‘All men are born equal, but some it seems are more equal than others.’
If the fundamental premise of the Khalsa was to eradicate ‘caste’ and render all men equal, then I would argue that it has failed on every account.
Guru Gobind Singh founded the order to help the poor, the weak, the voiceless, the oppressed and the disenfranchised. The Khalsa served a moral, spiritual, temporal and revolutionary purpose, and for a brief moment in history it succeeded in uniting all the castes into one.
Alas! The reality we see today is somewhat different. The low castes are still a stigmatised people and denied their basic rights. For them religion has run its course as the every fabric of society is loaded against them. Consider the following;
The Gurdwara, traditionally the epicentre of the community and the faith, are all established and run along caste lines.
Rural Punjab life is segregated by caste. The lower castes are kept separate from mainstream polity in designated settlements called ‘thhattis’ or ‘chamadlees.’ These are invariably located on the outskirts of the village near the village sewers, thereby strengthening the notion of untouchability. This imposes restrictions on social interaction.
Intermarrying between castes is seldom practised and is taboo. Marriage is arranged wholly by caste with most Gurdwaras barring mixed caste weddings.
Access to the common village cremation grounds (shamlot) is denied to all low castes, they have to make do with their own make shift grounds.
Low caste Sikhs are labelled ‘Mazhbi’ or ‘Ramdassia’ to denote their low caste background, when surely the word Gursikh should suffice. The word mazbhi literally means convert, and gives the impression that they are not fully recognised members of the faith and therefore by implication outside the ambit of Sikhi. Pause for thought; aren’t all Sikhs converts.
On cursory examination the above points merely illustrate that everything from cradle to grave is kept separate by design. This in my opinion negates the central tenet of Sikhism ‘har manas ki ek jhaat pechanabo’ as invalid. Anyone who feels offended by these comments should however reserve their anger at those who perpetuate this injustice and status quo, because to remain silent simply keeps the problem very much alive.