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How did caste system came back in Sikhism????


nogroup singh
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Just an passage from a book that I thought was interesting.

(Sikhs in the Eighteenth Century: Their Struggle for Survival and Supremacy by Surjit Singh Gandhi)

"During the period from the death of Guru Gobind Singh upto the last few decades (of the 1700s), there is not even a single example of a caste group asserting itself against another caste groups constituting Sikh society. The utterances and policies of Sikh leadership in the aforesaid period all point to the irrefutable conclusion that everything was decided by the Panth and for the Panth. The contribution of the Rangrettas or so-called low-caste people is as great as that of Jatts or Khastris or anyone else. If Kapur Singh and Jassa Singh were given the honor of becoming the leaders of the Sikhs, it was because they were true Khalsa committed to the Khalsa ideals. Had the caste-spirit existed in some substantial measure, it would have been exploited by the Mohammedan Government as well as by Ahmad Shah Abdali and his clever Wazir Shah Khan.

"Then certain factors operated in such a way that caste-spirit began to manifest itself...The vetern Sikhs disciplined by Guru Gobind Singh himself had been martyred and their descendants forced to remain in exile with that result the congregation began to drift back to the old customs and beliefs. Those who came from the low castes began to be distinguished from those who came from the so-called high castes. The Sikhs could keep away caste-system only from the Misls whose membership was open to all and whose patronage was shared equally by all...The Sardars at the head of different Misls began to act as sovereigns. Now came the question of selection or appointment of their councillors and officials. They were also stalked with ambition of becoming all-powerful and absolutely independent of one another. That being the state of their minds, there arose mutual squabble among them. As a consequence, every Sardar began to resort to unfair means to have this end.

"Accordingly, they appealed to the regional or tribal sentiments. The Sikh mission, having gone weak and slack, could not arrest this trend with the result that caste considerations received strength...When the Sardars began to look more towards their selfish gain, the caste consideration among the Jats also began to emerge on the scene side by side with the Sikh spirit. Since the majority of the Misl Sardars and their followers happened to be Jats, the power and prestige which the Misls acquired, where shared by them with the result that they began to take pride in their caste.

"According to Ethne K Marenco, the emergence of caste and the caste considerations were clearly observed by the British observers of the late 18th century. The following excerpt from William Franklin's book Military Memoirs of Mr. George Thomas is an eloquent testimony to the veracity of the aforesaid thesis:

"The Sieks allow foreigners of every description to join their standard, to sit in their company and to share their bread but excepting in the instance of the Jats, they will not consent to inter-marriges, nor will they eat or drink from the hands of an alien except he be a Brahmin and for this caste they will profess the highest veneration."

"The mind of the Sikhs instead of making the degree of Sikhism the basis for social status began to work along the age-long grooves of the caste system. The emergence of castes and caste considerations among Sikhs was certainly an act of black-sliding and contrary to the social structure as perceived by the Sikh Gurus and embodied in their teachings. It is really a pity that the Sikh society of the 18th century could not realize the ideal of evolving into a coalesced single-class society."-

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I tink its cos of da indian culture and u kno dat der r more indians like me being Sikh. I tink dats y most sikhs believe in caste system cos of da hindu influense, but i don't belive in da caste system but my parents do. I tink white & black sikhs will help us try 2 get us 2 a casteless society much later on, i tink since 9/11 (even though its not started by us) i feel dat us sikh peeps r startering 2 wake up, i feel were going starting 2 break da system a little and i fell a feeling of unity starting.

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It was set up during the english Raj in india to divide the sikhs and break them up cus we were the only threat at the time... so its the gorray again :? ppl need to drop this caste business gets me well angry but trying to control that lol. but it needs to start with the older genaration the parents ...

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  • 10 years later...

It's all well and good criticising people of the past but it's not like modern Sikhs have overcome any of the previous problems that the Sikhs of the 18th century had dealt with. At least they went up to Peshawar, Multan, Ladakh etc, our modern lot cant even hold on to EP.

