SIKHISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY: CHALLENGES AND RESPONSES
Dr. Tejwant Singh Gill
For prospective thing on the future of the Sikh Panth and Granth it is essential to review how claims to the effect made by two 19th Century European by thinkers have so fared in the course of history. Dr. Ernest Trumrp and Max Macauliffe were these thinkers who for the first time prognosticated upon Sikh society and religion. Trumpp, greatest German orienta1ist scholar of the Panjab regarded Sikhism as "a waning religion that will soon belong to history". Likewise, the Adi. Granth, that for the Sikhs is revelatory, venerable and divine, was for "him the most shallow and empty book that exists in proportion to its size." (Preface to The Adi Granth pp. cxxii) Such a view of this religion and its doctrine left him with no doubt that the sikhs different from the Hindus only in appearance would in the near future disappear into the fold of their predecessors.
Max Macauliffe, an erstwhile British, bureaucrat, held diametrically opposed view of Sikhism. He found it a new and separate religion that, under propitious circumstances, was likely to flourish a lot. Likewise, the tenets of the Sikh doctrine, as vehicles of the utterance of God’s Name, seemed to him "most meritorious human acts leading to absorption in God and release from the pain and misery of transmigration. (The Holy writings, pp. 25-26). No doubt he found Trumpp’s views disparaging, meant to denigrate the Sikh religion, history and society.
A candid purview of all these aspects bears out that the 20th century, "the age of extremes as Eric Hobsba by naming his latest volume so very perceptively calls, has not borne witness to either of these claims. With commonsense, that sometimes was in accord and sometimes in discord with. goodsense to be drawn from the doctrine, the Sikhs have managed to survive albeit make their presence felt far more than their percentage warranted at any stage in history. In the process, their historical heritage has some-times equipped them with impulses to reckon even with trying circumstances and untoward situations. Sometimes it may have proved to be a fumbling, if. not a stumbling, block in their passage through hurdles, come as legion in their case.
Commonsense and goodsense which are employed as crucial categories here, figure generically as Dur matt (Gaurian Aslipadian) and Utam-matt (Var Maru Shaloka Pahela Pauri 19) in Guru Nanak’s compositions. Since the basic difference that the posits between them is of the mundane versus the divine, so for purposes of difference elaboration they are configured here per the contradistinction that Antonio Gramsci has held between the two. For Gramsci commonsense is a complex of "asssumptions and beliefs" generally derived from experience. Extrinsically "episodic and disjointed", it lacks the potential to forward a coherent view of life. With principle elements derived from religion it, is "anthropomorphic and anthropocentri at the same time. As against it, goodsense is "a critical and coherent conception of the world. with a consciousness of its historicity, of the phase of development which it represents and of the fact that it contradicts other conceptions or elements of other conceptions." (Prison Note Books, PP 323, 324, 420)
The Adi Granth so far goes Guru Nanak’s discourse in particular is deeply and elaborately constitutive of goodsense. It will be too much to contend that the Sikhs have sought guidence by elaborating it in close proxiriity with their history. They have instead professed fidelity to experience in reckoning with which their commonsense did draw upon some elements of goodsense. The result was that the Sikhs were not overtaken by history.’ Though they themselves could not overtake history yet, they did keep pace with its truarnas and dramas without getting overwhelmed in the process.
This becomes obvious from the consistency that they have maintained in their demographic aspect. As proof of this they did not let their percentage decline vis-a-vis the Panjabi population after its zenith in the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Subsequently in the context of the Indian population, their percentage has remained intact after Partition. This is a palpable proof of the fact that Trumpp was rather vain in holding that they would merge into the folds of the Hindus. What to talk of in the near future, they have not done so even in the distant perspective. That this percentage has remained consistent without registering any increase also goes to show how vacuous Macauliffe was to foretell in his typical way a flourishing future for the Sikhs and their religion.
The result of all this was that the Sikh society could not grow into ethos commensurate with their geographic linguistic zone in the country. Rather than the anthropological, ethos is here taken in the cultural sense. That way it is inclusive as against race that is exclusive. Likewise, it differs from nation that figures particularly in the context of state. Ethos, without opting for state, has political connotation only. For Maxime Rodinson, it comprise people "within the confines of a fairly well-defined territory, among whom it took the form of a national conscious, a feeling of belonging to a unified and specific cultural group to achieve some form of Political unity." (The Arabs, p.46)
Their interface with the geographic-linguistic zone shows how commonsense and experience have remained the ultimate criteria for the Sikhs. Before Partition, they felt the whole of Punjab, five times the size of the present Punjabi speaking state as their geographic-linguistic zone. Primarily converged in the middle, they marked their secondary presence in the peripheries i.e. areas which in the west have gone to Pakistan and in the east to Harman and Himachal Pradesh. They also marked their tertiary presence in the rest of the Indian sub-continent. it is a different matter though that it was symbolic rather then actual in the essential sense of the word.
