Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Low caste Hindus and their dilemma

Tens of thousands of people are due to attend a mass conversion ceremony in India at which large numbers of low-caste Hindus will become Buddhists.
The ceremony in the central city of Nagpur is part of a protest against the injustices of India's caste system.
By becoming Buddhists low-caste Hindus, or Dalits, can escape the prejudice and discrimination they normally face.
The ceremony marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Buddhism by the scholar Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
He was the first prominent Dalit - or Untouchable as they were formerly called - to urge low-caste Indians to embrace Buddhism.
Similar mass conversions are taking place this month in many other parts of India.
Several states governed by the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, have introduced laws to make such conversions more difficult.
http://newsvote. bbc.co.uk/ 2/hi/south_ asia/6050408

My comment :
The news feature sheds the light on existence of the injustice which Sikh Gurus fought against in India. Castes were openly looked down upon in Sikhism which was a dharma that entails universal love for mankind. However, as it is reported in certain news items, some nominal Sikhs are also ,contrary to guru’s bani , immersed in caste quagmire. A person who accepts the caste concept cannot be a Sikh. One of the social values of Langar is also shunning the concept of inferiority of one being from another. In today’s context, practice of caste philosophy can be determined as a violation of human rights and a form of oppression similar to holocaust experienced in Nazi Germany, Bosnia or Darfur. Caste is a distal determinant of wellbeing and subsequently, it is a determinant of “Health”. Deprivation of health of a person is reciprocally affects the so called superiors in a society as well. From an economic point of view, Caste philosophy has a societal cost as well. Thus, it is quite clear, like Guru’s prophecy, from modern scientific view also, shunning caste philosophy has an importance as it can directly affect the society. Caste is the modern form of slavery abolition of which needs the concerted efforts of everyone. The gurus foresaw its menace. As Sikhs, when we eneter the guru’s abode( Harmandir at Amritsar) via its four entries, it symbolises the path for liberation for all four castes ( Brahman, Kshatriya,Vaishya and Shudra) by following Guru’s path. Shunning this out dated concept is essential for an emerging economic giants like India as it may be an unshakeable stumbling block for India’s socio-economic leap towards the developed world

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


A. G Kirpal Singh was born a sikh and he went on to represent India in Test cricket.He was added to the list of Sikh test cricketers in a previous note in this blog.However, there was one fact that was not known to me up until reading the piece " A lot in a name by Ramachandra Guha very recently.
This is what I came to know from Mr Guha's article :
"Before Yohana converted to Islam, a man from Madras (as it was then known) was the only cricketer to have played Test cricket under two religious affiliations. This was A.G. Kripal Singh, who made his debut for India in the mid 1950s as a bearded, turbaned Sardar and returned to the Test team some years later as a clean-shaven Christian. Where the Pakistani changed faith owing to the influence of his team-mate Saeed Anwar, the Indian had a more personal reason — it was in order to marry the woman he loved. Yousuf's name change is visible in the record books, although sometimes missed by the commentators. Did the other fellow also change his name? The scorecards suggest he did not, for, before and after his conversion to Christianity, he played under the name of "A.G. Kripal Singh". However, a Madras cricketer I know, and who was a contemporary of Kripal's, claims that while he did not change his initials, he did change what they stood for, "Amritsar Gurugobind" becoming "Arnold George"
While respecting Mr Amritsar Gurugobind's freedom to be Arnold George for his love, I made this note so that any person reading the list of Sikhi cricketers will know that he no longer remains a believer of sikhism.Further writes Mr Guha :
" More than two thousand men have played Test cricket. Yousuf and Kripal remain the only two to have played while practising two different faiths. Some others have changed or modified their names while retaining their commitment to their ancestral religion."
Link for the original article :

Monday, October 02, 2006


Author paying his respect at the Gurudwara

Religious freedom has been a thorny issue for believers since ancient time. Perhaps the worst period in this regard in the Indian subcontinent might have been during the era of Aurangzeb. Having imprisoned his father Shah Jahan and assassinated his own brothers, Aurangzeb was in an upbeat mood.. His subsequent objective was to convert entire Hindustan to Islam . This has been seen as a move to cover up his sins and to mobilise support of his co religionists.

He waged this war against non Muslims in many ways. This has been similar to many of the methods used by western missionaries in converting poor souls in the Indian sub continent today. Firstly he made peaceful overtures; secondly he offered money; thirdly he threatened punishment and lastly he tried to cause dissension among them. When all these measures failed, he resorted to forcible conversion State terror was unleashed on non Muslim masses through his governors. Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh temples were destroyed . One such destroyed gurudwara was Buriya in Khizrabad pargna of Sirhind and a mosque was built upon the Gurudwara.

