425.The Man in Blue – Banning of Pag and Patka in schools in Belgium

I am on a crash course trying to understand the background of the problems that Belgian Sikh youngsters face in education.

Like France, Belgium is a majority Roman Catholic country. In the Dutch speaking north, which I know much better than the French speaking south, the Roman Catholic Church used to be very powerful.

I think that this power of the church explains the ‘fundamentalist secularism’ of France and Belgium. Additionally in the Dutch speaking area the often right wing Flemish nationalists are not just against being ruled by French speakers but also tend to be against any incomers (Flemish first !).

The anti-incomers’ sentiment is strongest against the Islamic immigrants, probably because they are blamed for the ‘Islamic’ terrorism. This sentiment explains the anti ‘headscarf’ mood in the Dutch speaking part of the country. It is mostly based on emotions, not on rational arguments.

At the moment schools can make their own decisions to ban headscarves (which include turbans and patkas) or not. As I read the political mood it would not surprise me if a total ban on headscarves in schools will be implemented in the Dutch speaking part of the country.

As long as the politicians we have a dialogue with accept that cultural and religious minorities in the country cannot be wished away, we have a chance to win our case based on arguments.

Popular opinion thinks that Muslim girls wearing hijáb or niqáb are forced to wear these by their family. Going by my experience in the UK this is a generalisations not based on facts. Some girls are under pressure to wear the hijáb, others wear it against the will of their family. The same applies to Sikh boys wearing the turban.

I think that Sikhs (and Muslims) should stick to their traditions and values while actively taking part in society. Sikhs should be seen ‘living the values’ that Guru teaches. Sikhs should practice making an honest living, practice compassion and practice One God/One Humanity. We should not withdraw into a narrow Panjabi world of our own.

Popular opinion assumes that Muslims and Sikhs wearing religious symbols do not want to integrate. This again is not evidence based, and we can prove them wrong.

Sikh children, all children, have the absolute right to be educated. We have, all have, the absolute right to work in all jobs. We have, all have, the duty to be active, critical citizens of whichever country we live in.

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424.The Man in Blue – London Ieper Sint Truiden

I am writing this article in my room in Gurdwara Sangat Sahib on the 22nd of June 2010. Yesterday was the first day that I had access to the internet since my departure from Southall on the 17th. After clearing the backlog of hundreds of unread emails I am now writing the column that should have appeared on my blog during the last weekend. Later I will again visit the local library and post ‘news-clippings’ and pictures.

I travelled from London with Amrik Singh (Airport), his wife Jaswinder Kaur and his son Dildip Singh and we crossed to France via the Channel tunnel. Amazingly our passports were not checked at all !

From Calais we drove to Ieper, and visited the Menen Gate and Hollebeke.  From Ieper we went via Kortrijk, Gent, Brussel, Leuven and Tienen to St Truiden. We did not rush but due to an early start we were still well in time for Rahiras, Katha and langar.

I was very happy that the Kathavachak was Giani Iqbal Singh (Rajpura Wala), who I met last year during my August visit to Belgium. He does not tell stories, respects the Sikh Rehat Maryada and firmly believes in the Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs.

Amrik Singh and family stayed in the Gurdwara for two nights and did a tour of Sint Truiden on Friday. I went to Hasselt, the capital of Limburg, for a meeting with a local politician. The main theme of the meeting was the problems that young Sikhs experience because Belgian schools have the right to refuse students who wear any kind of patka, turban, hijab or niqab.

It was a good meeting, the politician was well briefed and he did not just listen but also asked us questions. The youngsters made a very good contribution by talking about their experiences. The grey beards were in the minority but there was the usual minimal presence of female Sikhs.

Belgium is less liberal than the UK or the Netherlands. There are rules on becoming a recognised religion, and these rules are written with the Roman Catholic Church model of organisation in mind. Every resident has to register with the local authorities but if you live in a bedsit or in the Gurdwara where there are more than a certain number of people in a building you cannot register.

If you are not registered it is difficult to open a bank account, to get a contract with a mobile phone company or to join the local library. There are good people here who work hard to support the minorities, and together with them we will work hard for the welfare of all communities. After the recent national elections there is no federal government as yet, but the Flemish government is in place and the work goes on.

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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423.The Man in Blue – Banda Singh Bahadur

This article is based on ‘the Sikh rebellion’ on page 256 to 258 of The Mughal Empire by John F Richards. Richards tells us that Guru supported Bahadur Shah in the war of succession after the death of Aurangzeb. Guru tried to get justice from the emperor against Wazir Khan of Sirhind for the killing of Guru’s two younger sons.

