452.The Man in Blue – Where are Sikhs in the caste society ?

Man in Blue, Sint-Truiden, Belgian Limburg, 2007

The answer to this question should be : nowhere. We should all be like people whose origins are outside the subcontinent and who have no position in the caste system at all. None of us should be Dhillons, Sandhus, Sharmas or whatever, there should only be Kaurs and Singhs in the Sikh Qaum.  

UK ‘main stream’ Gurdwaré are often dominated by Jats, Ramgarhia Gurdwaré are dominated by Sikhs who are known as ‘tarkhans’ (carpenters) and Ravi Das Gurdwaré are for people who belong to various jatis that are perceived to be of low caste.

When Ramgarhia Ranjit Singh was appointed as Jathedar Akal Takhat by SGPC Pradhan Tohra, the Amrisaris talked as much about the fact that he was not a Jat as they talked about the alleged killing for which he had spent time in prison.

Sikhs elders, but also some ‘orthodox’ Sikhs, are happy when Chinese, Russian, German or Dutch people become Sikhs, but a lot less happy when these ‘malech’ Sikhs start marrying ‘proper’ Sikh ladies.

Can I remind everybody that the Sikh Rehat Maryada defines a Sikh according to her/his beliefs and not according to whom their father and mother are. Guru Nanak’s father was a Hindu, Sri Chand, Guru Nanak’s son, was a Hindu too.

The Sikh ethnic category as defined by the UK Law Lords is linked to the fact that the majority of the Sikhs are from Panjab, but they are defined by their dharm, their way of life, which sets them apart from other Panjabis. Sikhs can leave the ethnic category by not living according to Guru’s teachings or join by starting to follow those teachings. The Law Lords also explicitly mention non-Panjabis joining the Sikh ethnic category.

That does not stop some people to see the Sikh ethnic category as an excuse to make the Sikh Panth, Qaum or Nation a closed group, as if it is a biological category. Again this is not how my friend Ranjit Singh Vakil (CoK) described the Sikh Nation in his excellent paper on the subject.

Just like the Dutch, the British or the Belgian Nations are not closed categories, the same should apply to the Sikhs. Whether we see ourselves as a nation, as a dharm or as a religion, we should welcome all comers. Sikhs are not into converting people, but everybody is welcome, regardless whether they are just looking for information or whether they want to become Khalsas. They should feel like being amongst sisters and brothers (as we are all members of one family).

In the south of India is a group called the Lingayats. They practice Shaiva bhakti and were against caste, but have ended up as a caste themselves. I think that there is a serious risk that the Sikhs in India will end up in the same position ! Let us who live outside Bharat Mata make sure that we do not get caught in this trap.

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Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 11:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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451.The Man in Blue – Are you a good Sikh ?

The Man in Blue

We are continuing from two weeks ago, when I discussed a Gursikh’s life. The subject was not and is not whether you are a mona, keshdhari or amritdhari. Only do remember that offering my head to Guru was the best thing I ever did.

Our Guru, the Guru Granth, does not discuss the state of your hair, the Guru Granth emphasises the quality of your meditation, not the quantity, the Guru Granth lays down the principles to base your life on.

If we look at the first page of the Guru Granth Sahib, it starts with the number 1 followed by five words and these describe God as All-Powerful and All-Pervading, as the True Nám and as the Creator Being. Knowing from further reading that the Nám is present in all then we see that all and everything comes from God and that God is present in all and everything. God and creation are one.

Through meditation we realise God’s omnipresence. This realisation leads to seva, selfless service to all. This service includes defending people who are persecuted because of their faith, race or caste, and armed resistance against unjust regimes.

When we see God’s presence in all we want to be honest in all spheres of life. When we see God’s presence in all we want to share time, goods and money with those in need. When we see God’s presence in all we cannot divide humanity in ‘us’ and ‘them’.

