How young Sikhs are driven to superstition

Here's a revealing anecdote about irrational notions.

 |  3-minute read |   29-07-2017
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Challenges the young people face in our country aren't really a national concern now. Animals are, unfortunately.

More rapid than ever before, the pace of change has turned them into an anxious lot.

Remember, two-thirds of our population is under the age of 35. Unlike their parents, young Indians are burdened with multiple concerns - education, jobs, personal image, EMIs, social-networking, consumerism and so forth.

If policymakers, overtly or covertly, prioritise non-issues over what they otherwise call a demographic dividend, communities may have to step in to examine how their current generation is faring in its transition.

I just saw an ominous sign looming on the Sikh horizon.

Langar, or community kitchens at gurdwaras, signify humility and equality. Regardless of their caste, faith, economic background or even sexual orientation, anyone can join the service.

Here's a food that breaks down the barriers - barriers of weird beliefs.

But at New Delhi's historical Bangla Sahib gurdwara on Friday evening, I realised not all Sikh youth are as progressive in their thought.

That's how the scene unfolded: A young Sikh man is delivering short sermons to visitors, mostly non-Punjabi Hindus, who are waiting to partake of langar.

He's extraordinarily loud, his imposing style not sitting comfortably well with the overall atmosphere of peace and modesty.

But more disturbing is the subject of his speech. It's all about re-incarnation, miracles, heaven and hell. He's telling bogus stories of so-called salvation and redemption linked to Sikh centres of faith and learning.

langar_072917012535.jpgLangar, or community kitchens at gurdwaras, signify humility and equality.

In short, this young volunteer, in his early 20s maybe, was preaching superstition built on hearsay.

Guru Nanak's world view isn't a world view of magic or miracles. It rests on logic and deeds.

He, and his nine successors, rejected notions of afterlife that either rendered masses servile to the clergy or converted them into extremists.

My brows drew together when I heard this young Sikh's address along the main langar hall of Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.

Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, wrote extensively about futility of pilgrimages.

He admonished the clergy promoting rituals as a gateway to salvation:

"Teerath Jao Ta Hau Hau Kartey;

Pandat Poocho Ta Maya Ratey”

(I could see people high on ego as they travel to pilgrim sites. The clergy too is mired in delusion: Guru Arjan)

Guru Nanak was a fierce critic of duality - ideas of gods and devils, blessings and curses.

He regarded these belief systems as chains and fountainheads of human insecurity.

"Giyan Heenang, Agyan Pooja;

Andh Vartaava, Bhao Dooja”

(People grope in the darkness of duality, worshipping ignorance without wisdom: Guru Nanak)

But when I saw and heard the young Sikh orator on Friday, I wondered if the community has come full circle.

Have we only changed the design of customs that Guru Nanak weaned us away from?

Have we re-adopted the same old substance that's long been blamed for mental servitude?

A well-read gentleman himself, Manjit Singh GK, the president of Delhi's top Sikh religious administration, was receptive enough to my phone call regarding the young Sikh's superstitious speech.

He was immediately counselled.

But certainly that undergraduate represented an entire breed of the 21st-century Sikh youth, who have been deceived through lies by none other than religious elders themselves. Humans, after all, aren't blank slates.

To be fair, GK acted swiftly and in the right direction.

But he cannot exorcise ignorance on his own. The entire community has to raise its intellectual guard before it cripples the new generation.

Let our young people face their fears. Let them rely on reason, the hallmark of Guru Nanak's philosophy, before courage and Sikhs are reduced to synonyms in history books.

Also read: Who are Sikhs: Why they wear turbans


Harmeet Shah Singh Harmeet Shah Singh @harmeetss

The writer is Editor with India Today TV.

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