We need to worry about the decline in Sikh numbers

Vipin Pubby
Vipin PubbyAug 27, 2015 | 14:45

We need to worry about the decline in Sikh numbers

The sharpest decline in population among all communities in the country is that of the followers of Sikhism, the youngest religion founded in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, as per the religion-based data released by the central government. The figures, however, cannot be taken as a reflection of any sliding trend in the popularity of the religion even though it does have causes for concern to the followers of Sikhism.

As per the figures, the share of Sikhs in the country's population has come down from 1.9 per cent in 2001 to 1.7 per cent in 2011. Their total number as per the latest figures was 2.08 crore, the fourth highest among all religions after Hindus, Muslims and Christians. There has also been a constant decline in the decadal growth rate of Sikh population from 24.3 per cent in 1991 to 18.2 per cent in 2001 and now to 8.4 per cent in 2011.

Some of the top leaders of Sikhs have been expressing concern over the decline in their numbers and have been asking the members of the community to have more children. Giani Gurbachan Singh, the jathedar or the head priest of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, had been long advocating that each Sikh family should have at least four children. He is also of the view that part of the reason for the decline of the Sikh population is the "select family planning" indulged in by the members of the community in their quest for a male child.

Demographers and sociologists, however, say that the reason for the falling number of Sikhs in the country could be due to a variety of reasons but most agree that the most important of these is the high rate of migration of Sikhs to foreign lands over the decades. It is no hidden fact that Punjabis, and more specifically Sikhs, have an obsession for foreign lands.

It is also well known that there is hardly any family in the Doaba region of the state from which at least one member has not settled abroad. The rural landscape in the region is dotted with houses constructed by the NRIs which stand out with their Western architectural designs and which are occupied only when the owners visit their homeland during winters. These are generally named after places where they have settled in the Western countries. The overhead water tanks on such houses stand out in the model of aircraft, reflecting the dream of the locals to fly out and settle down abroad. The general trend has been that each immigrant from Punjab also pulls along his other family members and friends to the foreign shores.

Though there is no specific study on the number of Sikh immigrants and NRIs, the numbers may be in millions. The migration started much before the partition but has picked up in the last four decades. While in the past the UK, USA and Canada were the favourite destinations, the trend now is towards European countries, Australia, the Middle East. It is said that Sikhs have settled in virtually all major countries of the world.

Interestingly, while there is migration of Sikhs abroad, there is also a trend of Sikhs migrating to other states in the country. In fact the census figures has an interesting nugget that their number in the four southern states has gone up in the last three decades. On the other hand, there is a significant growth in the number of immigrant workers from other states, particularly Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, to Punjab. The figures show that the percentage of Sikh population has registered a decline from 59.9 per cent 57.69 per cent in Punjab.

Conversion from Sikhism is another factor which is worrying the community leaders. The sharp increase in the number of deras, with several of them having lakhs of followers, is most pronounced in Punjab. One major reason for the proliferation of the deras is the continued discrimination of the Dalits within the Sikhism fold. Although the religion was founded on the principles of equality which professed no discrimination on the basis of caste, the divide continues in the community. Most villages have separate gurudwaras and cremation grounds for the "lower castes" despite the reformist nature of the religion. The majority of the followers of such deras, including the well-known Dera Sacha Sauda, are from these communities. It must be, however, clarified that most deras do not insist on change of religion but the very fact that these people prefer to visit deras, rathar than the gurduwaras, reflect the disillusionment among a section of the society. No wonder, Sikh religious leaders, as also the hardliners, are so opposed to the deras and it has also led to several clashes in the past.

Yet another reason forwarded for the declining rate of the population of Sikhs in the country is that they are relatively prosperous and the major increase in population is among the communities and sections of people belong to economically weaker sections of the society. Sociologists and religious leaders also point to the fact about the growing trend to "show off" among the Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular. The "Punjabi wedding" is, no wonder, famous all over the world for its extravagance and glitter. One reason for the preference for the male child (Sikhs have a sex ratio of 933 females per 1,000 males) is the high expenditure, including dowry, during marriages.

The continuous slide in the number of Sikhs in Punjab can also have a political fallout. Even as the population of Sikhs have declined from 59.9 per cent in the 2001 census to 57.69 per cent in 2011, that of Hindus has gone up from 36.9 per cent in 2001 to 38.49 per cent in 2011. Muslims constitute 1.93 per cent of the population and Christians 1.26 per cent. The Sikh clergy has now decided to convene a meeting to discuss the issue.

Last updated: August 27, 2015 | 18:44
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