Violence at the Gurdwara: A Reflection

Reading about the violence at a Sikh Gurdwara in Vienna, Austria, last weekend, and now the subsequent, extremely dangerous riots in Punjab, leaves me feeling sad though not particularly surprised.

In Austria, the violence occurred at a Gurdwara founded by members of a sect called Dera Sach Khand, a group I hadn’t heard of before this incident occurred; they are followers of Ravidas, a religious teacher from roughly the same period as official Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak. Ravidas was from the Chamar caste, and as I understand it most Ravidasias in Punjab today are from that caste as well. (Wikipedia describes their places of worship as “Gurdeheras” rather than “Gurdwaras,” so perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the violence at the temple in Vienna took place at a Ravidasi Gurdehera, rather than a Sikh Gurdwara.)

It is not clear to me how many followers they have, though I have read estimates that Punjab has a disproportionately high Dalit population (nearly 30%), and it is possible that some of those rioting in places like Jalandhar are not specifically followers of this sect, but rather Dalits who are rioting against what they perceive as caste violence. (See pictures at the BBC)

There is also a second, properly orthodox Sikh Gurdwara in Vienna, which has been described as being controlled by hardliners who support the idea of an independent Sikh homeland (Khalistan).

Details from the news reports have been sketchy. I do not know in very much detail how the hostility between these two groups reached this level, though I can imagine a narrative that led to these events, based on what I’ve seen here in the U.S. The original Gurdwara was dominated by hardliners, which is not all that surprising: they were the ones who cared enough about the religion to invest the resources to open a temple in Austria to begin with. Most of the sangat (the congregation) were religiously moderate, and many would be clean-shaven, to fit in better in Austrian society. Some may not have come from orthodox backgrounds in India (i.e., Dera sects), and a few may not have identified publicly as Sikhs before they left India. Judging from the Sikhs I encountered on a visit to France a few years ago, most of the community would be working class, employed in service at restaurants, small businesses, and various kinds of “informal” labor. But despite the complexity of their background and fragility of their connection to the Sikh tradition, the people who were attending the kirtan and bhog (services) each week did not hear very much that related directly to their lives or backgrounds. They continued to attend because this weekly ritual constituted their only opportunity to experience a sense of community with other Indian immigrants.

Then, when a new temple opens, many of the heterodox members of the congregation jump at the chance for a different kind of experience. The new temple is run by heterodox Ravidasias, who do things slightly differently than in the orthodox Sikh Gurduwara. Some of the congegants at the new temple are themselves Ravidasias, but perhaps there are non-Ravidasias, who don’t care that much anyway that there are pictures of some unfamiliar people on the walls, or some lines changed in the prescribed prayers. At least here they do not feel marginal in the same way.

The loss of popularity infuriates the leadership of the first, orthodox Gurdwara, and when a prominent leader of the Dera Sach Khand sect in India comes to Vienna for a visit, they go to exact their revenge. The result is that the visiting leader is shot dead on the floor of the Gurdwara/Gurdehera, and more deaths in the riots in Punjab that follow. Also: several men are critically wounded in the melee, there are unforunate news headlines around the world, and finally, there is a fledgling, fragile Sikh community in Vienna that is left shattered. No one is probably going to be going to either of these Gurdwaras again for months — and more than a few will probably never go back.

As I say, some of what I have written above is speculative, though it is based on real facts from various news sources. It is also only a slight variation on the factionalism I’ve seen in many places in the U.S.

For example, when I lived in Durham, North Carolina, a place where there were very few Sikhs, I was shocked to learn that there were actually two Gurdwaras in the town — one, more moderate but also heterodox, and the other more “kattar” — founded by orthodox Sikhs, who encouraged orthodoxy in constituents. (They were good people — many are friends — but the point is that even in this small community the differences mattered enough that one house of worship could not contain them.) There are similar stories of factionalism in the Washington DC area, where I grew up, as well as in the Philadelphia area, where I live now — and indeed, all over the diaspora.

On a personal note, though I was aware of the factionalism as a child and teenager growing up in the DC area, I didn’t grow up knowing about the caste stuff, or the different Sikh sects that have been in the news in recent years. On caste, the Sikh community in Maryland that I knew were mainly non-Jats, though I didn’t really know that at the time, because no one talked about it. But I also realize now that the community I grew up around were also predominantly from upper caste and privileged backgrounds, which is why we never heard of the Dera sects, like Dera Sacha Sauda (see this blog post from May 2007), or now, Dera Sach Khand. In short, it may be that no one paid much attention to caste because everyone we knew were from privileged castes. Our privilege may have made it easier to adhere to the anti-caste rebellion that inspired the first Sikh Gurus, and that was re-kindled by the Singh Sabha movement in the latter years of the British Raj.

Incidentally, I would recommend curious readers to an interesting post up about this at the Sikh blog, The Langar Hall. Clearly, along with everything else that is happening in the Sikh community, there is now a serious contest for adherents roughly under the banner of the Sikh tradition running along caste lines. For orthodox Sikhs like Jodha at the Langar Hall, the answer is a form of sincere self-criticism something like this: “we need to be true to the real tradition of Sikhism since the Singh Sabha movement, which is anti-caste and anti-sect, and do a better job of being inclusive.” I admire that sentiment. But the SC/OBC followers of these Dera sects clearly have not been interested in joining that program, and have instead begun asserting their caste identity via the heterodox Dera sects, in ways that make orthodox Sikhs very uncomfortable (or angry).

