Protesters to Martyrs – Whither the Sikh Revolutionaries?

ramrahim.jpgNext month marks the two year anniversary since the Shahadat of Bhai Kamaljit Singh. It has been quite some time since I last blogged about Dehra Sacha Sauda and unfortunately maybe I am also guilty of only following the story as the Indian media does or does not.

It was at the end of 2007, when this blog was first starting out, when I wrote about the Sikh Successes of 2007 with the incident of the confrontation of Dehra Sacha Sauda as #1 on my list. This week, I read an interesting synthesis by two French graduate students Lionel Baixas et Charlne Simon. Lionel is completing his PhD in political science and is interested in democracy in South Asia, while Charlne is finishing her PhD in anthropology and has worked on issues related to the Ravidassia religious movement.

While I have commented on some of these issues, their recent article, titled From Protesters to Martyrs: How to Become a True Sikh re-evaluates the Dehra Sacha Sauda issue through interviews and fieldwork conducted last April in Punjab and Haryana. Their abstract is as follows:

This article studies the protest which started in Punjab in May 2007 following a ceremony performed by Baba Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh (GRRS), head of Dera Sacha Sauda, which was considered as blasphemous by a section of the Sikh community. The aim of this article is to understand the motivation of the actors of the protest itself: How did the Sikh protesters legitimate their reaction one year later? What kinds of reasons have led hundreds of Sikhs from very different social background to take the streets? What kind of emotions played a role in the Sikhs mobilization?

After giving a brief history of the Dehra, the authors note

that the presence of these deras is tolerated by the orthodox Sikhs as soon as they show respect to the Guru Granth Sahib and to the main symbols of Sikhism

The authors find that the three main hypothesis for the reason for the violent clashes as follows:

  1. Usage of Sikh religious imagery by heterodox sects fueled a primordial passion
  2. The DSSs support of Congress in the last election fueled Shiromani Akali Dals call for revenge upon the group
  3. The DSS with its large Dalit constituency was a place for them to assert Dalit identity, which was violently reacted against by Jat-dominated Sikh institutions

Finding all three explanations largely inadequate, they authors argue that the third explanation is especially improbable as the DSS does not have any position or politics towards Dalit identity assertion, despite their large numbers.

In their actual interviews, they find the same re-occurring answers:

Most of them expressed a suffering I have been hurt- sometimes accompanied by a physical description of their reaction: My blood heated. If he [Baba GSRR] would have been in front of me, I would have shot him. This was the feeling of every Sikhs. In any case, according to them, the mobilization was hundred percent emotional. It was the consequence of an unexpected outrage which was unthinkable: We were suddenly shocked and we really wondered what was happening8, that is to say a moral shock (Jasper 1998: 409).

In addition to the outrage, it was the wide-scale knowledge of Ram Rahims actions carried through the Punjabi press that made so many aware of what was occurring. After the publication of the pictures, phones and text-messages to family members were essential in mobilizing networks based on familial relations and proximity. The authors then contend that it became an issue of the preservation of izzat that led to the numbers of Sikhs that came to defend the communitys honor in fact the authors note that rural dissent in Punjab is often attached to the emotional component of izzat.

From this initial spark, Sikhs engage in their own ritual practices and symbolic gestures to promote collective action, group solidarity, and empowerment. Just as in the annals of previous Sikh history, this included Ardas:

The same kind of process is again found in the example of the students mobilization: a meeting was organized in one of the students room in each hostel [in Patiala], on the 15th in the evening to allow all Sikh students to perform a collective ardas. Then a few students of each hostel met to decide the form of the protest and at the end of this meeting we bring back our kirpan, hoisted the Nishan Sahib [flag with the Khanda Sikh emblem] in front of our hostels, gathered as much people as possible and started to demonstrate all around the campus to the University gate. Both these testimonies show how the use of religious symbols and rituals contributed to a dramatization of the event that increased the protesters feeling of bravery and gave a wider significance to their action, as if the future of the Sikh faith depended on them.

Moving from initial reaction to the entry of various Sikh organizations, the protests came both to their apogee and to their halt. I have previously discussed Badals repeated exercise in this game and this incident proved no different.

Daljit Singh Bittu, the current convener of Khalsa Action Committee, This SGPC is under the direct control of SAD. They are not independent, even these Jathedars from Takhts, they are just like the employees of SGPC and SGPC is entirely the employee of Badal. They have killed all the real structures of Sikh institutions. Akal Takht is not independent now, its under control.

kamaljitsingh.jpgFeelings continued to increase at the bhog of Shaheed Kamaljit Singh. The authors note how new Shaheeds are added into the martyrs pantheon:

These are parts of the didactic process, which makes contemporary Sikhs believe that they can still be actors of this long tradition aiming at protecting the authentic tenets of Sikhism: The sacrifice of Kamaljit Singh is a part of our history. We have to learn from our history, we have to get motivation; we have to get inspiration from it.

