This weekend the Sikhs will be celebrating the 351st birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.
The tenth master of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh was born in Patna, Bihar in 1666. His father Teg Bahadar was the ninth Guru of the Sikh religion that was founded by Guru Nanak to challenge the caste based oppression in Hinduism, ritualism and blind faith besides, the tyranny of the Mughal Empire.
All ten Gurus taught their followers the principles of equality and justice and encouraged them to raise their voice against repression.
Guru Teg Bahadar was executed in 1675 when his son born as Gobind Rai was only nine. Guru Teg Bahadar had laid down his life in defence of the Hindus who were being forced to embrace Islam.
Young Gobind Rai followed him as the next Guru and established the Khalsa – a force of dedicated Sikh warriors who were expected to keep unshorn hair and be ready to fight against injustice. He raised his army from among the oppressed caste groups who were never allowed to keep weapons or worship by the Hindu priests and rulers. The idea was to not only end caste barriers once and for all, but also to empower those considered as weak and untouchables. From then onwards the Khalsa was directed to use Singh that means lion as a common last name and shun using casteist surnames. Gobind Rai himself came to be known as Guru Gobind Singh with the foundation of the Khalsa in 1699.
This had enraged the caste bigots who saw the Khalsa as direct threat to their supremacy. They started instigated the Mughal Empire against him as a result of which Guru Gobind Singh had to fight both against the Hindu kings and the Mughal rulers. He had to face many hardships because of this. Two of his sons Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh died in the battlefield, while two of his young sons Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh were bricked alive after being arrested.
Since Guru Gobind Singh’s fight wasn’t against Islam, many Muslims helped him in his struggle against state violence, while many Hindus sided with the Mughal Empire and one of them had deceived his younger sons and his mother Mata Gujri and got them arrested. Mata Gujri died in prison after hearing about the execution of her younger grandsons. After all, the Sikh Gurus had a big following in both the communities. While in Bihar, young Gobind Rai was admired by the Hindus and Sikhs alike. In fact, some Muslims helped Guru Gobind Singh in his escape from the dragnet of the Mughal soldiers who wanted to capture him alive.
Whereas, Guru Gobind Singh’s tumultuous life remained full of difficulties, he had devoted peaceful moments to compile literature and more importantly the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs that contain hymns of both Hindu and Muslim saints. Some of the saints whose verses were included in the Granth Sahib were treated as untouchables by the Hindu clergy.
He had spent final years of his life in Maharashtra where he discovered a guerrilla fighter Banda Singh Bahadar who was sent to Punjab to reorganize Sikhs and fulfill the uncompleted mission of the Guru. Banda Singh Bahadar established a Sikh kingdom that introduced land reforms. In accordance with the Sikh traditions, this kingdom remained secular in character.
In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh died after succumbing to his injuries sustained in an attack by the mercenaries sent to assassinate him by a Mughal governor who was responsible for the killings of his younger sons. Near the end of his life, he had ordered the Sikhs to follow the Guru Granth Sahib as their guiding light in future and never follow any living guru.
Guru Gobind Singh’s story will always be relevant in the contemporary world where oppression on religious minorities and those marginalized continues. It’s a shame that the Hindutva forces that currently rule India and desire to turn it into an exclusionist Hindu theocracy have been trying to appropriate Guru Gobind Singh for their narrow ends. They frequently portray him as a defender of the Hindu religion and an opponent of Muslims which is a complete distortion of the historical facts. So much so, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), an ultra-Hindu nationalist body of which the governing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a part continues to misguide the younger generation about Guru Gobind Singh’s participation in the efforts to liberate Ram temple in Ayodhya. It is the same place where at the behest of the BJP, Hindu fanatics had demolished an ancient Babri Mosque in 1992. The BJP claims that the Islamist king Babur had built the mosque after destroying a temple built at the birthplace of Hindu God Lord Ram. If this was not enough, their apologists within the Sikh community tried to misguide their own people by announcing December 25 as the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh keeping in with a conservative Hindu calendar. The Sikhs have by and large rejected this and have vowed to celebrate his birth anniversary on January 5 -a date on which there is a general consensus on the basis of a calendar designed by using scientific method. Although it seems symbolic, yet it reflects an ideological conflict between the RSS and the Sikhs. Even as the RSS consider Islam and Christianity as foreign religions and Sikhism and Buddhism as part of the Hindu fold, the Sikh and Buddhist activists have always resisted such assimilationist thoughts.
The Sikh fundamentalists too have deviated from the path shown by Guru Gobind Singh. They have been targeting migratory labourers coming to Punjab from Bihar for their livelihood by insisting that Punjab remains a Sikh dominated state. How can one be so hateful toward people among whom Guru Gobind Singh had spent his childhood? The Sikh leadership also need to look into the mirror and address caste system that is also practiced by many within the Sikh community. On this important occasion, when violence against minorities has grown and there are attempts to divide the Sikhs and the Muslims by the BJP, we need to be vigilant about such divisive politics and defeat the nefarious designs of the Hindutva think tanks. If Guru Gobind Singh were to be born again he would rather fight against the present day government for the very reasons he had established the Khalsa, especially in the light of constant attacks on Dalits.