It isn’t great, but it’s reality, and I don’t know if yet another call to be better about finally abolishing caste will stop caste-based movements from continuing to assert themselves against the dominant tradition. I do not claim to know how the Sikh community can solve this problem, but I do think that the old, familiar idealism is going to be less effective in the long run than a pragmatic willingness to negotiate and compromise with the people with whom one may disagree.

It may also be time to spend less energy worrying about injustices historically committed against Sikhs, and more time thinking about injustices committed by some Sikhs against other Sikhs — as well as injustices against non-Sikhs in the surrounding community (in this case, the lower caste groups in Punjab).

197 thoughts on “Violence at the Gurdwara: A Reflection

  1. The Singh Sabha is a thoroughly colonial movement. It asserted a “pure faith” under scrutiny from their western invaders which did not exist in Punjab prior to that. It also attempted to stanch out the religious fluidity that existed in the lives of all Punjabis. It was anti-caste but only in a defensive sense: both the Christian missionaries and the Arya Samaj had been converting Mazhabi (Dalit) Sikhs. But ultimately, the jats continued their hegemony in the new framework (an “epistemic shift” according to one scholar) and marginalized the dalits. The dera movement should be seen both as a caste struggle AND a reassertion of Punjabi religious fluidity. Their numbers are huge, and it should give some existential pangs to the SGPC leadership.

    Also the Congress party in Punjab (which just schooled the Akali Dal/BJP in the national polls) is basically a dera-based party.

  2. Punjabi Chamars follow a Sikh sect called the Ravidassia movement and they have countless temples all over the world, including many in USA, UK, Canada, Europe and Australia. They have huge deras in Punjab and U.P. Mayawati has contributed lots of money to this religious community.

    That must be because Mayawati’s mentor Kanshi Ram, the founder of the dalit political party BSP of which she is the leader, was a punjabi Ravidasia sikh chamar/untouchable.

  3. My second was in the Gurudwara and actually got blood splattered on him during the attack.

    Basically he told that there was previous tensions between the Chamars and Jatts mainly due to Gurudwara politics and control of money flow.

    He said as soon the Ravidas leader started to talk 5-6 turbanned sikhs in blue turbans started shooting and attacking with knifes. The congregation started to fight back and would not let them escape. The attackers picked up a young girl as a hostage and tried to escape but the congregation did not let them escape.

    Two of the attackers were almost kicked to death and were only saved by the coming of the police.

    He said that it could because these guys wanted to make a Name for themselves by killing a famous Sant, especially among the orthodox Sikh crowd.

  4. That must be because Mayawati’s mentor Kanshi Ram, the founder of the dalit political party BSP of which she is the leader, was a punjabi Ravidasia sikh chamar/untouchable.

    Yes, and Kanshi Ram is the father of the neo-dalit political movement

  5. Most of the Dalits that some Jat Sikhs are upset with, are Punjabi Dalits, NOT U.P./Bihar Bhaiyyas. This seems to be a fight between local, indigenous caste groupings native to Punjab. There is also tension regarding Bhaiyyas, but I don’t think these particular disturbances have much to do with that.

  6. Fascinating discussion. Nothing I can contribute but would just like to say thank you to all the people on here who have expanded my knowledge of Sikh religion and culture.

    TG

  7. Besides all that

    Another huge issue is the fact that they call themselves Sikh, but added an extra Guru.

    Lets not under estimate that issue. A religion that does have a strong militant factor built into it and some group comes along and changes things in their religion and there is a strong chance that shi# will hit the fan.

    What is going to happen is what happened to Christianity with Catholics splitting up into an offshoot like Luthernism and then into Baptists..etc

  8. Yes and no I would say. It pretty much can be used as an insult;

    Thank you conrad and wanderer for the explanation. i understand the empowerment in re-claiming the term within the community but for those outside, it would be an implicit acceptance of the caste system – as in you are a tanner because your parent was one, and your ancestors have been for eons. nothing wrong with the profession as such if that is what one does, but to imply one is suited for nothing else by dint of birth… that’s just wrong.

    if you all feel the same, please desist from using the term. imo, i think ravidasia is more respectful term, if one chooses to refer to the particular community.

  9. So I am not optimistic that all of a sudden “they” will be more tolerant towards those who want to create their own compilation of the book

    Guru Gulab Khatri — Ravidassis don’t want to create their own compilation of the book. They follow Guru Granth Sahib with reverence….they just place particular emphasis on the contributions of Guru Ravidas, who although not part of the ten Guru lineage, is a bhagat who is part of the eternal Guru that all Sikhs bow down to at Gurudwara.

    They do this, because Ravidas’s presence in Guru Granth Sahib reflects Dalits quest for dignity and upliftment in society, and reflects their desire to see divinity reflective of their own history and concerns.

  10. When Dr.Ambedkar was contemplating mass conversion of his followers (dalits) he explored the possibility of choosing Sikhism but found the leadership there cast conscious. He finally decided on Buddhism in the 1950′s.

  11. as in you are a tanner because your parent was one, and your ancestors have been for eons.

    That cannot be right, Khoof. One is a tanner because one cannot find an out. On the other hand, there are many who do find an out. There are a ton of the so-called lower castes who have managed to make a lot of money and moved on to having their own businesses and what not. The rigidity of “caste” is a fiction.

    nothing wrong with the profession as such if that is what one does, but to imply one is suited for nothing else by dint of birth… that’s just wrong.