I would like to ask the author and any other Sikh what kind of perfect society would Sikhs like to live in? The author seems to insist that money obsessed rich Jatts created an unegalitarian society. Which is true to some extent. But what was the alternative? Communism? The truth is there should have been greater sharing of resources and wealth but with the increase in Sikh numbers there was always going to be some inequality.

Which brings me onto another thing that Sikh historians dont seem to like to talk about - freeloaders. In the times of the Guru Gobind Singh Ji it was easy to act or to proclaim things that would show your faith but if you refused to fight or refused to do your duty there was no point claiming you were holier than Swiss cheese as everyone in your community would know. As the 18th and 19th century came along and Sikhs won over the Mughals and Afghans, anyone could claim to be SIkh. Where as the Sarbat Khalsa was usually so good at choosing leaders/organisation/roles etc, as more more people joined the faith and the ability to weed out the idiots waned it turned into an Idiocracy.

This can be seen by what happened after Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death. The hoi polloi held the aristocracy hostage and pretended it was to uphold the egalitarian values of the Khalsa. In reality it was just to squeeze more money out of the Government. Everyone likes to slag off the Dogras. But did you know they were elected by the Khalsa to lead them into the First Anglo Sikh War? All those Sikh men, young and old, Jatt and non-Jatt, decided that the Dogras would lead them. They sat by whilst the traitorous converts murdered royals, exiled heroes and lined their own pockets. All the while proclaiming how religous they were, how much they loved the average person and how great the future would be after the British had been defeated. It's a bit rich to complain about an aristocracy when you cant even have a proper revolution and replace it with a better system - and to then go on and lose everything.

If you want a bit more insight into the relationships of the classes of the Khalsa Raj, look at the letters British officers and spies wrote around that time period. There is one which talked about how melancholy Sikh officers in Lahore looked, just like their counterparts in Paris. Which isnt surprising as both countries had armies with strong republican tendencies as well as being countries in turmoil which led to the Second Republic for the French and annexation for the Punjabis. The English and Prussians never had to deal with that so it's no wonder the latter made a habit of kicking in the French Army when they got the opportunity. Another book I read by a British officer talked about his discussion with old Sikh soldiers who were now employed by Britain. They said to him that the British won because their officers fought and died alongside the men where as their Sikh officers would tell them to go off and fight but wouldnt care what happened. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but it is telling of some battalions/regiments. How many times have you heard fundo Sikhs come up with deluded ideas on the real world and bizarre theories that they are not so keen to actually go out and practice? For SIkh officers, with the constant threat of riots and average soldiers shooting them for the sake of 'equality', it's no wonder they didnt want to lead them into battle. If they were so equal and knowledgeable shouldnt the average Jogs be able to do it themselves?

After the war did the Sikh plebs turn around and say to the aristocrats 'look we've both messed up, let's work together to rebuild ourselves,' like so many other races have done after catastrophic wars? Like hell they did. They jumped into bed with the goreh and never looked back. Did the Jimmy Saviles give you children the equality you always wanted lol? Sikhs went and fought in places they had no issue with, against people they had no quarrel with all in the hope of some grand prize. But we even managed to mess that up by letting Master Tara SIngh (what caste was he again?) lead us into the worst case scenario. Another convert with his own ideas of a perfect future leading us into oblivion which suits the people of their old background. Beginning to see a bit of a pattern here. Well done Khalsa.

When will this race to the bottom end? Who knows. But with the Ravidassias in Brum battering one another in their temples over money and 3HO doing the whole 'Bhai Can You Spare A Dime?' routine all the time, I dont think this is a caste issue anymore.

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Do you see any realistic thread/platform along which to unite Sikhs in the current scenario? Globally or even on a solely UK tip?

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The hoi polloi held the aristocracy hostage and pretended it was to uphold the egalitarian values of the Khalsa. In reality it was just to squeeze more money out of the Government.

