India Connection

Indian State is certainly redefining what ‘secular’ means with the Chief Minister of AP state ‘referring to the controversy that arose some time back when some religious heads raised a hue and cry that the government was trying to reduce the geographical division for religious activities from seven hills to two hills, and that some Christian missionaries were propagating their religion, the chief minister said the denial by the government failed to allay the apprehensions. Hence the notification. Reddy said the government had taken satellite images of the seven hills, held talks with 50 Hindu religious heads and decided to issue an order that makes it clear that there would be no change in the status of Tirumala.

The state government believes that the visit to the shrine should be ”a rare unalloyed devotional experience and the entire seven hills area should exude a unique spiritual, religious and ethical fervour”.

Ten out of 20 temples that have been notified as areas where no other religion can be propagated are under TTD.’

Such protections to any religious tradition may not easily be extended even in Theocracy with the state taking on the task of surveillance that the pristine purity of certain ritual practices stays totally undiluted and unchallenged. How about this parallel and what is happening elsewhere in that beacon of secular democracy rising in the East and their pious posturing about practices in other societies.

█ █ █

Good to hear from you. Yes We are planning to join you at Jaipur. I yet have no news about the topics so that I can start working on my paper. Hopefully that information will trickle in over the next several weeks.

Now about your need for a Sikh scholar in the academia in the USA, we have a few Chair professors and I am giving below the email contacts of two of them:

Arvind Pal Singh Mandair <arvindmandair@hotmail.com> and Gurinder Singh Mann <mann@religion.ucsb.edu>,

Arvind Pal Singh Mandair is at Michigan University and Gurinder Singh Mann is at UC Santa Barbara, CA.

There is also one Dr Bhoghal at Hofstra and Dr Pashaura Singh at UC Riverside but I do not have their email addresses readily available.

If your need or enquiry is not too rigorous I also have been associated as Adjunct Professor of Sikhism with the Hindu university for 5 years but obviously the level of academic activity there yet is rather limited. Our best wishes to you both,

█ █ █

Good to hear from you. Yes We are planning to join you at Jaipur. I yet have no news about the topics so that I can start working on my paper. Hopefully that information will trickle in over the next several weeks.

Now about your need for a Sikh scholar in the academia in the USA, we have a few Chair professors and I am giving below the email contacts of two of them:

Arvind Pal Singh Mandair <arvindmandair@hotmail.com> and Gurinder Singh Mann <mann@religion.ucsb.edu>,

Arvind Pal Singh Mandair is at Michigan University and Gurinder Singh Mann is at UC Santa Barbara, CA.

There is also one Dr Bhoghal at Hofstra and Dr Pashaura Singh at UC Riverside but I do not have their email addresses readily available. If your need or enquiry is not too rigorous I also have been associated as Adjunct Professor of Sikhism with the Hindu university for 5 years but obviously the level of academic activity there yet is rather limited.

█ █ █

Gurmeet ji has a point in what he is saying. This issue in spite of exceptional work by some, has not received the kind of support that was needed to mobilize public opinion in India or put international pressure on the Indian state to at least punish the guilty. This was no doubt complicated by the cold war global politics and thoughtless violence perpetrated by or blamed on Sikhs both preceding and post ‘84 events.

I agree that we should be looking for some solutions too rather than only debating and venting our perspectives. It is always more helpful that we maintain a positive and constructive outlook but there are no easy solutions to the Sikh dilemma. The political discourse has become more complex as India has progressed in its self-governance. A variety of linguistic, cultural, caste and class group interests have started to exercise increasingly important influence on the emerging political paradigm already deeply influenced by religious considerations.

The ensuing political dynamics has brought Sikhs face to face with a series of intractable problems. Repeated elusion of their solutions over time only reinforced Sikh mistrust of the political system and their quest degenerated into a separatist, fundamentalist and violent struggle. 

This was an unfortunate though not unlikely or unforeseen development.  Summing up this phase Khushwant Singh in his history of Sikhs strikes a sad, despondent, reflective note and surmises that quality of Sikh leadership was vulgarized and went into steep decline after partition of Punjab and over time barely educated and/or self-serving men captured the leadership; Sikhs lost sight of the cherished ideals taught by the Gurus. He concludes by saying, “At times it appears that perhaps the Khalsa have run the course of history prescribed for them and that their Gurus in their inscrutable wisdom have given them leaders who will fulfill their death wish”.

