Punjab is known as the land of the Gurus in view of universal acceptability of the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev as propounded further by nine Gurus and finally vested in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a perpetual living Guru. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib forms the very soul of Punjab; all castes and communities look towards the holy Granth in reverence and relate with its teachings alongside their own religion. The holy Granth, therefore, forms the foundation of the cultural homogeneity in Punjab; it is the very basis of Punjabiat. Writes Jaibans Singh
Punjab is the repository of a culture that goes back to millenniums. It has withstood the vagaries of changing (often violent) times. Changes have been dynamic, but the fundamentals have remained the same. The civilization roots of Punjab have, for long, transcended the limitation of religion, caste etc. There is in place a syncretic culture that is witnessed in common eating, common dress, songs and literature etc., something that is explained by a specially coined word – Punjabiat (the Punjabi way of life).
Punjabi, written in the Gurmukhi script, was first advocated by the second Sikh Guru. Guru Angad Dev, as the accepted language for Sikh religious thought. It is the language in which Sri Guru Granth Sahib has been written. It is also the official language of Punjab. It has a national and global signature and is spoken extensively within Punjab and by people of Punjab settled in other parts of the country and abroad. Delhi, the capital of India, has a big Punjabi speaking population. Punjabi songs and Punjab movies are particularly popular. The Punjabi-speaking people made 2.74% of India’s population as of 2011.
Significance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab
Punjab is known as the land of the Gurus in view of universal acceptability of the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev as propounded further by nine Gurus and finally vested in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a perpetual living Guru. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib forms the very soul of Punjab; all castes and communities look towards the holy Granth in reverence and relate with its teachings alongside their own religion. The holy Granth, therefore, forms the foundation of the cultural homogeneity in Punjab; it is the very basis of Punjabiat.
Sikh religion is the fourth/fifth largest religion in the world with 30 million followers. According to the 2011 census, there were 16, 004, 754 (approximately 16 million) Sikhs and 10, 678, 138 (approximately 10.67 million) Hindus in Punjab with, of course, a smaller representation of other castes and communities too. However, the census of 2011 registered a decline in the Sikh population in Punjab, while the state as a whole registered an increase in population. There seems to be no concern among the Sikhs worldwide over their constantly declining population level in Punjab. There seems to be little urgency to check the cultural erosion at the very roots. Even those who remain have cut their hair and stopped wearing turbans that form the very essence of the Sikh identity.
Parochial Policies of SGPC
The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which has placed itself as the custodian body for Sikh religious affairs, has limited the definition of a true Sikh is one who adheres to all tenets of the Khalsa as laid down by the tenth Guru of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh. It has defined such followers as “Amritdhari Sikh” and vested only upon them the right to vote for SGPC elections. For the remainder, it has coined different (often derogatory) definitions like “Sehajdhari” – someone who has taken the path of gradually adopting Sikh tenets and ‘Patit” – those Sikhs who trimmed their beard and hair. There are also around 100–140 million Nanak Naam Leva (Those who believe in Guru Nanak) across the world who believe in the Sikh Gurus and Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Of these, approximately 83 per cent live in India.
All segments given above have been denied voting rights by the SGPC, and by so doing, they have been isolated from the Sikh Church. More serious is the massive conversions of the lower strata of Sikhs to Christianity that is being carried out openly and through a well-planned and systematic process of exploiting their vulnerabilities. The Sikh clergy has no plan in place to stop this practice.
There are two main reasons for this migration. First, the environment of militancy drove able-bodied men out of the state and into foreign countries. Second, complete lack of economic opportunities due to poor, parochial leadership that laid too much dependency upon the green revolution. As the impact of the green revolution started waning due to landholdings getting smaller and with no alternative employment opportunities being put in place by successive governments, the young blood took to migration.
Now, settling abroad has replaced the earlier lure of the Armed Forces to become a symbol of social status among the Sikhs. Punjab should be the place where Punjabiat flourishes to benefit the coming generations to imbibe a spirit of belonging. It is from Punjab that the spiritual message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib should emanate to the whole world.
The creation of an enlightening social, cultural and religious capital involves shedding of parochial considerations as have been pursued so far for short term power politics. For the Sikhs to do well in other nations, it is important for a sizable number to stay back in Punjab to carry the torch of tradition. Surely the affluent Sikh/Punjabi community can look after its less fortunate brethren who are suffering due to small land holding, and surely there is no cause for any proud Sikh to commit suicide when there are so many available to bail him out of his troubles. Surely, there is nothing that Christians can offer to engineer conversions that the Sikhs and Punjabis cannot offer better.
It is in this direction that the affluent Punjabi community needs to be guiding the destiny of Punjab. It is not something that the government will do, and it is a socio-cultural domain that has to be understood and created by the Punjabis themselves.
Jaibans Singh is a social worker and a writer
This article is republished from the Organiser under content sharing arrangement