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Sikhism : Religion or a Sect


by Ram Puniyani

Recently RSS Chief K. Sudarshan while participating in the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat (Sangat) Convention in Amritsar said that Sikhism is a sect of Hinduism, Khalsa is a part of mainstream Hinduism and that Sikhism was created to protect Hinduism from Mughal tyranny. Many a Sikh organizations undertook protest march against Sudarshan and pointed out that Sikhism is a religion in its own right and that they will not tolerate RSS efforts to undermine their separate Sikh identity. The spokesperson of Dal Khalsa went on to say that RSS is trying to impose a centralized monolithic society in India and that they will oppose this hegemonic agenda of RSS. Meanwhile many other Sikh organizations said that RSS is interfering in the religious, cultural, social and political matters of Sikhs, which should be condemned and opposed. In Lok Sabha one MP alleged that RSS is distributing anti-Sikh literature through Sangat, which is disturbing the religious harmony in Punjab. This MP also criticized the MHRD ministry for giving RS. 17 crores to Sangat for pro-RSS propaganda work.

If RSS assertion about the nature and historical role of Sikhism and Khasla is correct why this massive protest against the RSS chief and the move of MHRD ministry to fund the pro-RSS propaganda? Like other distorted and communalized perceptions of History the one pertaining to the understanding of Sikhism is no exception.


Guru Nanak and origin of Sikhism:

Nanak's preaching's came in the backdrop of Bramimical domination on one hand and the spread of teachings of Sufi and Bhakti saints, on the other. He rejected Brahmincal values and caste domination and concluded that teachings of Bhakti and Sufi differed in form, not in content. It was from the teachings of Muslim Sufis (notably Sheikh Farid) and Sant Kabir that Guru Nanak drew his inspiration. He preached monotheism and quiet devotion to God. His hymns were drawn from different sources. Out of Nanak's teachings came an enduring religious community with distinctive history and evolution separate from Hindu and Muslim religions but drawing the egalitarian aspects from both. Nanak denounced orthodox practitioners of Islam as well as Hinduism and placed his emphasis on the vibrant intercommunity relationships based on the subaltern versions of Islam and Hinduism. His teachings at one level are a synthesis of the values of both the religions like reincarnation and the doctrine of Karma from Hinduism and oneness of God and congregation in worship from Islam.


Sikh Community and Kingdom:

Nanak was to be followed by nine more Gurus. With fifth Guru, Arjan, Sikhism was established as a separate religious system. He put together the writings of his predecessors, his own and those of Hindu and Muslim saints in the Adi Granth, which is the guiding spirit of Sikh religion. Meanwhile due to the efforts of the Gurus Amritsar emerged as the Religious and trade center. It is important to remember that Sufi saint Miyan Mir was requested to lay the foundation stone of Golden temple. This was the time when organization of Sikh community as a political process was also in progress,and their relationship with the Mughal sultanate was becoming quiet complex. Guru Arjan had become important religious and political leader. He was socially very close to Miyan Mir, while his chief opponent was a Hindu, the finance minister to Muslim governor of Lahore. During the seventeenth century this community underwent a transformation into a military community. The gurus went into Mughal politics and soon found themselves in opposition to the factions, which won in the battles for succession. Initially Guru Arjan entered a liaison with Khusarau. In 1606 when Prince Khusarau rebelled against his father Jahangir, it was suspected that Guru Arjan had supported Khusarao. He was arrested on this charge.

Another Guru Hari Rai entered into relations with rebellious son of Shahjahan, Dara Shikoh. With Dara Shikoh's defeat at the hands of his brother Aurangzeb this Guru again found himself on the wrong side of the power equations of the ruling Mughal family. So he had to send his son to Delhi to negotiate a pardon. The cycle of conflict with Mughal rulers continued and took extreme form with the Tenth Guru Govind Singh. Guru Govind wanted to establish his own kingdom while Aurangazeb was brutally suppressing all the rebellions against the Mughal Sultanate. His immediate tussle was with the Raja of Bilaspur, whom he refused to pay any tribute. This led to the battle in which the Raja of Bilaspur was defeated. Also this brought in the hostility of many of the Rajas of hill states towards Guru Govind Singh. He also had the allies in the plains the most notable amongst them being the pir of Sadhura. Aurangzeb in conjunction with Hindu Rajas of plains drove Guru Govind away from Anandpur and in the battle his children were caught and tortured. Later there was an attempt at rapprochement from Aurangzeb's side and he invited Guru Govind to meet him in Deccan. As Guru was on his way to meet him, Aurangzeb died, but the process of reconciliation with Mughal sultanate continued and in due course Guru struck an alliance with Aurangzeb's son Bahadurshah Jafar.

In this sea-saw, ding dong battle between Sikhs and Mughal Kings the lines of alliances were regularly blurred. Mughals having liaison with Hindu Rajas, Gurus having alliances with Muslim kings and pirs etc. This was a political fight in which religious element got mixed up. Same Govind Singh who had a rough patch with Aurangzeb allied with his son Bahadur Shah Jafar.


Sangh Parivar's Agenda and Sikhism:

RSS has the goal of Hindu Rashtra. For its agenda, it asserts that the people can be united only with the Hindu identity to the fore. It is in this direction that it claims all the religions, which arose in the subcontinent as mere sects of Hinduism, and not full religions. Be it Buddhism or Sikhism RSS is prompt to label them as sects of Hinduism. Again the RSS version of Hinduism is the elite Brahminical version while these religions arose mainly as a reaction against the Brahminical values. Those who are protesting against RSS designs are clear about the hegemonic RSS designs. Does it mean that the Indians cannot be united in to a single national thread as RSS claims? On the contrary Indians ARE united by the overarching Indian National identity. The attempts of RSS to make Hindu identity as the primary identity is fraught with dangers not only for minorities and the weaker sections of society but even for those who will like to retain the identity of Sikhism or Buddhism and that's what explains such a hostile response to the efforts of RSS affiliate Sangat's efforts to project Sikhism as a mere sect of Hinduism.

The attempt to selectively highlight Guru Govind's struggles against the Mughal Empire and to hide his alliance with same rulers, is aimed to boost its anti-Muslim agenda. Similarly his fights against Hindu Rajas are suppressed from the popular memory. One more example of selective historiography at the service of Hindu Nationalism.

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