Many often articulate similar poor appraisal of Sikh leadership.  My sense is that even though criticism of Sikh leadership may seem justified in certain specific instances one is left wondering about the potential significance of their decisions on the course of Sikh history in the last 50 [or even 150] years. The question that could a minority placed precariously at the intersection of Hindu and Muslim divisive ambitions have escaped the fate that befell Sikhs on India gaining freedom, is seldom asked or answered.

Likewise it is difficult to find any clue to a coherent political strategy in all our serious writing as well as blog venting that may have helped Sikhs to “feel the glow of freedom” that Nehru had so loftily assured and Sikhs keep quoting ad-nauseum without really knowing what it did or did not mean. We did not know and still don’t know what we want or need or what is good for us given our history, our distinct identity, our theology, our heritage, our numbers, our penchant to be easily misled and our global dispersed numerical minority status.

It is also too simplistic to think that Sikhs in India have forgotten or forgiven or accepted that they alone brought the problem onto themselves. My conversations with several indicate that not to be the case. They seem to have taken the only prudent course available i.e. to move on and live their lives under and as part of the system that exists. They discarded Akalis in Punjab for their failings though my sense is that they did not vote Congress in Delhi. 

In this overall backdrop, for the ‘84 incidents, recourse to court actions, including against individuals, may help bring home to the Indian State and individuals concerned that such evil acts do not easily go away. The course however will take painstaking effort and an equivalent of Sikh Forum in Delhi would be needed to follow thru and support any cases launched. As far the victims of ‘84 in Delhi are concerned the kids have grown up. I have gone thru the resumes of many [now entering jobs] and take some comfort that after years of suffering and privation they are now entering life with whatever skills they have been able to aquire. It does not make for a great story of some jumping out as geniuses but it surely throws up a picture of calm, collected, consistent effort at just getting out of possible grinding poverty.

█ █ █

Thank you Bhai Sahib. I am not sure how this will play out but enforcement measures are not likely to restore the pristine purity of Sikhi or bring back the glory of Khalsa – though several really do believe that this is the way to go. Unfortunately we have a tendency to keep putting ourselves in the same kind of predicament over and over again in different incarnations. We just got over the fiasco over the sudden change in policies by Akal Academy and now this.

█ █ █

Thank you Bal Ram ji for your invitation to the WAVES conference at Orlando in June and for giving a seminar at UMASS on Sep 12th.

I will send Prof Sastry the title and possibly an abstract of my paper in the next couple of days. As we discussed I would be glad to be part of any panels, plenaries or short presentations at the opening session or the closing ceremonies. I have also discussed with S Jasbir Singh Bhatia and he would be glad to help with additional presentations by local Sikh sangat. I will discuss the details with Abhinav ji. If it is not too late for your planning may be I could give you my topic for the seminar when we meet at Orlando.

█ █ █

M. S. Chawla ji has raised the issue about Sikh owned Radio, TV and print media to ‘convey Sikh perspective to the rest of the world’. It is recognized that to project our viewpoint as well as to create awareness about ourselves among non-Sikhs the media compared to any other outreach strategy can provide the highest multiple. However it is also important to be cognizant that the real benefit can accrue through media that has reach among non-Sikhs.  I think our communication needs and how best these can be met deserve thoughtful analysis.

One negative response and Kanwar Ranvir Singh is already saying – not ‘all members of GLZ’ but perhaps ‘a clear majority who took the opportunity to express their view’. I would again suggest calmer consideration. Recall the call for asking SGPC to offer incentives for Sikhs to prepare for sporting competitions – the majority of those who expressed their views were inclined for GLZ to do it. Would GLZ be willing to follow its policy on taking public positions based on this criterion without being selective? Take a deep breath and think it through. A better alternative is for all those who want to have their views known send direct emails to SGPC and their functionaries.

█ █ █

Thank you Sastry ji for a prompt response and sharing your thoughts on what I may present or help with. I must admit that I have very little awareness about the Vedic tradition to be able to comment on the Sikh-Vedic tradition linkages in any substantive manner. I will talk to you and Abhinav ji and we can then figure out things. I like some of the topics you have suggested – these are socially significant and apply to our religious and social lives here. So let us talk and figure out.

