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Book Review: ‘Sikhism vs Sickism’ by Vaidehi Taman

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I felt those covering religion seem to go with a slant, but Sikhism vs. Sickism by Vaidehi Taman is a notable exception. Sikhism is much too misunderstood and understudied, and this slender volume makes a riveting attempt to address the problems that has been haunting the Sikh community for decades.

Starting with the preamble, “Sikhs had to deal with battles and betrayals”, the author presents the compelling story of the Sikhs – their origins, traditions and beliefs, and more recent history. Vaidehi shows how a movement based on tenets of compassion and humanness transformed itself, of necessity, into a community that values bravery and military courage as well as spirituality.

The author chronicles the years following Indian independence, marked by the demand for a discrete Sikh state, and presents the events leading up to and following “Operation Blue Star”, when the Indian Army entered the Golden Temple. The narrative about Partap Singh Kairon, the man behind Punjab’s growth, how Sikh nationalism always received with contempt, Bhindranwale’s demand for an autonomous state … are all informative. 

The reader also gets to know in fair depth about Sikh leaders including Master Tara Singh, Saint Jarnail Singh, Giani Zail Singh, Sant Longowal…. The Sikh feeling of betrayals at the hands of the British, and later by the Congress is conveyed in good measure.

While the chapter on Congress-engineered 1984-riots relives the public memory, the author’s logical surprise that “ever since 1984, Punjab has been electing the Congress party time and again…” instantly synchronises with the reader. Vaidehi rightly poses: “How is anger against Congress translated into votes?”.  Similar analysis and interpretations help sustain the engaging read.

The author’s anguish about the Sikh political prisoners and their prolonged detention, the demand to release those who have completed their life sentences, the plight of imprisoned senior Sikh citizens, why Punjab often bleed – all have been addressed in perspective.

The legitimate anger against a section of the media is aptly echoed. “Hindu supremacy is the prime agenda of mainstream media channels… creating disturbing narratives about them is routine assignment for some sold-out media houses”.

While relating to the Sikhs’ contribution to the state’s economy and welfare, Vaidehi examines how, through the centuries, Sikh soldier became a model of discipline and courage, and explains how Sikhs – now numbering more than 20m worldwide have come to be known for their commitment to education, business acumen and enterprising spirit. 

The author also draws out the increasing military image of Sikhism which was largely absent in the earlier Gurus but emerges with the later Gurus.

The well-documented and researched work delves into emotions that binds the Sikh community with the national mainstream.   The easy prose enables to leaf it through in one-go.  If you are, however, a purist reader, your expectation of terse editing is in order. A few cartoons would have further enhanced the appeal.

The 99-page script is likely to have strong appeal both to an academic market including students of politics, and to a more general English-speaking Sikh readership. 

Overall, a good reference book about the contemporary political history of the Sikh community, a good reminder of the past events, and a good collection for the history buffs.  As the title has covered right up to Aam Aadmi Party (in Punjab saddle), for future updates, a Part-2 may be desired.

Great initiative, Vaidehi Taman!

Insightful shots

  • “We are a small newspaper, but our morality is way too big”.
  • “In India, being good and doing everything right doesn’t guarantee electoral success”.
  • “What they (Sikhs) faced is Hindu colonialism (post-independence), which threatened their survival”. (p.7)
  • “Sikhs were the first to fight for the country.  Relatively more Sikhs died defending the Indian honour in the wars of 1962, 1965, 1971”.
  • “…if the anti-Sikh riots did not spread to Mumbai in 1987, it was largely because of the Shiv Sena”. (p. 87)
  • “They (Sikhs) reached all those places where humans were calling God for help”. (p.78)
  • “Though being a fighting clan, they were not called Kshatriyas, because Sikhism does not believe in the caste system”. (p.78)
  • “Khalistan is nothing but just a fancy idea… India is not ready for another partition and Pakistan would not lose Lahore”.  (p.59, p. 97)
  • Despite being only around 2 pc of the total Indian population, Sikhs comprise 20 pc of the total Indian Armed Forces. (p.79)
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