Saturday, 15 September 2018

Soul or Atma in Sikhi

[Author’s note: This article is dedicated to the memory of Bhai Sahib, Subedar Dharam Singh Sujjon of UK. It is in response to a query about the nature of the human soul (atma).

Ram rattan tab paayiay jao pehlay tajeh sareer. (SGGS 1366)
The Lord’s Jewel is obtained by first shedding the [egocentric] body.

Meeting Bhai Dharam Singh Sujjon in 2003

I met late Bhai Sahib Subedar Dharam Singh Sujjon in 2003 at the Panjab Times UK 38th Anniversary function held at Guru Nanak Sikh School (Hayes, London).

He walked over, a tall slim and saintly Gursikh with a grey flowing beard. He said Gur Fateh with a faint knowing smile and said, “Mai tuhanoo kafee samay to(n) milan babat soch reha si”. (I had been thinking of meeting you for some time). A short conversation followed. I had read his articles in Punjabi and he seemed to be well acquainted with my work, partly through renowned UK author, late S. Gurbachan Singh Sidhu of Nottingham (UK) 

He said something about his age[i] and health and asked me to read and comment on some of his unpublished manuscripts. I told him that I was not qualified for such a task but he persuaded me with his humility and Gursikhi aura. Bhai Sahib subscribed to Bhai Sahib Bhai Randhir Singh ji’s interpretation of Gurbani. It is possible that he had read my translation of Bhai Rama Singh of Akhand Kirtani Jatha’s autobiography, “Roop Gobind ka, Raj Khalsay ka, Sikka Sonay ka”, to which I had given the title: “In Search of the True Guru” (Published by Panjab Times UK, April 2001, 412 pages).

He said: Pad ke, vichaar ke, jivayn tusseen ttheek samjho karr leo. (Read, reflect and do as you please.) That was the only time I met this saintly Gursikh, although we remained in touch for some years.

Over the next few months, I received some draft articles and a book draft with the title, Sikh Ik Sresht Dharam Kivayn? (How is Sikhi a leading faith? Sresht can also be translated as superior.) 

As I read through these scripts (in Gurmukhi), it became clear that Bhai Sahib was truly a treasure-house of  knowledge.  He remained a humble Gursikh to the end.

Atma in Sikhi


A recent query about the human soul – atma or rooh - prompted me to look up some relevant passages from Subedar Dharam Singh Sujjon’s manuscripts. The specific question is, “What is atma with reference to man (mun) and mat (muth)?” For example, we distinguish between mun and muth when we say Sikhan da man neeva, mat uchi in our daily Ardaas (prayer). We pray that the muth, the discerning part of the mind of the Sikhs should remain in control of mun, the wandering or fickle part of the mind.  

This article explores around the above query and looks at one Sikh view about the nature of atma, the human soul, and its relationship with mun and muth in the context of the cycle of birth, life and death.

The topic in hand is complex. Some repetition is not only unavoidable but also intentional.  Often, related concepts are shrouded in mysticism and exploited by those wearing the scholarly garbs ranging from the Vedic Pandits to the derawadis running own schools and cults. However, it has been simplified in Gurbani as interpreted by Gursikh scholars.

Guru Nanak Sahib took the Message to the masses in their own simple language. That is because this human life is an opportunity for all to seek blissful union with the Ik Oangkar, the One Creator Being. That opportunity is there for everyone – from the pundit to the simple peasant. The Bhagats, whose Bani is included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, were from diverse social backgrounds.

When discussing interpretation of Gurbani, I always aim to make the reader conversant with as many original Panjabi word-concepts as possible without interrupting the flow of thought.

In this article:

Sareer = body. Three types of sareer are mentioned: the physical (sathool) or earthly body which we can see; and the energy (sookhsham) and ideas/causal (karan) bodies which we cannot see.
Words which refer to the mind and will be explained later, are man (mun), mat (muth), budh, chitt, antehkaran.  

