Through the ages, all sages, prophets, avtars and gurus were witness to conflict in their times. So was Guru Nanak and his hymns reflect outpourings of a soul touched by the horrible suffering inflicted on the hapless citizenry, men, women and children witnessed in the battles between the invading forces of Babar and the ruling Lodhi Sultans as also the suffering of poor and underprivileged from discriminatory practices institutionalized in the dominant faith. Pointers to the Guru’s prescription for bringing peace and harmony to society are interspersed in their compositions. The paper explores the matrix of Guru’s thought regarding relations between faiths and the conduct of individual, family, community and nation state to identify principles that may help usher in a just, peaceful and humane society. It also deliberates on areas for involvement by the Sikhs to support peace initiatives in their local settings and examines possibility for engagement with Pakistan, the land where Guru Nanak was born, lived and perfected the Sikh thought. A premise examined is as to how Sikhs can develop a unique relationship with Pakistan to be able to continue to celebrate their shared heritage, take care of Sikh holy sites and provide any succor that the small Sikh population in Pakistan may need.
Through the ages, all sages, savants, prophets, avtars and gurus have pondered the prevalence of conflict in their times and strived to share and spread their message of love, peace and harmony. Guru Nanak and successor Sikh Gurus also were deeply touched by the suffering of people that they witnessed – emanating from deeply entrenched historical discriminatory practices sanctioned by the prevailing dominant faith as also the ambition and struggle for power and dominance by local Rajas and foreign invaders. The sufferers in either case were the people – mainly the poor, weak and underprivileged though when major battles took place even the high and mighty could not escape the wrath of those more powerful.
Our lives continue to be haunted by frequent eruption of conflict at various levels in society. Unfortunately the twentieth century which brought the greatest improvement in material well being of large segments of humanity also saw an accentuation of the divide along political, economic, racial, ethnic, religious and cultural lines and was marked by the highest number of deaths in history because of conflict. In this backdrop talking about societal peace and harmony makes for good sense though I would at the same time ask us to recognize that if generating peace and harmony was as simple as producing corn and milk we would have accomplished it by this time in the history of mankind.
Having said that let me quickly add that while I may present the lofty principles and talk of possibilities during our discussion, my call for action, if it could be termed that would be limited to what may be good for and not far from reach of those involved closely in these deliberations. I may therefore dwell a lot upon you and us i.e. Pakistan and Sikhs.
MY NOSTALGIC LINK
I have visited Pakistan twice since my family left here in the aftermath of partition of the then British India in August 1947. My first visit, in Jan 2004, was with a group of scholars from the US at the invitation of Quran Academy and certain other Institutions. We had a three-day round table with Dr Israr Ahmed and a fruitful evening with Suheyl Umar and some other eminent scholars at the Iqbal Academy in Lahore followed by some more time in Islamabad and Rawal Pindi at the Institute of Policy Studies, International Islamic University, Islamic Research Institute and Christian Study Center.
Earlier when growing up, I had spent a year at F C College in Lahore after schooling in Delhi and had loved the experience. My family was from Rawal Pindi and I had spent several summers in those parts and its enchanting memories were etched in my mind. For me therefore the experience was instructive, interesting and also deeply emotional – a sort of closure to many memories, thoughts and feelings lying buried inside of me for so long – not going away nor seeking an expression.
Considering its proud heritage of learning and wisdom; its being witness to so much glory as well strife in its long and tortuous history and its distinguished place in Sikh history and historical memory, this part of the world has a special significance for Sikhs further sharpened by my personal nostalgic link. I therefore do sense some relevance to linking the subject of societal peace and harmony to Sikh engagement with Pakistani Muslims and Pakistani Islam.
Given the esoteric nature of the theme and its grave import I will proceed with a profound sense of humility, fully conscious of limits of my understanding and inconsequentiality of my feeble voice.
THE PROBLEMS OF PEACE: THEN & NOW
Guru Nanak witnessed a lot of strife and discrimination suffered by the people and was very deeply troubled by their plight. In his group of compositions known as babar bani the hymns are outpourings of a soul touched by the horrible suffering inflicted on the hapless citizenry, men, women and children witnessed in the battles between the invading forces of Babar and the ruling Lodhi Afghans.
His canvas spans the larger social and historical perspective of pervasive moral decline, political corruption, injustice et al. The contributing factors may be variously identified as prevailing political chaos; corrupt state apparatus; oppressive and apathetic governance; pervasive inequities and inequality; cultural alienation; degradation in moral values and religious beliefs; alien dominance/oppression.
