A vignette of emotions, centered on a perverse ritual being practiced in a 350-year old Sikh seminary. How a search for the origins of “Chauthey Paurey Wale”, a spiritually sanctioned cussword for the low-caste Sikhs, also unearthed the true story of a folk hero, Bidhi Chand Chhina, in a village so old that it’s said to be the birthplace of Shiva. The mutiny of a renouncer that was Bidhi Chand and the lingering doubts it left about the politics of the Gurus.
A travelogue from the heart of darkness of Punjab. A deluded activist recounting the privations suffered that firmed his opinion on the “smug-faced leftists with kindling eye”.
The popular South Asian blog on current affairs Kafila.org has published our latest article:
A Day in the Life of a Sikh Prejudice
“The very ink with which history is written,” allegorised Mark Twain, “is merely fluid prejudice.” By that rationale, religion can often be the quill which defaces the truth with its broad strokes, perverting history than promulgating it. And like the bastard child of these perversions, a few counter-narratives manage to wade through the tides of public opinion, carrying the dim outline of the ossified ideas that led to its tragic pursuit. But one has to have the right kind of eyes, says Hunter S. Thompson, to “see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
A similar, horrid apparition of truth opened the floodgates of memories and angst very recently as a headline screamed through the Twitterverse—40 Sikhs Convert to Christianity in a Tarn Taran District Village: Gurdwara Management’s Treatment of “Low Caste” Sikhs Calls for Strict Action—in the particularly sultry month of August.
Read it here: http://kafila.org/2012/12/29/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-sikh-prejudice-pukhraj-singh/
“A single sentence will suffice for modern man. He fornicated and read the papers.” — Albert Camus
THE NOOSE OF NEWS
Trying to make myself comfortable in that dingy conference room, I couldn’t avoid inhaling the pungent and rather soothing smell of newsprint that permeated the place. Situated in a narrow bylane of Jalandhar, this cramped, two-room space acts as the makeshift office of a Punjabi weekly that proudly boasts to be a mouthpiece of the suppressed Dalit voices and the political organization avowing to represent their interests, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Propping open the laptop to prepare for an impromptu presentation, I catch the glimpse of a gentleman sitting in the opposite corner. Dressed in a white, half-sleeves shirt, this gangly figure has an odd posture: stooping towards the table, gazing intently at the wall but utterly disinterested in whatever was happening around us. I could almost sense that this person, however unimposing his demeanor might be, has some relevance in the grand scheme of things.
ਸਿਖ ਧਰਮ ਅਤੇ ਦਲਿਤਾਂ ਦਾ ਹਾਲ: ਡੇਰਾ ਸਚਖੰਡ ਬੱਲਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਇਕ ਰਿਪੋਰਟ
[Translated from the original article, 'Fear and Loathing in Dera Sach Khand, Ballan', by Group Captain Kulwant Singh (retd.)]
ਡੇਰਾ ਸਚਖੰਡ, ਬੱਲਾਂ ਵਿਚ ਸੰਜੋਈ ਜਾ ਰਹੀ ਸਮਾਜਿਕ ਤਬਦੀਲੀ ਦਾ ਸਭ ਤੋਂ ਪਰਤੱਖ ਪੇਹਲੂ ਉਸਦੀ ਅਪਰਤੱਖਤਾ ਹੈ I ਇੱਥੇ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦਾ ਹੀ ਨਹੀਂ ਬਲਕਿ ਭਾਰਤ ਦਾ ਇਕ ਨਵਾਂ ਧਰਮ ਪਨਪ ਰਿਹਾ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਕਿ ਗੁੱਸੇ ਭਰੇ ਦਲਿਤ ਸਮਾਜ, ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਦੇ ਧਾਰਮਿਕ ਆਗੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਰਾਮਾਨੰਦ ਦਾ ਕਤਲ ਹੋਇਆ,ਦਾ ਇਕ ਵਿਰੋਧ ਵਿਖਾਵਾ ਹੈI