Three bodies or sareers

The law of nature is that everything returns to its source of origin. That is true with human beings also.

Jeh te upjio Nanaka leen Tahe mai maan. (SGGS 1426.)
Believe it O Nanak, you will [one day] blend/merge with the Source of your origin.

When someone dies, we say the person has left the body. (We say: Falana sarir tiyag gyia hai.) It means after death a person leaves this earthly body behind and goes somewhere else.
The question is who left this body?

The body which is left behind is the earthly body made of bone, flesh, and blood vessels (hadd, maas, naadi ko pinjar….), called the sathool sarir. Sathool means material. It is the body we can touch and feel. It is made from matter, the panj tatt or five elements mentioned in Gurbani: fire, earth, water, air and sky/space.

The soul or jeev-atma resides in, or rather, is trapped in, three bodies or layers:
1)      The physical body which we see and which will be shed on death;
2)      The energy or etheric body; and,
3)      The causal or ideas body.
Within these three bodies or layers resides the jeev-atma.

Bodies 2) and 3) above remain after death with the atma trapped in them due to the attraction of world-play referred to as maya, prakriti or nature which is the dynamic energy of the Creator Being.

Let us digress a little: In Sikh thought, this world play (maya or prakriti) is true (real) because the Creator is True, and maya is within His Hukam or Command. It is not an illusion as in Vedic thought. It is the Bachittar Natak (ref. Guru Gobind Singh), the wondrous or fantastic play in which we all have roles according to the Hukam of Akal Purakh. That is the reason why a Sikh is always a full participant in life and living, an activist and not an opt-out from   human society.   

One component of the sookhsham sareer is called the antehkaran which is combination of mun, budh, chit and ahankaar.

Mun is the intuitive part of the mind; budh the discerning part; and chit is consciousness which forms an idea in the mind, thinks and reflects upon. Perhaps, the reader should pause and reflect on these descriptions of the mind functioning in different modes.

Ahankaar means “I am”. This “I”  entity is separate from the sathool, sookhsham, and karan sareers.  It gives power to the three bodies and keeps them going. If it withdraws that power, the three bodies/sareersathool, sookhsham and karan – do not function. This fourth entity, “I am” is my true being.

It is called jeev-atma. It is the atma or rooh. 
Jeev-atma is the offspring (ulaad) of Akal Purakh.

Kaho Kabir eh Raam ki ansh (SGGS 871)

Jeev-atma is the offspring of Akal Purakh and is always longing to return to its Source but is prevented by the outer three bodies/layers. It is covered by them like a jewel which is hidden in layers of mud or mire also referred to as pankaj in Gurbani.

Even after death only the outer physical body is shed but the other two bodies in which the jeev-atma is entrapped, remain and seek another body. And so, the cycle of birth and death continues numerous times until the jeev-atma is freed by the True Guru’s guidance to return to its Source, the Creator Being. That is the cycle of karam (karma).

In our physical body, is the sookhsham sareer. It is the energy or etheric body and is the true copy of the body (sathhool sareer). It is connected to every cell of the body and operates through the meridian system. Meridians are electricity pathways in the body along which vital energy flows. The system gives life force to the body. Without this life force the body is dead. It is lifeless.

The sookhsham sareer itself receives instruction from the karan sareer. Karan means the cause or the reason for something happening, as when say “Is da ki karan hai – what is the cause or reason for this”. So karan sareer is the causal body formed by ideas. The karan saree sends instruction and the sookhshm sareer converts these ideas to actions of the physical body by sending it electrical impulses through its network of meridians.

It sounds complicated but can be understood simply as: ideas activating electrical impulses in our body which in turn cause physical movement or actions. In daily language, the mind sends instructions through the network of nerves, which the body parts carry out as actions. Without thoughts, no signals are sent and there is no action.

