AS liberal dreamers go on the back foot in India and Pakistan, having reneged on their promise to deliver an open, equal and just society, it may not be unwise to probe other like-minded people. The Dalits and the powerful middle- caste Yadavs have shown the way in Uttar Pradesh by abandoning their traditional aloofness to save democracy. If religion has to be an ally of a secular quest, why not Sikhism?
Sikhism, as it was conceived — and not necessarily the way it is practised — is one place where all humans are embraced equally, without fear or favour. It is perhaps the only religion where you would find a mere cobbler, the lowly chamar at the bottom of the Hindu caste heap, being revered as a saint. As such Sikhism in its original form can be a major force against the Brahminical order. And since Sikhs are strategically located in the most powerful state institutions they cannot be easily trifled with.
As school kids boarding the morning bus from RaidasMandir in Lucknow we were hardly aware that this was the temple to someone so revered by Sikhs, or the fact that the pre-Mughal poet formed the core of northern India’s momentous Bhakti movement. It was strange to see cobblers outside and inside the temple, making and repairing shoes. But that was as far as our curiosity would go.
RaidasMandir was once on the outer precincts of Lucknow, which is where shunned people of the erstwhile Untouchable community were allowed to build their place of worship. After a while, the temple got hidden by an ungainly flyover that came up right in front of the entrance. The new road facilitated the passage of Hindu believers to an old Hanuman mandir in Aliganj. It didn’t matter that flyover was a rude insult to Ravidas, whose temple stands obscured by milling fruit vendors, medicine shops and rickshaw pullers clamouring for their space under the bridge. I am beginning to understand why my Hindu friends would decline a cup of tea that I sometimes enjoyed brewed by the lady who ran the small food stall at the temple.
“Your lotus feet are the home of my mind. Drinking in Your Nectar, I have obtained the wealth of the Lord. Prosperity, adversity, property and wealth are just Maya, illusion.” I was not equipped to understand the lines of Ravidas leave alone divining their relevance to an Indian era. “I am worthless, and You are so benevolent. You are the white and yellow threads of silk, and I am like a poor worm.” The words are strikingly similar to Kabir’s in some ways. But Kabir was taught in the school syllabus compiled by Brahmin Hindi teachers, Ravidas was not.
Which should make one wonder why the idea of an independent Sikh homeland, comprising people of music and equality, is considered repugnant by those who had readily accepted a separate country for Muslims and are now on the verge of hijacking an eclectic way of life called Hinduism (including those who deny being Hindus!) to turn it into a rigid religion in their march towards a theocratic state.
The Ravidas lines I quoted from the Guru Granth Sahib are composed in a lilting Raga Asa. And Sikhism is the only religion in the world in which almost every wise saying is assigned a specific classical raga. People who fought for Khalistan may have resorted to brutal and unacceptable violence, but which religion has not been guilty of that.
See it another way. The men and women who fought and died for a homeland were also fighting to honour Bulleh Shah, Kabir, Namdev and Ravidas among other great mystics. Yes, there is caste-based inequality and patriarchy still prevalent against the advice of Sikh tenets. But whatever else in terms of ideas or practice the followers may have subscribed to, they were fighting to preserve the essence of their gurus’ culturally open-minded and socially inclusive thoughts in musically disseminated stanzas. Give me an equally lyrical religion.
I was at a Sikh gurdwara recently, not for the first time. And I was predictably blown off my feet by the shabad performed by the renowned exponent BhaiBaldeep Singh. Shabad are musically composed verses and sayings of Indian mystics from different eras and of varied religious backgrounds compiled in Sikhism’s holiest book. As I said, there is no other religion in which a cobbler is a revered hero side by side with others, rather inspired in a fundamental way by Buddha.
Moved by what I heard, my mind waded into the question. On the one hand, Indians are being coerced by a combination of Hindutva’s street power and a delinquent state that indulges a hard-line religion modelled on ZiaulHaq’s idea of Pakistan and underpinned by elements of Italian fascism. On the other hand, the people who overtly or covertly support Hindutva bear a disproportionate degree of hostility towards a far more inclusive proposal for a homeland. The quest is sustained by fierce aversion of Brahminism and narrow-minded Muslim rulers, primarily Emperor Aurangzeb.
Theocratic states in our age are a bad idea, not that they were any more agreeable in the past. There are also states that are founded on the principles of human equality but stray into majoritarianism of a vile order. Neither India, nor Pakistan were conceived at Partition as theocratic states by their founders, although the assertion seems to confuse and befuddle liberal opinion-makers in varying degrees on both sides of the border. It was L.K. Advani, a pontiff of Hindu rashtra, who saw a secular vision in Jinnah’s musings on Pakistan. But of Khalistan he will not hear a word, even if it’s wrapped in the magic of music that purveys a priceless message of human bonding.(dawn.com)