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Raise Your Voice Against The Curse Of Casteism In The Sikhs


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Building Begampura: Confronting Caste

June 14, 2012by Jodha Source: thelangarhall.com

Caste is one of those dark secrets in our community. Some defend it as “culture”, others downplay its discriminatory effects, and some go even as far as to blame the victims of the violence itself.

Many have documented the ongoing apartheid that exists in our villages and in our minds

Some scholars have recently looked at the issue in light of the commitment to equality bequeathed by our Gurus, but the continued existence of discriminatory practices by many Sikhs. Professor Natasha Behl sheds some light on this topic in her dissertation, titled “The Politics of Equality: Caste and Gender Paradoxes in the Sikh Community.” She began her research asking the simple questions: How do ordinary Sikhs maintain a belief in equality while also participating in caste- and gender-based discrimination? How do Scheduled Caste Sikhs and Sikh women take political action in a community that engages in discrimination, yet denies its very existence?

For those that were still not convinced by the video that this practice is actually common in most pind Gurdwaras, scholars have written on the subject extensively. Surinder Singh Jodhka has written that those Sikhs that have been “historically-discriminated” are not generally stopped by “privileged” Sikhs, but they are “not treated at par with their counterparts from the upper castes.” He has cited numerous examples of Dalit Sikh children that are only asked to enter the langar after everyone has finished eating, sit in separate lines [the point of pangat being negated here!!], and not allowed to cook and serve Langar. According to Jodhka, in a village in Gurdaspur district, the devout Mazhbi Sikhs would regularly visit the village gurdwara, but “they could never sit along with the upper caste jats, [and] rarely would they be encouraged to distribute langar or parshad.’

In Behl’s interviews, she remarked how this insidious discrimination has an effect on those that it oppresses. One man, Fauja Singh, a ”historically-discriminated” Sikh stated:

blue.jpgWe don’t have funds, and therefore we remain back; we don’t take the lead. The higher caste stays ahead because they have funds; they say, “We built the gate for the gurdwara, we had the gurdwara painted, and we had the doors installed.” They have more property, and therefore they stay at the top, they stay ahead at the gurdwara. Those of us who are poor, we live within our means, and if we go too forward then. Actually, let’s just talk about me. If I try to make myself visible in the gurdwara, if I try to take the lead, then some people within the gurdwara will try to uproot me and they will say to me – not directly, but indirectly, in their casual language — that I should remain within my limits; that I should do this, not that; I should act this way, not that way. And I understand this. I don’t want anyone talking negatively about me, so I stay within my limits.

One of the responses to coming face-to-face with this discrimination in our community, Behl writes is to create ‘distance.’ I’ll return to her analysis in just a moment. One of the ways that us pardesi Sikhs react when faced by the fact of caste discrimination is the same – we “distance” the issue by believing it only happens in Punjab. It does not!

Harmeet Kaur of Columbia University, in her recent thesis titled “Politics of Discrimination: Study of Caste against Ravidasi Sikhs in the Diaspora” has done work in the United States – specifically in the Richmond Hills area of Queens in New York and finds that discrimination still continues. She documents experiences of attendees of the Sri Ravidas Temple and notes discrimination they experience religiously, in social relations – especially in marriage and other interactions, as well as in employment.

A friend that is one of the organizer’s of an upcoming conference on the subject – Lalkaar 2012 – Building Begampura: Confronting Caste recently spent time with the sangat at the Sri Ravidas Temple in Roseville, CA and explained a predominant sentiment amongst the community that they shared to him:

“WE preach equality, but as soon as Guru Granth Sahib Ji is out of sight, WE begin discriminating. Everybody that believes in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji should be considered to be the same.”

This experience of employment discrimination by “privileged” Sikhs has been documented in the UK as well.

Despite the Gurus encouraging inter-caste marriage and creating institutions that were meant to unite the community, we have now created even caste-based Gurdwaras that will only serve to separate and impede dialogue for future generations. Nothing could be more antithetical!

So how do we respond to this? Behl, during her research, unfortunately found most Sikhs will react in one of 3 ways to continue talking about equality, but also continuing to discriminate in their daily practices:

  • Distancing – they distance themselves from discriminatory actions by shifting responsibility onto others
  • Narrowing – they obscure specific types of discrimination through the use of a narrow definition of equality, thus rendering specific discriminatory acts harmless.
  • Shifting Blame – A majority of the respondents explain the structural position of Scheduled Caste Sikhs and Sikh women through a series of ontological narratives that minimize their own participation in discriminatory practices by shifting focus to Scheduled Caste Sikhs’ and Sikh women’s behavior, state policies, and degrees of religious observance.