So, why not say that we have a mind located in the head, a network of nerves which reaches all parts of the body to activate the physical body?  I believe this concept of three bodies in one – the sathool, sookhsham and karan – shows that the three systems operate together to the level of every cell in the body. “I” awareness is in every cell of the body! On the other hand when we understand Hukam through Naam Simran (meditation on Naam), it is “You”, the Creator Being, Who is in every cell of the body!!

We must remember that this is a two- way system. The body parts carry out the instruction of the mind; however, the body parts also send back signals to the mind and influence and shape  thoughts.  So the mind instructs the body, but the body also instructs and can control the mind. The question is who or what is in control?

Beyond the causal or ideas body, the karan sareer, is the atma or jeev-atma , the offspring of Param Atma, the Akal Purakh or the Timeless Being. Let us pause and reflect: jeev-atma is very much part of the Param Atma, the Akal Purakh, just like a drop of water is not different from the ocean full of water. The drop arose from the ocean and seeks to return to the ocean. So, the jeev-atma seeks to return to the Param Atma or Akal Purakh. However, it is prevented from doing that by the karan and the sookhsham bodies engrossed in world-play.

The Hukam/Command of the Param Atma operates through the jeev atma which activates the causal/ideas, energy and physical bodies in that order.  So, it is by the Hukam we suffer pain/unhappiness (dukhi) or are happy and contented (sukhi). One who understands, accepts dukh/sukh in Waheguru’s Hukam or Bhana, remains aloof and in a state of equipoise. One who does not, is affected by these. 

We cannot see the Param Atma and the jeev-atma. Eventually, the jeev-atma entrapped by the ideas, energy and physical bodies (karan, sookhsham and sathool sareers) collectively, starts believing “I am” the doer, forgetting that it is the Will/Hukam of Akal Purakh which is the Doer. So hao-mai or ahankar i.e. “I am the doer” is created and takes over. That becomes the root cause of all pain and sorrow and the reason for the cycles of birth and death.

On death, the causal/ideas and energy bodies in which is imprisoned the jeev-atma, leaves this earthly body to be reborn.  

Freedom from the cycle of birth and death is an important milestone in the life of a Gursikh. However, unlike many other faiths, it is not the end-objective.  A Gursikh becomes a witness to this freedom while living, and moves on to the next stage which is to witness and experience the Ultimate Truth, the parkaash/pargaas  of the Param Atma.

Thus, the end objective of Sikhi is stressed in the Pangti: 
Raj na chaho(n) mukt na chaho(n) man preet charan kamlaaray. (SGGS 534)
I desire not an empire nor do I desire salvation/emancipation, my soul longs for love of your Lotus Feet.

The first stage is to witness the manifestation of the soul – atam parkaash. The next stage is Param Atam parkaash which has been compared to the light of millions of suns.

Saant sehej sookh man upjio,  kot sur (soor=sun) Nanak pargaas.  (SGGS 716)
Peace equipoise and pleasure/contentment have sprouted in my mind as I experience the   light of millions of suns, O Nanak.

The above can be interpreted as a paradigm shift as the mind is cleared of the cob-web, the net (jaal) of ego-centric thought which ensnare the human soul, the jeev-atma, and filled with the Light of Naam – true experience of Divine Virtues and Commands, the Source of all creation, seen and unseen. Instead of “I”, the Akal Purakh is witnessed as the Doer.

The main objective of every human being is to merge with the Source of all creation, the Akal Purakh, the Timeless Being. Gurbani guides us towards that objective so that the jeev atma is freed from the three bodies described as above and is enabled to return to its Source (upaj sarot).

That can be achieved through inner detachment while we remain fully engaged in this world.

The Sikhi way is to become conscious of Naam i.e. Divine virtues and Commands which guide Sikhi living. A Sikh emulates those virtues and obeys the Commands (Hukm). One becomes aware of Naam when the Almighty enables us to find the Guru and follow his teachings[ii]. This Naam consciousness is only possible when the mind (mun) becomes inwardly focussed.

