Libmonster ID: U.S.-1271
Author(s) of the publication: Yu. V. KOLEDYUK


(Saint Petersburg)

Interfaith and interethnic conflicts have become a real scourge in many countries of Asia and Africa in the 21st century. Nor did India escape them. Sectarian-ethnic clashes, which sometimes escalated into bloody massacres, broke out in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, in the north-east of the country, where armed separatist groups operate.

Against this background, the situation in the state of Punjab (north-west India) looks relatively calm.

However, even in this region, the security services sometimes have to resort to force to settle disputes among Sikhs, followers of Sikhism with representatives of various sects (dera). Dera literally means a place of worship or temple. The dera tradition in Punjab existed before the advent of Sikhism and played a role in shaping its ideology. Dera usually appeared at the cremation or burial sites of the remains of a local saint, Hindu or Muslim, and served as a place of worship for residents of nearby areas. In the past, dera often became a meeting place for Muslim dervishes and Hindu bhaktas, 1 where they exchanged spiritual experiences and knowledge.


Currently, there are various types of dera in Punjab. Most are simply Sikh gurdwara temples headed by Baba or Sant2. They were built in memory of the saint and are now run by his descendants. Gurdwara Management Committee (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Kamiti or SHGPC)3 recognizes them as Sikh Gurdwaras.

The second category is dera who continue to practice Sikhism but do not fully follow what the Sikh Code of Conduct ("Sikh Rahit Maryada") and SHGPC prescribe.

The third category of dera are cults that have the institution of a living guru, and although their teachings are based on the Adi Granth (Sri Guru Granth Sahib), the Sikh scriptures, they can be defined as separate sects.4 These include Namdhari, Nirankari, Ravidasi, Sacha Sauda. SHGPC does not recognize these sects as being related to Sikhism, as the book of Guru Granth Sahib is not the main object of worship in them, and their followers do not fully comply with the Sikh code of conduct.

Cults are often supra-religious in nature, meaning that a follower of a sect can continue to be a Sikh, Hindu,or Muslim while still receiving blessings from a guru or pir. He can attend temples of the "main" religious direction and be an adept of several dera or gurus at the same time.

Many sects have considerable financial resources. In addition to regular donations, the source of their income is acquired land. Sects such as the Radhasoami and Sacha Sauda have particularly large land holdings.

Due to the presence of a certain amount of capital and influence over their followers, Dera leaders become significant figures in the political life of Punjab. Representatives of the political elite almost always visit well-known dera to receive a blessing and thereby secure more votes in the elections in support of their party. It is well known, for example, that the chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana visited Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, the head of the Sacha Saud sect.

The majority of Dera followers who have the institution of a living guru are untouchables (Dalits), and this is no accident. In Punjab, Dalits are mainly represented by two caste groups: chukhra (scavenger, sweeper), which are also known as Madhhabis, and Chamar (tanners).

Dalits began to actively join the ranks of Sikhs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thus, MacLagan, in his 1891 census report, notes that the number of Chukhra Sikhs in Firozpur increased from 7237 in 1881 to 64333 in 18915 This popularity of Sikhism among the lower castes was due to the desire to raise social status. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Singh Sabha reform movement developed in Sikhism. His radical Tat Khalsa movement, which dominated the development of twentieth-century Sikhism, advocated purging it of Hindu influence, decrying caste distinctions, and promoting the social status of untouchables in Sikhism. In addition, the British colonial authorities

* Pir - a Muslim saint, spiritual mentor associated with any Sufi brotherhood.

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Sikhs were readily attracted to military service, which provided certain benefits and advantages.

In Punjab, Dalits make up about 29% of the population, one of the highest rates compared to other Indian states. However, they own only 2.34% of cultivated land6. In districts like Jalandar, Kapurthala, Navan Shahr, Hoshiapur, Dalits exceed 50% of the population. Field studies conducted in the early 1980s show that Dalit Madhhabis were less involved in religious life, moved away from the normative Sikh beliefs, and were very liberal about the rules of Sikh ritual and community. 7


Sikhs are known mainly for the external distinctive symbols of their religion, the so-called 5 "K", whose names in Punjabi begin with the letter "k": kes - uncut hair, which hides a specially tied turban, kara-a steel bracelet, kanga-a comb, kirpan-a dagger and kachha-trousers. the cut.

