Political Philosophy of the Sikh Gurus
CHAPTER V :HUMAN RIGHTS
A right is just and fair claim to anything whatever; power privilege etc. belongs to a person by law, nature or tradition; also that to which one has a just claim.1 And Human means pertaining to mankind.
In the pre-historic times, the eldest male member had absolute rights over his family. The individuals living under him had to surrender their individuality in return for the security. The head of the family was called Patriarch. According to Homer, It was his authority to give law to his children and to his wives.2 He ruled over his wives and children. There was no question of any rights to individuals. With the passage of time, slavery system started. Mighty persons started keeping other persons, who were mentally or physically weaker as slaves. 'If there was one institution, which was really common to all people of antiquity, it was slavery.'3 When State came into existence, the head of the state or the king became the master of his subjects. Sources of income and power were in the hands of the kings and the vast majority of people were tenants who had no rights. Where the kings became weak, power went into the hands of a few feudals. The condition of common man further deteriorated.
But man due to his innate nature longed for freedom and equality. Many spiritual leaders and philosophers made people conscious about their rights from time to time. Many of them struggled for these and thus had to face the consequences of their offence. These thoughtful men all over the world spoke of 'rights', which men had in common and which were inherent rights in the sense they were based on man's rational and social nature. These rights they said were the natural rights. Natural rights, these were, because they could not be taken away by any man whosoever he may be since they were the rules of life created by Nature itself. We have to deal with these rights in various perspectives.
The Eastern Perspective
Credit of first talking of 'man as the measures of all things' goes to Protagoras, a Sophist thinker, while that of the 'equality of all men' to Hippias. Socrates discarded the examined life as not worth living.
Plato took justice as a right. It is the state who has to provide the citizens with justice. The justice is the bond, which holds a society together. For him the justice is that each of individuals has found his life work in accordance with his natural fitness and his training- the Republic. So it is the right of every individual. More than it he gives importance to education. In his opinion law does not and cannot give everybody his due. Law has no meaning other than to give the least bungling rule that will fit an average case; but a Philosopher's (a philosopher king who is properly educated) wisdom gives to everybody what he deserves.
Aristotle defended holding of private property a natural right. According to him the state must protect the natural rights of man. In the Ethics he tells that complete justice is such as exists among people who are associated in common life with a view to self-sufficiency and enjoy freedom and equality-v. 10.
Stoics like Zeno, Cicero, Seneca were of the view that, according to the law of nature, all human beings are equal despite the difference in languages, nationalities and races. All can lead universally one kind of life i.e., a life according to Reason. The civil laws of various states cannot separate them rather they should conform themselves to the Law of Nature. The Stoics, therefore, drew the conclusion that men should stop living as citizens of various states, under different conceptions of justice and law. Rather they should live as citizens of one world under one Law of Nature. It is for this reason that the stoics propounded their concepts of universal brotherhood and cosmopolitanism. As members of one great family all men are brothers and equals and have equal rights.
The stoics left an indelible impression on the Roman philosophers. Cicero talked of equality and cosmopolitanism of men. Seneca stressed the right of man and said that slave or freeman all must be treated equally.
Saint Augustine introduced the subject very early in the City of God. The central theme is whether there can be a populus without justice. In Cicero's dialogue De Republica it is written-a people is a multitude of men or an assembly associated together by a common acknowledgement of right (juris) and by a community of interests. Augustine then proceeds to interpret this Ciceronion statement. 'Juris' derived from 'jus', means 'justitia'-righteousness or justice. And he is at pains to show that he believes Cicero meant 'vera justitia'-true righteousness or justice. If legal right must be based on 'justitia' and 'justitia' is, in fact, 'vera justitia', then one vital aspect of 'vera justitia' is surely the recognition which man must accord to the one true God. Is he who keeps back a piece of ground from the purchaser, and gives it to a man who has no right to it, unjust, while he who keeps back himself from God who made him, and serves wicked spirits, is just?4 For Augustine where rights and justice are taken away, the kingdoms are great robberies.