The human mind, mun, “looks” outwards and experiences the outside world through the body senses. Thus, when outwardly focussed, the mind becomes totally engrossed in world play. Therefore, during life on earth, the mind remains pre-occupied with the world play. It begins to believe that it is the doer i.e. “I am” the doer. “I” am happy. “I” am suffering etc. The connection with the Real Doer, the Akal Purakh is broken. That becomes the cause of  cycles of birth and death   

The mind (mun) is also capable of looking inwards and experiencing/realising the jeev-atma, the soul. The jeev-atma is the offspring of the Param Atma, the Supreme Soul, the Creator Being. Naam Simran is the Gurmat way to turn our senses (mun) inwards to witness and realise the jeev-atma. That is when the mun becomes Jote-saroop.

Panch tatt mil kaayia kini.
Tis meh Raam rattan lai chini.
Atam Raam Raam meh aatam.
Har paayiai sabad vichaara hey (SGGS 1030)

Bringing together the five elements the body is created.
Within that seek the jewel of the Lord.
The soul is in the Lord and the Lord is in the soul.
The Lord is obtained by meditating on Naam.

So, in Gurbani, mun has a pivotal role in realising our true self, the jeev-atma, the ray of Param-atma (Supreme-soul) in every being.

Naam is the means for freeing the jeev atma from the causal (ideas) and the astral/energy bodies. Otherwise, the jeev-atma remains trapped  in the cycle of transmigration. Realization of the jeev-atma leads to union with Akal Purak in the realm of Sach Khand, the Ultimate Reality.

Akal Purakh is the self-aware unlimited energy field in which we all live. IT is the Ik Oangkar in Sikh thought: the Singularity which expands and contracts at Own Will or Hukam. We all live in this Self-aware Energy field like fish in water. The jeev-atma is part of Akal Purakh in the same way as a drop water is part of the ocean. It yearns to return to its Source as a drop of water seeks to return to the ocean from whence it came.

So, the Sikhi way is to understand, accept and obey the Divine Law and Commands, the  Hukam. In this way, all aspects of Sikhi life, activity and social activism, become attuned to and are in complete resonance with the Divine Law (Hukam). The ultimate objective of human life is achieved through:
Hukam boojh Param Pad paaee. (SGGS 292) 
By understanding and obeying the Divine Law operating in creation, the supreme status, the ultimate objective of human life, is achieved.   

Sikhi is both, outward looking (worldly) and inwardly contemplative with focus on Naam, i.e. Divine virtues and commands.

There is no re-birth for a Gursikh.

Gurmukh Singh OBE
11 September 2018

© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.)

[i] Bhai Sahib was born on 8 September 1918. However, having lost contact with him, I am not sure of the year of his departure for Sach Khand..
[ii] Ref: S. Rawel Singh’s Understanding Japji Sahib: Review and e-book at link:
To quote from the review:  The author clarifies that living by Naam means emulating Divine virtues/attributes and living by divine commands. That requires daily/timely sustained effort. The reader is left in no doubt that Naam japna requires both, mental and physical activism/effort.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Guru Nanak’s Jyot and Jugat

Guru Nanak Sahib working at his farm with Bhai Lehna (later Guru Angad)
(Image credit:

The Sikhs believe in One Guru Light, the Jyot *.
(*or Joth where th is pronounced as in think.)

In the Bhatt Savaiyay in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) Guru Nanak Sahib is referred to as the embodiment of the Jyot as follows: 

ਜੋਤਿ ਰੂਪਿ ਹਰਿ ਆਪਿ ਗੁਰੂ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਕਹਾਯਉ
Joth Roop Har Aap Guroo Naanak Kehaayo ||
The Embodiment of Light, the Lord Himself is called Guru Nanak.
SGGS Ang 1408. 

The same Jyot was in the nine Guru-persons after Guru Nanak. Thus, the start of the Guru-succession process is described as follows: 

ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤੂ ਲਹਣਾ ਤੂਹੈ ਗੁਰੁ ਅਮਰੁ ਤੂ ਵੀਚਾਰਿਆ
Naanak Thoo Lehanaa Thoohai Gur Amar Thoo veechaariaa ||
You are Nanak, You are Angad, and You are Amar Daas; so do I recognize You.
(SGGS Ang 968) 

According to Sikh belief, the Jyot now resides in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Shabd or Word Guru.

