In any crisis or natural calamity, the Sikh community has consistently stepped forward to help those in need. The humanitarian contribution of Sikhs far outweighs their minuscule population in the world.
Despite this, the community has faced some of the worst pogroms, hate crimes, terror attacks and religious discrimination.
This was evident on Wednesday, 25 March as well. Terrorists bombed a gurdwara in Afghanistan’s Kabul, killing 25 Sikhs. ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack.
Soon after the attack, the community had to face a very different kind of onslaught in India, which is home to the largest number of Sikhs in the world. Instead of expressing solidarity with Sikhs, Hindutva supporters took to social media to add insult to the community’s injury. And their target was the Sikh practice of langar.
Taunting Sikhs for serving langar to Muslim protesters at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra tweeted, “What will those who were distributing langar at Shaheen Bagh be thinking?”
Pro-Hindutva page Shankhnaad went to the extent of blaming the Sikhs at Shaheen Bagh for the Kabul attack.
Two Twitter handles followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also used the attack to drag in Sikhs who were serving langar at Shaheen Bagh.
These some of the tweets from better known handles. Besides these, there were several hateful tweets abusing Sikhs, calling the attack as “Karma” and accusing Sikhs of being “anti-India” for standing with protesters at Shaheen Bagh. Some even patronisingly advised Sikhs to “return to their faith” instead of “helping Muslims”.
The question is: Why do religious extremists hate Sikhs so much?
Roots of Anti-Sikh Hatred in Afghanistan
The roots of anti-Sikh sentiments in Afghanistan and in India are different. In Afghanistan, some attribute it to the glorification of Durrani king Ahmad Shah Abdali, who is associated with some of the worst massacres of Sikhs in Punjab.
For extremist outfits in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the sentiment can also be traced to the efforts of Syed Ahmed Barelvi and Shah Ismail to establish an Islamic State in the Pashtun dominated areas of the North Western Frontier in the early 19th Century and their eventual death at the hands of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army at the Battle of Balakot in 1831.
More recently, Sikhs have become vulnerable in Afghanistan due to two reasons.
First, given existence of multiple domestic and international power centres in Afghanistan, attacking Sikhs or Shia Hazaras has become an easy way for any force which wants to create instability in the country.
Second, terror groups like ISIS as well as some local militia are engaged in a battle of competitive extremism in which killing visible minorities like Sikhs and Hazaras becomes a way to expand one’s power.
The second point is equally applicable to attacks on Sikhs in Pakistan.
Hindutva Roots of Anti-Sikh Hatred
The anti-Sikh hatred within Hindutva has different and even more complex roots. In essence it stems from two flawed assumptions about Sikhs.
- First, that Sikhs aren’t a separate religion but a Panth within Hinduism.
- Second, Sikhs have to be inherently anti-Muslim due to their earlier conflict with Mughals.
These two assumptions often lead to virulent attacks on Sikhs whenever they assert their separateness as a religion or when they refuse to join in Hindutva’s battle against Muslims.
One organisation that played a key role in fostering anti-Sikh sentiment among Hindus was the Arya Samaj. According to Dr Ganda Singh, one of the most renowned scholars of Punjab and Sikhism:
“Historically speaking, the Hindu-Sikh tension had its origin in the unhappy language used for Guru Nanak and his followers by Shri Swami Dayananda, the founder of the Arva Samaj, in his book the Satyarth Prakash published in 1875, the year in which he first Arya Samaj was established.”
According to him, the Satyarth Prakash describes Gurus as “fraud, sly and mischievous”, Sikhism as a “trap to dupe people” and Sikhs as “arrogant and slaves to lust”.
Compared to Guru Nanak, the Arya Samajis are more lenient towards Guru Gobind Singh, because of his conflict with Mughals.
The Hindutva view of Sikhs is similar, respect Sikh figures only so far as they can be presented through an anti-Muslim prism, but resist any attempt by Sikhs to assert their separateness.
In 2001, the then RSS Sarsanghchalak KS Sudarshan described Sikhism as a “panth within Hinduism”. This was slammed by the Akal Takht and the tussle continues even today.
The current acting Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh, is particularly hated by Hindutva supporters for vocally criticisng the Modi government and RSS regarding treatment of minorities.
‘Stand With Sikhs’
However, the hatred against Sikhs is nothing compared to the love and respect the community gets across the world. And this was quite clear after the Kabul bombing on Wednesday.
Even as the trolling by Hindutva handles began on Twitter, several people came forward to express their solidarity with the Sikh community and condemned those behind the terror attack.
A cartoon of a Muslim hugging a Sikh also went viral as several twitter uses tweeted with the hashtag #StandWithSikhs.
The message is clear. Sikhs are a transnational community who have gained huge respect across the world for their hard-work, industry, and above all, their sense of humanity stemming from the spirit of Sarbat Da Bhala. No amount of terror attacks, pogroms and hatred can silence them.