    There’s probably a lot wrong with the profession. The solution would be along the lines of making working conditions better. I find it distressing when people complain about the huge injustice that there are some people who are forced to be toilet cleaners, as if this is not a necessary job, but then none of the progressives in all these decades has actually worked out a plan for a decent sanitation system or education program to make the job less horrible.

  12. Another huge issue is the fact that they call themselves Sikh, but added an extra Guru.

    ShallowThinker — Ravidas has not been added to Sikhism by Dalits….Ravidas’s bani is integral to the Guru Granth Sahib and is therefore part of the DNA of Sikhism.

    Followers of Ravidas simply place emphasis on him. They don’t change a single word of the Guru Granth Sahib, not a single word. Sikhism held great appeal to Dalits because it elevated a Dalit ‘Guru’ to the highest level of divinity by including his bani, philosophy and essence inside Guru Granth Sahib.

  13. “What is going to happen is what happened to Christianity with Catholics splitting up into an offshoot like Luthernism and then into Baptists..etc” There is nothing wrong w/ it…. This should be discussed REALLY LOUDLY and arent. Any one who wishes to practice ANY relgion ANY way HAS THE RIGHT IN INDIA and many other places… So simply put the traditional/orthodox have NO F’ing right on the Text. Also the other group has no right to demand inclusion from the the traditional/orthodox…. The only way is to raise SES. The “E” part is ignored.

  14. I find it distressing when people complain about the huge injustice that there are some people who are forced to be toilet cleaners, as if this is not a necessary job, but then none of the progressives in all these decades has actually worked out a plan for a decent sanitation system or education program to make the job less horrible.

    Of course not! I can’t do that from an armchair!

    but to imply one is suited for nothing else by dint of birth… that’s just wrong.

    It’s been the norm in every society for most of human history to take over the family business. It is simply the safest route available when there are no real career options. This whole “do whatever job gives you personal fulfillment” business is another one of those luxuries afforded to us by modern technology. It’s a wonderful thing. A wonderful thing which most of the developing world does not properly benefit from because they are too busy grousing over identity politics in an attempt to advantage themselves in the distribution of whatever meager scraps are on the table rather than coming up with ways to put more food on it.

    What evil comes from a system of drawing distinctions comes not from the fact that distinctions are being drawn. It comes from people’s tendency to denigrating people for the socially necessary work that they do. But in the same vein, patronizing people who get their hands dirty is also wrong.

    Now as an aside, time for a quick quiz. Can you guess what profession some of my WASPy friends’ ancestors may have been? Mr. Baker Mr. Smith Mr. Fletcher Mr. Fields Are we seeing a pattern here?

    At some point people are going to realize that this sort of deal isn’t a uniquely Indian or even a Hindu thing.

  15. “The rigidity of “caste” is a fiction.” WTF WTF WTF

    While I can provide several more interesting examples than business owners, at least 3 emprors who were not kshatriyas and not to mention dozens of kings….you have produced gobar than a majh here.

  16. Said it before but I’ll say it again becuause its more relevant here…

    I’m watching a Gandhi documentary on http://www.globalone.tv/ with tears in eyes.

    The concept that the British are not our enemies but our friends and we must liberate them along with us. That is, liberate them from the prison of their own minds which makes them think they are rulers over others.

    There are no villians or victims. Is just is.

    As long as one of us are bound, we are all bound. None can be freed until all are freed.

    We need someone like this now, here, and everywhere. A type of social bodhisattva is needed.

    Usher in the age of aquarius.

  17. I’m a British Ravidassia. In addition to what NYCHAMAR said:

    First of Guru Ravidass is not the 11th Guru – he was around before Guru Nanak. Lots of holy men were called Guru back then, and some still are.

    The places of worship are called Gurdwaras, not Gurdeheras

    Most of the dalits in Punjab are Punjabi. There are Biharis there, but compared to native Punjabis the numbers are small.

    A small percentage of Chamars are Christian and some are Buddhist too. The Hindu/Sikh thing is interchangeable to most Chamars. To them Chamar comes first. That’s what binds them. Many of the rioters identify as Hindu.

    My mother is Sikh Chamar and my father was a Hindu Chamar. Guys on my dad’s side all had Ram as a middle name, on my mum’s side they had Singh or Kaur.

    Many chamars have “Sikh” names (I consider them Punjabi names) – I have loads of relatives with -preet, or -inder or -jit names. A few have Persian names too.

    I’ve never met a chamar who’s pro-Khalistan. They want to stay part of India. To them Khalistan means Jatt domination. My father told me that back in the early 60s when chamars were weak politically, a lot of them were harassed to say that their first language was Punjabi by Jatts. This had something to do with PEPSU being split into 3 states, including the state which is now called Punjab – it was spilt on a language basis.

    When Indira Ghandi died, some Jatts were knocking on people’s doors offering sweets, this pissed off a lot of chamars.

    Yes, we do call caste “jaat”

    The guy who was murdered visited UK regularly, in fact he visited some families that I know back in UK.

    Most chamars in UK are pretty quiet about caste, it’s not a subject they like to bring up. I didn’t even know I was a chamar until I was 14. Before that I just considered myself Punjabi. My USA relatives seem to have a fucked up attitude about caste, it’s always chamar this or chamar that all the time. My cousin put Chamari on her licence plate – a UK Chamari would never do that.

