A NEW WAVE OF SOCIAL TENSIONS
The Sikh masses are sulking with anger in Punjab, Haryana and other states of northern India, against the blasphemous act of Dera Sacha Sauda of Sirsa in Haryana. Protest marches and demonstrations are held with unsheathed swords and effigies of Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, Head of the Dera are being burnt all over the northern India. Anger of the Sikh masses forced the Head Priest of the Akal Takhat (the highest temporal seat of Sikhism) to issue a call for social, religious and economic boycott of the Dera followers. He also set deadline for the Punjab government to seal all the Sacha Sauda deras in Punjab by 27th May 2007. However, under the pressure of Akali-BJP government in Punjab and the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandik Committee, the Sikh clergy has refrained to go beyond the religious rhetoric. It may be mentioned that Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandik Committee, which is popularly called a Mini Parliament of the Sikhs, is an appointing authority of the Sikh clergy and controlled by the ruling Akali Dal party. Therefore, from the very beginning, it was evident the Akal Takhat would try to keep all the developments in its hands and would not allow the Sikh hard-liners to exploit the Sikh sentiments.
All the TV channels and newspapers showed the protesting Sikhs, repeatedly with ulterior business motives in such a manner that this issue created panic amongst the broad Hindu masses of India. Every person who is remotely known to recent history of Punjab got terrified and felt concerned with these developments. Such a thinking is not entirely baseless, as the Punjabi people had already passed through a dark period from the early eighties to the late nineties of previous century, when their all fundamental right were crushed by the State and Sikh fundamentalists. These incidents refreshed the bloody clashes of 13th April 1978, between the followers of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and Nirankari sect. Though, the recent incidents are not the replay of 1978 clashes, when 13 Sikh radicals were butchered, but the nature and long-term effect of these events is not different. Since the history never runs in parallel lines and the similar events never produced the same results, however, the objective conditions of the society are more explosive than 1978. Unemployment and poverty of the Punjab masses are touching their new heights. Not a single day passes, when there no farmer’s suicide in the state is reported. The only difference now is that the forces of Sikh religious fundamentalism are very weak and ruling class parties are in complete disarray. Therefore, none of the ruling class party is in a position to exploit the situation by flaring up religious fundamentalism.
Present Religious Clash
The root cause of inflammatory activities of Dera Sacha Sauda can be found in February 2007 Assembly election of Punjab. Although the Dera had been secretly favouring different political parties in the last, but that favour on the basis of personal influence/devotion of the candidates and political parties. Almost all the political parties of Punjab were seeking blessings of the Dera Chief. Parkash Singh Badal himself used to go to Dera Sacha Sauda for votes of the Dera followers. But this time Dera Sacha Sauda itself constituted a polical wing of this sect and issued an edict to openly favour the Congress. The SAD-BJP alliance sent its senior leaders like Navjot Sidhu and Arun Jaitely at Dera Sacha Sauda for withdrawal of the edict, but to no avail. It may be mentioned here that son of Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is married to the daughter of senior congress leader Harminder Singh Jassi who is a close confident of ex-Chief Minister Amrinder Singh. He was fielded from hindu-dominated constituency of Bathinda and won by huge margin. He got this ticket even marginalizing Surinder Singla-the senior most minister of Amarinder cabinet. It is strong possibility that Dear chief might have decided to favour the Congress, in lieu of party ticket to his relative.
This religio-political edict of the Dera caused a serious jolt to traditionally SAD dominated Malwa region of Punjab. The SAD lost 37 out of 65 seats of Malwa. All the top leaders and long-time personal confidants of Parkash Singh Badal were humbled in the hustling. Although, defeat of these bigwigs was a boon to Sukhbir Singh, son of senior Badal and that paved the way for him to immediately become acting President of the SAD, sideling the senior most Akali leaders like Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa. But the defeat of senior leader caused a great resentment and ill feeling amongst pro-Akali Sikh masses against the Dera Sacha Sauda. They started intimidating the Dera followers and even demolished their Guru’s memorial in Mansa city.