In their conclusions, the authors note that Sikhs are one of the archetypal communities that can quickly mobilize after outrages due to an elaborate historical tradition, but as they note this only occurs in sparks. The authors conclusions have to be noted and in many ways and are part of a larger discourse in the failings of our community. 1984 also represents such a moment. Without creating institutions that are larger than individuals, despite our collective historic tradition that gives us great strength and certain uniqueness, everything remains flashes in the pot. If 1984 is the defining moment of this generation of Sikhs, it is to create new sites of political engagement, aligned with, but not limited to the Gurdwara (which is already a site of political and often divisive voter contention) that can harness moments of outrage to be more than mere moments, but rather critical events that spark movements. As in a previous post, we have rebels, whither our revolutionaries?


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18 Responses to “Protesters to Martyrs – Whither the Sikh Revolutionaries?”

  1. singhsta says:

    great work jodha! thank you for the post! keep blogging

  2. singhsta says:

    great work jodha! thank you for the post! keep blogging

  3. Nikki says:

    Jodha, you made some great points within your concluding notes. I especially appreciate your point of creating institutions that are larger than individuals. I feel as though at times doing what is best for the community as a whole is a collective historic tradition that is no longer demonstrated or valued. Sikhs have put individual recognition, power, and celebrity before what is best for the community as a whole. Not only has this detracted from our faith in Sikh leaders, but these actions are slowly deteriorating the pillars of Sikh leadership. Badal is a good example an individual who has put the individual before the Sikh community.

    In order to revive and our preserve values of Sikh leadership, in order to continue to follow our rich Sikh tradition, and in order to create movements, I re-emphasize the point Jodha is making, we must began to create institutions that are larger than the individual.

  4. Nikki says:

    Jodha, you made some great points within your concluding notes. I especially appreciate your point of creating institutions that are larger than individuals. I feel as though at times doing what is best for the community as a whole is a collective historic tradition that is no longer demonstrated or valued. Sikhs have put individual recognition, power, and celebrity before what is best for the community as a whole. Not only has this detracted from our faith in Sikh leaders, but these actions are slowly deteriorating the pillars of Sikh leadership. Badal is a good example an individual who has put the individual before the Sikh community.

    In order to revive and our preserve values of Sikh leadership, in order to continue to follow our rich Sikh tradition, and in order to create movements, I re-emphasize the point Jodha is making, we must began to create institutions that are larger than the individual.

  5. becoming christian says:

    iF YOU go to any village in punjab today, Under the lovely guidance of Mrs Gandhi, churches are built in almost in every village…Sikhism is fading fast….Being a sikh i would like to do but dont what….

  6. becoming christian says:

    iF YOU go to any village in punjab today, Under the lovely guidance of Mrs Gandhi, churches are built in almost in every village…Sikhism is fading fast….Being a sikh i would like to do but dont what….

  7. Nikki says:

    becoming christian –

    Fading? Empires couldn't 'fade' Sikhism… you think a few churches will? Sikhi will remain. We just have to be the dedicated individuals Sikhi calls for

  8. Nikki says:

    becoming christian –

    Fading? Empires couldn’t ‘fade’ Sikhism… you think a few churches will? Sikhi will remain. We just have to be the dedicated individuals Sikhi calls for

  9. Raj says:

    Any religion starts fading out, when the people of that religion leave obeying the principal of that religion, and this is the case with the sikhs, otherwise if u follow the religion by heart no such thought come in your mind.

    Wherever, u see todays,sikhs are more in limelight because of their protests or violence, rather than any welfare works, which is the main reason of decreasing of its popularity among its own peoples.

    No body want protest, aggression, violence, everybody want peace in this world, but this is not the case with sikhs. LOVE n PEACE are main content of any religion.

    Some of the higher authority people in sikhs keep looking for occassions of making protests… Numerous ex. are there. like protesting films.. like "Jo BOLE SO NIHAL" "SINGH IS KING" protesting again some sects like "NIRKANRIS" "DERA SACHA SAUDA".

    Every body knows these are just tricks of taking cheap popularity in media…

    There are lots of others things that can be done by sikhs to change their image… do as much welfare as they can do.., stop protesting on every irrelevant issue..,

  10. Raj says:

    Any religion starts fading out, when the people of that religion leave obeying the principal of that religion, and this is the case with the sikhs, otherwise if u follow the religion by heart no such thought come in your mind.
    Wherever, u see todays,sikhs are more in limelight because of their protests or violence, rather than any welfare works, which is the main reason of decreasing of its popularity among its own peoples.
    No body want protest, aggression, violence, everybody want peace in this world, but this is not the case with sikhs. LOVE n PEACE are main content of any religion.
    Some of the higher authority people in sikhs keep looking for occassions of making protests… Numerous ex. are there. like protesting films.. like “Jo BOLE SO NIHAL” “SINGH IS KING” protesting again some sects like “NIRKANRIS” “DERA SACHA SAUDA”.
    Every body knows these are just tricks of taking cheap popularity in media…
    There are lots of others things that can be done by sikhs to change their image… do as much welfare as they can do.., stop protesting on every irrelevant issue..,

  11. an Indian Sikh says:

    "Under the lovely guidance of Mrs Gandhi, churches are built in almost in every village"

    She's alive? Or is her ghost still haunting us? Oh no!