Hobbes' concept of liberty is essentially negative. Maxey observes, Every member according to his reasoning, retained his freedom of will, in so for that he might follow his own inclinations if he chose, but all had agreed to submerge their wills in that of the sovereign and to sanction every act of the sovereign as their own.and when in pursuit of his own inclinations he came into conflict with the will of the sovereign, the latter must of right prevail.5
John Locke was one of the greatest individualistic thinkers. He preached that the earth and all the institutions thereof were made for the individual and not the individual for them. Hobbes was also an individualist but he (Locke) was also authoritarian and an absolutist, who would compromise his individualism for the sake of discipline or order in the state even. The only precious thing for him was the life of the individuals for which be would allow his individuals the right even to resist the state. In the words of Vaughan, Locke lays the state at the mercy of the individual by enabling any minority, however small, to challenge the moral justification of any law of the state from the very beginning and lays a perpetual ferment for rebellion against the state on the part of any and every individual.6
Slowly, situation started changing materially which inundated the world with new ideas in all spheres of human life. In England authoritarian activities of the King Henry II were resented. The king was forced to sign Magna Carta in 1215 AD, said to be the first milestone on the roads to liberties of the people of England. With this no freeman could be captured or imprisoned or outlawed or exiled or in any way destroyed except by the lawful judgement of his peers only. The right of justice was not to be denied to anyone. Magna Carta set a new trend. Then came the Petition of Rights in 1628.
As and when any political philosopher propounded any theory on human rights, the change started. With Hobbes and Locke's efforts came the Bill of Rights in 1689. King James II fled and William and Mary signed that Bill which gave many rights to the Parliament, a house chosen by the people. With Rousseau came the French Revolution and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man came in 1789. In 1793 more rights such as right to resist oppression, freedom of the press and other civil and political rights were added.
The Indian Perspective
Ancient Indian political thinkers approached the problem from quite a different perspective. They usually described not the rights of the citizens, but the duties of the state; the formers are to be inferred from the latter. We are quite in the dark about the details of the political life in the Vedic period. At that time popular assemblies (samities) existed and controlled the king's activity. It is quite possible that not all the inhabitants had the right to become the members of the samiti; only it may have constituted a privileged class corresponding to the aristocratic order. Equality of all citizens before the law did not exist in ancient India, with Brahmins being the privileged class.
The Mahabharta (Santi Parva 58:12-14) and the Digghanikaya (Vol. Ill, pp. 84-96) tell that there prevailed a golden age of harmony and happiness when people led happy and peaceful life, though no government existed (in ancient India) to see that the laws of nature were respected and followed.
Later, in the times of Mauryan rule, Magasthenese leaves no doubt that peace, prosperity and contentment prevailed throughout the empire. Ashoka worked for the e1evation of his subjects and for recognition of the sanctity of life. His policy of non-violence led him to enforce law for the sanctity and security of all living creatures. In short people enjoyed many rights in the Hindu empire.
With the advent of the Muslim rule, in the Delhi Sultanate period, the life of Hindus became miserable who did not get many rights especially the right to freedom of practising religion. A tax on their religion called Jazia was imposed. The view of the then ruling class is so depicted: If the revenue collector spits into a Hindu's mouth, the Hindu must open his mouth to receive it without hesitation.7 The religious and cultural and even social rights of the Hindus were taken away. They were made to lead the lives of slaves. Many a time there were massacres of Hindus. The invasions of Changiz Khan and Timur made the condition of the Hindus more critical. Many of the Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam.
Guru Nanak condemned the atrocities of the rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and later those of the Mughals. He asked them to provide the subjects with certain fundamental rights, which any human being must get. Some such rights can be taken out from the Sikh literature and history. These are described as under:
(1) Right to Freedom of Religion
This was the right, which was most forcefully advocated by Sikhism. It was for the sake of this right that the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, laid down his life in 1675 in Delhi. Some Brahmins from Kashmir approached him to save them from forcible conversion to Islam by the then ruler. The Guru himself was not a believer of the faith of those Brahmins but he stood for the right to freedom of practising any religion and laid down his life for the cause. The tenth Guru writes about this martyrdom in his composition called Bachitra Natak:
It was for sake of the sacred thread and
the frontal-mark (of the Hindus),
That he performed a great act of chivalry.