ਇਥੇ ਚੁੱਪੀ ਦੇ ਮਾਹੌਲ ਨੂੰ ਸੁਰਖਿਆ ਬਲਾਂ ਦੀ ਮੌਜੂਦਗੀ ਅਤੇ ਬੇਲੋੜੀਆਂ ਪਾਬੰਦੀਆਂ ਜਿਵੇਂ ਕਿ ਫੋਟੋ ਖਿਚ੍ਚਣ ਤੇ ਰੋਕ ਆਦਿ, ਨੇ ਹੋਰ ਵੀ ਮਾਯੂਸ ਬਣਾ ਦਿੱਤਾ ਹੈI ਪ੍ਰਾਰਥਨਾ ਹਾਲ ਵਿਚ ਸੰਗਤ ਦੀ ਅਗਵਾਈ ਕਰਦੇ, ਮੌਜੂਦਾ ਗੁਰੂ ਨਿਰੰਜਨ ਦਾਸ ਇਕ ਕੁਰਸੀ ਤੇ ਸਾਦਾ ਮੁਦ੍ਰਾ’ਚ ਬਿਰਾਜਮਾਨ ਹਨ I ਉਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਥੋੜਾ ਥੱਲੇ, ਹਾਲ ਦੇ ਵਿਚਕਾਰ ਲਕੜੀ ਦੇ ਇਕ ਸਜਾਵਟੀ ਥੜੇ ਉੱਤੇ ਉਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਦਾ ਧਾਰਮਿਕ ਗਰੰਥ ”ਸਤਗੁਰੁ ਰਵਿਦਾਸ ਮਹਾਰਾਜ ਜੀ ਦੀ ਅਮ੍ਰਿਤ੍ਬਾਨੀ” ਸੁਸ਼ੋਭਿਤ ਹੈ ਜੋ ਕਿ ਮੁਖ ਸਿੱਖੀ ਧਾਰਾ ਅਤੇ ਰਵਿਦਾਸੀਆਂ ਵਿਚ ਕੰਡਾ ਬਣਿਆ ਹੋਇਆ ਹੈI
[Written in a rickety bus on my way back from Dera Sach Khand. Typographical and other errors may please be notified or excused. Read the Punjabi translation of this article, 'ਸਿਖ ਧਰਮ ਅਤੇ ਦਲਿਤਾਂ ਦਾ ਹਾਲ: ਡੇਰਾ ਸਚਖੰਡ ਬੱਲਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਇਕ ਰਿਪੋਰਟ.']
The most striking aspect of the social upheaval being fomented at Dera Sach Khand, Ballan, is the pervasive inconspicuousness; quite obviously so, as it is now the home to the newest religion in Punjab, or probably the whole of India – Ravidassia Dharam – a symbolic act of defiance by the angst-ridden Dalit community that witnessed the assassination of one of its religious leaders, Rama Nand.
The environs of this place exude an uneasy calm, further heightened by the presence of security personnel and unnecessary restrictions like the ban on photography, thus giving a cult-like feel to it. At the prayer hall in the sanctum sanctorum where devotional hymns are being sung, the living guru, Niranjan Dass, is sitting unassumingly on a chair, leading the devout congregation. Just below his level, right at the center of this spacious hall, lies the holy scripture placed on an ornate wooden pedestal, Amritbani Satguru Ravidass Maharaj Ji — the bone of contention between the mainstream Sikh clergy and the Ravidassia community.
Like an initiatory ritual marking the onset of battle, Parkash Singh Badal was reportedly seen hobnobbing with the leadership of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Flanked by his veritable charm and perspicacity, the Gandalf of coalition politics in the state is firming up the pre-poll formations for times uncertain, against friends and foes alike. His estranged nephew Manpreet who, like an oedipal prince, reneged against the very order that gave him a platform and voice, is angling to lure the Dalit votes in a bid to carve the much vaunted Sanjha Morcha, a ménage-à-trois of the underdogs.
Behind these overtures lies hidden is the fact that probably for the first time ever since 1989 when the BSP opened its account in Punjab, the minority of the oppressed and downtrodden can aspire to improve their skewed ratio of representation in the legislature. It is also a monumental opportunity to establish a real third-front in Punjab that would pulverize the barriers of caste and class, providing a peoples’ alternative against the hegemony of the ruling autarchies.
[The lead story is here: http://www.newsweekindia.com/content/?p=12761.]
The flame of emancipation that endures in the hearts and minds of Dalits still casts a spectral shadow on the remnants of an excruciating past, than illuminating the alleyways towards a bright future. If the Indian establishment collectively experiences the pain and horrors of exploitation lasting so many millenniums, the statue of an empowered Dalit would stand deified as the emblem of equality in the hallows of a conscientious democracy. Far away from Noida, from the blistering “twilight of the idols” (as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would have added mockingly), this story of assertion is heralding a new chapter in Punjab, whose aftermaths would be felt nationwide.