Silence DOES NOT make the problem go away, The Singh Sabha fearlessly took on the subject. Unfortunately many of us only also distance, narrow, shift blame, or justify based on “tradition,” “culture”, or whatever buzzword we use to be complicit.

The Jakara Movement in their annual Lalkaar conference is again focusing on this issue. They had first touched on the subject in 2007 and their video at the time helped spark an interesting conversation, on the now-closed Sepia Mutiny blog.

I strongly urge many of our readers to attend the conference. It will be held at UC Davis, from June 21-24, 2012. Registration closes THIS WEDNESDAY (6/13). Visit www.lalkaar.org for more information. Let us no longer be silent; let us begin the process of “building Begampura” as envisioned in the Guru Granth Sahib.

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I oppose any sort of apartheid treatment between the castes.

However I do feel there shouldn't be intermarriage between the castes.

I just feel we have to have a certain respect and continuation of our unique lineages, that is all.

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Disgusting stuff.

And you disgust me as well Borat. Thankfully in the West as more and more people are being born outside of India, this problem is beginning to go away. But tackling this problem in Punjab will be very difficult. Eventually it comes down to changing the mindset of the youth.

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@ Singher23

Get off your highhorse. What makes you think I wouldn't befriend someone because of what caste they come from?

What is wrong with jatts continuing to be jatts? Is it a crime now to want to preserve your own people?

The term preservation is mostly used for endangered, vulnerable and threatened species. So what are you

wanting and trying to preserve?

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Borat Jee, it is a shame if you believe in the sham of casteism. Our Aatma has no caste or race. How many janams were you a Jat, Chamar, Churha, Brahmin, Habshi or Tarkhan you may not even realize yet you are identifying with the false notion of caste. To identify with one's caste means you are identifying with your body. But YOU are not your body. YOU are your aatma and Aatma has no caste affiliation. The aatma changes bodies as our bodies changes cloths. Once a person realizes this truth caste identification seems very superficial and frankly stupid.

Besides, this caste system has done much damage to our Qaum. It is holding us back. In fact it has stunted our growth as a religion. We need to discard this system as soon as possible.

Thank you for the eloquent reply. However if we believe in dharma then clearly we are in the postion we are at because of the deeds of our past lives. Our religion is growing at a good pace, perhaps it could grow a bit quicker but it's not the most endangered religion. I think of this less about caste than about genetics. There is no "Indian" race, there is about 3 different races in India with different tradtions and customs. Sikhs are in fact considered an ethnoreligious group, because the overwhelming number of Sikhs are Punjabi Indo-Aryans.

The term preservation is mostly used for endangered, vulnerable and threatened species. So what are you

wanting and trying to preserve?

Preserve does not mean endangered. I use the word, perserve, the same way you would preserve a garden. It simply means to maintain something.

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Borat veer ji, you break heart...if you would like to maintain the tradition of your caste you have all the right in the world to to so. If you choose to do this, you have just stuck your middle finger up at your supposed sikh guru.

I cant be mad at you though, i used to be attached to my caste. When that inner love for your gurus and akal purakh, hits you (one day). You will see the caste system is just as bad as the mogul empire was.

Im now going to do a mool mantar for you

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Thank you for the eloquent reply. However if we believe in dharma then clearly we are in the postion we are at because of the deeds of our past lives. Our religion is growing at a good pace, perhaps it could grow a bit quicker but it's not the most endangered religion. I think of this less about caste than about genetics. There is no "Indian" race, there is about 3 different races in India with different tradtions and customs. Sikhs are in fact considered an ethnoreligious group, because the overwhelming number of Sikhs are Punjabi Indo-Aryans.

Preserve does not mean endangered. I use the word, perserve, the same way you would preserve a garden. It simply means to maintain something.

Borat Jee, would you think of yourself any less if you knew that in previous Janams you were not of your present Janam's caste? what if you just found out you were a dravidian from south India or a Habshi would it not destroy your notion of taking pride in your present caste? some times when one takes so much pride of caste, you might very well reincarnate into another caste just as Vaheguru's way for you to teach you lesson of taking pride in your present Janam's caste.

This world is just a dream. It is unreal. To take pride in worldly castes, race is like taking pride in illusion. It means abolutely nothing when you die and the veil of this illusion is lifted. You have done some very good Karma in your past lives because of which you were blessed with Sikhi. That is the only thing you have to be proud of. Now use this Janam for what really matters instead of taking pride in worldly caste(pure illusion).

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