    Chamars might call themselves chamars, but if somebody else who doesn’t know them calls them chamars its considered really offensive. A bit like black people and the n word.

    In UK & US Jatts are on the same level as chamars, they’re no richer than chamars.

    I’ve never heard a chamar call himself a dalit.

  18. Amardeep – I have noticed this in the past too that, when it comes to Sikhism, your otherwise sharp and admirable progressive instincts go on a hiatus.

    “Wikipedia describes their places of worship as “Gurdeheras” rather than “Gurdwaras,” so perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the violence at the temple in Vienna took place at a Ravidasi Gurdehera, rather than a Sikh Gurdwara”

    When I read your post this morning, I decided to take a fifteen minute walk to a Guru Ravi Das Gurudwara on 54th ad Broaday in Queens, NY. The first thing one notices is the big board on the gate of the temple, which clearly states that it is a “Gurudwara” not a Gurdeheras.

    “Incidentally, I would recommend curious readers to an interesting post up about this at the Sikh blog, The Langar Hall.”

    Unless the langar hall has a dalit Sikh writer, I would caution the readers here to expect a biased perspective.

    “I admire that sentiment. But the SC/OBC followers of these Dera sects clearly have not been interested in joining that program, and have instead begun asserting their caste identity via the heterodox Dera sects, in ways that make orthodox Sikhs very uncomfortable (or angry).”

    You obviously have no idea about life in Punjab, and how debilitating and humiliating life is, not only for Dalit Sikhs but other lower caste Sikhs like the Labanas and Ramgharias. Jat Sikhs, the caste I belong to, and the caste the assasins who killed the Dalit Sikh saint in Vienna were born into, are amongst the most virulently racist group. The reason the Ravi Das Sikhs are asserting their identity is because now, after more than three hundred years of despicable discrimination at the hands of Jat and other upper caste Sikhs, they finally can stand up and assert their rights. If anybody should be blamed, it should be the upper castes.

  19. SomeBodyUK:

    Thanks for your input. As regards the language issue, Punjabi IS the native language of Punjabi Dalits (or Chamars or whatever). The reason Jatts pressurised them into officially saying so in the Census was because the Punjabi Hindus (upper caste) of that time were being influenced by THEIR (mostly Arya Samaj) leaders to officially claim Hindi as their mothertongue (which it wasn’t, Punjabi was). The reasons for this are complicated but in essence very political, economic, and cultural, reflecting conflict between urban/Hindu interests vs rural/Sikh (and predominantly Jatt) interests. Had the rural Dalits also claimed Hindi as their mothertongue (which it never was) then that would have weakened rural Jatt political influence even more. And this all ties in to the creation of Punjab as a linguistic state. On balance, I’d say the upper caste Hindu Arya Samaj types were far worse villains for actually convincing people to lie about what their mothertongue was on the census, just to push forward their agenda.

  20. 117 Guru, Jati has always been fluid in India. There are thousands of them. Jatis as a group have risen and fallen. From times immemorial people from the many jatis including the ones presently considered dalit have been saints and rulers and businessmen. Multiple examples abound. Jatis that at one time that were the ruling class, when conquered became a subjugated jati and jatis have risen up as a group to advance in SES terms to become forward. Jatis, have split apart and also have joined together to form superarching jati or different groups altogether throughout history. And in present day India, no one is denied the opportunity to be in any profession one want’s to be in except for circumstances of poverty. You will have to do much better by providing supporting facts instead of calling ‘gobar’ on the ‘caste is rigid’ fiction.

  21. An illuminating article on the subject:-

    “Let Sikhs learn from past events and handle those with care learning from similar past mistakes.

    From the various press reports, it is apparent that it was not a malicious attack by Sikhs just to damage another sect of Sikhs, as press has made others believe. It is sad that no Sikh organisation has issued press release or clarification to counter the incorrect and Anti – Sikh propaganda launced by Indian press, as ususal to malign Sikhs. Hindustan Times has used some very derogatory language and they must be held responsible, even taken to court for wrong reporting.

    It is learnt from follow up press reports is that, a group of persons, some of those who used to go to the local Gurdwara, calling themselves Ravidasias set up a Temple in the same street, as the Gurdwara and started practices as are against Sikh religous believes and with utter disrespect to Sri Guru Granth Sahib. While they had installeld Sri Guru Granth Sahib, they had visits from some person from India calling them Guru, who sat there and were being worshiped and people were bowing to these Gurus, in presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. These visiting persons, calling themselves Gurus, also gave sermons and raised slogans, which were ridiculing and twisting Sikh Jaikaras and Sikh beliefs. Wheres Sikh term Ravidas as Bhagat in Gurbani, they are calling him Guru.

    It is stated in press and other reports, that these Very visiting “Gurus” from India were approached by Sikhs in other cities of Euorope, where they have been touring, not to disrespect Sikh beliefs, not to give sermons as are against Sikh tenents. Also, if they want to be worshipped or bowed to by their followers, then they may remove Sri Guru GRanth SAhib from their temples and not call these Gurdwaras. Inspite of assurnace given earlier in Spain and elsewhere, these visiting persons insisted on repeating same practices to hurt Sikh sentiments and to incite and challange them. When only few Sikhs came and protested, they were attacked and this lead to further trouble. Four of the six visiting Sikhs are in serious condition and one even is reported to be with gun shots in the head. Who shot the gun, visiting Sikhs or some one in the congregation of the Dera?

