The Sikh-Punjabi farmers are akin to the Tamil backward classes, who fought for OBC rights by bending the Delhi anti-reservation trends many times. When it comes to Dalit rights, it is the Maharastra Dalit forces who showed the way. Guru Nanak, Periyar Ramasamy, and Dr B.R Ambedkar thus created forces that are protecting our Constitution, democracy, and pluralism today.
The movement that spelt victory
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on Guru Nanak’s birthday, 19 November, and said that his government was withdrawing the three farm laws that it had enacted a year ago in Parliament. The Punjabi Sikh farmers declared a war against the laws in the thick of the second wave of Covid-19 and moved the farming fraternity to the borders of Delhi NCR. Their victory came after more than 700 farmers died since the start of the protests and several others were put in jail with all kinds of cases against them. A militant section of the Sikh farmers and the Nirankaris climbed the Red Fort in Delhi and declared an immature victory. Journalists and writers faced several cases and police beatings. Yet, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the PM, appeared unmoved.
The RSS-BJP underestimated the Sikh conviction to fight for the rights of food-producing farmers. They seemed to have thought that the Sikhs would not understand what was happening. Agricultural produce was being handed over to the monopoly capitalists of India, who want to make immoral money in every sector of the economy and remain indifferent to poverty and suffering.
The anger against the government spread to the villages of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. Subsequently, under the leadership of Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Rakesh Tikait, a massive non-Sikh farmer movement also came up. Villages in UP got drawn into the fight for survival in a big way. Finally, victory arrived. The PM had to bow before the annadata (food providers) with a big apology and repeal of the laws. However, there is a moral lesson for the Hindutva forces from Guru Nanak and the Sikh community that follows his teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib.
Farming is God’s lifeblood: Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak’s teachings are different from that of the other guru who established the RSS in 1925, K.B. Hedgewar. The former formulated his spiritual ideas in a complex Hindu-Varna society under oppressive Muslim rule. Though he was born into the Hindu Bedi Khatri clan, in a Patwari family in 1469, he soon realised that agrarian production is the lifeblood of human survival, and God—he believed in one God—is the director of productive labour. God was not a war hero for him. A nation was not an arresting land unit of human narrowness. That is the reason why Guru Nanak’s followers went all over the world with labouring hands and worked in the fields and survived. They not only made Indian agriculture productive, but also made the same effort in countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia. They never made their nationalism ‘anti-somebody.’
Though the Sikh farmers have 10 Gurus, Guru Nanak, the first, is the main guiding force of Sikhism. Whenever the nation’s farm sector was put in jeopardy by the Union government, Sikh-Punjabi farmers fought for their rights. Of course, this time they saved the nation and the Constitutional principle of federal democracy, which was being destroyed by the misuse of parliamentary majority to undermine Indian agriculture. But for their quick realisation of the danger, the country would have drifted from its constitutional path.
The ‘anti-anything’ ideology of the RSS
Hedgewar, on the other hand, built an organisation that wants to be seen agreeing with the Constitution, democracy, and pluralism, but in practice, goes in the opposite direction. Guru Nanak never set a spiritual or social ideology of anti-anything, whereas Hedgewar set ‘anti-Muslim,’ ‘anti-beef and meat,’ and ‘anti-equality’ ideologies in the name of Hindu dharma and parampara (tradition). Now, farmers have stopped the Hindutva juggernaut. The nation will salute the Sikh farmers who resisted the might of the government, and saved the agrarian sector of India.
Sikhs in India also have a religion-centred political party, the Akali Dal. It works on the ideological principles that the Sikh Gurus put in place. But in its known history, it never went against other religious communities in Punjab. It never interfered with the food rights of any community in the state. It never stopped women between the ages of 12 and 50 from entering gurdwaras, unlike the RSS, who in 2018 asked the temple authorities to ‘respect the tradition’ that banned the entry of women into the Ayyappa temple in Kerala. On the question of human rights, the people of Punjab never felt the difference between the Congress and the Akali Dal, despite the differences in their economic and administrative agendas. Such differences are acceptable in a constitutional democracy.
But now, not just India, but the whole world sees the difference between Congress and BJP rules when it comes to human rights despite their pledge to the same Constitution. Not that I have forgotten the Emergency of Indira Gandhi’s time. But that was fought by all of us and the Punjabi Sikh farmers did not spare their might in fighting it.
Sikhism has a lesson to teach every religion
Spiritual morality must move through politics to establish an egalitarian society and not a divisive one. The farmers’ movement and its victory gave new confidence to the nation in a depressive situation. For the last one year, the whole world was watching the unending movement. At last, the RSS and the BJP realised that this movement would continue till its victory.
The Sikh farmers’ movement in Delhi showed the world how peaceful the Sikhs were, how they fed every hungry person in their gurdwaras, including the police personnel who beat them on the roads. That is the grace they acquired from Guru Nanak. Within India, the Sikh farmers have shown that each religion must respect other religions and ways of living. More than anything, they showed that religion is meant to increase production through labour in the fields. This is a lesson that all other religions of India must learn from Sikhs and their Gurus. No food producer should be judged by one who does not produce. The farmers, who fought this battle and won, have written history.
Kancha Ilaiah is an academic, writer, social scientist, and Dalit rights activist. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)