Differential and excessive taxation of Hindus was a method used for forcible conversion. Anyone supporting non Muslims were mercilessly executed even if they were true followers of the prophet Mohamed. One puppet executioner of Aurangzeb was Sher Afghan Khan, the Emperor's viceroy in Kashmir. His relentless campaign was to execute Kashmir Hindus who were not willing to accept Islam. This was the moment when Hindu Brahmins sought the advice of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Though the legend says that there was a super natural voice ordering them to seek the advice of guru, the logical reasoning behind this move was the supreme confidence that the Guru has been able to have even in the minds of non followers of his religion. Secondly, it reflects the acceptance of him by masses as a person capable of influencing the situation in Hindustan.

Guru Tegh Bahadur’s determination and fearlessness should be a guiding light to any Sikh who wants to take a leaf out of Sikh history. These two qualities were reflected in his address to Kashmir Brahmans .He told them to convey this message to Aurangzeb

“," Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru is now seated on the throne of the great Guru Nanak, who is the protector of faith and religion. First make the Guru a Musalman and then all the people, including ourselves, will of our own accord adopt the faith of Islam."

A mighty emperor like Aurangzeb too misunderstood his message having taken it as an easier task .His reasoning was that the conversion of one person was easier than many and following it devotees would convert themselves en masse. This is similar to the belief of super powers that the change of an unfavourable regime would mitigate all threats emanating from that state of concern. What followed was well recorded history. This whole story unfolds yet another significant evidence of Guru’s inter faith tolerance : He was joined by his muslim friend by the name of Saif-ul-din to visit the emperor. That once again substantiate his recognition among non Sikh masses both Hindu and Muslims. He was a bridge narrowing the gap between these two religions.

On the way to court, he was arrested and produced before the emperor. Emperor promised him perks and privileges in return for his conversion. Here again Guru Tegh Bahadur demonstrated his strong conviction and non desire for material attachments/desires such as wealth and power. Among the three options offered to him after refusing to convert( conversion, performing a miracle and preparation for death), he cast away first two. And accepted the last.

The Guru responded that to show a miracle was against the Will of God and thus he would not consent to the Emperor's proposals and the Emperor might act as he pleased. He was subject to extreme torture. Adversity never made him change his conviction and it was a lesson for the emperor that his mission to convert at the point of sword was a senseless thing. This was an indirect demonstration of how emperor insulted the mankind and human feelings by attempting to force his will upon his subjects. Inhuman torture of his followers Bhai Mati Das( sawing body), Bhai Dayala( being boiled to death) and Bhai sati das ( being roasted alive) were not able to change his resolve. All these martyrs demonstrated the true spirit of martyrs.

Finally when his turn came, he once again demonstrated the emptiness of a life living in lie against the will .
"I will never abandon my faith. I want no honour in this life; I want honour hereafter. The threat of death possesses no terrors for me. For death I am prepared and I cheerfully accept it” these words enraged Aurangzeb . He was sentenced to death and Guru tegh bahadur was beheded for not accepting to be converted to Islam. He died reciting Japji.

I visited in 2000, the gurudwara which stands at the place where he was beheaded on November 11, 1675. It has been described that many Sikh followers among the crowd refused to come forward to give due honour to Guru and it made Guru Gobind Singh to instil the sense of being sikhi and bravery among Sikh brotherhood by initiation of khalsa. Another belief is that Bhai Jaita dashed out of the crowd and instantaneously took away the holy head of the Guru to Anandpur with full honour.

Lakhi Shah Labana was a famous contractor in Delhi and he was also a follower of the Guru. He emptied his carts laden with lime near the Red Fort, taking advantage of the darkness and the carelessness of the Mughal sentries, and with the help of his sons, Nagahiya, Hema, Harhi and his friend Dhuma, whisked away the sacred body of the Guru, in one of their carts. Apprehensive of the government reprisal, Lakhi Shah and his sons then built up a pyre inside their own house and set fire to it. When the body was duly reduced to ashes, they cried out that their house had caught fire and called upon their neighbors to assist them in extinguishing it. Next day they collected the Guru's remains and buried them in a copper vessel called 'gaggar' in the earth under his funeral pyre. On this spot there stands a Gurdwara, Rakab Ganj, near Parliament House in New Delhi.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was a real martyr for his religion. His holiness lies in the fact that he sacrificed his life for downtrodden and oppressive people not considering even for a minute that they were Hindus and not Sikhs. What he valued was the well being of mankind. His religious tolerance was engraved in that fact that his friends were Muslims and he supported Hindus when in need. Fearlessness, strong conviction, and performing the right thing despite the ill consequences made him a treasured character in the world history. His bravery was a guidance for the tenth Guru to organise the Sikh brotherhood which travels endlessly several years after Guru Tegh bahadur’s sacrifice to the community
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