    May I remind Sikhs, specially in Punajb and India, to learn from the past encounters they had with Nirankaris, who were not only courted, by, but were encouraged and supported by Govt agencies in India. They held their Samagam at Amritsar and openly insulted Sikh Gurus. When a peaceful protest group went singing Shabads to protest against insult to Sikh Gurus, 12 Sikhs were killed by machine gun fire from within Nirankari Pandal and anohter Sikh was shot point blank by a senior police officer on duty. This was the spark that engulfed whole Punjab in fire for over a decade and was the seed of all troubles to follow, even the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib.

    That time too, Akali BJP Govt was in power and not one person from Nirankari group who killed 12 Sikhs and the police officer who killed one Sikh in public view, was charged or punished. Rather Amritdhari Sikhs and Sikh women with Keski were target of Indian Govt police and agencies, to be arrested and tortured.

    Of course Akali BJP Govt lost power and after many years of President rule, Congress came to power.

    In recent past too, a group under leadership of Ram Rahim Singh too has been trying to incite Sikhs, by defaming Sikh Gurus and Sikh practices. This lead to some riots and few deaths of Sikhs, without any one being held responsible.

    In Punjab, soon there will be state elections and vested interest are creating troubles, by inciting anti – Sikh feelings, to get votes of some Sikhs, who were converted from Schedule casts and OBC.

    It is most important that Sikh leadership wake up to these designs of anti Sikh groups and handle it with tact and care.

    They must publicise and create awareness about anti Sikh practices in such new temples and generate public pressure to stop these, also if needed go to courts of law to stop these mischief mongers from twisting and defaming Sikh religioun .

    They must generate public pressure on these mischivious persons, to get them to mend their ways, by peaceful means.

    At any cost Sikh must not loose control on the situation and they must not get into a situation, as may lead to violence, which is the whole object of others to defame Sikhs.

    In this incidence at Vienna and in Euorope, either SGPC,DGPC or some Sikhs in UK may conduct full enquiry and submit report to Govts. in Euorope, India and UK to apprise them of the cause of trouble. They must educate press in those countries and also Indian press, to get fair reporting. Such reports must be widely circulated amongst Sikhs centers all over the World, to enable local Sikhs to dissiminate correct information.

    Sikh leadership and local Gurdwaras, must make special effort to welcom such Sikhs (Ravidasia and others originally from Schedule cast and OBC) and bring them withing the mainstream to allay their fears of discrimination, such that they are not attracted to these special Temples or Deras, with Sri Guru Granth Sahib & with human Gurus.

    Political leadership in Akali party must take all steps to give correct information and appease such Sikhs, who may be under influence of such Gurus and Sants of Deras. Thus remove the need for some Sikhs to be attracted to such Deras.

    Akal Takhat may issue special notification and seek Govt help even by going to courts of law to stop other setting up temples, with Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, if the correst Sikh code of conduct – Rehat Mariyada is not followed. This is fundamental right of Sikhs and they can seek help of law to implement it.

    The final point is, will Sikh leadership in Punjab and Akali party rise up to the occasion, learn from past and take corrective action?

    Manmohan Singh Baveja”

  22. Yes, we do call caste “jaat”

    OK, that’s punjabi-speak for “jati”, right?

    What is the difference between caste, varna and jati?

    Somebody please explain.

    Also, chamars were traditionally shoe makers, correct?

  23. —-What is the difference between caste, varna and jati?

    caste and jati = jaat. All the same.

    Yes, chamars were shoemakers, and/or tanners.

  24. So how does this help the whole caste system thing if you have a group of people following a “Guru” because he belongs to the same caste as them?

    He may be wise, but why single him out if this whole thing is about thinking that main stream Sikhism is caste biased?

  25. Why don’t the Sikhs just take their beef to youtube like these folk ???

    That one was quite animated, I mean those Hebrew preachers get down like dat, I remember from my dayz in da ‘hood.

    But there is some more civilized debate going on, such as here

    At the end of the day its all about unity

  26. On balance, I’d say the upper caste Hindu Arya Samaj types were far worse villains for actually convincing people to lie about what their mothertongue was on the census, just to push forward their agenda.

    What a twisted sense of right and wrong you must have to judge that to be more evil than what the jat sudra sikhs have done: terrorism, cold blooded murder of innocents, cruel casteism against chamars, crackpot racism (scythian my foot) against hindus, hijacking sikhism and turning its egalitarian gospel on its head with their jat supremacism etc

  27. the ‘caste is rigid’ fiction.

    If it is a fiction then show us what tests are used to assign caste? Why dont brahmins lose their caste when their actions call for it and why dont non-brahmins become brahmins when their actions call for it?

    The whole thing, as it exists, is a fraud and a farce.

  28. If it is a fiction then show us what tests are used to assign caste? Why dont brahmins lose their caste when their actions call for it and why dont non-brahmins become brahmins when their actions call for it?

    ISKCON gives brahmin initiation and the sacred thread to all its members, so that means chamars, dalits, scheduled castes and outcastes in India can all become brahmins complete with threads and mantras, if they join ISKCON, and some have done so.