At the same time the ordinary citizen is seen to be apathetic to the state of affairs, almost blind in ignorance and dumb like effigies filled with straw. The people’s response seems to be guided, not by what they consider right but by the instinct to survive through a display of outward conformity with the dominant culture. They hypocritically cite from the ruler’s scriptures and follow their life style in the public view while being rigidly traditional at home – behavior inherently indicative of a sense of insecurity for belonging to a different faith and culture.
In this environment of fear and insecurity the Guru observed that the religious leadership did not inspire trust and that men of learning, engaged in petty squabbles, were actually interested in amassing worldly possessions and both qazis and brahmins spoke untruths and committed grievous hurts to people. Those, like kashatriyas, who were considered traditional protectors of the faith in the societal structure, had abjured their role. The functionaries of state were corrupt and would do anything for graft and the rulers had turned butchers forgetting their role and responsibilities towards their subjects.
Nanak also poignantly describes unwelcome effects of and concern over alien influences on culture, language and the way of life. Such influences are seen to be discriminatory, extortionist, culturally pernicious and inhibiting cherished values and freedom of the subjected people.
In sum the Guru’s commentary could be an eminently apt description for some of the problems we continue to face in the world today. In a world such as this what should a believer do? For a glimpse of Nanak’s vision let us explore the matrix of Sikh thought in its various contexts as may bear on peace and harmony in the societal structure.
RESPECT FOR PLURALITY
Sikh thought considers all humans as children of the same Divine source and is respectful of dignity of all faiths and their sacred texts. The Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib is possibly the only sacred religious text that contains the compositions of the holy persons who believed in and practiced faithfully their own religious traditions. Guru Amar Das says that even though savants and sages may speak in response to specific situations their teachings are the shared heritage of all mankind. Underpinning the same sentiment is referring to contents of the Granth as universally shared word of God revealed through the Gurus– sarab sanjhi gurbani. Thus beneath their strong sense of reverence for the Granth, Sikhs have a sentiment of humble acceptance that theirs is a revelation shared and to be shared with one and all.
Guru Arjan, who compiled the text of the Granth, says – you get a vision of God in the Vedas, Puranas and Simritees; you get it in the moon, sun and stars; the word of God who is eternally unwavering is addressed to one and all in mankind. None is excluded from this divine blessing and none should be excluded. He also says that once the illusion is lifted off one’s mind by the Guru’s teaching, realization comes that Parbrahm and Allah are one and the same. Bhagat Kabir intones us not to think of Ved, the Hindu texts, and Kateb, the Semitic texts, as untrue for falsehood lies in the inability of those who cannot ponder over and grasp the truths enshrined in them.
Guru Nanak says in another place that if one were to really grasp the truth, one would recognize that with one Creator, unchanged over the ages, men have but one dharam. Guru Ram Das says that treasure of devotion for God is infinite, overflowing and beyond measure and that devotees praise Him in countless ways – of all devotees sublime are those whose devotion is pleasing to God. The essence is divine acceptance of devotion however it may have been offered.
RELATING TO THE TEMPORAL
We all are a part of this temporal world pursuing our lives in various settings where we are placed. We have a level of individual autonomy but are intimately connected to and influenced by our families and the community where we live. Our lives are also impacted by the social and political dispensation surrounding and controlling our communities. All of us live, strive, draw sustenance from and wage all our struggles on this shared planet – the earth. There are thus a variety of interests and interfaces that bear upon our ability to live in peace and harmony. Let us look at the Guru’s thought relating to some of these.
Gurus have repeatedly stressed that birth, as a human is a great gift by God. This is the opportunity for an individual to be able to unite with the Creator. Men therefore must ponder over how they can spiritually advance themselves even as they live their lives in mundane pursuits as householders.
This world created by divine ordinance is intended by God to be a place where lives of men should be guided by virtuous deeds and moral action. A believer should live by his dharma and his endeavors should be earnest and altruistic. He must understand that he is responsible for his actions and not blame any body else for the choices he makes; for in the end recompense for good or bad that he does, he must receive himself.
In their social transactions, acceptance of differences in approach and working through them is recommended. Men should be gentle in their choice of words and avoid rancor for there is affinity between love and genteel dialogue. Courtesy and humility is commended not just for being more acceptable but because it is the essence of merit and virtue of a person. A true devotee sees God’s light in all and therefore judges not others. He instinctively cultivates an open fraternity where none is a stranger or inimical to one another. He also struggles against the vagaries of human mind in exercise of judgment.
