Wednesday, July 27

Rediscovering Punjabi Culture

Amarjeet S. Grewal

Punjabi culture is not a uniform, fixed and neutral
surface/structure/narrative but is an ever-changing,
indeterminate, instable and non-permanent flow of diverse and
different parallel/paradoxical institutions, social mores,
traditions, semiotics and discourses which are bound by a
If ostensibly the Punjabi society seems to be a fixed and
determinate structure that is only because its one particular
section (comprising of men/rich/Jatt Sikhs) has given it a
limited identity by suppressing its diversity through their
economic, political and ideological hegemony. They have silenced
its different identities through their ideological, political
and moral discourses. It’s precisely because the other
discourses have been silenced or suppressed that it has acquired
its specific identity. What seem to be its fixed, stable and
timeless institutions/traditions becomes obvious and natural due
to these very institutions/traditions and the suppressing
politics behind it is obfuscated from view. So the specific
identity of Punjabi culture is in reality symbolic of the
multilateral and multilevel suppression by specific classes of
Punjabi culture.
For example in the famous verse of Prof Puran Singh “Punjab na
Hindu na Muslaman, Punjab sara jeenda Guran de nam te” lie the
seeds of hegemony of Sikh majority. That makes them listen to
only Gurbani or Jaap Sahib ion the flowing streams of rivers of
Punjab. They can’t even listen to even any soft strain of Geeta
or Quran. The Sikh migration of 47, Punjabi Suba agitation and
Dharamyudh morcha all owe their genesis to formation of this
‘Puran Singhian Sikh identity’. This is just a small and limited
example. When we compliment a definite form of Punjabi culture
we are in reality exposing our slave mentality. Those of our
forward looking thinkers who talk of establishing identity of
Punjabi culture should also keep in mind the suppressing
politics behind these and expose that. This suppressing politics
has kept fixed every nuance of Punjabi culture. There is a need
to supplant this.
So every cultural worker’s duty becomes to expose that politics
of suppression, which acts behind cultural practices, and
obviousness of institutions/traditions and meaning of words
fixed by that suppression. By doing so they will not only be
exposing that suppression but also the suppression behind
lingual practices, cultural traditions, social institutions,
moral values, economic properties and personal liberties. I
would like to call these new writers, artists, critics and
thinkers, cultural freedom fighters because they wage a war
against suppression at every level with their critical creative
Punjabi culture can’t be reduced to culture limited to an area
spread over 50,362 sq kms on 12,342 villages and 134 towns and
cities, which came into existence on November 1, 1966. Punjabi
culture is much more than this. This is transnational culture
spread over India, Pakistan and many other countries. That is
why it is not uniform. That is why now Punjab, Punjabi culture
and Punjabi community can’t be cloistered in any specific
geographical, historical, political, economic, lingual,
ideological and religious/moral limits. This Punjabi culture is
constantly spreading due to its inherent diversity, instability
and dynamism in different regions, countries, cities and towns,
gaining new experiences, creating dialogues between different
languages, traditions, cultures religions, economies, political
discourses, moral values, social mores.
So Punjabi culture is no longer a culture specific to and of a
specific region, religion, nation, race, caste, community or
sect. This is a large stream, which irrigates different lands
imbibing in it fragrances of all those lands.
Punjabi culture is not a human race born in a specific region
but is a grand road linking whole world. That is why it does not
have any definite home, language, religion or ideology.
We have been living the life akin to rootedness of tree so far.
Just like trees are fixed to the soil through their roots, we’ve
been fixed on the soil of Punjab through our language, tradition
and history. This cultural rootedness of ours kept our cultural
spread bound in definite limits. Now flight is replacing roots
and wings replacing homes to become identities of Punjabi
This new cultural consciousness has not obliterated the
consciousness of our rootedness but has only served to glorify
it. The poetry of nostalgia of immigrant poets is a proof of
The diasporic consciousness did get us out of the state of
rootedness of trees but transported us into the state of birds
who come back to their cultural ages in evenings. The Punjabis
living abroad live in their cultural ages. They neither become
part of the Punjab’s economic, political and cultural
development and nor of their adopted countries. Those immigrants
who break free of this cultural imprisonment become rootless.
This rootlessness and homelessness does not let them create any
cultural identity.
But this transnational Punjabi consciousness prepares us for
pure flight bringing us out of cages. The flight becomes home or
we can say the definition of home changes or does not let us be
homeless or rootless. This gives birth to new Punjabiat by
giving rise to a feeling of unrootedness in place of rootedness
and unhomeliness in place of homelessness. On the threshold of
21st century, Punjabi community visualises its future in this

(Amarjeet S. Grewal is noted Punjabi thinker and critic)

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