  12. an Indian Sikh says:

    you guys who call ppl who protest in the name of religion 'shaheeds' really need to re-understand sikhi or quit bad naming rest of us sikhs by calling yourself sikhs. i am saddened that you are a part of my faith that only promotes peace as Raj clearly indicated. the shaheeds who gave their lives during the time of our Gurus, they did it for the sake of OTHERS! this man died cuz he coudln't tolerate another religion/sect. intolerance is NOT what sikhi preaches!

  13. an Indian Sikh says:

    “Under the lovely guidance of Mrs Gandhi, churches are built in almost in every village”

    She’s alive? Or is her ghost still haunting us? Oh no!

  14. an Indian Sikh says:

    you guys who call ppl who protest in the name of religion ‘shaheeds’ really need to re-understand sikhi or quit bad naming rest of us sikhs by calling yourself sikhs. i am saddened that you are a part of my faith that only promotes peace as Raj clearly indicated. the shaheeds who gave their lives during the time of our Gurus, they did it for the sake of OTHERS! this man died cuz he coudln’t tolerate another religion/sect. intolerance is NOT what sikhi preaches!

  15. Umm Excuse me, a Ind says:

    He followed what orders Akal Takht gave to us. We are tolerant of all religions, but not organizations designed to desecrate Sikhi. I don't know what faith your following 'a Indian Sikh', but it sure isn't Gursikhi or Khalsa. The Shaheeds gave their lives for what they believed in and stood for, and the Khalsa has always taken revenge for all the injustices; whether it be the Sixth father punishing Chandu, Dasam father eliminating Euranzeb, or Banda Singh Bahadur destroying Sirhind. Yeh we promote peace but as said by Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa: " were not drag queens, wearing banga and earings, that we will silently endure any attack on our faith." Narakdharis still exist today and so do Raddha Swamis, why don't we have clashes with them??? Because they aren't attacking Sikhs and Sikhi. Might want to think twice for spreading your ignorance, again.

  16. Umm Excuse me, a Indian Sikh says:

    He followed what orders Akal Takht gave to us. We are tolerant of all religions, but not organizations designed to desecrate Sikhi. I don’t know what faith your following ‘a Indian Sikh’, but it sure isn’t Gursikhi or Khalsa. The Shaheeds gave their lives for what they believed in and stood for, and the Khalsa has always taken revenge for all the injustices; whether it be the Sixth father punishing Chandu, Dasam father eliminating Euranzeb, or Banda Singh Bahadur destroying Sirhind. Yeh we promote peace but as said by Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Khalsa: ” were not drag queens, wearing banga and earings, that we will silently endure any attack on our faith.” Narakdharis still exist today and so do Raddha Swamis, why don’t we have clashes with them??? Because they aren’t attacking Sikhs and Sikhi. Might want to think twice for spreading your ignorance, again.

  17. an Indian Sikh says:

    I certainly don't follow Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala's ideology. That's for sure. He was a pawn in the hands of politicians and he was badly misused by crooked politicians in power.

    And what is Akal Takht? Comprises of 'men' with much political / personal motives as well. Akal Takht can't be higher than what our Gurus left behind for us to follow. Yes, Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave shahaadat fighting Aurangzeb (yes, it is Aurangzeb) but he did it to SAVE others. He never forced anyone to convert into Sikhism and neither was he saying that he is fighting Aurangzeb to save Sikhi. He fought to protect those who were getting tortured by Aurangzeb. He preached and exercized fighting 'zulm'. I wonder what zulm Dera Sacha Sauda were doing to common junta. I mean, they are still in existence. I don't see any of us in India suffering at their hands. Whoever wants to leave Sikhi and follow them, well good for them. Freedom of choice can't be suppressed. We are not a Taliban state. Not yet atleast.

  18. an Indian Sikh says:

    I certainly don’t follow Jarnail Singh Bhindrawala’s ideology. That’s for sure. He was a pawn in the hands of politicians and he was badly misused by crooked politicians in power.

    And what is Akal Takht? Comprises of ‘men’ with much political / personal motives as well. Akal Takht can’t be higher than what our Gurus left behind for us to follow. Yes, Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave shahaadat fighting Aurangzeb (yes, it is Aurangzeb) but he did it to SAVE others. He never forced anyone to convert into Sikhism and neither was he saying that he is fighting Aurangzeb to save Sikhi. He fought to protect those who were getting tortured by Aurangzeb. He preached and exercized fighting ‘zulm’. I wonder what zulm Dera Sacha Sauda were doing to common junta. I mean, they are still in existence. I don’t see any of us in India suffering at their hands. Whoever wants to leave Sikhi and follow them, well good for them. Freedom of choice can’t be suppressed. We are not a Taliban state. Not yet atleast.

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