Mischief by Dera Sacha Sauda:
After being helpful in a defeat of SAD,Sant Gurmeet Singh got became egoistic. He accelerated his activities and started expanding area of his influence. In a blind fervour ,he started imitating the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh of the Sikh sect. He attired like Guru Gobind Singh and offered mythological nectar to his followers. He choose “Seven Stars” in a similar way as the tenth Guru had selected his “Panj pyaras” (five beloved). He also put a turban with crest on his head, as we see in the calendar paintings of Guru Gobind Singh. His photographs showing in this dress were published in the form of an advertisement in all the leading News papers of the region on 13 May 2007.A few Sikhs took out protest marches at some places on 14 May and the Dera followers mercilessly beaten up the protesting Sikhs in Bathinda. Not satisfied with this hooliganism, the Dera followers blocked roads in Bathinda, the next day and even thrashed some policemen. The news of this hooliganism flashed all over the Punjab like a prairie fire. The TV channels with their commercial and ulterior motives aggravated the situation by showing the angry mobs repeatedly. Spread of anger and heart burning in the Sikh masses was natural, the protest of Sikh masses crossed boundary of Punjab and spread to all major cities of north India.
To pacify the Sikh masses (or in a real sense by instigating them to browbeat the Dera chief), Jathedar – the chief of Sri Akal Takhat called a meeting of five heads of Sikh Panth along with all the Sikh organizations at Shri Damdama Sahib- the nearest Sikh holy place to Dera Sacha Sauda. Purpose of this meeting was to subdue the Dera chief. But what happened at Damdama Sahib was beyond the wishes of the Sikh clergy. The Sikh masses reached there in hundred of thousands and the chief priest were unable to control the masses. Finding that the Sikh clergy was not taking harsh decisions against the Dera chief, an angry Sikh thrown a naked sword at the head priest who had narrow escape. In this situation, unwilling to toe the hard line, the Sikh high priest had to issue a religious edict to boycott the Dera Sacha Sauda socially, religiously and economically, until he unconditionally apologizes from the Akal Takhat. They issued ultimatum to Punjab Govt. to arrest the Dera chief by 20 May and close down his Deras (hermitages) in Punjab.
Again, on 20 May, the radical Sikhs, created scenes against the “soft” attitude of the Sikh clergy towards Dera Sacha Sauda and raised slogans eulogizing Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and Khalistan movement. Bowing to the demands of sikh hardliners, the high priests had to issue a call for “Punjab Bandh” on 23 May. This Bandh, as claimed, was a precedent in its peaceful success and was supported by all the Punjabis of different faiths. But full-fledged hidden support by the SAD-BJP alliance government and invisible terror of the past decades can clearly be seen behind the success of that bandh.
Reasons behind the Present Instigation:
The immediate reason of this instigation was crass imitation by the guru of Dera Sacha Sauda. But the main reason lies in the political aspirations of the Dera chief. His aspirations got boost after being instrumental in the defeat of the Akalis in particular region of Punjab. Therefore, he has adopted an aggressive strategy against the established religions, to expand his mass base.
Another reason behind this blasphemous act of Dera Sacha Sauda might be to side track a CBI investigation against the Dera chief for his role in the murder of some ex-dera followers and a Hindi journalist of Haryana, who had been continuously exposing his acts of sexual exploitation of unmarried young women followers at the Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa (Haryana). The Punjab and Haryana High Court had reprimanded the CBI for its lack-luster approach toward the instigation and directed the agency to submit final report by 28 May 2007. It is possible that the dera guru must have adopted a policy to cause sectarian riots to divert attention of his followers from his “criminal” cases. Anything is possible from this person, as he at one point of time was a close associate of a slain hardcore Khalistani, Gurjant Singh Rajasthani. Rumours were rife when he became chief of Dera Sacha Sauda that this man had acquired ‘guruship’ at the point of gun.
On the other hand the ruling SAD was also waiting for an opportunity to hit the socio-religious base of Dera Sacha Sauda. Dera chief himself provided this opportunity. Both the prestigious Sikh institutions – Sri Akal Takhat and Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandik Committee are in the hands of stooges of Parkash Singh Badal, the SAD Chief Minister. Therefore, every type of attack was possible against the dera and it was carried out meticulously.
Social Base of Dera (Heretical Sect):
Hereticism is an old phenomenon of Punjab. The Sikh religion itself can be classified as heretical in its earliest days. But the Tenth Guru initiated a Khalsa Panth in 1699 and abolished tradition of mortal guru by conferring guruship to the ‘Holy Granth’ at the time of his death in 1708. Since then the Sikhs are forbidden to bow his head before a worldly creature. There is, theoretically, no place for iconoclasm in the Sikh religion. But during the reign of first sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, all the ‘Brahminical’ rituals started penetration in the Sikh Panth and a host of mortal saints and gurus appeared on the scene from time to time. At present, there are about 350 Sikh saints (deradars) in Punjab alone, those are orginised in an association called “Sant Samaj”. Therefore, when we hear a call from the Sikh clergy, SGPC and the Akali Dal to shun mortal gurus, we find no substance in their rhetoric, as they use and exploit these deras for their political ends from time to time.