Sikhism emerged at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, and its shape was largely determined and continues to be determined by the political events that took place in northern India. Therefore, the issues of self-determination and defining the boundaries of Sikhism are still relevant for Sikhs today.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib (Dear Mr. Book-Guru) is revered in Sikhism as the only guru and is equated with God. The presence of other objects of worship along with the Adi Granth, as well as the veneration of a living guru, is considered an insult and causes protests among Sikhs.

Followers of Sikhism belong to the main caste groups of Punjab: Khatri, Jats and untouchables, each of which has its own way of life and beliefs. But the dominant position in the Sikh community was occupied by the Jats, whose customs largely determined the traditions and external attributes of Sikhism. According to W. H. McLeod, the most authoritative scholar of twentieth-century Sikhism, differences in the traditional values of Jats, Khatris, and other caste groups, as well as the characteristic Jat commitment to nepotism and factionalism, can lead to conflicts in the religious community, despite the bonds of common beliefs.8 Contemporary relations between Sikhs and unorthodox Sikh sects support this assumption.

In May 2009, Santa Ramananda, one of the leaders of the Dera Sach Khand, was assassinated in Vienna. The attack in Vienna was a kind of protest by Sikh fundamentalists against the fact that the leaders of Sach Khand consider themselves equal to the ten Sikh gurus who led the community in its first 200 years of existence, and idols of Santa Ravi Das are installed in their gurdwaras along with Adi Granth. In response, mass demonstrations by followers of the Sach Khand sect and other Dalit organizations were held in the Punjab cities of Jalandar, Ludhiana, Phagwar, and Hoshiapur. They blocked roads and set fire to two trains. The state government was forced to impose a curfew in those areas where the riots began.

The conflict began in 1978 when Sikhs clashed with the Nirankari Mandal, a sect that broke away in the 1930s. from the pre - existing orthodox Nirankari sect. Its head, Avtar Singh, created his own book, Avtar Bani, in 1948, which contained references to Sikh gurus that belittled their dignity, and used the Adi Granth to justify the need for a living guru to achieve liberation. In 1984, the Sikh conflict with Nirankari Mandal led to the development of terrorism in Punjab. In 2001, there were riots related to the activities of the Bhaniarawala sect, and in 2007, riots caused by the activities of Dera Sacha Saud swept across Punjab.

Punjab has always had and still has a fairly large number of different cults and sects that are somehow connected with Sikhism. The most prosperous of them are Radhasoami, Nirankari, Sacha Sauda, Bhaniaravala. Common to them are the presence of the institute of a living guru, the proximity of the teachings to the philosophy of Adi Granth, the holy scriptures of the Sikhs, as well as the social composition of followers, most of whom belong to the lower castes or untouchables. Therefore, clashes between Sikhs and various unorthodox sects can be considered not only as a religious, but also as a social conflict between Jat Sikhs and Dalits.


Despite the equality and brotherhood of all people proclaimed in Sikhism, Dalits often experience infringement of their rights in the political, economic and religious spheres by Jats, who make up 60% of the total number of followers of Sikhism. In total, 30% to 33% of Jats live in Punjab, and they own more than 80% of agricultural land9. The vast majority of both Dalits and Jats live in rural areas.

Sikhism rejects caste inequality, as is clearly demonstrated by the langara, the public dining hall of the gurdwaras, but the traditions of caste in Sikhism continue to be preserved in the area of marriage relations, as well as eating together and spending time outside the temple.10 Even after taking initiation, Sikhs continue to follow the tradition of caste. Both in India and abroad, they try to observe caste endogamy. Dalits are not allowed to work in the public cafeteria. Even lower-caste clerics are denied such services, albeit unofficially.11

The conflict in the village of Talkhan, bad weather, is indicative-

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Leku from Jalandar, in 2003, where the Dalits, who make up 70% of the village's population, claimed 2 seats out of 13 on the board of management of Gurdwara, which was under full Jat control. Despite the court's decision to grant Dalits seats in the government, the village's Jats refused to comply with this decision and declared a boycott of the Dalits, which led to open clashes both in the village and in Jalandar itself. Naturally, in such a situation, as the Indian weekly Main Stream notes, "Dalits and backward classes in Punjab feel deprived of the possibility of political and economic choice." 12 Therefore, they establish their own Gurdwars or become followers of a particular cult.

The Dalit movement for their rights was promoted by the growth of their self-awareness, education and economic status. Currently, many Dalit families living in the Doab area have relatives in the United States, Europe, and England in particular. Dalits are in the civil service, and in general their financial situation has improved.

