Op/Ed: Why “Sikh” is the right response to the “Ethnicity” column

London Trafalgar Square

Why “Sikh” is the right response to the “Ethnicity” column! – Gurtej Singh

The question of ethnicity is posing a huge problem for our brothers and sisters in the United Kingdom, who will be shortly called upon to declare their faith and ethnicity in the approaching Census operation. The dictionary meaning of ethnicity is straightforward. It is “the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural traditions.” On the surface, it seems quite innocuous. Nevertheless, the word seeks to emphasize differentiation amongst humans based on social behavior or racial origin, and geographical location. Probed further, the word will be discovered to have been at least given a distinct meaning by Eurocentric scholars overfilled with the notion of superiority. In recent centuries, racial theories have been much downgraded as indicators of human groups’ civilizational level. DNA studies, for instance, seek to establish a common origin for the entire human race. As important is the position of geographical studies which unmistakably point to a time when the whole landmass on this planet is a single entity. Fundamentally, we will have to defy all that and pure common sense to uphold theories invented for political domination of one human group over some other group. The main purpose of which formulation was to imposition ‘superior’ beliefs on the supposedly ‘less developed’ civilizations for which the term ‘white man’s burden’ was coined. By now, we know that all such people’s common motivation in all ‘superior’ societies was the exploitation of the weaker. Any discussion on the word in the above context would betray its non-availability for providing titles that differentiate between social groups.
The Sikh perspective is also most relevant to assess the use of such a term to draw distinctions between social groups. The Sikh theology begins with the concept of Akalpurakh at the time when nothing else existed, and S/He was in an ‘unmoved trance contemplating on nothingness.’ Then S/He decided to manifest itself and from itself produced the universe. The only implication of this process for our discussion is that the universe has a single origin, S/He is the sole sovereign, and by implication, all humans belong to one race. Human societies cannot be differentiated based on birth, social or geographical background. That we humans are all one is the point at which Sikh theology begins to unroll itself.

Since the act of creation, the entire creation exists in Akalpurakh, whom we call by different names according to what we have been given to understand by our circumstances. The Guru completely rules out the possibility of the existence of ‘the other.’ He seems to suggest that we should be wary of applying any other nomenclatures to ourselves that betray barriers and differences.

The benign Guru did not leave it at that. After laying the foundation for 231 years by intense preaching, he prepared the elixir designed to sink all differences, all notions of the other, the pride of birth, superiority, or distinction of any sort. He invited us to take five palmfuls of that transforming drink and converted us all into one single Order of the Khalsa. The Khalsa order is to officiate for the Guru and is to uphold the universal values preach by the Guru; it is to lead by example and is to convince by deeds. It is a voluntary society of dedicated people who are sworn to obliterate all distinctions and uphold universal values. Such universal values are drawn from the attributes of Akalpurakh described to us by the Guru. The Order of the Khalsa constitutes an association that exists for the sole purpose of reverently serving the Almighty, in whom the Creation inheres. The Khalsa is born to Guru Gobind Singh and Mata Sahib Kaur and its abode is Anandpur Sahib. It is a brand new concept and a little difficult to imbibe until one overcomes false notions. When the falsity breaks up in the human psyche, one can understand the real nature of the universe, of Akalpurakh, and the divine interest in human destiny.

Based on the above discussion, it would be reasonable to return Sikh in the Ethnicity column.

March 16, 2021



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