Together with the divine concept of Jyot, the idea of Jugat is also introduced in the  Guru tradition.

Jyot and Jugat go together.  From this twin- track approach has emerged a whole-life socially active system which is the miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) heritage of the Khalsa Panth.

Jyot can be conceptualised as a divine Source of Light which shows the way to the ultimate Reality or Truth (Sacch).  Jyot, the Light, shows the path to God-centred love (through bhagti and Naam meditation). It leads the way to the understanding and loving acceptance of the Divine Law or Hukam Razaaee. It leads to inner detachment from this life which is a passing phase, and attachment to the Timeless, Eternal Reality, the Truth (Sacch).  

For the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Sahib is the embodiment of Jyot as Jyot-roop Guru capable of removing the duality, the illusion of world-play, in his Sikh. Also, the Jyot-roop is extended from the Guru to the Sikh as from one lamp is lit another and countless others. In the Sikh tradition, the emergence (pragteo) of the Khalsa is seen as the outcome of that (Guru-Sikh or Aapay Guru-chelaa) process.

There are references in SGGS of Har jan becoming one with Har i.e. when the devotee of Waheguru meditates on the Qualities of Waheguru he or she merges with Waheguru. The duality of seeing the Creator as distinct from creation is removed. Jyot teaches us One-ness of the Creator Being and the created: to see God in all.

Ultimately, the Jyot is Waheguru, the Timeless and Wondrous Enlightener described by Guru Nanak Sahib in his founding creed, the Mool Mantar.

So, what is Jugat? Literally, Jugat means the way or the method. What is the jugat of doing or achieving something?  It refers to the process. Following inner freedom from self-centred attachment, Jugat, re-engages a Sikh with this life in the Guru’s way. It is the way or method of living shown by the Guru.

Jyot frees or disengages the Sikh from the duality of life due to self-centricity (haomai) and then, in that free state of mind of inner detachment,  Jugat re-engages the Sikh through social activism to serve the Creater and the created.

Jyot and Jugat twin-track approach to Sikhi living is a unique gift of Guru Nanak Sahib.  

It was through the process of Jugat that the Khalsa was revealed in the Guru’s own image by Nanak X, Guru Gobind Singh. That was the high point of Sikhi tradition on the Vaisakhi day in 1699.

Jugat has to do with practical Sikhi and the related processes and procedures.
The ten Guru persons were the embodiment of both, the Jyot and Jugat:  

ਜੋਤਿ ਓਹਾ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਸਾਇ ਸਹਿ ਕਾਇਆ ਫੇਰਿ ਪਲਟੀਐ
Jyot Oha Jugat saae Seh kaaeiaa faer palatteeai
The Guru-persons shared the same Guru Light and the same way (method); only the King [Nanak] changed His body. (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ang 966)

Sometimes, due to lack of clarity of Jugat, divisions are created amongst the followers of the same path (or panth) of  Sikhi.

Today, there is need to remind ourselves what Guru’s Jugat means.  There are some who ignore this essential component of Sikh living, either through ignorance or by design. For most, there is no problem with the Jyot aspect of Guru Nanak, but for some, the Jugat aspect of the Guru, passed on to the Khalsa Panth by Guru Gobind Singh, causes problems.

The Jugat and Jyot linked miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) tradition symbolised by the institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib becomes politically inconvenient for some. The Sikh Reht Maryada – the Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions – evolved by the Khalsa Panth, causes problems also.  

Without a study of the lives of the ten Guru-persons who represented the same Jyot-Jugat of Guru Nanak and who progressed the Guru’s mission, it is not possible to interpret the divine Message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib which is both, universal and also specific to the Sikhi way of life evolved over the centuries. In the Sikh tradition, the lessons taught by the ten Guru-persons through own lives regarding Jugat (lived Sikhi) cannot be ignored.   

