Sunday, July 1

Sikh community takes note of caste based Gurdwaras

The Sikh community has been forced to acknowledge existence of caste-discrimination with the Sikh clergy speaking against Gurdwaras on the basis of caste, reports Jatinder Preet in The Sunday Guardian.
Five Singh Sahibs, together constituting a Sikh equivalent of clergy, passed a resolution last week to this effect. In a strongly worded directive they said: “A gurdwara is a place of reverence, a place where anyone, irrespective of caste, colour, creed or religion, could pay obeisance. Hence, the management committees of all shrines are directed to ensure that there is no form of discrimination or restriction on the entry of devotees.” The meeting presided by Giani Gurbachan Singh, Jathedar of Akal Takhat Sahib took note of numerous complaints from Sikh community worldwide requesting action on Gurdwara’s serving to people of specific castes. Giani Gurbachan Singh said that the foundation of Sikh religion was laid to counter the caste system which was prevalent amongst Hindus, however ignorant people have failed to recognize the ills of the caste system and have started practicing it as a part of the Sikh religion.
While the Sikh clergy’s directive showed the community has acknowledged the existence of “caste-based” gurdwaras, at last, it also brought to fore the fact that caste-system has taken roots in Sikhism too. This is ironic for the community that takes pride on its origin as a caste-less religion. As a commentator on Dalit issues Bhupinder points out “The Sikh gurus’ attack on casteism, though admirable by medieval standards, did not go far enough, and was a far cry from modern sensitivities towards caste.” Not surprisingly Sikhs, mandated to identify themselves only with common surnames Singh and Kaur, still classify themselves according to their castes. While Sikhs in Punjab constitute about 63% of the population, about 31% of the state population is classified as Dalits.
Noted scholar Harish K Puri concurs that Sikhism did not lead to the creation of an egalitarian community or end of caste hierarchy and discrimination. It only led to a change in the caste pattern leading to the construction of a Sikh caste hierarchy, parallel to that of the Hindu caste hierarchy.
This explains the Sikh clergy taking note of what has come to be known as labels like Jattan da gurdwara or Mazbhi Singhaan da gurdwara. Dr SS Jodhka, a sociologist from Jawahar Lal Nehru University conducted a study in in 2001-2002 in 51 villages of Punjab. 41 of the surveyed villages had separate gurdwaras for dalit Sikhs and nearly two-thirds of the villages had separate cremation grounds for upper castes and dalits. In a similar survey of 116 villages in one sub-division of Amritsar districts Dr Puri found 68 villages had separate gurdwaras of the dalits and there were separate cremation grounds for Dalits in 72 villages.
According to Dr Puri, the large scale construction of separate gurdwaras by the Mazhabis, Ravidasias Kabirpanthis and other caste groups is a significant marker of the resistance against a sense of discrimination among the scheduled caste Sikhs.

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