He suffered martyrdom for the sake of Religion.
His head he gave but not his determination. 5:13
In Sikhism the main objective of man is to attain oneness with God, God created the world for this very purpose only i.e., to create the personality of a complete man or saint. For the achievement of this objective the right to freedom of religion is very important. The choice should be of the man himself. The third Guru prays to God:
Through whichever Door it (world) comes unto Thee
Save it that wise, pray. A.G., p. 853
Guru Nanak condemned the rulers of his times who took away this right of the people. The Hindus, who happened to be the 'ruled' class, became targets of the rulers. He severely criticised the policy of levying tax on the temples and the religious rites of the Hindus. While criticising such tax he says:
And the (Hindu) gods and temples have been taxed,
such is the current way! A.G. p. 1191
Bhai Gurdas, the Sikh theologian and also contemporary of the fifth Guru condemns the destruction of places of worship of the ruled class. He condemns in his first 'Var' the destruction of Hindu temples by the Muslim Rulers- 1:20.
In the western school of thought many thinkers advocated the right to the freedom of religion.
Though Plato was a great supporter of justice in his ideal state but in older age he held the view about the religion in his book The Laws that in sub-ideal state religion is subject to the regulation and supervision of the state as Education is. However Plato forbids the private religious exercises. The Christians emphasised that spiritual side of man was beyond the scope of the state. Even today Pope is not subject to any state or government. For Saint Augustine, the individuals need the security and order, which it (state) provides in order to be free from disturbances and molestation in the performance of their religious duties. Machiavelli advised his fictional Prince to respect the religion followed by his subjects. The Machiavellian State is to begin with, in the complete sense, an entirely secular thing.8
Jean Bodin propounded religious toleration as a matter of policy because during his time (1530-I 596) an acute civil war was going on in France. He believed that the state should allow all types of religious sects to flourish in the territory of the state and must not impose any religion of its own on the population.9
Thomas Hobbes was of the view that the individual must have full liberty in the sphere of faith. Leviathan, cannot oblige men to believe. thought is free, Wayper tells, Hobbes is an opponent of all authority in philosophy, belief, opinion.10
H.J. Laski, a British thinker, referred to the three aspects of liberty and those were private, political and economic. Private liberty means the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice in those areas of life where the results of my effort mainly affect me. Such a thing is religion and the state should not interfere in it. Laski tells about the ideas of Locke, another political thinker, that he (Locke) was consistent in his outlook with his general political theory. In his great Letter on Toleration Locke proceeds by a denial that any element of theocratic government can claim political validity. Lie makes of the Church an institution radically different from the ruling conception of his times. It becomes merely voluntary, which may exert no power over its members. It may use its own ceremonies: but it cannot impose them on the unwilling.11
After the Second World War this right was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations Organisation in 1948. Article 18 of this Declaration reads Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Now this right has been included in the constitutions of many countries. In Indian constitution also this right is granted under articles 25-28.
(2) Cultural Rights
The Gurus were of the opinion that man should be free to follow the culture of his choice and to speak the language he likes. There should not be any interference by the State. Guru Nanak forcefully condemned the rulers of his time for imposing their culture and language on the public. The Hindu culture and their Sanskrit language were looked down upon. He even condemned the Hindus for changing their culture and language under the influence of the ruling Muslim class. Even the gods were changed. To quote Guru Nanak:
Now that the turn of the Shaikhs (Muslim divines) has come,
the Primal Lord is called Allah
And the (Hindu) gods and temples have been taxed:
such is the current way !
The ablution pot, the prayer, the prayer mat,
the call to prayer,
have all assumed the Muslim garb:
even God is now robed in blue (like the Mughals did).
And men have changed their tongue and the Muslim way
of greetings prevails. A.G., p. 1191
In Asa ki Var also Guru Nanak condemns the change of culture by the Hindus. He says:
Who (Hindu) Decked Himself in (the Muslim dress) blue and assumed the attributes of a Turk and a Pathan.
They seek approval of the Muslim rulers by wearing blue.