  29. calling themselves Ravidasias set up a Temple in the same street, as the Gurdwara and started practices as are against Sikh religous believes and with utter disrespect to Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

    You have it ass backwards. Who shows more disrespect to sikhism than you casteist, racist, india-hating terrorists who have hijacked sikhism and turned your backs to its egalitarian message with your idiotic jatt casteism. Its sikhism not jattism, capische?

    When only few Sikhs came and protested, they were attacked and this lead to further trouble. Four of the six visiting Sikhs are in serious condition and one even is reported to be with gun shots in the head. Who shot the gun, visiting Sikhs or some one in the congregation of the Dera?

    The jats came with guns and shot and killed their guru. You got a lot of nerve trying to defend such wicked men.

  30. Gobind, what do you think about the Ravidassia?

    Do they have Sikhism on the right path or are they taking “casteism” to the extreme?

  31. 129 gobind=prema,

    Please reread #113, 117 & 122 above. The context is that one’s jati does not determine one’s occupation anymore, except for circumstances of poverty or preference to follow in the ancestral profession. There is no rigidity in that sense. Everyone is born into a particular jati, just as one is born into a particular family, clan or tribe. Because a jati is like a tribe, you don’t choose it. Just as one is born in an Irish-American, Italian-American, Hispanic or African-American family. What one as an individual can do is to stop identifying oneself as part of a particular jati, which would like turning your back against your heritage. What you are railing against is not jati, but ‘discrimination’ between people based on jatis. So please frame the problem correctly, if you want to address it. Please don’t confuse jati with varna, the four fold ideal of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. As an individual, nobody in India can deny one’s choice of a profession.

    That is why Amardeep’s statement below doesn’t make any sense.

    It isn’t great, but it’s reality, and I don’t know if yet another call to be better about finally abolishing caste will stop caste-based movements from continuing to assert themselves against the dominant tradition.

    Abolishing jati is like saying, let us abolish ‘race’ as framed in the American context of White, African-American, Hispanic and so forth. Just as one would say let there be no discrimination based on race in the USA, in India one would say let there be no discimination based on jati.

  32. “I don’t know if yet another call to be better about finally abolishing caste will stop caste-based movements from continuing to assert themselves against the dominant tradition”

    It wont. Abolishing religion will be better. The wastebasket of history awaits it.

  33. 132 shallowthhinker,

    You call them Ravidasia (i.e. followers of Ravidas), the majority of whom are Chamars. Do you consider them Sikhs or not? Do they consider themselves Sikhs? Do you believe in orthodoxy or heterodoxy? If orthodoxy, who decides on the tenets and should it be controlled by Jats or Chamars, because face it, you are not going to abolish these groups. Why the rigidity among Sikhs, especially in the diaspora? The Indian tradition of fluidity and plurality in praxis is the way to go, if you want to cater to multiple ways of doing things that is human nature and still keep everyone within the Sikh fold.

  34. it would be an implicit acceptance of the caste system – as in you are a tanner because your parent was one, and your ancestors have been for eons. nothing wrong with the profession as such if that is what one does, but to imply one is suited for nothing else by dint of birth… that’s just wrong.

    It is tricky in that when talking about different jatis within the Dalit community, you will be forced to used these terms, as this is how they are differentiated. The difficulty with trying to use terms like Raidasis is that not all members of the community will be followers of Ravi Das, some will be orthodox Hindus others will be Buddhists, Kabirpanthis etc. There are interesecting boundaries here with religious, social and ethnic communities here so I wouldn’t confuse quam with jati or panth.

    Re: the profession thing, yes of course the problem that arises is twofold here. One is that some professions are seen as inherently polluting, and this is a deep-seated attitude within mainstream Hinduism and of course other religions in India as well, difficult to see how this will be removed without fundamentally changing a lot of religious attitudes. Secondly, separately from this and unlike some commenters who are soft-soaping the issue in this thread; I am afraid that there is a really staunch belief that lower castes are in one way or another (usually intellectually) inferior and this is really hard to eradicate. Even amongst my own family/friends I constantly get annoyed b comments that ‘what did you expect from so and so, he is an x after all’ despite any evidence or examples to the contrary people simply refuse to accept a real notion of equality across communities. I would say it is akin to the problem of racism one encounters elsewhere. When presented with facts that indicate they are wrong, they still persist in their attitudes; many have invested so much in a specific world-view, it is very difficult for them to let go of it. Even supposedly ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ individuals share this aspects of this attitude underneath the surface; which is why many Dalits are quite bitter about any upper caste involvement in their emancipatory movements (wrongly imo). Removing this mindset is the main challenge.

  35. Above comment is by actualy, don’t know why the name got changed!

  36. Jibbler,

    I found your comments the most interesting. However, when shifting to the political, I think you are overreaching. The Akali Dal and BJP are largely dera-based parties as well. Such is the electoral structure in Punjab, and I would guess much of South Asia. In fact, the SGPC is trying to avoid the issue because of its political links, but many in the Malwa region from the Akali Dal in the most recent elections sought even the support of Dera Sacha Sauda. This is how politics is played.

    Also, I don’t think that you can read the Congress success in the most recent elections as some long-term political shift. There is no evidence to support anything of that kind. The most recent past (post-1997) shows the cycical nature of anti-incumbency in the elections of the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Look to political factionalism to understand electoral victories and successes, rather than merely grand sweeping narratives.