The Gurus also unambiguously resolved some of the traditional conflicted thought about material acquisitions and economic activity vis-à-vis spiritual pursuit. The persuasion is that material possessions are pure and blessed if the means used to achieve them are fair; the owner is virtuous and their use includes altruistic purposes. Says the Guru – wealth, fineries, delicacies, rites, beliefs and deeds of the prayerful are blessed; homes, mansions, palaces of those are blessed where the needy and saintly are welcome to seek shelter; and horses and saddlery of those is blessed that the virtuous can avail.
Violence is to be abjured. Those who love God are not vain and do not inflict violence on others. Guru commends neither to be afraid nor to cause fear to any body. Sheik Farid suggests shunning revenge altogether almost in the manner of turning the other cheek and not causing pain to any one.
Man must therefore endeavor to develop morally, ethically and spiritually and relate to his environment in a state of inner harmony, be a productive and constructive member of society contributing to amiable relations.
Marriage is a sacred union blessed in the presence of the Guru. The couple jointly are enjoined to seek spiritual elevation and both in this pursuit are akin to a woman longing for union with her true love – God. Each house is a dharamsal where God’s praises are sung and poor and needy are welcome to share whatever they can offer. The family supports itself by honest and earnest endeavor and gives some for the common good.
Women are given a place of respect. On their status, the Guru questioned how could we speak ill of women who mothered all the upholders of our social order. Guru Amar Das encouraged women to shun wearing veils, take leadership roles in the religious work and denounced the custom of sati. Even though family structure continues to be paternalistic, women are assured of their dignity. Their influence to promote calmness, moderation as well as inspiration to moral action and sacrifice is part of the Sikh lore. Men and women are enjoined to be steadfast in marital fidelity.
Children are brought up with love. Education and learning is encouraged. Moral values are imperative and inducing children to understand and imbibe Guru’s teachings is part of parental role. The fraternal relations endure through life and there is no withdrawal into a phase of renunciation for personal spiritual edification. The path to liberation is through living a full, responsible life in prayerfulness. This way if grace of liberation comes to the individual it will also fall on those associated. Thus the family, so central to Sikh living is intended to provide a mutually supportive setting promoting moral, ethical and spiritual development of each member without impeding their temporal pursuits.
A habitat or a community is the mini world in which a person grows up; sets up his own family; earns his living; relates to others; deals with those passing through and chooses those he keeps company with. This is a conglomerate of rich, poor; masters, servants; merchants, buyers; virtuous, sinners et al. This locale with its endowed nature’s bounties is where he learns to relate to natural phenomenon and diversity of various kinds – life forms, areas of knowledge, belief and value systems. This is also the place where some one may be in control – through birth, by force of his power or accomplished by other means. Gurus consider this community the crucible that moulds the person and offers him the choices that may determine his destiny.
Another related concept emphasized in Sikh thought is sangat. This may be explained as the collective where people engage in virtuous activities, prayer, altruism, singing God’s praises. Its defining character is its focus and commitment to righteousness; open to all with none excluded. It is also in the midst of sangat that Guru-Sikh relationship played out in Guru’s times. Those who came up to the measure of Guru’s teachings, the Guru held them in very high esteem even pleading unto them to instruct him how to meet with the Lord. Such deep mutuality continues to inspire the seekers and sangat is accorded the status of Guru manifest and one must seek it; lead others to it; support it; sustain it; expand it. At individual level it facilitates spiritual quest and promotes harmony.
Sikhs believe that the social order in this setting must promote equality. Men should look for the Divine light in others and not at their caste or persuasion for such distinctions do not exist in God’s court. No institutionalized discrimination based on ethnicity, beliefs, class, caste, economic status, gender etc. is accepted. Being born into or growing into different stations in life is seen as gift of God. The guiding principle should be continuous effort for improvement with acceptance of what comes our way in humility without it impeding our endeavor for improvement. What is discriminatory, oppressive or unjust should be resisted – absent that one must have sagacity to accept life as it unfolds.
There is a vivid and poignant vision of an ideal community named ‘city sans grief” written by Bhagat Ravidas in the Granth. In this idyllic setting, society is supportive and people do not cause one another to suffer and all living in harmony are free to pursue happiness and spiritual elevation without any restraint. Ravidas was a shudra – well aware of the hurt and suffering caused by discrimination that shudras had to live and endure.
Leaders and those in leadership role are key at this level. Persons in positions of power must be held accountable. Their decisions must be made after deep deliberation and should be able to withstand moral scrutiny and tests for justice and being equitable. They must have clarity of vision and purpose for how can blind and ignorant lead the way. Their ability to control evil propensities is lauded. Their conduct must always be above reproach. A leader should be good natured, calm and sincere in his intent.