A.G., pp. 470-2
In modern times cultural rights have been granted by U.N.O. in articles 2, 16 and 22 of the 'Universal Declaration of Human Rights12 which were declared on Dec. 10, 1948.
In the Conference of Religion and Peace held in Kyoto (Japan) in October, 1970, it was declared- Members of this Conference urge religions to use all their moral weight in bringing about an end to cultural discrimination, which deprives the common patrimony of humanity of the cultural riches acquired so slowly and so laboriously.13
Article 29 of the Indian Constitution guarantees cultural rights to all citizens. The article reads-'Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script, or culture of its own shall have the rights to conserve the same.
(3) Right to Basic Necessities
In ancient India the rights of people were taken as the duties of the ruler. The state was to promote Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Mokhsha. In the sphere of Artha came this right of the people to have employment and the things of the basic need. The state, however, was to secure not only the moral but also the material well being of its citizens. The kingdom of king Parikshit, idealised in the Atharvaveda (xx. 127), flowed with milk and honey. All round welfare of the public was clearly regarded as the chief aim of the state during the Vedic and Upanisadic ages, i.e. down to c. 500 BC.
In Sikhism it is the right of the human being to get the things of basic need. God gives the means of subsistence to His creatures as the fifth Guru says:
In every home rings the Praise of this King
in every home are men zealous of Him,
He first Provides succour and
thereafter createth the creatures. A.G., p. 1235
Kabir, while addressing God, says that the things of basic needs are his rights. If the latter will not give it, the former will ask for it. He demands almost all the things of basic need. He says:
O God, I can worship Thee not on a hungry stomach:
Here I give back my rosary to Thee
O Lord, how can I pull on with Thee?
But, if thou Givest not Thyself, I'll make a demand on Thee.
I seek no more than two seers of wheat flour,
With a quarter seer of ghee and a pinch of salt.
And half a seer of lentils too,
That I can eat my fill two times a day.
I seek a couch too, supported by four legs,
And a bedding also, along with a pillow.
And, shall I ask not for a quilt too to cover my body,
So that attuned to Thee I worship no one but Thee?
No, no, I've showed no covetousness. A.G., p. 656
Dhanna, in the Adi Granth, has also demanded for certain basic things of daily needs as a matter of right, he says:
I beg of Thee to Bless me with flour, lentils and ghee.
That my heart keeps ever pleased with Thee.
And I beg to thee for silken wear and also footwear,
And the foodgrains too, grown by tilling the land
seven times over.
And, hark, I ask also for a milch cow and a buffalo too,
And a fine Arabian horse for me to ride (through
Thy wondrous earth)
And I ask for a dutiful wife to look after my household:
These are the needs of me which I seek from Thee, O my
Beneficent God. A.G., p. 695
The fifth Guru puts a condition on this right i.e., remembering the Name of God. He says that if one remembers His Name then one has every right to get the things of daily needs, even to some extent the things of enjoyment. He says:
(Remember the Lord) Whose are all the gifts,
which we receive. Thirty-six kinds of delicious diets to eat,
comfortable couches, cool wind, peaceful revelries
and enjoyment of sweet pleasure. A.G., p. 100
In Sikhism it is the duty of every person to allow this right to all fellow men. Even if someone is unable to do any work or has not got any employment, it is the duty of the others to look after him. It was for this purpose that the system of Daswand (to donate one-tenth of the total income) was started. It was only to give the due right to the needy person. Guru Nanak gave the idea of earning one's livelihood through rightful means and to give some part of it as donation or charity.
He alone, O Nanak, Knows the Way,
Who earns with the sweat of his brow and
then shares it with the other (the needy). A.G., p. 1245
Ravidas depicts an ideal state where this right of the citizens is well protected and all get what they need:
There abide only the rich and the satiated. A.G., p. 345
In the UN Declaration of Human Rights'14 in 1948, the right to employment and the things of basic need have been included therein under articles 23 and 25.
(4) Right to Justice
In ancient India it was one of the fundamental aims of the state to promote dharma'15 or justice. In Vedic literature peace, order, security and justice were regarded as fundamental aims of the state. The king or the head of the state was to be like god Varuna, the upholder of the law and order (dhritavarata); he was to punish the wicked and help the virtuous- Chhandgya Upanisad, V. 11.5.