  37. YogiFire wrote: At some point people are going to realize that this sort of deal isn’t a uniquely Indian or even a Hindu thing

    No. Well — it isn’t a Hindu thing – but it is a Desi thing. A Tanner marrying a Thatcher, or even a Clark, is not an intergroup marriage in medieval England. There are differences in socio-economic status, but individuals can overcome them and join the elite (or fall into the lower classes).

    In Desi-stan, SES is also fluid, but it is Groups, not individuals that move up and down the hierarchy. The Pallis who became Vanniyars (and the Shanans who became Nadars) are a good example. Successful groups can raise their status — but they stay part of the same endogomous group.

    I don’t think its an insult to Desis to recognize the social differences between Indic civilization and others. But it is an insult to intelligence to pretend these differences dont’ exist, and that “caste” (jati) is the same all around the world.

  38. Re: Votes and caste

    Here’s an excerpt from “The Hindu” election supplement on how Punjab voted in the 2009 elections (I think the article assumes that the term “Sikh” excludes Dalits.)

    The Sikhs were firmly behind the Akali-BJP combine. But the Congress has a 20 percentage point lead over the NDA among Hindu upper caste voters. The BSP got 20 per cent of the Dalit vote, mostly from the Ramdasia community, but was way behind the Congress, which continues to command the support of 60 per cent of Punjab’s Scheduled Caste voters.

  39. I don’t think its an insult to Desis to recognize the social differences between Indic civilization and others. But it is an insult to intelligence to pretend these differences dont’ exist, and that “caste” (jati) is the same all around the world.

    It is an even bigger insult to intelligence to accept the implicit belief that the whole world should be based on the western, or more precisely, the christian cultural model. This is the point. Yet people go around making the most ridiculous statements about caste. Every single statement made about caste is a translation of some concept that exists in christianity. The idea that “caste” came from the “scriptures” for example. If caste = jati, then what about the varnas? Why the Brahmin-bashing because Brahmins are not a jati, were not ordained by any “scriptures” or “clergy”, and never had any power.

    The sinister truth of the matter is that Christian ideas (every one is equal in the eyes of God) have secularized themselves (equal rights, etc.) so that liberals and conservatives, orthodox and heterodox, all of humanity in fact, worships at the same altar. Except for the hindoos. These pagans blatantly nurture their differences. The only way out is to bash the entire system. All of this would be okay if there was some merit to what the west has produced in terms of society. But here the failure of the west is far worse than india (consider their wealth when taking this into account). So what basis does anyone have to say that one system must be demonized and the other be considered acceptable? The idea that the east must adopt western practices but that the west has absolutely nothing to learn from the east is blatantly racist. (I use this word very, very, rarely). There are innumerable merits to caste. God forbid anyone ever mention any of them. For caste is evil, only evil and nothing but evil. How come no-one objects to the tyranny of this monolithic viewpoint?

    The relevance of all this is that there is no way any of these problems will be solved if one does not open one’s mind to studying caste differently – rather than as something that needs to go away.

  40. Re: the profession thing, yes of course the problem that arises is twofold here. One is that some professions are seen as inherently polluting, and this is a deep-seated attitude within mainstream Hinduism and of course other religions in India as well, difficult to see how this will be removed without fundamentally changing a lot of religious attitudes.

    How much time in your life did you spend dreaming of how some day you would like to grow up and sweep the streets of your town? This has nothing to do with prejudice or religion. Nor would I say that this attitude needs changing.

  41. I take it that ‘HinduMan’ is a parody and satire of some sort?

    I don’t think there’s any comedy about this guy…I think he is a troll living projecting his own insecurities on all of us.

  42. Here is something interesting. An outfit calling itself ‘Khalistan Zindabad Force’ has claimed responsibility for the attack. This is an organisation banned by the European Union and America as a terrorist group.

    However, the leader of the Babbar Khalsa, who currently resides in Pakistan, has condemned the attack. Ignore for a moment the predictible response that it was carried out by Indian agencies. We have outright condemnation of this incident by the most prominent Khalistani militant in the world, and a claim of responsibility by another raggedy-ass Khalistani militant group. Bear in mind though that in cases like this, claims of responsibility are often opportunistic and it is likely that this could be the case in this scenario.

    Either way, we will soon know the truth about exactly who these men were, and if they were acting on behalf of anyone else, because they got beaten up, and will go on trial in Austria.

    Now I don’t think this makes things clearer. But I am glad that those men are in handcuffs, so we can interrogate them and know exactly what is what.


    CHANDIGARH: Even as the Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) claimed responsibility for the Vienna incident that sparked violence in Punjab, the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) has condemned the killing of Sant Rama Nand of the Dera Sach Khand.

    According to information posted on its website, the London-based Akash Radio said the KZF has claimed responsibility for the Sunday’s attack in Vienna.

    Claiming that it had received an e-mail, it said the message, written on the KZF’s letterhead, was signed by one Ranjit Singh.

    The KZF is said to have claimed that the incident occurred because “these people did not heed to the warnings that they should not disrespect Guru Granth Sahibji by sitting parallel to Sri Guru Granth Sahibji; letting people bow before them in the Guru Sahib’s presence and committing various unacceptable anti-maryada (Sikh code of conduct) acts. As they continued to commit such sins, the KZF was forced to take this action.”

    The Babbar Khalsa International, which figures on the U.S. list of terrorist organisations, has condemned the killing of Sant Rama Nand.

    Akash Radio claimed that the BKI chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar said in an e-mail that the entire Sikh Panth regretted the attack on Sant Niranjan Das and Sant Rama Nand.