█ █ █

Thank you Nanak Singh ji for your mail and sending me your two papers. It is great seva by you to have drawn attention to the abysmal position about utilization of various benefits by eligible Sikhs under the Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes categories. Neglect in making this [and correct census enumeration] as part of our all India activist initiativess has cost us very dearly both in political terms and in alleviating the social condition of the poor and deprived among us.

I agree that an awareness campaign is needed. My sense based on my very limited field exposure is that the information packages would have to be State or Taluqa specific and any voluntary support sensitive to the local political and social factors. The reach and effectiveness will be helped by facilitating local or regional voluntary groups – in other words decentralization may yield better results.

I recall Josh Sahib also talking at the Nishkam meet of getting some of the impediments removed by getting the Minority Commission survey approved and accepted by the GOI so that it could become the equivalent of a mini Sachar report for Sikhs. I am not aware how far that has moved [and how much it may help]? I.am presently in Delhi and if there is any way I can be of help I would be glad to do what I can.

█ █ █

Thank you Jaidev Singh ji. I don’t think I diluted anything by saying that the body parts metaphor  he used was wrong because I do not sense any problem with each of various faiths surviving independently of one another. In other words Hindu or Indic umbilical relationship has no meaning. However if my argument is misplaced or not clear any feedback would help clear my own thought and expression. I do appreciate your comments.

█ █ █

Jit Mazumdar’s proposition is unfortunately based on the same type of lack of in depth knowledge that he seems to be decrying. There are a number of misconceptions and some have been addressed by Gurpreet Samra. I am limiting myself to the following opening text of his message ‘I am chiefly concerned with history. And of course it is historical context that provides us with a frame of reference in times when our identities, culture, religions, and self-definition are under assault from wrong application and usage of words that define our civilizational and cultural identities. So, far from trying to “prove” that Sikhism is part of “Hindus”, with the help of “rhetoric” as you allege on me, I have just pointed out the historically and culturally correct context of the term “Hindu” and its etymological source.

‘So when I say that Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Saivism, Shaktism or Vaishnavism are religions that make up the Hindu/ Indic conglomerate of religious traditions, I hope you can see that far from attempting to erase the individual identity of Sikhism or any other religion, I in fact ‘acknowledge’ the individual and independent uniqueness of each religion.

‘So what I think you are probably having a confusion about is the difference between the terms “religion” (panth) and “dharma” (a civilizational way of being that pervades and defines the integral life of a race or people). So no one, much less myself, is disputing or undermining the

individual identity of Sikhism, no more than I will want to undermine the independent and unique identity of my religion.

‘But to say that acknowledging the common cultural and civilizational roots, the common timeless vedic/ indic traditions of all religions which sprung up from the Indian soil and cultural ethos, is like saying that one has to deny his family or his mother just because he wants to have a separate and “independent” identity.

‘To take a common and simple metaphor, the human body as a whole is one single integrated living organism. But that body is made up of many parts, separate and distinct from each other, in size, shape and function. Each one of these parts have their own speciality, and are not there without any reason. And neither is it that the human bodycan function wholly and properly with the loss of any one part. But does that mean that any part of the body – whether hands, legs, eyes,

ears, fingers, genitals, tongue – can survive ‘independent’ and ‘separated’ from the integrated body? Where will it get its nourishment, its life blood from? Does being “independent” mean

denying one’s roots?’

I would ask Jit ji a couple of questions and offer a comment or two. Firstly he equates Hindu and Indic. The latter is not an accepted term as yet but the concept seems to be mixing boundaries of a contemporary political state and the so-termed civilazational heritage. Would he define what does Indic mean and since his approach is rooted in history could he elaborate upon what kind of historical link and continuity is he referring to. Would he also care to explain historic discontinuities that so evidently have marked this region and if those discontinuities have in any way or shape altered the concept of Hindu as passed down?

Next he has translated Panth as religion and Dharma as civilizational fountainhead of Panth. Now this is his preferred semantics though in Sikh thought dharamkhand refers to initial stage on one’s spiritual journey and the panth [path] leads one to sachkhand. So if semantically, we are coming from an almost opposite end, we will have to see how to proceed with this conversation.

This also should bring realization that words that we use may not quite mean the same to each of us. Would he care to explain this anamolous reality in historical context?

Jit Mazumdar has also used the word ‘my religion’. Please can you name your religion and then explain why do you call it religion? Incidently why is your list limited to Budhhists, Jainas, Sikhs and some others – why have you left out say Ahmadiyas who are a historical outcome from the same socio cultural milieu as are several other ancient traditions among tribals and possibly even the surviving Judaic, Zoroastrian and Christian Indic people?