Any study of Sikh ideology and tradition would be incomplete without understanding the inseparable Jyot-Jugat attributes of The One Guru. Reference to the Word Guru, the SGGS, for guidance also requires reference to the Jugat for practical interpretation. This was taught in simple steps by the ten Guru-persons up to the revelation of the Khalsa Panth, the high point of lived-Sikhi tradition. 

When the teaching period of the Jyot-Jugat Guru through ten Guru-persons was over, the Jyot passed on to the Eternal Shabd-Guru, Sri Guru Grath Sahib, while the Jugat resided in the collective body of the Khalsa Panth, which became Guru Roop Khalsa in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. That was the final Command of Nanak-Jyot, Guru Gobind Singh.  

The Jugat resides in the Khalsa Panth. The Jyot in Sri Guru Granth Sahib guides individual and collective Sikh living through the Khalsa Panth. That is the twin track approach to the Guru, when seeking guidance.  

Any other approach would lead to multiple, and sometimes conflicting, interpretations of Shabd Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib. We see that happening today.

There are obvious practical implications of the above Jyot-Jugat approach to Sikhi living. When we feel that we have lost our way then we seek guidance from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. However, Guru Gobind Singh ji’s injunction is that correct guidance or interpretation of the Shabd Guru is only possible at collective Khalsa level. There are those today who would ignore or even deny that injunction.

The ray of hope is that there are others pursuing the Sarbat Khalsa tradition of collective decision making to revive the Khalsa processes for the future guidance of the Panth.

The Guru’s Jugat was taught over more than two centuries from 1469, the year of the arrival of  “Jyot Roop Har Aap”, Guru Nanak Sahib. The lessons taught by the Jyot-Jugat Guru-persons over that period as part of Sikhi tradition, cannot be ignored.

The Panthic Sikh Reht Maryada The Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions
– is the Jugat derived collectively by the Khalsa Panth from Sri Guru Granth Sahib as interpreted through the lives and teachings of the Guru-persons from Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh. The definition of a Sikh in the Sikh Reht Maryada includes belief in the “Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib” and “The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus”. 

Sikh tradition is based on Simran or constant God awareness through meditation on the Jyot, which leads to the desire to serve the Creater Being by serving His creation.

It leads to the objective of halemi raj, a just regime in which no one inflicts pain on another. It leads to willing sacrifices to oppose tyrannical regimes. Today it is leading Sikhs to care for the environment and the planet, the Mata Dharat Mahat – the Great Mother Earth – and to responsible world citizenship.
The Sikh tradition is derived from Guru-Jugat or way of living. Understanding of the Jyot-Jugat Sikhi approach is a pre-condition to the interpretation of Gurbani when seeking guidance from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. 

Gurmukh Singh OBE
(Principle Civil Servant ret’d)

© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.) Please acknowledge quotations from this article
Articles may be published subject to prior approval by the author.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Radicalization & Confused Government Policy

Radicalization is a loaded expression which lumps together Islamic radicalization at one extreme and social activism at the other.    

According to one definition, radicalization is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that reject or undermine the status quo.

So, if any individual or group of people who wish to bring about a change or support a cause, but adopt extreme methods e.g. through violence or terrorism, then one can argue that they have been radicalized

However, some would argue that any form of progress or change would “undermine status quo”. Those wishing to return to their roots and stable societal values would be regarded as the “radicals”. 

It would seem that radicalization of young people from well established minority communities in Western countries is a complex issue and can be misunderstood or exploited.

As for “extreme methods”, the other condition for “radicalization”,  that too becomes rather subjective. Young Sikhs disagreed with Gurdwara managment at Leamington in the UK and started a protest. It is not clear at what stage that protest – hopefully an invitation to talk - became “extreme methods” in the management’s view so that armed police were called in when responsible community leaders could have settled any disagreement about the Sikh Reht Maryada (The Code of Sikh Conduct & Conventions).