Justice is a basic pre-requisite of a civil society. To usurp or deny the rights of others is sinful for all. The State and the ruling elite also must be just and seen to be just. Bhai Kahan Singh in Gurmatsudhakar says that there is no worship like observance of justice. Giani Randhir Singh in Premsumarag says that ‘before the Divine, the ruler would — be questioned – about the state of justice in his domain —.’ Both commentaries argue that justice must be dispensed without favor and laws must apply equally to all.
People must have freedom of choice. The freedoms include freedom of faith, worship and cultural pursuits. Guru Tegh Bahadur accepted martyrdom to protect the right of worship for Hindus. Plurality is accepted and diversity is considered part of God’s design for His creation.
Forgiveness has a place of importance in this matrix of human acts of omission and commission. The way one may teach the child how not to repeat errant behavior while forgiving the past errors is considered divine and greatly lauded. God is the epitome of forgiveness and where forgiveness is, God is. This must be a guiding ethic at all levels – individual, family, community and state.
Guru Nanak established the sangat at Kartarpur that provided a model for his successors. Guru Angad is credited with having established 131 sangats. In the time of Guru Amar Das he refined the structures to manage the expanding spread, then said to be as far apart as Kabul and Dacca by dividing them into 22 manjis [akin to Dioceses] and 52 piris under them. The management processes were altered and refined by successor Gurus as experience developed. Guru Gobind Singh gave a practical shape to a collective, consensual structure by formalizing the institution of panj pyaras or the five elect – persons chosen based on their demonstrated merits and commitment – to provide leadership. The device for consulting the Sikh general body named sarbat khalsa was another refinement added in the post Guru period. This model rooted in consultative principles and collective leadership continues to be espoused as the Sikh thought on Governance. I would hesitate to claim that Sikhs have succeeded in developing a clear conceptual frame and effective structures around the principle but would hazard to at least suggest that it well could have been the first such institutionalized approach among religious groups and having preceded the French Revolution by almost a century may have been a precursor of modern democratic models.
Harmony with the Creation
At an extended plane all the above activities are carried out in and as a part of the totality of our surrounding environment where for Nanak one single essence pervades the entire multiplicity of cosmic existence. God is immanent in His creation and this world is his home. The world that we see is in the likeness of God and is His visible manifestation and is intended by God to be a place of beauty, an arena for virtuous deeds and moral actions and not a place of suffering or sin. God creates, sustains destroys and recreates all that is seen or unseen in the universe. This process is continuous and the creation expands or regresses as God wills. The entire universe is real, not illusory.
On the earth abide beings of myriad hues and infinite forms. Of all living beings God gave humans extra merits. Even as the other beings have their own place and purpose in God’s scheme, they also fulfill purposes of humans. Yet humans are told that God is the one who bears the concern for all, is the curator of His creation, likes the way it is and looks at it joyfully and in abundant love.
All in the creation are subject to God’s hukam. The balance and harmony in creation is founded in contentment, acceptance of divine order and a sense of respectful awe for the Supreme. Man can connect with God only while living in this world. This world and life therefore are important and one should bring the two in harmony to comprehend inter-connectedness between God and nature, attain inner peace and experience the ecstatic beauty and joy – vismad, anand, ras, khera – in divine dispensation.
JUXTAPOSING SPIRITUAL & TEMPORAL
In the Sikh thought spiritual pursuits and temporal living are not viewed separately and independent of one another. The two are reconciled in the concept variously referred by phrases as miri piri, sant sipahi, degh tegh – all implying that spiritual pursuits have to be accomplished even as one is engaged in the mundane responsibilities inherent in life as a householder with all its challenges, constraints and entanglements. A devotee therefore has to be a man of the world and man of God, a saint and a soldier at the same time. That implies that it is not enough to understand and espouse the moral and ethical principles in a vacuum, one has to live by them in the real world and if needed be ready to defend what is righteous. Likewise acts of general benevolence have to be carried out while protecting good from evil and charity and valor have to come together to be effective instruments for societal peace and harmony.
For Sikhs therefore there is no shying away from righteous action — but to be determined to right the wrongs, fight to win. Inaction or apathy is not commended when faced with tyranny, coercion, and exploitation or in pursuit of a righteous cause for one must tread the path of Lord’s love only if one is prepared for the supreme sacrifice.