The growing self-awareness of Dalits is largely due to the Ad Dharm movement, which emerged in the 1920s and was aimed at uniting the untouchables regardless of their religious affiliation, as well as ensuring their worthy place in society through increased education and cultural transformation, through the creation of a new religion. At the heart of this religion was the idea that the Dalits are a separate religious community. Ravi Das, a medieval poet-bhakta, chamar by caste, whose works were included in the Adi Granthi, was chosen as a particularly revered saint. The Sach Khand was one of the first sects to support this movement. Its second guru, Sant Sarvan Das (1895-1972), actively preached education for Dalits and sought to make medical care accessible. The focus of many sects on education and health care for the population continues to attract new Dalit followers.

Dera Sach Khand was founded by Sant Pipal Das (d. 1927), Sarvan Das's father, in Ballan, near Jalandar. The sect became a center of worship for Sant Ravi Das. It developed its own religious symbols, flags, prayers, uniforms, greetings and rituals, and even the architectural style of temples. The sect considers itself neither Hindu nor Sikh, although outwardly its followers look like "amritdhari" (those who have taken initiation and observe 5 "K").

The presence of a large number of Dalits in the sect gives the conflict, in addition to religious, a social character, and the participation of Sikhs living abroad in it indicates that the contradictions between Sikhs and Dera have also penetrated the emigrant community.


Another sect that causes discontent among Sikhs is the Sacha Sauda. The biggest clash with the followers of this sect, which affected several Punjabi cities, occurred in May 2007. The formal reason for the conflict was the behavior of the head of the Sacha Saud sect, the infamous Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh (born 1967), against whom the Central Bureau of Investigation of India has opened several criminal cases related to murder and sexual exploitation. exploiting their female followers. "His Holiness the Great Maharaj", as Gurmit R. R. Singh is called by his followers, appeared in a costume that usually depicts the last Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, who lived in the 17th century, and tried to repeat his actions that the Sikh guru performed on the day of the formation of the Khalsa 14. Similarly, in 2001, Piyara Singh Bhaniara, the head of the Bhaniaravalla sect, not only imitated the outfit of the last Sikh guru, but also appeared on a similar horse, which also led to clashes.

Despite claiming that Dera Sacha Sauda is not associated with politics, 15 its leader has a significant influence on Punjab's political life. One notable example is the State Legislative elections in 2007, when the Sikh Akali Dal Party lost 37 seats out of 65 in Malwa (a region where Akali Dal has always dominated) as a result of Gurmeet R. R. Singh issuing an edict urging his supporters to vote in support of the Indian National Congress. Akali Dal's electoral defeat in the region caused outrage among orthodox Sikhs, and the provocative behavior of the sect's head, Sacha Saud, led to open clashes between Sikhs and members of the sect.

Clashes between Dera Sacha Saud supporters and Sikhs were also reported in June 2008 in Bombay and May 2009 in Ludhiana, where members of Eknur Khalsa Fauj, one of the radical Sikh organizations, participated on the part of Sikhs. Only thanks to the skillful actions of P. S. Badal, the head of the state government, who tries to balance between supporters of Dera and radical Sikhs, as well as thanks to the influence of Akali Dal on the SHGPK, the situation can be kept under control.

It should be noted that the position of Sacha Saud is particularly strong in such south-western districts as Bathinda, Sangrur, Mansa and Muktasar. There are about 150,000 followers of Dera Sacha Saud in Bathind alone, while the district has a population of 1.3 million people.16 The popularity of the sect is attributed by journalist Bandita Mishra to the fact that Bathinda, in comparison with other districts of Punjab, still has a high level of illiterate population, drug addiction and unemployment are widespread.17 Some come to the sect

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hoping for the guidance of a living guru who can point them in the right direction in their difficult life. In total, according to the leaders of the sect itself, its population is approximately 12.5 million people, 18 most of whom are representatives of lower castes. The number of its ranks began to increase under the last guru Gurmita R. R. Singh, who has been its head since 1992. Currently, Sacha Sauda has 36 branches in 11 Indian states, including Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The Sacha Saud sect was founded in 1948 by Shah Mastan of Balochistan, who called for the worship of one single God. It is believed that differences in the understanding of God by different religions are only semantic in nature. Sacha Sauda defines itself as an extra-religious, spiritual organization, does not recognize external religious differences, and treats all religions and holy scriptures equally. However, Guru Sacha Sauda actively uses extracts from the Adi Granth, Sikh terminology and philosophical foundations of the faith in his agitation.

