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The Bible and Suicide

Are Sikhs Hindus?

Dateline 06/10/00

After over a decade, the Sikh religio-political scenario is torrid again. This time it's the Hindu-Sikh divide caused by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - the fundamentalist Hindu faction of the ruling Baharatiya Jananta Party (BJP) - which is trying to press the fact that Sikhs are actually Hindus.

RSS activists proclaim that since Sikhism came into existence as the sword arm of Hindus against the Muslim invaders, and since such a situation no longer exists, the community should return to the Hindu fold. In fact a group of RSS leaders want to assimilate the Sikh community into the fold of Hinduism and disperse its religious identity.

Sikh religious groups and leaders are conducting meetings in Gurdwaras for educating the Sikh community against this political propaganda that Sikhs are Hindus. Sikh religious institutions like the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) are strongly opposing the RSS' attempts to integrate them into the Hindu fold. June 6, 2000 was observed as a holocaust day and a day against persecution of minorities.

To counter the "evil design" of the RSS, a Sikh youth leader reportedly went so far as to propose serving beef in the Gurdwara langar. Such an anti-Hindu move is not anti-Sikh, since Sikhism evidently does not proscribe beef. Furthermore, agitating organisations in Punjab are pressing the local civic bodies for granting separate cremation grounds for Sikhs.

Sikhs Aren't Hindus!
Sikhs maintain that Sikhism is not an offshoot of Hinduism and was not created as the sword arm of Hindus against Muslim invaders, but as a distinct community to fight 'oppression' in whatever form it existed. So, the Sikhs have an identity of their own vis-à-vis the religious and cultural content and form of Hinduism.

Gurtej Singh of the Institute for Sikh Studies told The Hindustan Times: "The thrust of RSS' campaign is that Sikhism is an offshoot of Hinduism - and even today remains its sword arm. They quote the Dasamgranth for this purpose, ignoring the fact that it still remains a matter of debate whether or not Guru Gobind Singh wrote the entire text. The Guru Granth Sahib mentions Ram, but it also talks of Rahim, Karim and Allah…" So, some leaders are planning to discard a portion of the Dasamgranth, "that which allows the RSS to inject confusion among the Sikhs".

Sikhs Are Hindus!
Hindus say that the Sikh guru Gobind Singh gave his followers a distinct militant identity by ordering them to wear the five Ks - kesh, kangha, kara, kachcha and kirpan - to protect Hindus from the tyranny of the Mughals. Thus Hindus and Sikhs are one and the same - socially as well as religiously. While this is a moot point, it's hard to ignore the similarities between Hinduism and Sikhism.

Similarities between Sikhs and Hindus are evident in practices and rituals of the Sikh Gurus. The Sikhs celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The surname 'Singh' is also found among the Rajputs, a martial Hindu race. It is argued that the Sikh Kirpan or dagger has been adopted from the martial tradition of the Rajputs carrying the Katar. It's also evident that the turban is a common headdress of the Indians and is not exclusively Sikh, and the concept of uncut hair was introduced by the Tenth Guru and not before.

Historians say that Sikhs and Hindus have intermarried since Guru Nanak's time. The Hindus accepted the marriages because Sikhism was considered a part of Hinduism, and marriages for Sikhs were performed by the Hindu priests, until the beginning of the 20th century. All these show that the essence of Sikhism is closely related to Hinduism. This is however, not to suggest that Sikhism and Hinduism are one and the same religion, or Sikhism is not distinct from Hinduism.

Encouraging Separatism and Disharmony
Evidently there are no irreconcilable differences between Hindus and Sikhs. But such propaganda and politicizing religions can actually go beyond a mere revival of the trite debate: Are Sikhs Hindus? History has proved that such initiatives only manage to elicit a dramatic assertion from the target community.

But emphasizing the Hindu-ness of Sikhs and diluting the separate identity of the community is actually demarcating religious boundaries, which encourages secessionism and can reinforce the Sikh belief that they are a different nation. If the RSS persists with its campaign of assimilating the Sikhs into the Hindu mainstream, feel observers, Sikh hard-liners will be back in business. Indeed, the RSS call to Hindus to take to Sikhism will only accentuate a revival of Sikh fundamentalism.

Defaming religion for political reasons
Peace-loving Hindus believe that the RSS is defaming Hinduism by indulging in activities, which go against the precepts of Hinduism. Similarly, moderate-Sikhs say that consuming beef is against the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and other Sikh gurus, who were vegetarians. Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism have peacefully co-existed since ages. It's only when politics steps in, that religion gets defamed. To maintain the honor and sanctity of religion, it must be liberated from petty politics.

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