sikhi as a distinct way of life started from amongst the Sikhs themselves who had not shed their non-Sikh ancestral backgrounds and ritualism. The egalitarian human values of Gurbani teaching are misinterpreted by the so called liberal Sikhs.
I have coined the phrase universal Sikhs for those Sikhs who regard themselves as liberal Sikhs. A typical universal Sikh interprets the universal human values enshrined in Gurbani to suit his own personal life style and biases. He discards the Sikhi conduct and code derived from those universal values by the Guru persons (1469-1708) as exemplified by their lived Sikhi and sacrifices and later, by the Khalsa.
The universal Sikh sees nothing wrong with following non-Sikh practices and rituals, otherwise condemned by Gurbani. Conveniently, he ignores the pre-condition of Guru Nanak for following the path of Sikhi which demands any sacrifice necessary to follow the path of truthful conduct.
So, universal Sikhs today are an increasing number Sikhs, including patit (apostate) Sikhs. They deny Sikhi as a disciplined and organised way of life. For a universal Sikh, Sikhi is a do-as-you-like. It is a free-for-all. Usually, the universal Sikh is a well-educated, clever and persuasive person.
Some modern Sikh scholars and self-styled Sikh representatives belong to this category. Knowingly or unwittingly, they prepare the vulnerable youth looking for certainty of faith for conversions to non-Sikh faiths.
In the UK, some universal Sikhs deny Sikh qaumi identity by claiming that Sikhi is an inclusive religion only. Sikhs should follow Gurbani teachings – which is a good suggestion – but, otherwise Sikhs and even non-Sikhs, in their view, are free to interpret the universal teachings of Gurbani as they like. At practical level, for example, they claim that Sikhs and non-Sikhs can have Anand Karaj in Gurdwaras while retaining own religions also!
Some universal Sikhs are now denying the Sikh right, already recognised by UK law, to Sikh qaumi (ethnicity) tick box in Census 2021. Some friends of India oppose a Sikh tick box because it will reduce the count in the Indian ethnic tick box with consequential negative impact on their political clout and other obvious benefits in many fields!
Sikhi was never a religion only. In fact, some would argue that the Sikhi theo-political process started as a question mark against the orthodox religious practices. Sikhi is a niaria Tisra Panth. It takes deep and holistic understanding of Gurbani and the great miri-piri Sikhi tradition to understand that reality about true Sikhi.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK. See here.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
The Rise of Christianity in Panjab (Asia Samachar, 31 Jan 2020)
Massive community & cross-party support for Sikh ethnic tick box (Asia Samachar, 28 May 2019)