At the time of Partition this over-all Punjab was so split that more than half of it got out of bounds for the Sikhs. They were debarred from primary, secondary and tertiary presence in areas wherein are situated so many gurdwaras to remind them always of their heritage and history. In their Ardas (Prayer) daily their ardent plea to the Almighty is for their, ultimate restoration. It is however improbable, if not impossible, to visualize a turn in history when their plea wi11 be conceded. Ironically enough, the geographic linguistic zone that "they could claim as their own further shrank on the formation of the Punjabi-speaking state in the sixties. Consequent upon rehabilitation, a large number of Sikhs did settle in Delhi, Western U.P., Rajasthan and places beyond various nooks and corners of the country. Irrespective of their overwhelming presence of so many ethnic and religious majorities, they are not invisible at those places. Disturbances around 1984, did erase, their visibility but to a limited extent only. At the same time to term those far-flung places integral to their geographic-linguistic zone partly imperiled by theirs and largely impeached by other’s politics, will however be a misnomer.
All these factors are liable to call, the Sikhs to identity-politics that is raging in large parts of India and the countries around. The slogan of "Panth in danger" that the leadership in moments of crisis has Ioudly raised, goes to show that though covert it does hold appeal to the minds of the Sikhs. Luckily enough at other moments, they see through the politics involved and do not let this covert appeal turn into overt obsession. In the relative sense then, the Sikhs shun identity-politics. This is for several reasons, which, drawing upon their heritage and history, have molded their commonsense and directed their experience.
First, identity-politics is a call to alterity that visualizes survival of one entity through obliteration of the other. This goes against the grain of the historical heritage of the Sikhs which does compel its advocates to democrat borders from others but, by impelling them at the same time to cultivate bonds with them. Secondly identity-politics underlines one out of several identities which human beings have the potential and proclivity to and cultivate at the same time. For the historical heritage of the Sikhs, regional and linguistic identities are conterminous with the religious one. If desperation, opportunism and lack of vision drove the leaders to hold otherwise, the Sikhs in general did not become their playthings all the time. If not anathema , they have displayed aversion for such tactics of their leaders. Third, identity-politics tends to fetishes one denominational aspect so much that human beings have to petrify to one context in case they choose this obsession to over-ride their urge to grow, develop and progress, in life.
The historical heritage of the Sikhs has engendered in them this urge for growth, development and progress. Since it moulds their commonsense and directs their experience in the first instance, so emigration, without recall to goodsense in the second instance, has more and more become a way of life for them. This has resulted in their immigration to England, America, Canada, countries of south Asia and central Africa and molecularly to some of Latin America. There are so many places lying scattered over the globe which look like distant components of their geographic-linguistic zone in India. Of course, intervening distances pose spatial, social and cultural problems. Great ingenuity is called for to keep them under control. As such these problems cause lot of stress and strain to the real-life identity of the Sikhs. If they are neither alienated from their heritage nor obliterate by their verisimilitude, it is because nostalgia and alterity remain well within their control. Resilience is what marks their commonsense and underlines their experience.
It is problematic if in the 21st Century this will be enough of an asset to sustain them in the future. Involving choice, scope and opportunity to do and what not to do, sustenance is different from subsistence. Where the former is open ended the latter is in fact close-ending. To know if the strength to sustain themselves will be theirs in the next century, it is first imperative to grasp lineaments of social reality in the next century. To formulate it per the terms lately come in vogue, it will be the social reality of a new world order. Highly technologised and globalised, it will be a free for all so far go consumerism and the obsolescence of all objects meant for the purpose. Such will be social reality in the western countries in particular. To live it will be the destiny of the Sikhs because the 1evel at which they are emigrating will betoken their presence more in those countries of adoption than here in the geographic-linguistic zone of birth. Then the pace at which the land is getting urbanised, this zone will tend to replicate change taking place in the western countries.
Rather than of reality, all around will figure what Baudrillard calls a world of "hyperreality". It will have nothing to do with surrealism of the thirties that made known what lurked in the unconscious. Getting across distinctions of class, age and gender, its manifestation charmed the human beings. As reference point it enabled them to exercise preferences, assume directions and determine destinations. The hyperreality of the future will not gave any such guarantee. it will be constitutive of "the third order of simulacra" (Selected works p.135) in which simulation model will drive away its earlier two counterparts i.e. of natural -signs as they grew from nature and their replicas which reproduction brings forth. If the natural signs charm the human being and stir their feelings and emotions their replicas, divested of auras, refine their intellectual acumen and add to their knowledge and wisdorn.
Will hyper-reality with its simulated models do all this and that too as spontaneously is a project worth being not on its agenda at all. What is on agenda will be its resolve to make simulated ambiance delectable enough. For, that its fatal strategy will be to show everything reductive. In this way, reduction will figure in all walks of life. For Anthony Giddens this will altogether change the human nature. The body will become the site of all choices, preferences and destinations. He finds this change to have already occurred. Hence his contention: "The major issue is that in contemporary society the body become a site of regulative beliefs and practices which help to constitute the body as a project." (The Transformation of Intimacy). p.75. So more and more efforts in terms of diet, exercise, decoration, dressing and matching etc. directed to manifest rather than transcend sexuality. how will l the Sikhs cope with all this ? May be like others of so many ethnicities, religions and denominations, They will go along with this hyper-reality. Regret or remorse remonstrance or resistance will be there but not to warrant any change. All will be inconsequential if they have only commonsense and experience to fall back upon. Whether goodsense that the Adi Granth forwards with amazing fecundity through Guru Nanak’s discourse in particular, will salvage their situation is a point to ponder over. Replenished by erudition holding itself accountable to life, its direction and destination, this goodsense may be able to deliver the Sikhs from the deluge of hyper-reality.
