Why Sikhs can't be exonerated for rise of Ram Rahims in and around Punjab
It's because they brazenly violated their own caste-less doctrine.
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Who all are these followers of Ram Rahim swamping highways and streets of Haryana and Punjab?
Who all are these men, women and children ready to confront the State in case their leader, accused of serious criminal charges, is convicted on Friday?
How could someone who has made a spectacle of himself in his own films and someone who shows up in psychedelic outfits command such a support base?
Well, most of his disciples are Dalits.
But how could this phenomenon then unfold in a region where the Sikh faith, the youngest and the most egalitarian of all modern religions, is born?
For answers to these questions, let me take you back in time - to the genesis of Sikhism.
Rewind to 1699: Guru Gobind Singh gives the "Singh" and "Kaur" titles to the Sikhs, institutionalising Guru Nanak's philosophy of religious, political, economic and gender equality.
This philosophy envisioned a caste-less society, a society that eventually stood up boldly against tyranny as a unified command.
A young Nanak refused to wear janeu, the sacred Hindu thread. He regarded it as a symbol of upper-caste hegemony.
Ram Rahim receiving the Bright Award for 'most versatile personality of the year' from Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis.
"Daya Kapah Santokh Soot Jatt Ganddi Satt Vatt; Ehu Janeu Jia Ka Haee Ta Padey Ghatt," he wrote. This is how the verse roughly translates into English: "Hey Brahmin, I will wear a janeu only if it's made up of compassion, contentment, modesty and truth."
"Na Ehu Tuttey Na Mall Laggey Na Ehu Jalley Na Jaaye; Dhan So Manas Nanka, Jo Gall Chaley Paaye - That's the thread, which is unbreakable, stain-proof, fireproof and permanent. Great are those who wear that on."
The original Sikh doctrine identified caste as a primary source of ignorance, spiritual and social corruption in our civilisation.
Guru Nanak's third successor, Guru Amardas, declared: "Jaat Ka Garab Na Kar Moorakh Gwaara; Iss Garab Te Challeh Bahut Vikara - You ignorant fool, don't brag about your caste because this false pride produces various immoral practices."
Fast-forward to the 21st century. Just Google Singh and Kaur and you'll spot many of them affixing Sandhu, Chawla, Kohli, Gill, Chadha, Cheema, Lubana, Bakshi and so forth as last names.
And then there are countless others who have shunned the common titles of Singh for men and Kaur for women altogether!
Now that's an absurd reality in a faith whose Gurus broke up caste distinctions and transformed age-old servility into a dauntless order of the Khalsa in less than three centuries.
Worse, many members of the modern Sikh community have named their local gurdwaras after castes and regions of Punjab.
Gurdwara Ramgarhia, Gurdwara Lubana (there's one in New York by that nomenclature, by the way), Gurdwara Bhaat Biradari. The list is long. In Punjab, the heartland of the Sikh religion, close to 30 percent of the population is Dalit, the highest in any Indian state.
Jat Sikhs are a predominant force in Punjab's polity and culture.
Remember, Parkash Singh Badal and his son govern the top Sikh religious administration, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and its Delhi counterpart, via their party loyalists.
The Badals are Jats and so is the present chief minister, Amarinder Singh.
Most of his disciples are Dalits.
A handful of under-represented individuals have undoubtedly been cherrypicked for some key roles but the Jat leadership hasn't really let go of the reins of Punjab's politics and religion.
But an incisive look at the social positioning of the region's Dalits reveals they are treated disparagingly by many in the mainstream majority.
Seven years ago, a rare event unfolded in Punjab when low-caste followers of a 14th-century spiritual figure, Ravidass, declared their own distinct religion. In 2010, they announced their holy scriptures, a flag and a greeting.
The Dalits came together as a faith for the first time as far back as 1925. Six years later, more than 4.5 lakh of them registered themselves as members of what they called Ad Dharam in the 1931 census.
Caste fault lines have long been visible in Punjabi society stretching up to Delhi to as far as North America.
The rise of Deras or self-styled monasteries led by leaders as wacky as Ram Rahim was, therefore, no coincidence.
They tapped into Dalit alienation propelled by the paradox of caste in the Sikh faith.
The phenomenon is not limited to one Ram Rahim. It's unstoppable till the Sikhs introspect.
Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains no third classification of a Sikh other than Sikh or Gursikh. But the Sikh community has unfortunately recreated so many of them.
And that's the irony behind the proliferation of Ram Rahims. Let's step back and think.