I can neither as a white European look down on ‘coloured’ non-Europeans, nor as a Sikh look down on non-Sikhs. I am not a Panjabi, but I have lived in Panjab and in a very Panjabi part of London and I am married to a Panjabi. From my experiences I have developed both positive and negative prejudices, as I am only human. But as a Sikh I should not live by these prejudices.

Sikhs had many interactions with both Hindus and Muslims, and since the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the subsequent coming of the British Raj to Panjab we also have had to cope with Christians.

Sikhs are a relatively small group in between other much bigger religious groups. Christians, Hindus and Muslims have at times treated us with arrogance and disdain. 

We as a people who see God’s presence in all should not judge individuals by their ‘labels’. There is good and bad in all groups. Guru teaches us that we should see nobody as our enemy. Bhai Ghanaya demonstrated this when he served water to wounded Mughals and wounded Sikhs after the battle.

A Sikh should not fight over differences of opinion. Throwing stones at a Gurdwara because they invited somebody you do not agree with, or killing an RSS ‘Sikh’ is not part of a Gursikh way of life. Being Guru’s Sikh is not easy.

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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450.The Man in Blue – Hinduism

I am going to try to bring some clarity in the diversity of beliefs that all go under the ‘flag’ of Hinduism. I know that this is not easy, and that it is even more difficult as I write columns, not lengthy articles or books.

The words Hindu and Hinduism are derived from Indus as in the river, which before partition was the western border of the plains of Hindustan. Hindus are the followers of a religion from across the Indus and Hinduism is that religion. In this geographical interpretation Buddhists, Jaina and Sikhs are also followers of religions from across the Indus, and could therefore be called Hindus.

Looking back in time, when the Indo-Germanic people started arriving in Northern India we see that their ‘priests’ were specialists in rituals that would appease the Gods and that would confirm the leaders in their position. I am not going to get involved in the question when the caste system as we know it now, mixed with jatis, groups of people working in the same or similar jobs, came into being.

What is clear is that the system was much more flexible than you would suppose going by the Dharma-shastra rules. Non Indo-Germanic groups were inducted into the caste system by designating their leaders as Kshatriyas and most of the ordinary people as Shudras. Local governors who rebelled against their king and started their own kingdom often underwent the same change.  

The Brahmins who created these new Kshatriyas had more to offer than just a higher status protected by religion. Apart from their rituals Brahmins collected knowledge that was useful to any ruler. The Brahmins bought power and influence, and were often given land grants in exchange for their knowledge and for the gift of a higher caste status. The new Kshatriyas were also given a fabricated genealogy to ‘prove’ that they were what they claimed to be.

From the beginning there have been counter movements, who were against caste or who did not attach so much importance to it. The appeal of Buddhism and Jainism to traders was that these had to deal with people of all backgrounds, and did not want be bound by the restrictions of the caste system.

Long before Guru Nanak people stood up against the Brahmins, looking for the true way of righteousness, and for bhakti, devotion to God. But most of these movements were integrated back into the Brahminical system. Some anti-caste groups ended up being a caste themselves like the Lingayat of South India.   

The present ‘jathedars’ en mukh-mantris who run the Sikh institutions in Amritsar care nothing about Guru Nanak, about the uplifting of the oppressed or about being the servant to all. They sell Gurus’ principles in exchange for political power and the illegal fruits of being in government. They can keep the institutions, but I trust that Sikhs who seriously try to follow the Guru Granth Sahib will survive, both in Hindustan and in other countries where the Sikhs have settled.

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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449.Man in Blue – The Life of Guru’s Sikh ~ Gursikh Jivan

 I write columns about my visits to the UK or the Netherlands or about going for a walk, but I also like to preach little sermons at you. My sermons tell you (and me) that if you do what Guru teaches us, you will become happier.  

Do you want to be rich without having much money ? Do you want to be happy with who you are and what you do ? Do you want to always think about God ? Do you want to make an honest living and share with others ?

Or are your values about more and bigger motorcars and houses ? Do you think that happiness is in holidays on the other side of the globe, and each time with a different partner who stays with you only because of your money ? If that is your choice you will keep looking for more and more and not find happiness.