    The e-mail said:

    “Everyone knows that this attack was not done by the Sikh Panth. Indian agencies are behind this attack; and they are trying to split the Ravidasiya community from the Sikh Panth. The Khalsa Panth will continue to cherish this relationship formed since the times of Guru Nanak Devji.

    “The Khalsa Panth requests the Ravidasiya community to maintain peace. The Khalsa Panth will always stand by the Ravidasiya community and will not let the Indian agencies succeed in their mal-intensions.”

    [ link ]

  43. One important point which merits mention : inter Sikh violence in Gurudwaras all over North America and England is the norm. In the nineties I used to live in California, where police was summoned to this or that Gurudwara almost every sunday; this is not an exaggeration. Indeed, on a big festival like Gurpurab or Baisakhi, the local cops would come out even before being called, hoping to nip the fight in the bud.

    p.s. please remove the “Gurdehera” canard will be removed from the post above?

  44. One important point which merits mention : inter Sikh violence in Gurudwaras all over North America and England is the norm. In the nineties I used to live in California, where police was summoned to this or that Gurudwara almost every sunday; this is not an exaggeration. Indeed, on a big festival like Gurpurab or Baisakhi, the local cops would come out even before being called, hoping to nip the fight in the bud.

    There are a small groups of white, black and hispanic americans who have become sikhs in places like New Mexico and Oregon, and for some reason this does not seem to be a problem in there community. I guess the blame should go mostly on punjabi culture and jattism.

  45. The sinister truth of the matter is that Christian ideas (every one is equal in the eyes of God) have secularized themselves (equal rights, etc.)

    This is utter rubbish; you only need to see what the New Testament says about women and slaves to demonstrate how wrong this is. Christianity may well have taught that we are all equal in the eyes of God (itself debatable imo since some groups like Jews and heretics were seen as excluded from salvation) but it sure as hell didn’t teach that we are all equal here on earth. That is a separate and secular doctrine that has its origins elsehwere.

    How much time in your life did you spend dreaming of how some day you would like to grow up and sweep the streets of your town? This has nothing to do with prejudice or religion. Nor would I say that this attitude needs changing.

    What a load of crap, and what the hell has that got to do with anything. I grew thinking the one thing I didn’t want to be was a soldier or civil servant, given how crappily family members who belonged to these professions were treated.

    You are confusing the profession with the person who practises it; I couldn’t care less what people do it doesn’t influence how I treat them as people unless they do something I think is harmful to others or otherwise morally dubious. Unlike the situation described where people don’t even want to eat with those from certain castes still and insist on performing ridiculous purification rituals whenever such individuals visit. This kind of rubbish still goes on. Having a low status occupation is hardly unique to India; having one whereby you end up being associated indelibly with it regardless of what you actually do and are seen as physcially polluting is more specific to India and a few ohter countries.

  46. inter Sikh violence in Gurudwaras all over North America and England is the norm

    Manpreet — I cannot speak for North America, but it certainly IS NOT the norm in England. It happens, but it is not the norm.

    There are hundreds of Gurudwarey in Britain, and they function beautifully providing both spiritual and practical sustenance to hundreds of thousands of people. I would not attend Gurudwarey if it was the norm and neither would so many other people. When these issues arise they tend to be traced to an identifiable number of temples that have a history of disputation or dogmatism.

  47. This is utter rubbish; you only need to see what the New Testament says about women and slaves to demonstrate how wrong this is.

    That was a reality of the society in which Christianity developed. You try starting a religion that completely upends the economic and social foundation of a society and see how well it takes off.

    Christianity may well have taught that we are all equal in the eyes of God (itself debatable imo since some groups like Jews and heretics were seen as excluded from salvation) but it sure as hell didn’t teach that we are all equal here on earth. That is a separate and secular doctrine that has its origins elsehwere.

    “Secular” as being an absolute separation of church and state is a doctrine that didn’t arrive until a fair bit after the enlightenment. The idea of total equality of people may not have been practiced, but it was argued heavily by luminaries in the church. But one big thing you’re forgetting is that it’s not just about salvation. Christian society and culture presupposes that there is one proper set of duties and obligations for all people. This idea that everyone ought to be governed by the same social norms, same laws, and that they should all share common ideas about the Good does not port easily into Hinduism where it was acknowledged that you would have different things demanded of you depending on your position in life. Hence Kshatriyas could eat meat and Brahmins could not, Brahmins were technically not supposed to own property but others could, and so on. (Of course, states being pretty minimalist at the time the enforcement of these rules was flexible and subject to the wishes of the people on the ground, but that’s another story.)

    The only real parallel to that you might find is where slaves and serfs were expected to be loyal to their masters/lords. But even in those cases the serfs and slaves were often regarded as being something less than human and the whole reason the idea of liberty for them came about was because of shifting power relationships between merchants and landowners/nobles and the Church’s own attempts to consolidate political power by maintaining influence over the hearts of the people as a check on the power of ambitious lords. The point is most of these secular ideas are rooted in certain historical and cultural events unique to the development of Western Europe and to adopt them uncritically as universal values reflects only the extent to which Eurocentrism has conquered all other ways of thinking, not because of any intrinsic worth these ideas have, but by sheer force of inertia they have from being entrenched into non-European societies through European schools, curricula, and legal standards established by colonial powers.