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"The Coming Renaissance"

by Maj General Himmat Singh Gill (Retd).

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This page was last updated on February 27 2001.

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One can be entirely confident that the 300th year of the birth of the Khalsa very clearly heralds the coming renaissance of the Panth. It has been my hope that some better known scribe would have taken up this subject and examined in unbiased manner the situation of a community that has seen better times and suggest a future path to follow, but since such mighty pens have remained silent (except for the occasional wrap on the knuckles for the peasantry-based Akali Dal and its leadership) it would be my endeavour to reach out to my co-religionists and other countrymen.

This is not the occasion to ruminate on what was, or what was not, promised to the Sikhs by the British when they were departing in 1947. That can be debated another time. Today one is much more concerned with the senseless and disastrous era of the '80s and '90s, owing its parentage to the catalytic mind set of a national leader for whom keeping her party in power was more important than the unity and well being of the nation's sword arm and granary.

The Sikhs have been at the receiving end for nearly two decades. This started off covertly at first after the ignominious "Operation Bluestar". And then overtly as in the pogrom against the Sikhs in Delhi and beyond. Overnight, we were suddenly a beleaguered community.

Many of us, without suspecting it, were on our way out, gradually but surely, from positions of trust and power into the wilderness. We felt suffocated, angry and rebellious, but could say little and do even less. We lacked the platform and the print media as an instrument of communication with which we could have made ourselves heard. Our feelings were put into deep freeze, as it were, while the rest of the country conveniently forgot about the Sikhs.

Yes, we are a proud people and the miracle of our birth will always be with us. From that crucible of creation we have evolved into one of the world's most dynamic of communities.

It is now considered "unfashionable" to refer to the concept of martial and the non-martial classes but just ask the officers and jawans in the front lines; yes, these things do matter. The Sikhs have contributed greatly in safeguarding the sovereignty of our country, and so they expect, at the very least, that their sons should be able to serve in the Armed Forces in reasonable numbers. But alas, today even this is being made difficult.

From the days of the baar or the Canal colonies, the Punjab has been broken down into small, uneconomical and fragmented holdings of land, thanks to Nehruvian socialism. Thus having been squeezed out from agriculture and the Army, in sheer frustration or hunger, many of our young men took to foreign lands or country liquor. An obvious political and economic issue began to be dubbed as first, secessionist and then a simple law and order problem. The State, with the full might of its security forces, which included the Army, began the task of "cleansing" and "sanitizing" the countryside of Punjab. Gallantry awards were bestowed on many for "flushing out the terrorists" as the term frequently used, much to the relief of everyone in the country. Except, of course, for the Sikhs who were being cornered into their "deserted villages", to borrow a term from Goldsmith.

Thus should we believe that the Sikhs are being much sinned against rather than sinning? Certainly not! Let's face it, if the majority perceive flaws in our personality and certain actions, then it is wise to identify these and take remedial measures. We must remove the misgivings of others towards us. And this is perhaps where we have failed. Excessive adrenalin often propels us towards precipitious action rather than some self-instrospection.

So, how do we get about this? Firstly, we must banish our never-ending power struggles within various groups and splinter groups, and forge one Akali Dal as there is one SGPC, but while remaining within the parent body and not outside it. The time for mutual accommodation, amalgamation of all factions and a single undisputed political leadership has come.

Secondly, we must be clear as to who can join the Sikh religion and what is to be its composition. The answer is that everyone is welcome to the fold! Those who wish to, should be graciously brought in irrespective of the SGPC elections. Only the weak and the unsteady fear an ingress to their ranks. If we are any good, there will be no dilution of our culture or ethos. Let the leaders we choose be elected only for their selflessness, clean image and the ability to lead us into the twenty first century inspire like Moses did in the desert!

This leads to the next pertinent issue, that of the identity of a Sikh. To us, the external symbols are as important as the internal dynamics of the religion we practice. Only the Sikhs are enjoined to wear the turban as an integral part of themselves. Its appearance proudly marks one out in any part of the world and happily, even in the West today its wearer claims recognition as belonging to a distinctive race. Unfortunately, "convenience" has also brought in the influx of patkas or mini turbans, golf caps and even Strata hats, much to one's regret. This is an unwelcome trend that the Sikhs themselves urgently need to arrest. And as for those who have shorn their hair, here is something to ponder over: this is not the way we were meant to look when we were founded and so do not waste your time explaining who you are, when they call you anything but a Sikh. It is not to say that you have less love and devotion for Sikhism or are less religious than the majorihv who keep their kesh. But the point made is that, at some stage in life, propriety must supersede convenience. We must understand our religion and all that it stands for an ongoing education in our history and culture would inject a sense of distinctiveness and camaraderie within us. A knowledgeable and religious Sikh is a better Indian too or for that matter, a good citizen wherever he lives.