On 14 September, a Shashank Joshi wrote about the Leamington Gurdwara incident in The Telegraph and linked Sikhs to Muslim extremism. His headline reads, "We cannot let religious conservatives poison our society  - whether Muslim or Sikh."  From his angle and that of some on Sikh forums, conservatives  are the radicals.

Therefore, these conservative Sikhs have been radicalized and are “poisoning our society”! But surely, if they have been radicalised then they cannot be conservatives. If they are truly conservatives then they are the ones trying to preserve religio-cultural values which give us stability.

It is becoming popular to say that young people are being radicalized by extremist ideologies. Yet many of these young people are simply trying to re-discover their roots and return to established religio-social values. Therefore, for the purpose of Government policy “extremist ideology” needs to be defined more carefully and on the basis of better education about communities. 

I quote a senior colleague with appreciation, “The term radicalization is rather loaded and implies some sort of deliberate brain washing and then utilisation by some forces for ulterior motives. People often associate this term to what is happening within the Islamic community when it conjures up certain images. The protestors in this [Leamington Gurdwara] case have widespread community support as they are quite simply raising the issue of violation of the Rehat Maryada and at other times protesting at injustices towards Sikhs in India.”

He goes on to clarify, “I am not in support of activities that bring adverse media coverage towards Sikhs , covering of faces during protests etc but do think it is dangerous to start using terms like radicalisation of the Sikh youth as it has many unintended consequences .”  I agree.

Individuals and groups questioning the current state of affairs, are sometimes  regarded as a threat by the establishment. They are seen to be “undermining status quo”. Too readily, they are then branded as radicalized when they protest.

Instead of understanding the reasons for activism in many fields, and appreciating it and giving it a positive direction and support by passing just laws when needed, generally, the establishment – the politicians, the media and vested interests e.g. international trade - tends to oppose it.  The activists resort to protests and, at some point, there is even breakdown of law and order.

Depending on the wrong perceived or suffered, some resort to violence and start earning the qualification, radicalized .  Political and religious issues can be easily exploited by preachers of hatred to radicalize young minds. This is referred to as the “slippery slope” to radicalization even in fields not normally associated with violence to begin with. For example, even environmental issues and charity work in the field in war-torn zones can lead to radicalization.

The media plays a prominent role too by either resorting to hype in the headlines or totally ignoring issues and concerns e.g. those of minority communities. Investigative journalism can help but it is time consuming.  Shoddy journalism is cheap and looks for sensational headlines.  To quote a colleague, “We all need to be wary of unscrupulous and sloppy journalism that seeks to play on stereotypes and to sensationalise; this is what improves ratings and sells newspapers and perhaps we get the journalism we deserve.”    

In case of Sikh youth, the careless approach of the mainstream media continues to be a matter of grave concern. Western media has done hardly anything to educate itself and the public about the Sikhs even after the Sikh killings in the US due to mistaken identity.  To quote a report, “Since 9/11, the Sikh American community has had to face repeated harassment over basic tenets of their faith, such as wearing a turban and keeping a beard. “ Identity Sikhs are profiled as terrorists. Youth resentment and protests against such treatment is to be expected.

The impression gained is that radicalization of youth in the plural British society is a term used too conveniently to lump together all types of activism and just grievances. Radicalization of youth does not happen overnight. There is a reason or a provocation and extreme positions are adopted incrementally. Matters are made worse when the establishment turns a blind eye to the real issues and concerns. 

Yet, a desire to bring about change towards a just society is a legitimate human goal. It is central to Sikh teaching.  Social activism is not a threat but a welcome sign of a vibrant and healthy society. Activists in social, religious and political fields should understand that change for the better in society takes time.

It is possible that, rather too hastily, youth movements are branded as radicalized  without a careful study of the underlying causes and possible remedies at national and international levels.

Gurmukh Singh OBE
(Principle Civil Servant ret’d)

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