By bringing alternative project on the agenda, such as a goodsense can ponderably equip them with a meaningful Purpose. This is because Guru Nanak’s discourse attributes supreme use-value to acts of producing reproducing and preserving not only the natural but also the reproduced objects. After all, they are the living proof of the Creator’s infinite and eternal potentiality. The following lines in Var Asa bear. It out without any ambiguity what so ever:
True are Thy continents, true the spheres of the universe
True are Thy worlds and true all bodies.
(Var Asa Sloka Mahala Pehla) Whatever is indicative becomes elaborate in the subsecquent Sloka
Eating and drinking and dressing are according to His Creative will and all he loves.
Species, genera, races, and, the World and its denizens all good and evils, honor and pride,
Wind, water, fire, this earth and its dust are all His manifestation.
(Var Asa Sloka Pahela)
As this extract in Sant Singh Sekhon’s translation (A History of Punjabi Literature, pp.188) makes amply clear, producing, reproducing and preserving is a life-bestowing trajectory so long as it goes under the benign will of the Creator. The whole creation is His manifestation. The present meaning that gets available from this notion’s past significance is that producing reproducing and preserving in the first two orders are justifiable acts for humanbeings to persue so long as they do not violate the integrity of nature.
The third order, of which simulation is the criterion is violative of nature’s integrity, lock stock and barrel as it may be said in common parlance. It further seeks to destroy nature even as an entity. No wonder, pollution and ecological disaster are perceived as its irrevocable consequences. For the Sikhs all this is an anathema provided the goodsense, so eloquently articulated in Gurbani and particularly in Guni Nanak’s discourse, does get across their commonsense. What should be on their agenda then is to replenish it with elaboration from alternative erudition developed with social, cultural albeit human accountability in view.
Only from above will life in the 21st century seem as of the new world order. Very likely from below it will seem nothing short of a "new world disorder" as Benedict Anderson has so preciently put as the title of his article. Multivalent strrife will so come to mark life that it will dispense with all sense of direction and destination. People of all classes, creeds, castes and other denominations will be held by it as in a labyrinth. Directive immigration will surrender to undirected migration. Rather than for universality, cosmopolitanism will come to stand for being anywhere and nowhere. For human consciousness and conscience to rest content with this labyrinthine cosmopolitanism will be impossible. That is why the Bulgarian-born Prench philosopher Julia Kristeva poses this sort of a question: "Could cosmopolitaism as moral imperative be the secular form of that bond bringing together families, languages and states that religion claimed to be? "Rather than stop at that she thus attempts its subjunctive answer. Something beyond religion, the belief that individuals are fulfilled only if the entire speciies achieves the practice of rights for everyone." (Strangers to Ourselves, pp- 173,174)
No doubt this new world disorder will be bewildering for the Sikhs. After all, their commonsense and experience have disposed them to be rooted in their heritage and to be attuned to their verisimilitude at the same time. However this much disposition will not delivered them , for replinished goodsense will be essential for the purpose. In this, they can get tremedous support from Guru Nanak whose forte lay in subjecting the commonsense to a bitter critique and then devoloping from that critique goodsense of more lasting ethical and intellectual value. The following lines bear ample witness to this strategy that seems veritable and efficacions at the same time:
Take the cotton of kindness, spin the thread of content put the knot of restraint and roll i.t in austere living
If you have such a living sacred thread then only wear it, Pandit-
It will not snap, nor get dirty, nor burn nor get lost.
Blessed are they, Nanak, who wear it round their necks
(Var Asa Slok Mahala Pehla)
In all this again available in Sant Singh Sekhon’s translation (A History of Punjabi Literate-ire, p. 200), Guru Nanak Seems incomparable. What to talk of his vehement critique of the caste-system, the oppressive polity, religious obscurantism, petrified beliefs and customs, he employed his mysticism and adherence to the Divine also for his conjointly deconstructive and reconstructive project. As Sant Singh Sekhon has so perceptively put it, "The Divine is a mystery to him and he tries to pierce through it, with the help of his intellect, till. he seems to have reached its nearest approaches. There he finds himself baffled and falls back on the Divine in himself, the Divine in the human. Ultimately, it turns out to be his own universal sympathy and all pervading goodwill towards the world, which he realizes as his God." (A History of Panjabi Literature, p.44)
By relating commonsense to the goodness of their doctrine and then by replenishing it through contact with subsequent erudition, the Sikhs will feel that to understand means to exercise sovereignty. However that way the sovereign they must first understand their heritage and replenish it as well
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