Our anger at what has happened to us in the last decade and more, should now be directed towards positive activity for the good of the community. We have to do many things urgently "harness" women power within the Sikhs, bring in more education to our villages, see that the gurdwara and other elections are held regularly (and fairly) and on time for the emergence of new incumbents, inculcate selfdiscipline within the young and the old and elect as our representatives in the State Assemblies and the Lok Sabha, only those who are capable of speaking up for their people and their legitimate rights: the issues of Chandigarh, river waters, territorial boundary adjustments, punishment of those who instigated the mass killings of 1984 and other sores will eventually stand resolved once the right people enter the State Assemblies and Parliament. And while we are at it, let us create more technical institutes and medical colleges, plus preparatory academies for the armed and paramilitary forces, so that our youth are assured of employment in this highly competitive world.

On a very personal note, and about which only a Sikh can write, we do need to spend a little extra time on various nuances. For one, let us on holidays (as do the Christians), turn out in our "Sunday best", in neatly tied turbans (not parkas) and colourful salwar kameezes, then visit the nearest gurdwara. There is little point in fighting yudhs for our gurdwaras and then not going there!

Then the matter of our titles: our first names are meant to follow with the suffix "Singh", and unless we are not proud of being called that, we should not ourselves, nor let anyone else, let this be reduced to a single "S" I am aware that some will term these suggestions as petty, some might even call them communal, but the fact remains that it is only the Sikhs in this big wide world, who have to maintain and preserve a distinctive identity and the emerging trends enumerated earlier, do certainly negate against that.

On the economic front, something has very seriously gone wrong in the handling of our rural economies and our political masters and administrators are certainly to blame for this. It is time for those who wear blue or white turbans in the Punjab or elsewhere, to now forget their differences and petty quarrels and honour the legacy of their ancestors by keeping the fields that they left behind still green and productive.

A virile, outgoing, educated and hard working community like ours is the nation's shaan, its strength, and calls for its just share of the national cake and expects the removal of road blocks in their legitimate pursuit of professional activity. Such a national match must be plaved on level playing fields. For too long have Sikh civil servants been missing out on Cabinet Secretaryships or for instance, the office of the Foreign Secretary, when other "minorities" have filled such posts. It should certainly be a cause for concern that even till today, 50 long years after Indian independence, not one Sikh officer has been found competent to command the Indian Army, a force that we have so faithfully and professionally served.

As far as religion is concerned, well, that is one's personal matter, and in any case, we bother no one. Certainly, the Sikhs have to shed the pseudo-intellectuals the sycophants, the greedy opportunists who masquerade as leaders and instead place as heads those men - and women - of vision, with world views, grasp and understanding, those who will not be corrupted bv position nor money. There are so very many from whom to choose.

There is now the exciting new dimension of the "overseas Sikhs": no less than ten per cent of the community today permanently reside outside India. The custodians of our temporal and spiritual order must give them the importance due and fully involve them in their diaspora for the synergised strength and well-being of the community.

Let us translate the Guru Granth Sahib into as manv foreign languages as practical, let us train and send forth well-versed parcharaks and granthis, publish wide-ranging literature on our culture and heritage, establish reading rooms or libraries to enhance knowledge in every town and village, identity ourselves in our resplendent form, and behave like the true Khalsa that Guru Gobind Singh had created in his own image.

As the Khalsa moves into the next century and with the world, into the new millennium, we stand at the crossroads of destiny. A glorious renaissance beckons us: let us together help make it so!
Major General Himmat Singh Gill (Retd)

After a distinguished military career, the author has taken to prolific writing, with continuing Contributions to newspapers and a number of novels published. A former diplomat, a seasoned defence analyst and a keen surveyor of the politico-religious field in and around India, General Himmat Singh Gill has written extensively about the future of the Sikh community to which he belongs.

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