[An Op-Ed for a regional newspaper to mark the approaching anniversary of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Didn't go through due to space constraints.]
The idea of Bharat, posited by nationalists who led us to freedom, as a kind of Hegelian organism, a soul bearing the imprints of history and the collective-consciousness of society, has lost some of its mythical glimmer. Inheriting a range of ethnicities so diverse that it could sum up the very nature of human evolution, any attempt of fostering an equitable identity in this country was to prove formidable. It is in this context that a handful of centripetal formations professing parochial loyalties have repeatedly shaken the unionistic foundations of India with an intensity that has altered the underlying nature of its democracy. On an axis of federalism that has its extremities marked by Tamil Nadu and Kashmir, Punjab lies somewhere in the middle.
Like the protagonist of the movie Avatar, who rises against the reckless imperialistic pursuits of his race to fight from the side of culturally and ecologically threatened tribals, Shiromani Akali Dal seems to be suffering from its own version of the ‘white man’s guilt’. The poem by Rudyard Kipling, which inspired this phrase, is still interpreted to be an ardent justification of imperialism as a way to alleviate the oppressed from poverty and ignorance. The moral high-ground taken by the SAD-BJP combine to justify its ban on Aarakshan, even before it was released, smacks of an analogous and unrelenting casteist ascendancy.
June 29, 2011
Shri Manpreet Singh Badal
C/o Shri Gurdas Singh Badal
Bathinda-Kheo Wali Road
Village: Badal, Tehsil: Lambi
Distt: Muktsar – 152113, Punjab
AN OPEN LETTER TO SOLICIT YOUR GRACIOUS PRESENCE FOR A TV DEBATE WITH SHRI HARCHARAN BAINS
As the harbinger of democratic renaissance which promises to catapult Punjab back to its halcyon days of glory, your persona, intellect and self-effacing disposition has captured the imagination of young and old alike. You have the empathy as well as intensity which pulverizes every perceived barrier of society, shattering the glasshouses of inequities and inequalities machinated deviously by certain unscrupulous elements; a farmer or villager feels as connected and devoted to your cause as an educated highbrow or urban dweller. The bold brushstrokes of yellow, color of your party, seems to have covered every gali and nukkad of Punjab, as if they are marking the arrival of a new and eternal spring. You stand tall like a warrior-poet, as the bestower of izzat-abroo to a land where men as valiant as Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Alexander the Great have reaped their fortunes — only to share it with the people, only ending up being subservient to them. From the minutest political dynamics to broadest democratic overtures, nothing misses your observant eye and erudition.
[Note: I was angry.]
It is in the inherent, ephemeral nature of self and truth, that what is perceived can not be attained. How can one strive to be boundlessly pure by essentially following an indoctrinated and dogmatic path? Such a rigid exercise in duality and purity would either have to pass through the impurest, or end up succumbing to it.
One must always be wary of falling into the trap of an exegetical discourse while questioning the writ and legitimacy of an institutionalized religion like Sikhism. Metaphysics has minimal relevance among the faiths which flourish on the strength of accompanying socio-political movements. It is actually the tendency of the followers to subconsciously doubt or even reject the broader esoteric paradigms on which such religions are founded; adopting only the perceptible and formulaic parameters like rituals, which are just supposed to act as bridges between the material and divine. The rise of Brahmanism and Khalsa are cases in point. Read more
[A discussion on my Facebook Wall...]
Madan Gandhi: If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well. (Martin Luther King Jr.)
James Nesral: in western culture, work is view as part of the ‘curse’, resulting from the Fall, as recorded in the Bible…Genesis. but i disagree. work is part of the rythym of life and is sacred.
1. Any attempt to reestablish the identity and ethos of Punjabiyat in literary terms requires a new form of narrative and an unconventional discourse. There is a broad misconception that only an objective and scholastic approach can spawn such a new thought movement. While the Punjabi objectivists have completely lost their influence due to the utter blandness of their research, the mainstream media has chosen the heady path of populism. It is tragic that the populace has been hauled into this chasm, this middle-ground, where its voice fails to reach the high places of civil society. Only when the whisper becomes a wail that the self-proclaimed guardians of democracy come to cover their stories, making it a sordid dance-and-light show of sorts. This is where the wit and non-conformity of the subjectivists can be ushered in to bring the discussion closer to the audience.