In the western world many political philosophers and thinkers have given their theories on this right from time to time. Plato (427 BC) was quite vocal in giving this right to the citizens. Social justice may be defined as the principles of a society, consisting of different types of men-- who have combined under the impulse of their needs for one another, and by their combination in one society, and their concentration of their separate functions, have made a whole which is perfect because it is the product and the image of the whole of the human mind-the Republic.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1227-74) following Aristotle defined justice as the fixed and perpetual will to give everyone his own right. Carlyle says that in his words law in all its forms is the expression of reason, but it is also the expression of justice.16
For John Locke (1632) justice was to give every individual the rights of preservation of life, health, liberty, possession, equality and the right to enforce law of nature to safeguard his rights as well as the rights of his neighbour.
According to Sikh thought it is the right of the people to get justice. Guru Nanak indicates it, when he criticises the Kazi, who sits as the judge and takes away the right to get justice and sells it to someone who greases his palm. He says:
Kazi sits as a judge, He tells rosary
and mutters God's Name.
Taking bribe he usurps
the right to justice (and does injustice).
If anyone asks for it, he misquotes
and reads out some aphorism. A.G., p. 951
It is the state, which is to ensure that justice is done to all in the dominion. God Himself is Just. He never does injustice. The culprit can escape the human judge but be can't escape from the Court of God. It is His nature to do full justice to everyone. The fourth Guru says:
One can run away from man's court;
but where is one to go if one runs away from the Lord?
A.G., p. 591
The government of this world is only the image of the Government of God, which He has created to give justice to the people. Guru Nanak tells:
Thou hast created the Throne to Adjudicate truly.
A.G., p. 580
So God, being Himself truly Just, has given the right to justice to all human beings.
(5) Right Against Racial Discrimination
Since the Vedic period the Hindu society has been divided into four castes-Brahmin, Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. The English word 'Caste' is derived from the Portuguese and the Spanish word 'casta' which means 'race.'17 It has been used since the middle of the 15th century to denote different classes into which Hindus are divided. Varna or colour and Jati or race, are the two commonest words in Indian languages, which are interchangeably used to denote 'caste'.
When they divided the Purusa, into how many parts did they arrange him? What was his mouth? What were his two arms? What were his thighs and feet called? The Brahmin was his mouth, his two arms were made in rajanya (warrior), his two thighs the Vaisya (trader and agriculturist), from his feet the Sudra (servile class) was born-Rg Veda 10:90:11,12.
According to Chhandogya Upanisad even man's present caste is pre-determined. For it man's destiny is determined by his Karma: Those whose conduct here has been good, will quickly attain a good birth (literally womb), the birth of a Brahmin, the birth of a Ksatriya or the birth of a Vaisya. But those, whose conduct here has been evil, will quickly attain an evil birth, the birth of a dog, the birth of a hog or the birth of a Candala-V. 10.8. Here Candala is used for the outcaste or Sudra. So it means that a person has some caste from the birth itself. The Laws of Manu hold the divine origin of the caste: But in order to protect this universe He, the most resplendent one, assigned separate (duties and) occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs and feet. To Brahmins he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting of (of alms). The Ksatriya be commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Vedas), and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures; the Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), to trade, to lend money and to cultivate land. One occupation only the Lord prescribed to the Sudra, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes-1:87-91. Manu gives the duty of teaching the Vedas to Brahmins alone -X.1. For him Brahmin is the lord of all castes-X.3. Whatever exists in the world is the property of the Brahmin-1.99.
The Bhagavad Gita also supports the divine origin of the caste system: The four castes were emanated by me, by different distribution of qualities and action; know Me to be the author of them, though the actionless and inexhaustible- 4:13.