Sikh canon allows for recourse to use force if it is for just cause, pursuit of justice or in defense, not revenge – in all cases it should be last resort after other options have failed. The Guru has also commented that if one beats up his equal, it might not be a cause for grievance– — (but) if a tiger mauls herding cattle, the Master must answer. Any such struggle should spare the innocent and their property.
WHERE DO WE START
I think the most eminent place for us to start would be within, to look inwards and see if we are doing enough to keep our relations harmonious with our inner self, those we deal with and the world around us. We should ponder if what we do or say or support is likely to promote the cause of peace and harmony in the society and the world at large bearing in mind that we should stay true to our beliefs and not compromise or be apathetic. Even a moment or two of introspection would bring home the problems and dilemmas inherent in this pursuit. The cause of peace and harmony surely verges on the sublime and needs a deep awakening of the spiritual within. It is a journey – not a destination.
Thus understood we can all begin with baby steps wherever we are. This very act of our conversation to day with all its limitations may still be one such step if it motivates some of us to become a bit more sensitive about what the Gurus are saying and try and relate it to the way we live and conduct ourselves. It is in that spirit that I want now to explore the potential and possibility of Sikh – Pakistani engagement.
THE TRIGGER: PAKISTAN-SIKH ENGAGEMENT DILEMMA
Let me now go back to the two weeks that I spent earlier in Pakistan during which our deliberations were focused on issues of peace and justice confronting the world in the context of complex and tragic events playing out in the Middle East. All our discussions except possibly at the Iqbal Academy focused on Islam and its relations with the Judeo Christian West under the shadow of post Sep. 11 tensions and conflicts. During these exchanges I tried to contribute what I could but I felt that my interventions based on Sikh thought and perspective possibly stayed at the margins of what the listeners took in. It drove home, if indeed needed, the importance in the prevailing geo-political context for primary focus of Muslim engagement, Pakistan included, being with the Western Judeo-Christian world.
I could also sense recognition of the priority to the need for Pakistan to engage with India at a secondary level, partly in tandem with and as an appendage to the primary driver. In addition to external pressures this also had its internal imperatives in the recognition that continued hostility and low intensity conflict was getting nowhere and that stalemate was constraining their growth and development efforts.
This triggered within me some pondering to assess where, if at all, the Sikh thought, Sikh concerns and Sikh engagement with Islam could find some relevance outside of mere bonhomie of inter faith gatherings. Recognizably location of several Sikh holy sites and historical links did seem to make the case for Pakistan but since Sikhs did not have much clout or options to engage with Pakistan on their own, such a relationship at best could be at a tertiary level, rooted in relatively mundane motivations and achieved mainly through informal channels like people to people contacts, neighborhood trade and tourism, some cultural exchanges and initiatives launched by NGOs. Such an engagement will have the potential to promote harmony but will have move in consonance with and depend for its sustenance on the controlling drivers, essentially in its formative phases.
FACTORS AT PLAY
To get a sense of factors at play, I have tried to assemble impressions based not only on shared conversations with our hosts and those invited to participate in various discussions but also my exchanges with several students, laborers, coolies, waiters, security guards, pedestrians, shoppers, salesmen, bus drivers, passengers, villagers in their homes – men, women; young, old; poor and those better off. I also read a range of newspapers, magazines and books; took in the hoardings and shop signage’s and various tell tale blurbs so characteristic of that part of the world.
Some of my observations may be rather sobering but are relevant. Wandering Pakistani bazaars, tourist spots, parks and restaurants one may see many Arabs; some Westerners; crowds of locals but no Sikhs at all. There is no Sikh mention or image on the TV. Sikh physical visibility in Pakistan therefore seemed relatively low even compared to many Western societies.
Sikh portrayal in history books and even expensive touristy publications is negative. Nor is the popular Sikh stereotype very helpful. I discerned a number of impressions implicit in our very polite conversation – unpredictable; confused about objectives; brave though fighting for what and who; caved in during 80’s; quality of leadership and so on. Interest in and awareness about Sikhism and Sikhs did not seem to exist among the academia and intelligentsia. At another level, even the famous Lahore Museum that has had galleries dedicated to Hinduism, Jainism and Islam lacked a Sikh gallery all these years [a position now being rectified]. Sikh presence in Pakistani minds also seemed as blurred as their physical presence.
