Sikh History Should Be Part Of School Textbooks: Anil Dhir

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid glowing tributes to Guru Tegh Bahadur on his 400th Prakash Purab, saying there is no time in the last 400 years that India did not see the impact of the glory and sacrifices of Guru Tegh Bahadur.

He was speaking at a 70-member high level committee set up last October to discuss the Rs 937-crore project around the 400th birth anniversary of the 9th Guru of the Sikhs on May 1.

Year-long celebrations have been planned all over the country to mark the occasion. Such is the appeal of the Sikh gurus that during a recent discussion in the Lok Sabha over the farmers’ issues, BJP Parliamentarian Meenakshi Lekhi was quick to cut Shiromani Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal when the latter referred to the Sikh gurus as ‘Our Gurus’. “They are ours, too.” Lekhi shot back at Badal.

In expressing her claim over the gurus as spontaneously as did Lekhi, she was voicing a genuine reverence that the Hindutva followers have for the gurus. The history of the sacrifices made by the Sikh Gurus in the protection of Hindu religion is taught in the “Boudhiks” (lectures) at the Sakhas and the training camps of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS). Unsurprisingly, “Hind ki chaadar, Tegh Bahadur,” was one of the war cries of Ram Janmabhoomi movement through the late 1980s to the early 1990s.

There is no dearth of the RSS volunteers who visit the gurudwara on gurupurabs. Four months ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Delhi’s Rakabganj Gurudwara on the martyrdom day of the 9th Guru in the middle of the farmers’ agitation, the gesture was interpreted politically. The same day, a group of Kashmiri pandits at the Delhi-Haryana border at Singhu, one of the three sites of protesting farmers, was seen sobbing over the sacrifices of the 9th Guru.

As the nation comes together to celebrate 400 years of the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur on Saturday, it is time to reflect on the universal appeal of the guru, and to remember neither to confine him to Sikhism nor to appropriate him for political ends.

The Guru, historian Anil Dhir says in an interview epitomises supreme and boundless spirituality and the more the people who embrace him, the merrier would humanity be served.

Dhir, author of seven books, part of the RSS think-tank and National Secretary of Bharatiya Raksha Manch, has some suggestions for the Punjab and Central governments as they begin to implement the schemes planned as part of the Centre-state project.

How does the RSS perceive Guru Tegh Bahadur?

The RSS reveres the sacrifice and martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. His sacrifices, along with the sacrifices of other gurus and their followers are taught in the Boudhiks (lectures) at the Sakhas and the training camps. But, this has been reduced to mere lip service in the last few years.

In the Shakhas, what is said about him and how are his birthday and martyrdom day marked?

The anniversaries are not observed in the sakhas, but splinter groups like the Bharat Raksha Manch and Itihas Sankalan Samiti observe the occasions.

Are there any special plans for his 400th birth anniversary?

There are no plans as of now. However, even if there is something, it will be a tokenism of visiting the Gurudwaras and organising a small seminar. I will be writing to the Sarsanghchalak to observe it in the shakhas and make the day a calendar event in the RSS shakhas. As of now we have four calendar events, this can be the fifth.

As a historian, where do you think we went wrong in terms of not educating the general population about the gurus? And how has this gap affected our youth and our national character?

This is true. There has not been enough education about the Sikh Gurus and the Sikh scriptures. The Guru Granth Sahib has not been translated into many of the Indian languages. The glory and sacrifice of the Sikhs have not been included in text books. Proper place in history has not been given. Inspite of the Sikh diaspora being spread all over the country, and multitude of Gurudwaras, the message of the Gurus has remained confined.

The Gurudwaras became centres for the community members only. They did not do much to spread the teachings of the Gurus. And then, the Khalistan movement and Indira Gandhi assassination did give them a bad name; the anti-Sikh riots were relegated into the back pages of history.

As someone who has written a book on Jagannath Sadak, which is a virtual tour into its spiritual history, do you have suggestions for the Punjab/central government spending hundreds of crores on the Guru’s birthday celebrations? What would you like done on this occasion?

The teachings of the Gurus would have been very good for character building in the nation’s youth. The valour of the Sikhs, the humanitarian aid given by them during calamities and distress, etc have never been acknowledged. The Punjab Government should set up Sikh Chairs in different universities all over the country. This can be done on a reciprocal basis, with other universities setting up Chairs in Punjab. An ideal case will be a Guru Nanak Chair in Utkal University and a Jagannath Chair in Punjab University.

The Udasins of the Guru, the path he took, should be highlighted. I discovered such rich aspects of Guru Nanak’s visit to Puri, travelling on the Jagannath Sadak and the impact it had on the spread of Jagannath Culture. The impact of the visit of the Gurus during the early centuries has never been documented.

(The author is a Delhi-based journalist)

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