Besides, old sects there is a host of new sects like, Nirankari, Radha Soami, Swami Ashuthosh Maharaj’s Diviya Jyoti and Piara Singh Bhaniarawale, which have emerged ans flourished from the concrete social and cultural conditions of the state. A considerable majority of disciples of these sects are from amongst the dalit castes and socially and economically backwards sections of the society. This is due to unequal treatment with these sections by the upper caste Sikhs, despite theoretical equality among all human beings in the sikh religion. The Sikh holy text prohibits discrimination among its worshipers on the basis of caste and creed. But the priests completely drowned in the whirlpool of “Brahminism” conniving with the ruling classes of the day have killed the true spirit of the Text (which contains hymns eulogizing an egalitarian society by the Sikh gurus, saints of bhakti movement and muslim sufi faqirs) and adhering and preaching only outwardly symbols of the faith.
The dalits are not allowed the preparation and serving of “Langar” (community kitchen) in the gurudwaras (Sikh temples). Even the priests coming from lower castes are denied this service, though not officially, but in practice. Dalits Sikhs are not co-opted or nominated in the management committees of the temples. A telling commentary of this phenomenon, was a dispute over a religious place in Talhan village near Jalandhar in June 2003, when dozens of dalit Sikhs were injured in an attack by the upper caste Jat Sikhs with a covert support of an orthodox Sikh institution ‘Damdami Taksal’. This is the same institution, which was headed by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale at the time of operation “Blue Star” in 1984.
In such a situation, when so-called upper caste Sikh saints dominate religious culture, the dalits and socially backward classes also need some religious solace. Such a religious sect is needed where some sort of human equality is ensured. Dera Sacha Sauda is such a sect where minimum equality amongst its disciples is maintained. It has offered at least a façade of equality and respect to the dalit masses. If the Sikh clergy is really concerned with the rise of heretical sects, it would have to ensure egalitarian atmosphere to the dalit masses, otherwise the downtrodden have no alternative other than to turn away from the Sikhism and seek refuse in one or the other religious sects like
Dera Sacha Sauda. The Sikh clergy, SAD and dominant Jat caste are itself responsible for the rise of heretical sects.
Future of Punjab:
Present situation of Punjab is really explosive and outward peace is a sign of future storm. Is Punjab again set to undergo the same tragedy; it did in the last two decades? Answer depends on many factors, but at the present its answer is in the negative, because: –
1. Hardliner Sikh has had become very weak and morally bankrupt. It has no acceptable leader that can advance the fundamentalist movement by organizing the defunct forces.
2. Punjab at present has a SAD-BJP ruling alliance, whose leaders have become very shrewd and mature. They are capable of containing the Sikh anger within the prescribed limits, by extolling the Hindu-Sikh unity.
3. There is no autocratic and egoistic political figure at the centre like Indira Gandhi, which has the personal ambitions to extract political mileage from the sectarian riots of Punjab.
4. A “unipolar world system” under the dominance of the USA prevails at international level. There is no powerful and rival imperialist lobby in India that can provide moral and logistic support to fundamentalist forces of Punjab.
5. India has become an attractive hunting ground for imperialist forces and the TNC’s. The imperialist forces would never allow the comprador ruling classes of India to allow vitiate the so-called peace with sectarian conflicts.
6. Punjab people have already witnessed a fratricidal war and more than 25000 families have lost their near and dear at the hands of State terrorism and fundamentalist gangs. They are not in a mood to see repetition of the history.
7. Communist revolutionary and democratic forces of the country are comparatively more united and organized as never before; and are vigorously fighting for the basic cause of the toiling masses. With this, social base of communalism and religious fundamentalism is shrinking.
Anxiety among the people regarding Dera Sacha Sauda and Sikh Panth dispute is natural. But internal and external situations of Punjab as well as of India seem not in favour of communal blood bathing. However, it does not mean slackness, rather every peace-loving and democratic person should intervene positively in this situation. Everybody should forcefully raise the demand of unconditional apology from the chief of Dera Sacha Sauda for hurting the feelings of the Sikh masses. On the other side, we should oppose the dictatorial edicts of the Akal Takhat to close down all the meeting places of Dera Sacha Sauda. Respect and support of religious freedom for every citizen is the only way to solve all such sectarian feuds. Above all spread of scientific thinking and creation of a genuine democratic Punjab and India are the true guarantor of shining future of all the toiling masses.