Thinking of the City of Bliss

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With Vaisakhi upon is, what is it you think of? Perhaps Anandpur Sahib, the city of bliss? Maybe the Panj Piaray, the five beloved ones? Or perhaps it is Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s message of fraternity and equality that resonates with you. Whatever it is that you think of, I wonder if it stirsyou or moves you tosee the worldin a different light – in the light that our Guruhoped for us. On this day, in 1699, our Guru gave us the potential to be born again. Without caste, without discrimination, and without fear.

It is clear that issues of caste and discrimination still playa role in our communities today. However, I came across a promisingarticle in the Guardian which discusses how a small caf in India is challenging long-held caste taboos by hiring Dalit women to work within thecaf as waitresses. Although the Indian constitution banned untouchability sixty years ago, Dalits are still often forbidden, in villages and small towns, from doing anything other than low menial jobs. We all know it is not easy to challenge century-old beliefs, however thiscaf is doing just that. As Sikhs, these issues should matter to us and we should stand up against injustice within any community.

An interesting paper, which I found on the Punjab Research Group site, titled “Dalits and the Emancipatory Sikh Religion” discusses the role Sikhi played in liberating Dalits.

It is beyond doubt that Sikhism emerged as an emancipator for the lowest of the low. Nanak, the first Guru, was clear when he says:

Neechan andar neech jati, Neechi hun ati neech / Nanak thin ke sang sath, Vadian siyon kya rees / Jithe neech sanmalian, Tithe nadr teri bakshish.

(I am the lowest of the low castes; low, absolutely low; I am with the lowest in companionship, not with the so-called high. Blessing of Godis where the lowly are cared for).

This same spirit was maintained by all the Gurus. In addition, the paperreferences an articlethe young revoluntionary Bhagat Singh wrote titled Achhut da Sawal (The Question of Untouchability):

Pointing out at the current competition between different religions to pull the untouchables in their respective folds for just political ends and vested interests, he gives a clarion call to Dalits to unite: “We cleary say! ‘Rise’… See your history. You were the real army of Guru Gobind Singh… You stand on your feet by organising yourself and challenge the entire social set-up. Then see, who would deny your rights… You are the root of the country, the real power. Rise! O sleeping lions; start rebellion or social revolution”.

Regardless of these revoluntionary ideas, treatment of Dalits as “untouchables” continues to exist in Punjab. Some numbers suggest that while Dalits constitute about 30 percent of thepopulation in Punjab they occupy the lowest share of land ownership. It seems like we have taken a step backward. So I wonder, will another Vaisakhi come and go without change within our community? Or perhaps this Vaisakhi and each Vaisakhi that lies ahead willinspire us to plant a seed of change within the community…

[Artworkby Kanwar Singh Dhillon.]


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6 Responses to “Thinking of the City of Bliss”

  1. sonny says:

    thanks for this great piece and happy vaisakhi. it's definitely a good time to reflect on all the contradictions in our community and the many ways that caste and other forms of oppression are still so pervasive amongst sikhs. i wrote a personal reflection piece in that spirit which you can check out here if you want.

  2. sonny says:

    thanks for this great piece and happy vaisakhi. it’s definitely a good time to reflect on all the contradictions in our community and the many ways that caste and other forms of oppression are still so pervasive amongst sikhs. i wrote a personal reflection piece in that spirit which you can check out here if you want.

  3. Sundari says:

    Thanks Sonny! Your piece is extremely significant and timely. I don't think enough can be said of these small acts of tribute to our history. Many Sikhs know the meaning behind using Kaur/Singh – however, not many actually take the step to act upon that understanding.

    However, I will add that caste continues to permeate our community beyond last names. Having used Kaur as a last name all my life, I have still observed caste contradictions around me. We have much progress to make, but it has to start somewhere.

  4. Sundari says:

    Thanks Sonny! Your piece is extremely significant and timely. I don’t think enough can be said of these small acts of tribute to our history. Many Sikhs know the meaning behind using Kaur/Singh – however, not many actually take the step to act upon that understanding.

    However, I will add that caste continues to permeate our community beyond last names. Having used Kaur as a last name all my life, I have still observed caste contradictions around me. We have much progress to make, but it has to start somewhere.

  5. sonny says:

    absolutely, caste goes much beyond last names for sure, and it's going to take a lot more than dropping our caste names to get rid of. it's amazing (in a really bad way) to me how deeply rooted something in such direct contradiction to why sikhi developed is in our community today. the hypocrisy is really intense. if you or anyone has any suggested readings about the history of caste amongst sikhs, let me know…i honestly don't really understand how the reality that we're discussing came about, whether sikhs never succeeded fully in breaking from the caste system or whether it slowly reemerged over time, or what. hegemony is not simple to counter.

  6. sonny says:

    absolutely, caste goes much beyond last names for sure, and it’s going to take a lot more than dropping our caste names to get rid of. it’s amazing (in a really bad way) to me how deeply rooted something in such direct contradiction to why sikhi developed is in our community today. the hypocrisy is really intense. if you or anyone has any suggested readings about the history of caste amongst sikhs, let me know…i honestly don’t really understand how the reality that we’re discussing came about, whether sikhs never succeeded fully in breaking from the caste system or whether it slowly reemerged over time, or what. hegemony is not simple to counter.