Is there a place for aristocracy in a Sikh society?

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  • 1 month later...

Basically means with a strong leader it'll go away again.

It needs more than that!

It needs a majority in the rank and file of Sikh society rejecting it and influencing the panth that way. The most realistic prospect is grassroots upwards.

Right now, those 'leaders' in the SGPC, Akali Dal are about as casteist as you can get. This ain't about to change anytime soon.

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Nawab Kapoor Jassa Singh Ahluwalia kept it in check. Badal and them aren't leaders. Grassroots fails that's why sikhi didn't come up by itself. Cast was erased from Punjab and other regions through leadership. Same will be now, sant ji men didn't have caste

Look at the pattern. We have progress based on personalities. Which then regresses once these personalities physically pass away.

That's why we can't rely on this anymore. Enough momentum and understanding has taken root because of people like you mentioned; now we have to go that extra mile and make the principle of equality become a ideological one that exists within the consciousness of the majority of Sikhs rather than something that continually needs addressing by leaders.

Whether you have the balls to admit it or not, Badal and co. are de facto leaders of Panjab now and have been for a while (look up 'de facto' if you aren't familiar with the phrase). They also have a hegemony on THE top Sikh institutes.

Sure, leaders can play a role but like you've alluded too, once those leaders die, we go back square one after a while. That's why relying solely on them is setting ourselves up for failure - time and past experiences have proven this to be a truth - face it.

What we need is a grass roots change of consciousness amongst the Sikh masses. If you've already accepted that caste is unacceptable and refuse to conform to it; you're already playing a part in the change. Just don't ever slip back and accept people's lame excuses for it and challenge it whenever you see it manifest.

And don't try and blame outsiders for it: like Brahmins or the British. Sure, the latter played a big part in jumping up the peasantry for their own economic and imperial agenda during colonialism, but today, trying to play down the role of our own people in perpetuating this nonsense is inexcusable. If we take responsibility for the state of our society, when then empower ourselves to make positive changes.

Edited by dalsingh101
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"During the period from the death of Guru Gobind Singh upto the last few decades (of the 1700s), there is not even a single example of a caste group asserting itself against another caste groups constituting Sikh society. "

A couple years back I would have missed something left in that very first sentence which is, although in that time caste based discrimination didn't seem to occur the basis of caste identities didn't entirely disappear and it seems most old sources of Sikhi which talk about figures tend not to skip out on the caste label of a person. We find dasam granth lists out the caste system clearly and it seems the nature of the gurgaddi of the sodhi family was predestined in accordance to bachitarr natak, where by the descedents of ram chanders children lava and kusha interchanged spirtual-royalty between the bedis and sodhi families which are claimed descendents of ram chander. We find the origins of castes of most figures in gurbani when we are taught to be tolerant and dismissive of caste based discrimination.

Some of the greater found problems based in the 10th Guru's time came out for rejecting the hill chiefs demand of caste supremacy had the pahara raja been given superior status in sikh sangat it is possible much of the wars following aurangzeb could have been avoided but the message and teachings of guru nanak would have been corrupted.

It seems the grander feel of the "other" amongst Sikhs really came about after Mir Mannu's time. A nice example of the other feel was shortly after buddha dal and tarna dal were divided. As well as the divisions of the nirmalas prior to that. Which led to the 12 misl division. I think one think preventing the caste system from dismantling is how caste-unity is used as a slogan for collecting people of many castes for a particular agenda such as voting for badal, but the guy up front talking about brotherhood sees themselves as superior and wish to use the unity slogan as a way of coercing votes or forwarding people for an ideology or agenda.

The only way to end the caste system is the same way racism is ended which is by a mutual finding of intermarriage and before that takes place a grand load of education. It's likely the caste system may end in about 4 generations after ourselves. In relation to the original question the caste system didn't come back to Sikhism, Sikhs reinvented it in their own way and used it for their own agendas.

Edited by JatherdarSahib
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