The reasons for this could be many. For one thing Pakistanis have no compelling need to think of Sikhs because as Muslims or as a State, Sikh interface is marginal to them. Next the negative effects of lingering historical memory, no doubt accentuated by the events of 1947 may still be at play even if with blunted intensity with passage of time. Then again Indian Punjab, and therefore Sikhs, have been insulated from Pakistan, more than other parts of India, over the last several decades because of the political situation and resultant restrictions on entry by foreigners, disruption in travel by road, rail or air and severely regulated and controlled cultural and pilgrim exchanges. The Punjabi spirit also was slow in resurfacing possibly because Punjabi identity was under severe strain on both sides and both the Punjabs had to address the problems of huge inflow of evacuees, adjust to their new demographics and emerging issues and equations in the polity of their respective states and countries.
Notwithstanding such reading of the contemporary situation I sensed some positives too, the strongest being a groundswell of warmth and goodwill we all experience during our visits from man in the street. This is overwhelming, spontaneous and deeply touching. They also like the Sikh happy go lucky kind of buoyant spirit. There is empathy for Sikh struggle to resist assimilation and protect their identity. I have no doubt that elevation of Dr Manmohan Singh as the Indian Prime Minister would have played out well with the people in their perception of Sikhs.
The other positive is the obvious Sikh interest in this development. Guru Nanak was born in these parts and this is where he perfected the Sikh thought. History of Sikh Gurus is also indelibly linked to this geographic area. Sikh respect for this land is therefore rooted in their spiritual recesses and its unique place in their psyche will support any initiatives in this direction. A corollary to this is the potential of global Sikh tourism becoming a fairly significant business in Pakistan and if Indo-Pak peace moves lead to less restrictive visa regime it could open floodgate of Indian Sikh tourists.
My related premise also is that Indian Sikhs will always have to be neighbors, across the border, with a vibrant segment of Pakistani Muslims with their worldview and their own perception of the Sikhs. In the same strain, for Sikhs given their geo-political situation, Muslim world will mainly be Pakistan and Muslim opinion that may impact them the most would be Pakistani orientation. As such even though this recognition may not still be evident in Sikh thinking, this engagement should be in their long-term interest.
This is a sampling of temporal reality that should weigh into any endeavor as we try to move beyond bondages of the past. Events like high profile visits by political leaders on both sides, progressive easing of restrictions, conferences, cultural exchanges, trade fairs, sporting activities, Palki presentation, our effort at helping with relief work for the recent earthquake victims and the like are all helpful. I would however suggest a couple of things that I believe may help, even if indirectly.
I see Pakistani Sikhs caught up in a cycle of poverty and isolation and it also seems to me that reverential expectations of global Sikhs have added to their problems. For instance I observed at Nanakana Sahib two akhand paths in progress concurrently and was told that this goes on through the year due to requests from devotees’ worldwide. This requires a lot of resource for offering ritual services; no doubt constraining possibility of local Sikhs realizing their potential and may also unwittingly revive ignoble practices associated with mahants who had to depend on Gurdwaras for their economic needs – a possibility surely better avoided.
I think that Pakistani Sikhs, to whom we are all beholden for taking care of our holy sites, should be helped to get education, go into professions or businesses and be competitive citizens of their country. This will also help mitigate some of the negatives noted earlier. If evidence be needed the recent reporting by the media of the first Sikh entrant into the exclusive Pakistani Army Officer cadre should convince any skeptics about the positive recognition that accomplishment brings to a community. Imagine again if Pakistani Sikhs with the help, guidance and even in a collaborative mode with global Sikhs were to set up businesses, add value to the country’s economy and help generate employment. This may also bring some harmony increment in its wake if the Sikhs true to their Guru’s teachings share any benefits with those less fortunate.
The need to provide continuity of service at our holy sites is the collective responsibility of the Sikhs every where and not entirely that of the few who either chose to stay back or were left behind during the mass exodus of 1947. Over the last several decades we have certainly made some contribution to these sites but looked at dispassionately self-serving nature of our missionary may become obvious. Apart from my earlier reference to major demand for akhand paths, we seem to have concentrated on development of the serai and related infrastructure for our comfort when visiting on festival occasions. Maintenance of these facilities is however an added responsibility. To top it all an articulated expectation is regarding maryada to be followed or more precisely disapproval of the status quo and a continuing controversy about control of the institutions.
The need obviously is to look at the issue in its totality and see how the Sikh community in Pakistan can be helped in this major collective responsibility thrust on them by historical circumstances. We may have to think of replication of models used so well in Christian traditions where volunteers and youth including some doing their post college fieldwork, from countries across the globe assist in such effort altruistically or if needed with some financial assistance. Such steps would reduce pressures, help induce some fresh thinking and expand horizons of the local Sikhs and hopefully also help them to engage with the larger community with greater assurance and harmony. This may also help provide seva at the other historical Gurdwaras now being revived by PSGPC and global Sikhs without straining local Sikh resources.
