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In this corner of Punjab, the latest sardars come from Bihar

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In this corner of Punjab, the latest sardars come from Bihar


To be ‘like everyone else,’ Bihar migrants convert to Sikhism in Jalandhar villages

ANJU AGNIHOTRI CHABA Posted online: Sunday, April 03, 2005 at 0205 hours IST

TALHAN (JALANDHAR) I APRIL 2: A straggly beard sprouting from the chin, yellow saafa on the head and a kirpan slung across, Vijay Singh looks every bit a devout Sikh as he greets you with a booming ‘‘Sat Sri Akal.’’

He is from Kangnaghat in Bihar and he is a new convert—one of the scores of Biharis who have converted to Sikhism in the cash-rich NRI belt of Doaba. It’s not just about faith but also about economics—and respect, they say.

Thirteen years ago, when Vijay came to Jalandhar as a farm labourer, his only aim was to earn enough to feed his family back in Bihar. Today, sitting in his modest house built on 350 sq yards that he’s bought, he says how he started visiting the Talhan gurdwara in his lonely evenings. ‘‘I can’t put it into words.. sab kuch apna lagne laga,’’ says Vijay who speaks fluent Punjabi.

But the thought of conversion had never occurred to him until one day in the summer of 2003 when during a dispute over Talhan gurdwara, he found himself being turned out of the langar hall by policemen who called him an outsider.

‘‘I was shocked, for the village community and the priest used to treat me and my family as their own.’’ Fifteen days later, Vijay went to Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khalsa, with his wife and three sons, and got baptised.

He admits the news did take his relatives back home by surprise, but his father was a big support. ‘‘When I returned to my village, he told me how Guru Gobind Singh, the founder of Sikhism, was also born at Patna, and it was OK.’’

At Talhan and its surrounding villages like Giljian, Jamsher, Randhawa Masanda, Bolina, Nagal Shama, etc, there are a number of ‘Bihari’ Sikhs. In Talhan alone, there are a number of ‘Bihari’ Sikhs. In Talhan alone, there are at least 10 newly converted families.

Bibi Jagir Kaur, president of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), when contacted, said these conversions are purely voluntary. ‘‘Not in a single case have the gurdwara authorities tried to influence these people. But I am glad more and more are gravitating towards the teachings of the gurus.’’

Ajay, now Ajay Singh, from Bihar, agrees. ‘‘I was never told by the people at the gurdwara to change my religion though I used to hang around a lot with them. I did it because I wanted to be like everyone here.’’ Though clean-shaven Sikhs are quite the norm in Doaba, the hub of non-resident Indians, these workers seem to prefer the turban.

Take Mangal Singh Dhillon, earlier Mangal Sahu, of Giljian village. Hailing from a village near Patna, he’s grown his hair and ties a turban, without getting baptised. ‘‘So what,’’ he asks you. ‘‘I’ve been looking after the land and property of an NRI Sikh family in this village for almost two decades now. I feel I have also become a sardar.’’ The turban has brought Rajinder Singh the respect he’d always craved. ‘‘I used to hate it when people called me a bhaiya,’’ he frowns, telling you how he is more at peace with his ‘Sardarji’ status. Vijay agrees. ‘‘Pehle lok sanu Bihari Bhaiya kehnde see par hun sanu Giani ji te Khalsa Ji kehnde ne (Earlier people used to call us Bihari Bhiaya but now they call us Giani Ji or Khalsa Ji’’).

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