Sikhism outrightly rejects the caste system. All human beings are equal. God creates all. None is good or bad by birth. It is the actions, which make a man good or bad. Nor there is any watertight compartmentalization of the work in different castes. Anybody can do any job of his/her choice. Condemning the traditional caste system Guru Nanak says:
Preposterous is caste and the name (glory)
as source of every creature is One. A.G., p. 83
Guru Nanak talks about the futility of the castes because, as he says, our aim is to get intune with God and in His Court there is no caste:
Recognise Lord's light within all and inquire not the caste
for there is no caste in His world. A.G., p. 349
Ask not the caste of anyone;
Ask in whose heart God has come to dwell.
Caste is known, There, by the deeds done by one.
A.G., p. 1330
For Guru Nanak, a low caste is one who has forgotten the Name of God-A.G., p. 10.
Kabir makes a scathing attack on the caste system. He criticises those Brahmins who assume that they alone can attain Godliness alone. He tells them that none becomes highcaste by birth. Only that person is a true Brahmin who attains Godliness. He bitterly criticises the superiority complex of the so-called Brahmins. To quote him:
In the womb dwelling, the mortal has no lineage and caste.
From the seed of the Lord, all have sprung.
Say, O Pandit, since when has thou been a Brahman?
Waste not thy life by repeatedly calling thyself Brahman.
If thou art a Brahman, born of a Brahmin mother,
then why hast thou not come by some other way?
How art thou a Brahman and how am I a low caste?
How am I made of blood and how thou of milk?
Say Kabir, only he who contemplates over the Lord
is said to be a Brahman among us. A.G., p. 324
The third Guru, Amardas, says that it is not the right of 'born Brahmin' only to realise God. Anybody can realise Him by meditating on His Name and become a true Brahmin.
He who knows Brahman (God) is known as a Brahmin yea,
he who is ever attuned to the Lord.
And, instructed by the True Guru, he practises Truth
and Self-discipline and is rid of the Affliction of Ego.
He Sings the Lord's Praise, Gathers the Lord's Praise and
Merges in God' Light. A.G., p. 512
A person who is brave for doing good actions is a true Ksatriya in the eyes of Guru Nanak:
He alone is a Khatri, who is a Hero in Deed,
And dedicates his body by compassion and Charity,
And knowing the right Farm, Sows the Seed of Beneficence,
Thus such a Khatri is Approved of at the Lord's Court.
A.G., p. 1411
The tenth Guru gives a call to people all over the world to take them as one caste. For him all are equal, difference is only of dress or environment. The Source of all human beings is one and that is God. Alt have emanated from Him like different sparks from the same fire; like several particles from the same dust, like millions of waves from the same water and they all will go back to the Source from where they have emanated. Guru Gobind Singh thus gives a spirit of internationalism. To quote him:
One man by shaving his head is accepted as a sanyasi
another as a Jogi or a Brahmachari, a third as a Jati,
Some men are Hindus and other Musalmans;
among the latter are Rafazis, Imams, Shafais;
know that all men are of the same caste
All men have the same eyes, the same ears, the same body, the same build, and a compound of earth, air, fire and water.
Akal Ustati, 15/85,16/87
From the above study it can be concluded that in Sikhism high caste is a person who meditates of God's Name. It is the right of all human beings. Anyone can meditate on His Name. So any discrimination on the basis of castes by birth is strictly prohibited.
Today this right is recognised by UN Charter of Declaration of Rights in the article 2 of it.18
(6) Right to Proper Education
In ancient India the right to get education was given only to upper three castes-the Brahmin, the Ksatriya and the Vaisya. The Sudras, who were placed at the lowest ebb, had no right to get education. Of the three classes only the Brahmin had the right to teach. The Ksatriya and the Vaisya could get education but could not impart it. According to the laws of Manu: Let the three twice born castes (varna), discharging their (prescribed) duties, study (the Veda); but among them the Brahmin (alone) shall teach it, not the other two; there is an established rule-X. 1.
Regarding the aims and ideals of the state Chhandogya Upanisad tells us that Religion was to be promoted, morality was to be encouraged and education was to be patronised.--V.11.5.
In Sikhism all people have right to get education. Guru Nanak laid great stress on the need of education amongst the subjects of his time. The Guru believed that it was because of lack of education that people tolerated the oppressive ways of their ruler. Guru Nanak thus describes the situation in 'Asa ki Var':
The subjects are blind an