The followers of Sacha Saud do not accept the authority of any holy scripture; they place above all scriptures the practice of meditating on Nam (name), a concept that denotes the fullness of God as a whole. But meditation and liberation can only be achieved with the help of a living guru. The main goal is to achieve liberation in this life, which is accompanied by a state of complete peace, joy and enlightenment through meditation on Nam.

Sacha Sauda has its own 47-point code of conduct. It contains a ban on monetary offerings, watching TV, eating non-Vegetarian food and eggs, prohibits giving dowries, and protects widows ' rights to remarry. Sacha Sauda opposes social evils such as caste inequality, abortion, drug and alcohol use, and corruption. Although there are no mandatory monetary donations, its followers are required to work one day or 6 hours a week for free for the benefit of the community.19 Dera Sacha Sauda volunteers work in the fields, as well as on the construction of various social facilities: schools, hospitals, residential buildings, for 15-18 hours a day. For example, a cricket stadium was built by volunteers in Siray in just 42 days, and a hospital was built in 46 days.

The organization of public works is carried out by the Shah Satnam Ji Green S Charitable Foundation, which operates under the sect. The goals and objectives of the foundation include assistance to victims of natural disasters, landscaping, and donation. The sect has a single database, and each member has its own identification number. Dera Sacha Sauda publishes its own newspaper, published daily on 10 pages with a circulation of 200 thousand copies.20 The main representative office of Sacha Saud is located in the area of the city of Sirsa (Haryana), where on an area of 700 acres there is a kind of miniature city with its own farm, workshops, schools, and hospital.

* * *

The question of self-determination and boundaries of Sikhism remains relevant due to the ambiguous definition of Sikh adopted in the Sikh Rahit Maryada. The SHGPK refuses to recognize representatives of various sects of Sikh origin as Sikhs and violates the rights of Dalits, which significantly reduces the size of the Sikh community and, consequently, the electorate of Akali Dal, which is an exclusively Sikh party and combines religion and politics in its activities. Formally, the Sikh leadership recognizes the legitimacy of the Dalit demands in matters of governance and equality, however, "sahajdhari" (not initiated,"shorn") Sikhs, who include a significant number of followers of various Sikh sects, remain disenfranchised from voting in the SHGPK elections, which does not contribute to the popularity of Sikhism.

1 A bhakta is a follower of bhakti, a movement in Hinduism whose practice is based on love and emotional attachment to God, usually represented in a personal form.

2 Baba or sant-this is the name of saints who enjoy special spiritual authority of individuals.

3 SHGPC is an elected governing body of the Sikh community, which is formally responsible for managing funds received in the form of donations to historical Gurdwars, as well as supporting Sikh educational institutions. Most of the members of the SHGPC belong to the Shiromani Akali Dal Sikh party. The position of this party is decisive in the work of the SHGPK.

Jodhka Surinder S. 4 Of Dera and Baba. 7 June, 2009 -

Maclagan E.D. 5 The Punjab and its Feudatories. Part I. Calcutta, 1892, p. 96.

Ram Ronki. 6 Exploring the Myth of Casteless Sikh Society in Punjab. June 6, 2009 -

McMullen C.O. 7 Religious belief and practices of the Sikhs in Rural Punjab. New Delhi, 1989, p. 110.

MacLeod W.H. 8 The Evolution of the Sikh Community. Sikh and Sikhism, New Delhi, 2005, p. 37.

9 Ibidem.

Singh I. P. 10 Caste in a Sikh Village - in: Caste among non-Hindus in India. New Delhi, 1977, p. 66 - 83.

Barsat K. 11 Dera Sacha Sauda and panthik disput in Punjab -

Singh Surinder. 12 Deras, Caste Conflicts and Recent Violence in Punjab. June 13, 2009 -

Juegensmeyer M. 13 Religious Rebels in the Punjab. Delhi, 1988, p. 45 - 51.

14 Khalsa-a military order of" warrior saints " created by the last guru Gobind Singh in 1699. To join the order, you had to pass a special rite of passage, which is still used today.

15 Sacha Sauda Website -

Mishra V. 16 Why many have turned to Dera Sacha. May 28, 2007 -

17 Ibidem.

Rajalakshmia T.K. 18 Dera Sacha Sauda -


Nandal R.S. 20 The growth of the Dera Sacha Sauda. May 20, 2007 -


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