Bandi Chor Diwas is a remarkable story of secularism and provides valuable insights on tolerance, love and acceptance in today’s communally volatile climate. 

After the infamous Sikh-separatist Amritpal’s month long manhunt, a succeeding panic among the Sikh diaspora in Canada of Sikhs supposedly being cornered in India, frequent incidents of arson, a celebratory parade on the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi and the recent killing of Hardeep Nijjar and the resulting India-Canada row has led to resurfacing of the Khalistan issue. Even though there is little to no support for the cause in Punjab today, this secessionist demand for a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, reverberates loudly within the Sikh diaspora. Although these voices pose no imminent danger, they definitely do result in sidelining of pertinent issues raised by Punjabis back home, thereby requiring immediate remedial actions against such forces.

An ideological shift can be employed as a corrective measure and one need not go too far, actually it would require these separatist elements to go back to what Sikhi truly means. Last week was filled with Diwali festivities, Bandi Chor Diwas, one of the most important festivals for Sikhs was among them. The story behind celebrating this day is secular in the truest and most beautiful way. Bandi Chor Diwas, Prisoner Liberation Day, marks the celebration of homecoming of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind, when he returned from Gwalior Fort along with 52 Hindu kings.

The establishment of Akal Takht at Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple), and the growing strength of the Sikh army under Guru Hargobind instilled the fear of a potential danger from Sikhs in the mind of Nawab of Lahore, who then relayed this anxiety to Emperor Jahangir. Jahangir, who also feared that the sixth Guru might want to avenge his father, Guru Arjan’s death, demanded an immediate arrest of Guru Hargobind. He was taken to Gwalior fort, where he met several imprisoned Rajput kings. A sufi saint, Mian Mir, an admirer of the Guru, asked the emperor to release him. Upon this persuasion, Guru’s release was ordered, but the offer was refused by Guru who demanded that the Rajput kings shall also leave along with him. Jahangir, although initially reluctant, finally gave in when coaxed by Wazir Khan and agreed on releasing as many kings who could leave the fort while holding onto the Guru’s cloak. Legend has it that the Guru outwitted the Emperor by getting a special Chola with 52 panels attached to it. That day 52 Rajput kings left the Gwalior fort along with the Guru. Guru arrived at Amritsar on Diwali and people welcomed him, rejoiced his return by lighting diyas. To this day the tradition continues and Sikhs continue to celebrate Bandi Chor Diwas by lighting diyas and lamps.

On one occasion Guru was queried by Jahangir to adjudge the better religion of the two, Hinduism or Islam. In response to this,Guru quoted Kabir, “Hindhoo Thurak Dhuhoon Mehi EaekaiKehai Kabeer Pukaaree”, one lord resides within both Hindus and Muslims. All the 10 Sikh Gururs have at all times propounded secularism and protection of the oppressed from the oppressor. “Manas ki Jaat sab eke pehchanbo”, recognising the entire human race as one, was the foundational idea behind the establishment of Langar Seva by Guru Nanak. A secular state in it’s truest sense was conceived under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, 80 years after the demise of the 10th Guru. Khushwant Singh writes that the biggest contributing factor to Ranjit Singh’s success ‘was his respect for all faiths’. His court hosted ministers from all faiths and reflected the secular pattern of his religious policy. In conversation with a Muslim saint, he once said, “God wanted me to look upon all religions with one eye; that is why he took away the light from other”.

What is utterly baffling is that the Khalistani elements, pose themselves as the representatives of the entire Sikh community and advocate for a separation that any Sikh Guru would consider preposterous. Albeit the movement took birth in Punjab, today it echoes loud on the opposite side of the globe, causing damage to the image of Punjabis back home. The patriotism of the Sikh Kaum can never be questioned – be it the martyrdom of Gurus to protect persecuted faiths, the valour exhibited by Ranjit Singh against the Britishers, contribution of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh during the independence struggle, the unparalleled bravery of Sikh regiments during wars India has fought; they have stood true to what a “Singh” symbolizes, a lion. Today, relevant issues like agrarian crisis, unemployment, drug abuse are put on the back burner when narratives of “Sikh Secessionism” dominate the mainstream media and politics. These miniscule proponents of a separate Sikh state and their hyper sensationalism by media houses are causing an irreversible damage to the integrity and welfare of Punjabis back home, thus urgently requiring them to internalize takeaways from Sikhism’s Secularism.

Photo Credits: Siasat.com

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Rubani Sandhu



In a hyper-communal environment with growing sentiments of ethnic chauvinism, we as a nation seriously need to introspect on what it means to be an INDIAN. The Armed forces provide a handbook on the same with valuable takeaways.

