Trauma Memorial

During the unprecedented floods following the hurricane in New Orleans there was widespread damage to life and property. Unfortunately, the Sikh Gurdwara there also was inundated and the Granthi had to leave the place to reach safety.

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A few days later some Sikhs undertook a very delicate mission to rescue the Guru Granth Sahib from shoulder high waters in the Gurdwara precinct. Fortuitously they found the holy book safe and dry floating on the palki in the muddy waters and were able to rescue it with due respect and dignity and to tremendous relief among the believers.

While there were a lot of good words for the rescuers and also reverential comments about divine intervention in keeping the Granth safe there also were several who felt indignant that the sevadars had abandoned the Granth to save their own lives.

Several others whose sense of reverence and devotion for the Guru Granth Sahib may have been jolted by this episode may share the expression of shock and disbelief of those who spoke up. The unfortunate truth however is that instance of Sikhs leaving the saroops of Guru Granth Sahib behind are legion during the exodus of 1947. Even today most of the Gurdwara sites in Pakistan are locked up or have been turned into other usages like schools. Seva at Gurdwaras Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib is provided by Sikhs from NWFP or Afghanistan migrants. 

We all, I included, left and came to India. We were all traumatized – so a sentence was added to our ardas – jinha dharam asthanate gurdhama  toon sanoo vichoreya gaya hai unnan dai darshan te seva sambhal da daan khalsa ji noon baksho.  It now was God’s problem. Truth hurts but some times it may also teach us to be realistic about assumptions that go to build our expectations.

Several people, those who live abroad as also those living in India, have experienced the severe restrictions placed by the SGPC for procuring a copy of the Granth for installation at home. Whereas these ritualistic restrictions are strangulating the spiritual urge of lay Sikhs, I had this experience at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib DSGMC Book Shop. I was looking for the 8 volumes of Mohan Singh’s translation of SGGS published by SGPC. ‘Han ji hai gi hai’ I was told. I respectfully asked if I could purchase a set. She gently pointed me to a heap on the floor and suggested I could pick the volumes and make my set. 

While I have a strong sense of veneration for the Granth I remembered an incident at Delhi before partition. I had a Muslim friend and one afternoon I noticed my friend’s grandfather who was reading Quran, wet his finger with saliva before turning the page. I could not help quizzing him on it and he said ‘ Betai, hamare thook se Khuda ka kuchh nahin bigarta, oos ne tau hum sabh ko banaya hai. Khuda ko tau tabh achha nahin lagta jab hum oos ka paigham nahin parhtai.’

I therefore agree with the comment read on the internet that the puritans among us must stop and contemplate before we recommend tearing out paintings of Guru Nanak Dev ji from beautiful Illustrated Janam Sakhis or erasing paintings from within Sri Atal Sahib that took years and years of hard work. I think it is important for us to ponder why are we continuing to circumscribe ourselves into an ever-narrowing perimeter? This is not what Sikhi is about. Our Gurus created a vision of ever evolving, striving, ethical, altruistic, responsible, inclusive community of believers. Let us imbibe the essence of our Guru’s teachings and let that understanding reflect in our thought, speech and action.

People often talk of and exhort others to have blind faith when trying to justify this kind of practices. We seem to forget that such idolatry is not commended in the Granth and that veechar has been given a place of very great importance in the Sikh thought. Guru Arjan has included veechar as one of the three vastu he identified as the constituents of all that the Granth promotes. Gurus also say – sikhi sikhia gur veechar. We also recite daily – jo prabh ko man bhau chahai khoj shabd main lai

Indeed khoj and veechar are the cardinal tools for understanding of Guru’s thought. In this light blind faith is anachronistic – blind faith in what?  If the intent is to have unshakeable faith in Guru’s teachings – yes that is right; but faith in teaching comes through learning or imbibing the essence of teaching not just ritualistic obeisance to the book. Once one begins to ponder over its contents, the teachings are so compulsive that one will not waver. There is also this aspect about human propensities changing with the times. It is not a new thought – the Gurus have talked about kaljug rath agan ka koor agay rathvah and all their commentary about how the human tendencies, motivations and responses had changed and were changing. All other faiths recognize this phenomenon and that is why commentaries on their scriptures have over the centuries offered new interpretations and some of these revisionist thoughts have acquired a very special status.

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There is also emerging a growing body of theology of engagement that recognizes that even in the near term changes are taking place in all theologies because of our extending engagement with increasingly diverse world. Let us therefore please open our minds to the reality around us – the real world that Sikhs live in is not limited to those who may be on one side or the other of the SRM divide. This reality is bigger, more complex, and exceedingly dynamic and needs greater degree of open mindedness. Let us understand this dynamic so that we can continue to bring the message of Gurus to our youth and others in an effective manner.

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Anniversaries are occasions to revisit memories of events and seek inspiration from what transpired, reinforce resolve and learn for the future. 1984 events should and do inspire a lot of reflection. There is much that has been said and continues to be said. The core contribution that has helped in the November carnage is the initial documentation by various voluntary agencies and follow up work by the Sikh Forum, Attorney Phoolka, Nishkam and some others who have continued to work with the victim families and pursued for justice.

In the respect of Jun 84 events and their aftermath in Punjab even basic data like listing those killed, heritage destroyed etc has not even been documented. Some agencies like Ensaf are pursuing the cause of justice, especially encounter deaths. Apart from that, attention to the issues of what and how of events is fragmented.

We have really not been able to come to a consensus even on how to memorialize the two events in Punjab or Delhi. As far as I sense the subject is not any more on the active mental horizon of Sikhs in India. We may not like to accept it but they have moved on to reorder their lives in the developing context. In this environment macro views do help to re-engage with the issues but run the risk of reinforcing lurking shadows in our minds as stereotypes of new enemies within without constructively pointing the way forward.

That is where the difficulty in the subject piece manifested in not only in the uncalled for reference to Manmohan Singh but possibly in its basic premise of trying to link the events and the contemporary problems like the dera proliferation, to historical experience of opportunism within. 1984 is not an easy subject to write about and to most of us even 26 years later, our deepest thoughts are mere reflections of reaction rather than poiters in a proacive direction.

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Bajwa ji said ‘One of the reasons for Sikhs being mistaken for Arabs or Muslims and consequently being subjected to hate crimes was the identification of Khalistani extremists with Muslim causes like Kashmir, Palestine etc. Glorification of people whom Canadians recognize as terrorists will have the same effect upon Canadian Sikhs.’ This is a stretch. We, at least many of us who have been engaged in trying to correct this issue of mistaken identity have a sense of the multiplicity of reasons that surround it. I have not yet heard this as a likely factor – and let me add that I am no khalistani.

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