It was October 14, 2015 and for several days after, the angry residents of Punjab were on the roads. The roads in entire state — from villages to highways– were blocked protests raged against the sacrilege of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and killing of two men in police firing at Bargari and Behbal Kalan in Faridkot, respectively. Punjab protested against then SAD-BJP government led by Badals like never before in the recent years, as Sikh youths wielded angry swords openly on roads and raised slogans such as ‘Raj karega khalsa, Sant Bhindranwale ki jeet…’
But even during those times, one thing that Punjab did not lose was its social fabric of communal harmony as during the protests, led by the Sikhs, their Hindu and Muslim friends stood with them shoulder to shoulder, sitting in dharnas, raising slogans demanding justice and punishment for those who disrespected the Sikh Gurus. “Guru Nanak belongs to all, not just Sikhs. He is our Guru too. We all are Punjabis first,” the protesters from Hindu and Muslim communities would say, as langar would go on 24×7 at protest sites, and entire villages would sit on protests, raising slogans of ‘Jo bole so nihaal, sat sri Akal. .’
Beyond the shallow and false narrative that has been created with the clash of fringe elements from a Shiv Sena faction and pro-Khalistan in Patiala on Friday lies the unbreakable and deep bond between Hindu and Sikh communities in Punjab, which has existed since the times when Sikhism was in infancy and Guru Nanak was traveling across the sub-continent (during 15th and 16 centuries). Centuries later, even as India and Pakistan became two different countries, the followers of Nanak, irrespective of being Hindu or Sikh, continued to follow his ideals and call themselves ‘Nanakpanthis’ or ‘Guru Nanak Naam Lewas’.
“The lines between Hindu and Sikh communities, who have always lived as close knit communities, are so blurred that these clash over Khalistan do not matter for most of them. They continue to live in peace with each other because that is how it has been since centuries. We have always believed in each other’s cultures, celebrated festivals together, visited each other’s places of worship and Hindus have always respected Guru Nanak. Such fringe elements like those who created trouble in Patiala, are there in both communities and are largely ignored by common people,” says Paramveer Singh, professor, department of Encyclopedia off Sikhism, Punjabi University, Patiala.
2015: When Punjab burnt but stood together for the Guru
Head of Bhai Ghana ji Mission Sewa Society, which arranges blood for emergency cases 24×7 and organizes blood donation camps, Taranjit Singh Nimana remembers that in 2015 when Sikh community was infuriated over the sacrilege incidents, and his organization held protests at Jagraon bridge of Ludhiana, his Hindu friends protested with him 24×7 and came to participate on their own will. “Bhai Ghanaiya Ji who is the inspiration behind our organization, was a follower of Guru Gobind Singh and would serve water and aid even to dying and wounded Mughal soldiers from enemy side on the battlefield. On daily basis, we provide blood to so many people to save their lives. So should we ask them that if they are Sikhs or Hindus? Hindus and Sikhs have lived in harmony in Punjab since forever so how can we even think of having differences now over such issues which don’t even matter,” says Nimana.
Naresh Ghai, a Hindu businessman from Ludhiana, who had participated in 2015 protests, said: “It is not about Hindu or Sikh but about Sri Guru Granth Sahib that belongs to all of us. People from both communities have nothing against each other in their hearts but these fringe elements try to create divide for their own political motives.”
“Since forever, the Hindu community has participated in langars, Akhand path and visited gurdwaras and similarly Sikhs have celebrated Diwali and participated in Hindu festivals. The divide has never existed either in hearts or on ground,” says Dilip Kumar, another Ludhiana resident who participated in 2015 protests.
The syncretic culture
For the Nanakpanthis who continue to exist in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, people might identify them as Hindus, Sikhs etc but for them, Guru Nanak continues to be an essential fabric of their existence.
Amardeep Singh, an independent filmmaker, writer and Sikh historian who has documented Guru Nanak’s travels in his film by traveling across nine countries — Saudi Arabia, China (Tibet), Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, India and Pakistan — says that he found strands of ‘Nanakpanthi culture’ that still exist. “There are syncretic groups of people in this region who are still followers of Guru Nanak irrespective of them being Sikhs or Hindus. The syncretic faith of the ‘Nanakpanthi’ communities continues to be practiced in the Indus belt. They do not have a defining line drawn between cultures and faiths. People might identify them as Hindus or Sikhs, but Guru Nanak is the essential fabric of their existence. Temples and gurdwaras, across these regions, provide space to Guru Nanak.”
“There is a segment of Nanakpanthis who go to gurdwara as well as temple. Similarly, there was also a concept of ‘Darbar’ where Guru Granth Sahib is placed along with the Bhagvad Geeta and idols. For instance, Sindhi Hindus in Pakistan are not counted among Sikhs but they follow Nanak and are Nanakpanthis,” he adds.
Similar has been the situation in Afghanistan where being less than 1% of the minority in a conservative Muslim country, Hindus and Sikhs saw in each other a strong support system. “They visit each other’s places of worship in happy and sad times.” Some Hindus also revered the Sikh Gurus and recited Gurbani and Sikhs too respect Hindu culture and beliefs. Afghan Sikhs exceed the number of Hindus (60:40). These Hindus with dual holdings are similar to those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh of Pakistan,” says Inderjeet Singh, author of the book ‘Afghan Hindus & Sikhs: A History of A Thousand Years’.
Prof Paramvir Singh adds: “One reason why most Sikhs had chosen to stay back in India during the Partition was because our culture and way of living is very similar to the Hindu community. Guru Nanak Dev was born in a Hindu Bedi family and later many Hindus became followers of Sikh Gurus. Both communities are so well-knit that these shallow clash don’t hold the potential to divide them. Even now there is a tradition in some Hindu families in Punjab that they raise their first child as a Sikh because of belief in Guru Nanak.”