By Baldev Singh Dhaliwal | OPINION |
Sometime back one of our esteemed colleagues on the Gurmat Learning Zone network (GLZ) reminded us that disunity within the Sikh Panth had started fairly early on. In fact right from the time of the conflict between the Bandai Khalsa and Tat Khalsa. He gave a fairly comprehensive list of the disunity within the Panth since, as individuals and as groups. The inherent Sikh disunity reminds me of a joke (if one can call it that) about Sikhs often told by Sikhs themselves. In brief it goes something like this:
In a prisoner of war camp different communities were fenced in separate enclosures. When the Commandant came around on inspection he noted that whilst other groups were enclosed in fairly formidable enclosures, the Sikh prisoners were in an enclosure surrounded by a fence only of a nominal height. The Commandant pulls up those responsible and questions them, “These Sikhs are renowned as a bahadur qaum, it will take them little effort to jump that fence.” The response was, “Sir, they are bahadur qaum alright but when one tries to climb over to escape, the others pull him down.” The thrust of the joke is quite clear.
I was told that joke quite recently and reflected upon the going ons in the Sikh Panth which can be attributed to their disunity. The disunity flares up into the open every now and again but lies dormant at other times, but it is there. Yes, the “bahadur qaum”, whilst as individuals very progressive in almost every field, appears to have lost direction along the way regarding all that qualities related to working objectively as a team, towards a common goal. Yet the expectation is there by almost all that they should work together and move in a common direction.
There is little doubt that disunity within the Sikhs has stunted their collective progress and should be of concern. Yet the expectation almost without exception is that all Sikhs should fall in line and move in a common direction. The difficulty though is that all have their own views according to their own thought bubbles. Very often even when Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) Ji is quoted, own thought is at work to prove their point. Their thought process (to them) being the correct one, their expectation is that the others should listen to them and step in line. The more knowledgeable and influential that is one, and there is no shortage, the greater the expectation for the others to follow their lead. Listening to the others with genuine interest or attempting to work cooperatively in a common direction is in short supply. Anyone worth his/her salt has a desire to be the chief and wants to be listened to!Very few in influential and leadership positions, like to or feel the need to submit themselves to any sort of common or accepted discipline.
The result is there for all to see. Increasing divisions as new issues pile up whilst the old ones remain unresolved, with no common Panthic solutions or direction in sight.
Interestingly even the term Panth itself is in dispute; just a path [universal: anyone can hop on or hop off as they please without any commitment!] to some and an identifiable body of people acting collectively, to others. Also the fundamental question in dispute, who is a Sikh and what is Sikhi? Scholars come onto the media presenting opposing views without reaching any conclusions or Panthic consensus, dismantling or creating doubt in what had been accepted before, without being able to replace it. It only adds to the confusion and divisions. Even though scholars had done an excellent job in the past by drafting the Sikh Reht Maryada (SRM) and had provided Panthic direction, an anchor, but even the need for SRM is in dispute. SRM, the Institution of Akal Takhat, and many other fundamentals,which in my memory were widely accepted and embedded in the Sikh psyche are now disputed and all up in the air. Unilateral declarations of “Maryadas”, on the spot changes to the accepted conventions and other such actions encouraging/ promoting Panthic divisions are common. Not just by the sant babas. Confrontations and even battles are sometimes the result!
Yet robust debates accommodating diverse viewpoints, scholarly research/ study, accommodating changing circumstances etc., there ought to be. It is after all a vibrant and a progressive community spread throughout the world. No doubt all that needs to be accommodated and the energy channelled, but in a constructive manner.
Our Gurus were nation builders, had a vision, plan and a strategy; short, medium and longer term. They spent more than 200 years of their lives to put us firmly on that path. Path? yes, but,refined and consolidated over those 200 odd years. Guru Nanak Sahib had the vision and set out on a mission. The subsequent Gurus systematically accomplished that mission. The end result was an Order of clearly identifiable body of people with Guru Granth as the guide and Guru Khalsa Panth as the future custodian. I have no doubt at all that their expectation was that their Khalsa Panth, guided by their eternal Guru, Guru Granth Sahib Ji, would act as a unified corporate body of people with a common direction. To miss that point is to miss the point! Panth, to me, cannot be interpreted in any other way other than that refined, consolidated and disciplined Path of an identifiable body of people. It stands to reason that, whilst not prescriptive,anyone setting out on that path, a Sikh, should have some understanding, belief in, and commitment to that path if he/ she wishes to be part of that group, the Khalsa Panth. The present Sikh Reht Maryada (SRM) was a determined effort [a good start] by Panthic scholars to rationalise and define that Path. For a Sikh [irrespective of his or her intellect] to accept a common belief system ought to be a pleasure, not an imposition. To accept that commitment is fundamental to Panthic Unity. That is if Panthic Unity is desired!
Diversity in thought and practice within the Sikh community is to be expected and needs to be accommodated. Intellectual energy of the community, in all its diversity, also needs to be accommodated and channelled for the advancement and guidance of the Panth. But if a common Panthic direction and unity is to be maintained then all this has to be through some process. Not unilaterally according to individual whim or railroaded by any self-righteous group, irrespective of status, individual or otherwise. This just cannot happen without a proper and independent Panthic structure or without those suitably qualified, providing the stability and giving the lead. Keeping in mind that we are talking of an international and a diverse community. How that International Panthic structure is achieved is the challenge for intellectuals to ponder over!
Clearly Sikhs and Sikhi have been and continue to be used as political pawns in the Punjab and Indian politics. No doubt ideological threats from outside and from within there have been and will be. Sant babas in their various guises will continue to attempt to hijack Sikhi through gullible Sikhs, it is after all their business. But we leave ourselves wide open to all these threats with our disunity. The biggest responsibility for that lies on the shoulders of those in influential and leadership positions.
Unless we unite in Bhau and Bhaau of our Guru in all humility as one Khalsa Panth we will continue to be prisoners to our disunity.
[Baldev Singh Dhaliwal JP-Ret’d British Telecom engineer settled in South Australia since 1986, and involved with community cohesion, Sikh welfare and advancement. He received the South Australia Governor’s Multicultural Award for 2011]
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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