Contrary to an average civilian who is introduced to the concept of Diversity through formal schooling via pedagogues or books, I, owing to the itinerant nature of my Dad’s job in the Indian Army, have been privileged enough to witness this diversity first hand.

A great deal of my understanding of India’s diverse cultural milieu has been shaped because of my Fauji background. A sense of belongingness and a simultaneous appreciation of diverse cultures, ethnicities, religions and languages came to me through the Indian Military traditions. The entire Fauj is a profoundly diverse community, a huge old military family – bereft of divisions on the basis of caste, class, creed or religion; united by shared love for the nation and the army community.

Originally, I am from Punjab, but today, I can easily sing the Bengali prayer “Amader Bhalo Karo Hey Bhagwan”, that I learnt while dad was posted in Siliguri; I have successfully memorised the Assam Regimental song “Badlu Ram ka Badan Zameen ka Neeche hai” line by line, I know it by heart; I know some amazing Malyalam slangs that I was taught as a kid by my neighbours; and last but not the least, I can count from 1-20 in Sinhalese, something that I was taught by my Sri Lankan acquaintances who had accompanied their fathers for a course at Mhow, MP. Needless to say I have seen, heard, read, experienced, internalized and celebrated the Diversity our country has to offer ever since I was born.

Sentiments of respect and embracement towards all faiths, is demonstrated in the fact that most cantonments have a common worship place – Sarv Dharma Sthal, for people from all beliefs. We celebrate Janmashtmi, Holi, Eid, Gurupurab, Christmas – all with equal fervor and gaiety. Greeting with a casual “Ram-Ram”, Hindu soldiers praying in Gurudwaras of Sikh regiments, Sikh and Hindu soldiers paying homage during Eid festivities in a Grenadier regiment mosque seems very organic to us. Baba Harbajan’s shrine en route to Nathula pass generates an unmatched vigour in soldiers from all communities, alike.  The Rajput regiment’s war cry, “Bol Bajrang Bali Ki Jai”, the Sikh regiment’s “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal” or the Maratha regiment’s “Har Har Mahadev”, send shivers down the enemy’s spine when proudly uttered by every soldier of the Paltan, irrespective of their religion.

We as a nation today direly need to derive inspiration from the secular ethos the armed forces have stood for. The barracks of unity and a shared love for the motherland have for long safeguarded the cantonments from all sorts of pernicious ethno-communal propaganda. After bravery and patriotism, one can definitely learn this embracement of plurality from the best.

Image Credits: Ed Times

Rubani Sandhu

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On his recent visit to London, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was asked a question on the increasing levels of intolerance in India, by a BBC reporter. In response, Modi said that India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi and would never accept anything that went against its basic social values. “India is a vibrant democracy which, under the Constitution, provides protection to all citizens, their lives and thoughts,” he asserted.
Mr. Modi coudn’t have been more accurate. With propagators of peace being such a significant part of our history, non-violence ought to be ingrained in our social fabric. Ironically, the very same people who might have grown up learning about Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa, unleash wrath andviolence upon their fellow countrymen. Differences in opinions and tastes can no longer be tolerated. Those sentences we learnt as children-about India being a land of cultural diversity-will soon become redundant. India is heading towards being a land of the majority, where the culture belonging to the minorities will gradually be annihilated, in favour of a common one imposed by
the majority. How could the culture that Gandhi and Buddha knew have taken such a massive u-turn?
In such a situation, it becomes essential to scrutinize the s-word, that looms large before us in the constitution- ‘secularism.’ According to an RSS representative, Manmohan Vaidya, the concept of secularism is irrelevant in India as, India does not have a history of theocratic states. He says that BR Ambedkar was against the inclusion of the word ‘secular’ in the Indian constitution as he felt that India was a naturally secular society.
To problematize this argument, what kind of country would India be if the term ‘secular’ was not present, safe and sound, within the pages of our constitution? To answer that question simply, any political party that comes to power may, for their own selfish reasons, impose a religion upon the country. Yes, the absence of that word from the all-powerful, sacred laws of the land, can wreck that much havoc, that easily. The fact that the country has not seen theocratic rule in the 60 odd years of its existence as a nation, does not imply that political parties cannot impose the religion of the majority upon the country. Indian society is dynamic and subject to change, owing to the diversity
among its people and cultures. Any attempt at suppressing any one or more of these cultural diversities destroys the very idea of India as a ‘secular’ country, thereby putting to rest the vision of the makers of our constitution.
Abhinaya Harigovind