Vaheguru ji ka Khalsa Vaheguru ji ki Fateh
Should Sikhs acknowledge caste, and do they, are two very different questions.
Caste is rejected in Sikhi, there is no debate about that. But us Punjabis love being rebellious and doing the opposite of what we are told, so much so, that caste is an integral part of our lives. I would go as far as to say that it is the primary subject; the issue of number one priority on the forefront of many Sikh people’s minds around the world, even today.
From the low-caste servants made to sit on the floor in Punjab, to the British Sikh Jatt-Tarkhan couple being forced to end their relationship. From the Gurdwara committees to the matrimonial websites. For a religion that rejects caste, we seem to be utterly obsessed by it.
It’s a little like how Sikhs have a big reputation for drinking alcohol, yet acknowledge that it is against our religion.
The Sikh community went absolutely mental at Boris Johnson recently for making the mere mention of whiskey in a Gurdwara. In reality though, the modern Punjabi wedding ceremony uses the Anand Karaj simply as a sobering-up break. Yet casteism is more prevalent than even alcoholism in the Punjabi community.
Guru Granth Sahib Ji
Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji recognises how huge a plague casteism is in our society, and instructs Sikhs to shun caste, or jaat, again and again. Guru Ji even refers to those who take pride in caste as fools and warns that it results in immorality.
ਜਾਤਿ ਕਾ ਗਰਬੁ ਨ ਕਰਿ ਮੂਰਖ ਗਵਾਰਾ ॥ ਇਸੁ ਗਰਬ ਤੇ ਚਲਹਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਵਿਕਾਰਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਚਾਰੇ ਵਰਨ ਆਖੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਈ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਬਿੰਦ ਤੇ ਸਭ ਓਪਤਿ ਹੋਈ ॥੨॥ ਮਾਟੀ ਏਕ ਸਗਲ ਸੰਸਾਰਾ ॥ ਬਹੁ ਬਿਧਿ ਭਾਂਡੇ ਘੜੈ ਕੁਮ੍ਹ੍ਹਾਰਾ ॥੩॥ ਪੰਚ ਤਤੁ ਮਿਲਿ ਦੇਹੀ ਕਾ ਆਕਾਰਾ ॥ ਘਟਿ ਵਧਿ ਕੋ ਕਰੈ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ॥੪॥:
Do not be proud of your high caste, you ignorant fool. So much immorality comes from this pride. ||1||Rahaaou||
Everyone says there are four varan (four social classes or caste – Brahmin, Khatri, Vaish, Shoodar) – but all emanate from God’s Seed. ||2|| As the potter shapes all sorts of vessels, similarly, so is this entire universe shaped from One Clay of God’s Light. ||3|| The five elements join together, to make up the form of the human body. Who can say which has less, and which has more? ||4|| (SGGS Ang 1127-1128).
ਜਾਣਹੁ ਜੋਤਿ ਨ ਪੂਛਹੁ ਜਾਤੀ ਆਗੈ ਜਾਤਿ ਨ ਹੇ ॥:
Recognize God’s Light within all, and don’t ask or consider caste, as there is no caste in the world hereafter (SGGS Ang 349).
The Indian government does not recognise Sikhi as a separate religion from Hinduism. If we want to stop people thinking we are Hindus, maybe we ought to stop behaving like Hindus.
There are few things that can make a Punjabi person shut up, but one thing that rarely fails is if you ask what they have done to break down caste barriers in the community. Even those Sikhs who have married outside of caste are often criticised for bringing shame to the family rather than celebrated for breaking down barriers. And every time I ask the sangat for ideas on what can be done to omit caste differentiation from our lives, I’m faced with stares and, quite tellingly, silence.
The truth is far too many of us live in the comfort that caste gives us. Caste is predicated upon the idea that in order to place value upon ourselves, we must make others feel inferior. It is borne out of insecurity. Caste gives us safety and sanctity, but our Guru tells us again and again, caste is a lie.
ਜਾਤਿ ਅਜਾਤਿ ਅਜੋਨੀ ਸੰਭਉ ਨਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਭਾਉ ਨ ਭਰਮਾ ॥
God is casteless; He is unborn, self-illumined, and free of doubt and attachment (SGGS Ang 597).
ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਾਤਿ ਪਤਿ ਸਚੁ ਸੋਇ ॥
Truth is the (higher) caste and ancestary of the Gurmukh (SGGS Ang 560).
Maybe we should start taking on board those things that our Guru gave us to make us explicitly “Sikh”.
Sikhs are warriors who follow their leader, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. They wear turbans and abide by the five K’s. They reject caste completely, and follow their Guru wholeheartedly to the point where their own head becomes the Guru’s property.
When will it end?
It feels like we’ve been saying the same thing for the last 20 years; that our generation will be the one to change things, that these days people are marrying between castes, that this won’t go on for long. But in the Gurdwaras, the caste-based committees have won. They’ve held on to the caste system so stringently in Gurdwaras that I suspect it is a factor that has forced the open-minded youth out. Whenever I go to any Gurdwara in Slough, I’m often the youngest person there, and I’m in my 30s.
In truth, when I go to any Gurdwara in Slough, I feel awkward and uncomfortable in the hypocrisy. The incessant gossip, the flagrant rejection of traditional Sikh practices and the unwillingness to allow youth to express themselves fully, are all bad enough. But the very worst thing in my opinion is the caste division.
When I go to Singh Sabha Gurdwara, I don’t see Sikhs, I see Jatts. When I go to Ramgharia Gurdwara, I don’t see Sikhs, I see Tarkhans. There are Gurdwaras with huge Nishan Sahibs in Southall and I feel embarrassed that I’ve never actually visited them. I realise that I have been actively discouraged by my community from visiting them and I intend to change that from today.
The only realistic option we have now to make caste obsolete is reducing its relevance in the minds of the next generation. Sadly, the mindsets of too many Punjabis of our own generation, let alone our parents’, cannot really be changed on the matter.
To change views can only be done through Parchar; presenting the universal truth of Sikhi to young, impressionable Sikhs. What gets me is that I genuinely thought our generation would be the ones to reject the caste system, and I feel let down by my generation.
There is a petition going around to explain to UK Parliament that Sikhs, unlike Hindus, do not believe in a hierarchical caste system. I linked to it on my Facebook profile page, and soon after, I began to question what I just did.
Is it true that Sikhs do not believe in a hierarchical caste system? In Slough, I would say no, that is untrue.
The petition has almost reached its target of 1,000 signatures at the time of writing, but I would encourage you all to sign it nonetheless.
It’s bad enough that our Guru thinks we’re fools, it’s probably best not to have it legislated under UK law that we are.
Vaheguru ji ka Khalsa Vaheguru ji ki Fateh
Translations from http://www.gurbani.org