Miri or Piri.Reclaiming Punjabi Identity

The Miri(Warrior) or the Piri(Saint), Reclaiming the Punjabi Identity:

Bradistan Calling

The Sikh religion is based on three important pillar The Guru (Teacher), The Garanth(Holy Book) and the Khalsa (Brotherhood of the Pure).It all seems so familiar because of similarity with the religion of Islam. Nowadays one cannot objectively analyse Islam, without provoking Fatwa of One kind or the other. The debate, discussion and Ijtehad (innovation and development) have effectively been killed in the Muslim world. If you make Peaceful Reformation Impossible, you make Bloody Revolution Inevitable.

The Sikh religion started as a Mystic sect in North West India, branching out of the mainstream Hindu religion. The founder Guru Nanak belonged to middle class Hindu trader caste influenced by Persian and Arabic theology of Muslim religion. The Guru saw, the hard-line tribalism and misogyny in Islam and the superstitions and the “faith healers” in Hindu religion, as the root cause of the problems of India. Sikhism was based on love and equality of all human beings. Sikh theology was based on Islamic concept of One Formless Omnipresent God. The Guru Nanak made many pilgrimages to Muslim Holy Cities (Mecca, Medina and Iraq) and Hindu Holy sites. He wrote and sang hymns (Muslim musician Mardana was his fellow traveler) in praise of God (Wahaguru-the Creator and Teacher) before his death. The Gurudwara (the House of Guru-teacher) was a multipurpose place of worship, political gathering and food kitchen for the community. Women were allowed to participate in worship and food preparation and organize themselves in female groups. All these concepts were revolutionary for 17th century India.

The succession of Gurus provided the spiritual and political guidance to an agrarian society in the fertile plains of Punjab. The Muslim culture is characterised by its tribalism and the Hindu religion is based on caste structures. While many poor Muslims and untouchable Hindus found refuge in an egalitarian community, their cultural practices were also incorporated into the Sikh tradition. Mainstream Hindus and Muslims felt threatened by emergence of a new religion in a society with scarce resources and where wealth was measured in Land, Dowry, Trade or Highway-robbery.

Successive Sikh gurus tried to increase the solidarity within the community and root-out the tribal and caste differences. The continuous warfare with the Moughal Empire (Muslim tribal elite) and the Northern Indian Hindu Rajas kept the gurus occupied in the political affairs.

The religious persecution by Muslims fuelled the flames of hatred on both sides. The more moderate Kings and Gurus tried to concentrate on the commonality of the positive aspects of Sufi mystic tradition within Islam and Sikhism. The Holy Book of the Sikhs was composed in the periods of relative peace. Unlike the Muslim Holy Book the Quran, which Muslims believe was revealed to Prophet Mohammed through Angel Gabriel. The Sikh Holy Book contains religious hymns and historical commentaries by Sikh Gurus, Hindu mystics and Muslim Sufi Poets. The multi-religious and multi-cultural aspect of the Holy Word enabled Sikhs to seek mutual respect with Sufi Muslims based on Punjabi culture and traditions.

The periods of civil wars saw more militant teachings and Gurus rising to prominence. The Sikhs were declared Infidels (non-believers) and punishable by death by the hard-line Muslim Muftis (Jurists).Guru Arjun Dev was brutally tortured and killed by an extremist Muslim General. The Gurus declared Muslims as sworn enemies and prohibited inter-faith meals, celebrations or marriages.

The tenth and the Last Human Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Sikh had a family history of suffering under Muslim persecution. He prohibited Hindu caste system based on profession and Land ownership. He declared the Guru Garanth(Holy Book) to be a Teacher of Sikh religion for eternity(like Muslim belief on Finality of Quran).

Guru Gobind declared all Sikhs as part of a Holy Brotherhood of Khalsa (pure) based on Basic principles of faith. The Sikh religion which was based on the concept of Peeri (pastoral, spiritual and egalitarian) was transformed into Meeri (temporal, political and militaristic). The Sikhism which was a religious philosophy and a spiritual lifestyle became a racial group and martial band of Brothers waging war for Faith and Pride.

Since that Baisakhi mela (harvest festival) on 13 April 1699, the balance of power has swung back and forth between the forces of Peeri and Meeri. There were periods of mutual friendship and alliances among Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus against common enemies and foreign invaders. Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his own life and his family in battle with hard-line Moughal King Arungzeb and the extremist Muslim tribes from the northern province of Sarhind.

The fall of Moughal Empire resulted in increasing freedom and power for Sikh warriors and the Northern Provinces of Punjab came under the Sikh kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh expanded the Sikh rule from the border of Afghanistan to the northern Indian territories. Ranjit Singh established Sikh religious, cultural institutions and built architectural heritage by maintaining an uneasy truce with both the British and the Muslim princes from the north.