We should live a family life, but we should not be attached to our family. We should make an honest living, but should not be attached to the money we earn. We should share our money, goods and time with others.

Mentioning the welfare of all in our prayers is fine, but do we actually work for the welfare of all ? We have to serve all, also those outside our family, outside our circle of friends, those from outside our village, those from outside the Sikh panth.  Or are we only doing seva to the sangat in the Gurdwara ?

Simran means meditation and Sikh meditation means thinking about God. Just repeating one of the many words for God that you will find in the Guru Granth Sahib is not good enough. Thinking about God with all you do, that is real simran. Then you will not lie or deceive people. Then you will always help others, regardless whether they are your family members or filthy junkies in the street.

Seeing God in all and everything will make you into a sant-sipahi, a saint-soldier who in a democratic country will fight against injustice and oppression by peaceful means and under a dictatorship might have to resort to armed resistance.

Would present day Sikhs stand up against racism or join racists against those foreigners who are even more unpopular than they are ? Should Sikhs not reach out to low caste people from UP and Bihar who come to Panjab fleeing poverty, discrimination and caste wars in their states ?

Sikhs should be in the forefront of the struggle for equal opportunities for all. Sikhs should not scan and abort female foetuses or ‘honour-kill’ female family members. Where are the women on Gurdwara committees, where are the female granthis and ragis ? Why is the podium for the ragis always on the side of the men ?

A Gursikh’s life is much more than doing nitnem or wearing the 5 Ks and turban. Doing nitnem is a tool to help you on Guru’s path and your five Ks should remind you to always keep on the path that is narrower than the cutting edge of a sword.

Published in: on December 7, 2010 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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448.The Man in Blue – World AIDS Day & Karam

World AIDS Day

HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus
AIDS – Acquired immune deficiency syndrome

December 1 is World AIDS day. The AIDS is not as lethal as it once was. There is still no cure but expensive medicines have been developed that allow people who develop AIDS to live longer and have a better quality of life.

The HIV virus that leads to AIDS is transferred via blood. Many people got HIV through blood transfusions when medical services were not yet fully aware of this danger. Another way of getting infected is through the sharing of injection needles between drug addicts or in very negligent medical units.

But the HIV virus is mostly acquired through risky sexual behaviour. Unprotected sex outside a stable relationship is risky, and those that indulge in anal sex are most at risk as the chance of bleeding is bigger that way.

I had a friend in Amsterdam who was by most people’s standards a good and decent man. He ran a successful business and was in a stable and loving relationship with another man. I got to know him quite well as his business was just a few doors away from the house of a friend and colleague of mine.

I know that many Sikhs reject homosexuality and homosexuals and I am not going to argue that God approves of homosexuality, I simply do not God’s ‘opinion’ on the matter and our eternal Guru does not say anything about it either.

What I do know is that my friend was a good man, but that he had indulged in risky sex before entering in a stable relationship, and that he was punished for this by dying in a most horrible way.

I do believe in karam, I believe that deeds done in this life or in previous lives can be carried forward, and that the consequences of these deeds can visit you at a later stage. I also know that the five thieves, lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego are not only spiritually unhealthy but can also lead to bad physical health.

But I want to strongly argue that if a disease is caused by what we think of as useless or sinful behaviour we should still feel compassion and supply loving care.

I heard the shocking story of a high ranking Indian Army officer who on a visit to Delhi had a little ‘adventure’ and who before he was aware that he had HIV passed it on to his loving and faithful wife. As this was before the more advanced methods of treatment were developed they both died a horrible death. And in spite of the husband’s obvious guilt they both equally deserved compassion and loving care.

Imagine that you are dying in a most unpleasant way, being fully aware that your wife is meeting the same fate, and that all this is caused by your own stupidity. That should be punishment enough for anybody to cope with. I try not to be too judgemental, and hope that I can see God’s presence in all who I meet, even in those who caused great suffering to those around them.