As he was not successful he sent Lachman Das, who after taking amrit became Banda Singh Bahadur, to Panjab. On his way Banda Singh heard the news of the killing of Guru by suspected hirelings of Wazir Khan.

Banda Singh raised an army and offered refuge to anyone ‘threatened by thieves, dacoits or highway robbers, troubled by Muslim bigots or in any way subjected to injustice or ill-treatment’. Banda Singh’s followers were mainly Jats and Dalits, attracted by his egalitarian message. They took amrit, adopted the name Singh and were prepared to fight for the new faith.

Richards then tells that Banda Singh stormed, levelled and massacred Samana, a prosperous Muslim-dominated Panjab town. ‘Half a dozen Panjab towns shared a similar fate before the Sikhs reached Sirhind where they aimed to revenge themselves on Wazir Khan.’

Banda Singh also conquered Sirhind, ‘massacred those inhabitants who did not hastily convert to Sikhism, looted the city and destroyed the buildings. After Sirhind, Banda Singh adopted the title of padshah, started a new calendar and issued coins bearing the names of Guru Nanak and Govind’.

Recently in various London Gurdwaré Fateh Day was celebrated, related to Banda Singh Bahadur. Posters regarding Fateh Day explicitly stated that we were celebrating the revenge on the population of Sirhind for the killing of Guru’s young sons.

I think that revenge is not part of the Sikh way of life. Bhai Ghanaya helped all wounded soldiers and Guru Gobind Singh supported him. Guru Gobind Singh was asked by Aurangzeb to come and visit him and Guru went on his way to see Aurangzeb in spite of his responsibility for the attacks on the Sikhs.

If Banda Singh went into Sirhind to make sure that Wazir Khan was punished for his crime that would be perfectly justified. If that is the case the above is based on anti Sikh propaganda in Mughal reports.

We should be more careful in how we describe Fateh Day. The young sons of Guru were not killed by all Muslims, all Mughals or all inhabitants of Sirhind. If on the other hand unbiased research shows that Banda Singh Bahadur massacred people we should abolish Fateh Day.

422.The Man in Blue – Guru Har Rai, Har Krishan, Teg Bahadur

Guru Hargobind was succeeded by his grandson Har Rai, who according to John F Richard in ‘The Mughal Empire’ page 177/178, supported Dara Shiko during the war of succession after the death of Shah Shahan. Dara Shiko was seen as somebody who would be more inclusive to people of other religions.

Aurangzeb won the war of succession and was not pleased with Guru Sahib. Therefore he demanded that Guru should send his eldest son Ram Rai to the Mughal court as a hostage and to be brought up as a supporter of the Mughal Empire. A faction of the Sikh community supported Ram Rai, but Har Rai nominated his youngest son Har Krishan as his successor.

Har Rai and Har Krishan were summoned to Delhi, where Har Rai died of natural causes. Before Aurangzeb could decide the succession, a faction of the Sikhs elected Teg Bahadur as the new Guru. There is no mention of Har Krishan as Guru in this section.

This is the first instance where the version of Sikh history as told by John Richards differs greatly from that generally accepted by Sikhs. The sources mentioned in the bibliography are three books by J S Grewal and one by W H McLeod. About nine years ago I read J S Grewal’s contribution on Sikh history to the New Cambridge History of India. I do not remember reading anything like this in that book. Does this story come from Hugh McLeod, and if so what was his source ?

This section, called ‘Sikh Martyrdom’, continues with how Guru Teg Bahadur organised the Sikhs and proselytised in Panjab and in Bengal and Assam. According to Richards many Jats converted to Sikhí. Wherever Guru went he was greeted by large enthusiastic crowds who welcomed his teachings.

Richards writes that under previous Emperors non-Muslims were allowed to build new places of worship. Aurangzeb did not allow this and even destroyed some Mandirs that were built in the time of Akbar and Jahangir. This was now also applied to Gurdwaré.

After several conversions of Muslims to Sikhí were reported to Aurangzeb he ordered the arrest of Guru Sahib. Guru and his five companions were arrested in Agra and taken to Delhi. He was tried and found guilty of blasphemy and was sentenced to death. There is no mention in the book of the Kashmeri pandits, or of the torture to death of Guru’s companions.

Richard’s finishes this section with : ‘After this second martyrdom the annual spring Baisakhi congregation of Sikhs in the hills acclaimed Gobind Singh [should be Gobind Rai], the young son of the slain leader, as the new Guru. At one stroke Aurangzeb earned the bitter hatred of thousands of Jat and Khatri Sikhs living in the North Indian plain.’