The Sikh government collapsed after the death of Ranjit Singh due to internal fighting and the Invasion by the expansionist British East India Company. The Sikhs made new alliances with the British in 1857 war of Independence (mutiny), when the Sikh soldiers from Punjab helped to defeat the mutinous Muslim and Hindu soldiers from North India. Massive unemployment in Punjab encouraged the British to recruit Muslims and Sikhs for war effort in the First World War 1914-1918 and this campaign was repeated in the Second World War 1939-1945.

Indian nationalist Sikhs preferred immigration to Canada and America than being conscripted in the “Colonial” army. British Empire responded by imposing racist restrictions on immigration to Canada. The killing of innocent civilians in a political rally in Amritsar in 1919 fueled the anti British sentiment among the Sikhs. The Rebel Party of North American Sikhs and the Indian youth group of Bhagat Singh helped spread the patriotic and socialist ideology among the Sikhs. Bhagat Singh and his group were hanged in Lahore jail for their “Terrorist” activities. Sikhs switched their loyalties to the non-violent Indian National Congress of M.K Gandhi.

Mutual distrust, racial pride and the “soldier mentality”, fostered hatred between the Sikh religious Akali Dal (Party of God) and the Muslim League (which was working for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims). British Empire decided to divide the Indian subcontinent on religious lines, a Muslim majority Pakistan and Hindu majority India. Sikhs felt the betrayal by all the parties because most of their religious holy sites were in the area part of Muslim Pakistan. The blood stained August of 1947 saw tens of millions of refugees, million killed and a hundred thousand raped and burned by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh fanatics.

Sikhs lost their homeland Punjab and became a tiny minority in a Hindu India, this resentment boiled over on the issue of Punjabi language, division of Indian Punjab into three provinces and the attempted reforms in the Sikh charity funding by the secular congress government. Akali Dal tried portraying itself as the defender of Sikh faith. Electoral alliances with the former enemies alienated the youth from the old politicians and a young extremist preacher Saint Jarnail Singh Bhandrawala advocated the doctrine of racial and religious purity, a bit like the Saudi Arabian fanatics under Osama Bin Laden.

Khalistan was a concept of statehood for Sikh Nation based on a militant purity of the temporal power. Indian army attacked the terrorists, who had barricaded themselves in the Golden Temple (the Holiest site) in Amritsar, killing Saint Bhandrawala. Indira Gandhi the Indian Prime Minister was gunned downed by her Sikh bodyguards in a revenge attack. The “secular” Indian Congress unleashed its thugs on innocent Sikh populations in a rage of communal rioting. Pakistan’s Islamist dictatorship helped Sikh Khalistani youth to train in the military style camps for terrorist activities within India.

The policy was reversed after a meeting between the Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi. Allegedly (he denies it) Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan (then Law minister and currently a Civil Rights campaigner) supplied (the Indian government with) the list containing the names of thousands of Khalistani terrorists. Indian government crushed the Sikh rebellion with an “Iron Fist”. The current population of “United” (Indian and Pakistani) Punjab is 54% Muslim, 19% Sikhs, 3% Christians and the rest Hindus and Dalits (low caste untouchables).

In 1990s Sikh political parties started their peaceful re-engagement with Indian state and constitution. Military recruitment was used for cementing the loyalty to Indian nationalism. Punjab is considered the “Bread Basket” of India after a “Green revolution” in agriculture. Jat Sikh farmers are one of the most prosperous agrarian communities in India. Unemployment in the young graduates increases the skilled and the unskilled migration to Europe and North America. Today the youth are more concerned with the Bhangra music, universities, outsourcing and the Silicon Valley visas (of future) than the religious militancy (of yesteryears).

Across the “Berlin Wall” of Punjab, the Muslim Punjabi  youth still suffer  from the religious militancy, puritanical suffocation and tribal orthodoxy which used to be the hallmark of Sikh youth in 1980s.The expulsion of Sikh families from the North Western  Pushtun areas has heightened the ethnic tensions between Pushtuns(Afghan and tribal Pakistani) and Punjabis(Sikh  Indians  and Muslim Pakistanis).Last week the ethnic tensions between Pushtuns  and other ethnic  groups (Indian refugees, Punjabi Christians, Baloch) resulted in rioting in the Pakistani mega-polis of Karachi.

The eminent election of Hindu-Sikh fundamentalist alliance will have an effect on the peace efforts between two Punjabs. What path, will the united Punjabi culture take in a globalised world of migration, media and internet? Will it be Meeri or Peeri, Remains to be seen?

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