The Sikh: Jat, Dalit, Vienna and Violence

Wed, 27 May, 2009,03:40 PM

Many parts of Punjab and some pockets of Haryana have been tarred by violence following the attack on two leaders of Sikh religious sect, Dera Sachkhand, during a sermon at a gurdwara in distant Vienna on Sunday.

The clash inside the Ravidas Gurdwara in Vienna allegedly took place after some devotees objected to the status of guru given to Ravidas in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. The holy scripture is revered as a guru by Sikhs and no one is supreme in its presence.

The scripture has also been bestowed the status of ‘juristic person’ by the Supreme Court.
The echo of violence in Punjab apparently seems more due to the simmering resentment between Dalits and upper caste Sikhs.

The Deras have a strong following in the Adharmi community of the State, especially in Doaba region, which includes Jalandhar and neighbouring areas. Dera is the headquarters of a living spiritual guru whose appointment is either hereditary or anointed.

Devotees of a Dera do not necessarily belong to one religion or caste. They come from all faiths. The majority, however, belong to the weaker sections of society who flock to the Deras in the face of alleged discrimination by upper caste Sikhs.

The Dera is estimated to have about 40-50 lakh followers all over the State. The rift between the upper caste Sikhs and the Dera sect has been brewing over the presence of a Dera guru along with the Guru Granth Sahib at social functions. Sikhism frowns upon rituals and personal glorification of living gurus.

As marriages and all functions of Adharmi community take place in Ravi Dass temples in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, where the Dera leaders sit, the Sikh community has been taking objection to the presence of any living guru in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.

While the violence is strongly condemnable, the more disturbing aspect is that why should an act of crime in distant Vienna be allowed to blow into a full-grown conflagration in Punjab. Obviously vested interests have been fomenting trouble.

Within hours of the murderous attack in Vienna, rampaging mobs took to the streets in Punjab, Haryana and Jammu, indulging in arson and atrocities. The anger of Dera Sachkhand followers is understandable. But their violence is not. It is of the vile variety.

The shocking destruction of private and public property, including the torching of a train, and the resultant harassment of people at large have to be severely dealt with. It is common in India for protesters and agitators to indulge in disruptive and destructive activities under guise of expressing their anger over some imagined slight. Violence during imposed bandhs, party protests fall in this category.

The Dera group deserves severe condemnation and tough action. But that looks highly unlikely. The Deras are much sought after during elections. Politicians cutting across party lines woo the heads for getting the votes of that Dera. And this is the problem: Every thing in the country is dealt through the prism of vote-bank politics.

Sikhs succumb to casteism

The New Indian Express
First Published : 27 May 2009 12:28:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 27 May 2009 12:37:27 AM IST

The outbreak of violence in Punjab following the attacks on the two topmost leaders of the Sikh sect Dera Sach Khand in Vienna was an inevitable fallout of the subterranean casteist tensions that have long been brewing in the community. These antagonistic sentiments between the Jat Sikhs and the Dalit Sikhs have been heightened by several other factors. One is the establishment of various Deras or houses, mainly by the latter. The other is the suspected monopolisation of mainstream Sikhism, represented by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, by the Akalis, thereby giving it a political colour. A third factor is the presence in the Sikh diaspora of former Khalistani terrorists, whose militancy is now often directed against rival Sikh groups. The Punjabi macho culture also contributes to such confrontations. Although the terms, Jat Sikh and Dalit Sikh, are a misnomer because casteism is anathema to the religion, the continuation of such divisive identities shows that the very purpose of the establishment of the new faith five centuries ago — to escape from the casteism inherent in Hinduism — has been largely negated. The setting up of various Deras or houses is a recourse by the Dalits to underline their distinctiveness in the face of the less than cordial attitude of the Jats. Considering that there are often separate gurdwaras for the two groups, the establishment of the Deras is not surprising.

While the Dera Sach Khand comprises followers of Sant Ravidas, an untouchable saint-poet of the medieval times, the Dera Sacha Sauda, which was in the news some time ago, claims to maintain only a tenuous link with Sikhism. It is the belief among the Jat Sikhs that these Deras are not true representatives of the religion that leads to clashes like the present one. The political angle is introduced by the capacity of both the SGPC and the Deras to deliver block votes to the various parties. It is known, for instance, that the Congress depended on the Dera Sacha Sauda for political support before the last assembly elections in Punjab. Apart from politics, the rising prosperity of the Dalits is another cause for tension. However, the latter also resent the fact that, except for Giani Zail Singh, no one from the lower castes has risen in the political hierarchy. It is evident that even after the present violence is brought under control, the root cause of trouble will continue to threaten future outbreaks.

About janamejayan

A Viraat Hindu dedicated to spread the message of Paramacharya of Kanchi
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