The example of the body and its parts is rather confusing – the body parts are all in a collective, collaborative, mutually supporting role. Can you explain how all these religious groups become so linked, what binds them together and how they cannot function as a whole independent of one another?

Would you also elaborate if there is a proposal to amend the various references in the Indian constitution to reflect your semantics and various religious identities that arise therefrom?

Next also please explain your affiliation – who do you represent; what are your objectives in this debate – surely you do not wish to engage thousands of members on this forum just to test out your own personal predilections. Can you also explain your rather worrisome reference to assault – who are these detractors you seem to be worried about?

█ █ █

We must be thankful to Prof Himadari Bannerjee for his continuing research on surviving Sikh tradtions in Eastern India. His narration as well as the story of Sikligars, Vanjaras and other historically neglected Sikh followings should make us seriously relook at our history over the last two centuries or so and learn from it as we move forward. I would particularly suggest we ponder over the following observations by him:

‘Bengali admiration for the Sikhs of Punjab as well as their reluctance to record anything regarding the local Sikhs who happen to be the next door neighbors may seem enigmatic. Kolkata’s Punjabi-Sikh community often refuses to regard them as pacca Sikhs and contemptuously call the Agraharis as Patniyas owing to their link with Patna Sahib. A similar contemptuous outlook is prevalent among the Punjabi-Sikhs of the Brahmaputra valley. There is no roti-beti relationship between these two traditions of Sikhism prevailing in north-eastern India — One needs to learn certain lessons out of these unfortunate experiences. Would the Sikhs be taking up any similar stride in the name of homogenization or allow the prevalence of plurality to persist? This acknowledgement of diversity as well as the rights of the minorities within the larger community would perhaps be some of the important markers of the twenty-first century Sikhism and its existence as one of the world religions.’ It is an irony, not uncommon in historical experience, that those who bring glory to a group can often leave a divisive legacy that erodes their inclusive and socially harmonious praxis so important for a faith tradition, unlike the divisive approaches for attaining and retaining  political power and influence..

█ █ █

This seems characteristic double speak in India – violence by some, even if misdirected, is lauded. Some ‘strugglers for liberty’ are praised for killing and others are dubbed terrorists.  What seems to stick is not the moral or ethical underpinning of the act or even its symbolic significance but the leverage and ability of those who want to exploit such incidents to their political advantage. They create the icons – Bhagat Singh was good; Bose was not!  The Indian talk about ‘oppressed people’ and ‘foreign yoke’ also never fails to impress me about its rhetorical double speak. British were foreign but Sonia is not. They were oppressors but Muslim rule or Sikh rule was not. Talk to Pakistanis and they think that Sikh rule was the most oppressive they have known – same as the Hindu and Sikh historical memory dubs the Muslim rule.

█ █ █

SSA Jasbir ji. I got a mass mail from Balram that they have received 125 paper proposals. I have seen their conferences to be over subscribed by potential speakers and they must be juggling around with the program.

When I had talked to Abhinav he sounded very enthusiastic – may be they are still trying to figure out. Let us for the moment stick with a shabad and leave visit to the Gurdwara sahib as an open question. If some of them come they can join the sangat if we have a diwan that day unless you receive sufficient notice with a request for any day other than Sunday. I had only limited it to Sunday in my conversation for visiting the Gurdwara. Regarding the text I will come back in a day or so.

█ █ █

My broad understanding when I discussed it with Abhinav ji was that:

 – the conference would like participation by local Sikh sangat; not merely their presence

 – a Gurbani shabad, presented in classical mode, could be part of the invocation before the evening program gets on its way. If there are problems and if such participation is still needed, I would suggest Abhinav ji should work out the details locally with Jasbir ji. I agree that just repositioning in a slot where people are socially engaged may not be a right choice.

█ █ █

I had a conversation with Abhinav ji last week when I received notice regarding the Conference from a common friend and we talked of some possibilities and he said that a Professor who is the acting Chair of Waves will get in touch with me. I did not receive any communication

from him and therefore let the matter rest. As you know last year after my return from Orlando I was sick for a long while. Eventually it was later in January that the Doctors allowed me to travel and we were away; returning home only last week. I did not get your message but then I did find some recordings almost unintelligible – I must change the system.

█ █ █

To continue reading, select from category below