While I am certain that any sentiment to help Pakistani Sikhs help improve their lot will receive wide support but I do wish to sound a word of caution here. When my article on Sikhs & Pakistan was published by Sikh Review in its Feb/Mar, 2005 issues, S Saran Singh, the editor, was so touched by my comments relating a couple of young kids I met at Panja Sahib that he straightaway made a public offer to provide them free education as resident scholars at Dakshai Public School in Simla Hills till they finished school. I was at the time going through a phase of indifferent health and could not visit Pakistan to bring it together but requested my friends at the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad to help. It has not been easy and in spite of facilitation from IPS, my exploring and prodding through phone conversations with some concerned persons the offer remains unutilized for a multiplicity of reasons. Suffice it to note that such projects need careful planning and supporting canalizing and oversight agencies for any success.
We should also ensure open access to the Gurdwaras and other sites managed by Sikhs in Pakistan. I noticed a group of schoolgirls visiting Nanakana Sahib to walk around the well-kept garden and the balustrade as well as to see the newly received golden palki at the Gurdwara. At Dera Sahib a group of well-dressed local Muslims asked my help to get in the Gurdwara since they had been refused entry by the security staff appointed by the Wakf Board. As I escorted them in I asked them where they had come from etc. They said they all were Tehsildars and their Departmental Promotion Committee was to meet soon and they were going to all holy sites around Lahore to seek divine blessing.
Whatever the reasons for their coming, refusing entry to non-Sikhs to Gurdwaras is against Sikh tradition and should not be made a rule. If it is a part of the State’s preferred choice for security or other considerations, then it should be explained to those wanting to visit through clear notices exhibited at entrance to the site. Local Muslims certainly do not appreciate this restriction and I have seen and responded to protest mail on this issue from Pakistanis living abroad.
A suggestion that I had made to my friend Dr Suheyl Umar of Iqbal Academy was that recognizing the inclusive themes in Iqbal’s writings they should consider bringing out the continuum of rich, humane, inspiring and spiritually enhancing thought emerging from Punjab over the last millennium – the long heritage including Sheikh Farid, Baba Nanak [and the Sikh Gurus], Bule Shah, Shah Hassan, Bhai Veer Singh, Allama Iqbal and so many others who grew up in this part of the world. My hope would be that several such initiatives would receive enthusiastic support and open up an avenue for collaborative work on an aspect of our shared heritage and contribute to empathetic understanding.
There is a growing expectation that opening of trade will help local businesses. Hopefully that will happen though business decisions are driven by competitive considerations and expectation of a windfall due to mere geographic or cultural affinity may turn out to be delusional. Any business activity including tourism if not properly handled may end up creating only low return ventures and low paying jobs for the locals with real economic benefit going to the distant, unknown entrepreneurs. With this constraint noted, growth in trade would no doubt bring benefit and also help promote interaction and exchange.
The question may be asked whether there is a degree of relevance to all this to our subject. I believe there is because any thing done to mitigate years of neglect that may have caused continued alienation and silent suffering would be a step towards improving human condition and should be conducive to bring increment to societal peace and harmony. It is possible that some of what I am saying may sound like charity at home – andha baantey sheerni phir phir apnai ko de – and might not get past rigor of the highest ideals of seva but I hope that it still receives divine, and your, acceptance even if at the next lower level!
* Former Business Executive; was Principal, COO, CF&AO of a healthcare services provider in Connecticut. Earlier Management Educator and Consultant; Professor, Chair Operations Management & Dean [Consultancy], Administrative Staff College of India and consultant to the UN and several multilateral organizations & Fortune 500 companies.
Been Head of Planning & Evaluation, Department of Defense Production; Leader Technology Mission [First Secretary] High Commission for India in the UK; General Manager, Praga Tools Corporation; Colonel, Indian Army, Corps of Electrical & Mechanical Engineers; Faculty Military College of Electronics & Mechanical Engineering.
A past President of Connecticut Sikh Association, he has been working for several years on sharing information about Sikh faith, culture and values with the larger American Community. He is associated with several educational, inter-faith and multicultural activities & initiatives to promote wider understanding about Sikhs and Sikhism and serves on the Advisory Board, Educators Society for Heritage of India, Adjunct Professor on Sikhism at Hindu University of America, Associate Sikh Chaplain at Lebanon Valley College, PA and reader and reviewer on Sikhism for Blackwell’s Review in Religion & Theology.
