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The Scheduled Castes In The Sikh Community


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The social universe of the Sikhs at that time was defined by, what was described as ‘Sanatan Sikh tradition’ – primarily a priestly religion. Giani Pratap Singh, later the Head Priest at the Golden Temple, noted that the Mazhabis were forbidden to enter the Golden Temple for worship; their offering of karah prasad was not accepted and the Sikhs denied them access to public wells and other utilities (Pratap Singh 1933:146-47, 156-57). When a group of Rahtia Sikhs tried to enter the Temple in the summer of the year 1900, “the manager of the sacred establishment, Sardar Jawala Singh, ordered their arrest. The reformist Sikhs who accompanied them were abused and finally beaten up. . . Because one of the defining characteristics of a sacred precinct, in the eyes of the Sanatan Sikhs, was its ritual purity” (cf.Oberoi:1994:107).

Harjot Oberoi cites from an “authoritative manual” – Khalsa Dharam Sastra of 1914 – which laid down that the members of the untouchable groups (like the Mazhabi, Rahtia and Ramdasia Sikhs) did not have the right to go beyond the fourth step in the Golden Temple and the members of the fourfold varnas including Nai, chippe (sic), Jhivar, (sudra sub castes) were instructed not to mix with persons belonging to the untouchable castes. Those who were guilty of breaking caste rules were classified as patit and shunned by civil society”. (ibid.106-107) The organisation of Khalsa Brotherhood was very active in converting the untouchable castes to Sikhism through ritual baptism. The matters came to a head when a group of newly baptised Sikhs from the low castes went to the Golden Temple to make their offering of karah prasad at the beginning of the Gurdwara Reform Movement in 1920. According to Pratap Singh, thousands of enthusiasts, including professors and students of Khalsa College Amritsar, joined in a clash with the Pujaris (Priests) who had refused to accept the offering, forcing the latter to flee. However, it did not seem to bring any noticeable change. Overall the Singh Sabha Movement devoted more attention to bringing more and more numbers of the low castes into the Khalsa Sikh fold and opening of schools and colleges. “Though removal of untouchability was also a part of this movement, but the amount of attention which was paid to the opening of schools and colleges, was not given to this aspect” (Pratap Singh 1933: 145). Thereafter, the engagements relating to the Akali struggle for liberation of Gurdwaras 1920-25, “did not leave the time for removal of untouchability”

singh sabha did some good, which is much overlooked. and not all about the so-called sanantan sikh mat was good.

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Singh Sabha did a lot that was positive. We need to evaluate and continue with these trends and perhaps reconsider others. Giving the Singh Sabha a short shrift as purely negative, as many do today in the name of 'sanatanism' is complete bullshit.

To paraphrase the words of Bruce Lee we need to reject what is useless and absorb was is useful when we consider the movement. Not give it blanket dismissal. No one is saying we can't apply a critical eye to the movement, in fact this is essential to gain advantage from it.

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