ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Punjab: 'Protecting' Religion

For a week and more, Punjab and some of its neighbouring states seethed with violence as various Sikh groups and those representing the sect of the Dera Sacha Sauda remained locked in an uncompromising stand-off. A newspaper advertisement with the head of the Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, in the evident garb of the 10th Sikh guru, led to fiery protests and demonstrations by Sikh groups who read in the act an insult to their religion. The violence and the uneasy standoff in place now are symptomatic of recent trends in Punjab society and polity, and also the manner in which religion shapes these. At the same time, the present conflict needs to be read at the juncture where religion, and in this instance, the Sikh religion in particular, evinces the need for a reassertion.

The notion of the Sikh identity has historically played a vital role in shaping Punjab. The politics of identity in the state is defined largely around religion, i e, Sikhism, as also by the symbols that demarcate it from other religions. But while religion could mask itself as nationalism during the anti-colonial struggle, the very inequities within society that were in part reflected in the Sikh religion as well, were starkly evident in post-independent Punjab. The Dera Sacha Sauda founded in 1948 stands for an egalitarian faith and brotherhood, unrestricted especially on grounds of caste. In its founding and the principles it has adopted, the Sacha Sauda is similar to other sects that have emerged in Punjab’s post-independence decades.

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