Recipient of Indus Award – 2004 awarded to “luminaries in the New England’s South Asian community who shine at what they do,” the citation saying “through activism and writing, he is helping, in his way, to tip the scale of religious tolerance toward healing, inclusion and understanding.” He has been profiled among Community Profiles at Sikh Foundation.
Several of his articles have been published in journals like the Sikh Review, Sikh Studies and Comparative Religion, Abstract of Sikh studies and mainstream media. His book “Exploring Sikh Spirituality & the Paradox of their Stereotyping in contemporary American Setting” [Sanbun, Delhi] is gone into reprint thrice since its publication in 2003. Recently relocated to New Cumberland, PA he can be reached through Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
 For a comprehensive account see: Nirmal Singh, Indo-Pak Amity: A Sikh Perspective in two parts, Sikh Review, Feb and Mar 2005 issues
 andhi rayat gian vihooni bhaah bhare murdaar – (M I p.469)
 neel vastra pehr hoveh parwaan (M I p.472)
 antar pooja parhe katebaa sanjam turka bhai -(M I p.471)
 moorakh pandit hikmat hujat sanjai kareh pyar -(M I p.469), – qadi kurh bol mal khaaye, brahman nhave jia ghave -(M I p.662)
 khatriyan te dharam chhodiya (M I p.663)
 qazi hoe rishvati vadi laike haq gavai [Bhai Gurdas, Varan 1/30]
 – kal kate raaje kasaai dharam pankh kar udhriya – (M I p.145)
 – Basant Hindol p.1191
 – parthai sakhi maha purkh bolde sanjhi sagal jahanai – [M III, p.647]
 – bed puraan simrit meh dekh saseear soor nakhyathr meh ek baanee prabh kee sabh ko bolai aap addol n kabehoo dolai – [Gauri M V, p. 294]
 – kaho nanak gur khoey bharam, eko alloh parbrahm –[Ramkali M V, p. 897]
 – bayd katayb kahau mat jhoothay jhoothaa jo na bichaarai – [Parbhati Kabir p.1350]
 – eko dharma dir-rhai sach koey, gurmat poora jug jug soey –[Basant M I, p. 1188]
 – teri bhagat teri bhagat bhandar jibharai beant beanta –- teri anik teri anik kareh har pooja ji — se bhagat se bhagat bhale jan nanak ji jo bhaveh mere har bhagwanta – [Asa M IV, So Purkh]
 – raah dovain ik jaane soi sijhsi [M I p. 142]
 – mithat neeveen nanaka, gun changaiyan tat [M I p.470]
 – tin ka khada paida maya sabh pavit heh jo nam har ratey, tin ke ghar mandir mahal sarai sabh pavit heh jini gurmukh sevak sikh abhiagat jaey varsatey, tin ke turey jeen khurgeer sabh pavit heh jini gurmukh sikh sadh sant chadh jaatey, tin ke karam dharam karaj sabh pavit heh jo boleh har har ram nam har satey, jin kai potey pun hai se gurmukh sikh guru peh jatey. [Sorath ki Var M IV, p. 649/16]
 – Farida je tu maaran mukiyan tina naa maare ghum, aapane ghar, jaaiye paer tina dey chum— Je tu priya di sik heeao na thhaey kahi daa – [Slok Farid p.1384]
 – mere pran sakha gur ke sikh bhai mo ko karo updes har milai milaya – [Gujri M IV, p.493]
 – be gam pura sehr ko nao – [Gauri Guareri, Ravidas ji ke Padey p. 345]
 – Andhaa aagoo je theeyai kiyu paadhar jaanai [p. 767]
 – Quoted in Avtar Singh, Ethics of the Sikhs, p.100 ff
 ibid Chapter VI, Faith and Environment look at the Sikh perspective on environment and ecological issues.
 – de shiva bar mohey shubh karman te kabhoon neh taroon —- nishchai he apni jeet karoon – [Dasam Granth]
 – jo to prem khelan kaa chaao sir dhar tali gali moree aao [M I p.1412]
 – chu kaar az hamah heelate darguzasht halaal, ast burdan b-shamsheer dast -[Zafar Nama]
 – je sakta sakte ko maare ta man raus na hoyi —- sakta seeh mare pai vagai khasme saa pursai [M I p.360]
 For a comprehensive analysis of the Sikh paradigm in addressing societal ills and pursuit of justice see Nirmal Singh, Exploring Singh Spirituality, Chapter V, Sanbun, 2003