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Excerpted from the book Perspective and Position in Sikhism by Dr. Balkar Singh.
Published by: Guru Nanak Foundation, New Delhi 2023
Reprinted with permission.

Crisis of multiple identities has been the fate of human beings throughout history. Though the contemporary world is fast imbibing the spirit of multi-national, multi-cultural and multi- religious coexistence, yet the crisis of multiple identities looms large over mankind particularly in contemporary world. 

We are born with certain characteristics which define as well as govern our inherited and structured identities. Even the discourse on this topic cannot escape the influences like politics of identity fraught with sinister ramifications. Politics always have the potential of challenging the hegemonic control of one group over another. Politics of secular extremism and democratic majoritarianism has generated movements of protest demanding recognition of differences.

Multiple identities were never a problem for multi-cultural and multi-religious composite India as they are now, and the identity-crisis of certain communities is actually rooted in specific type of political strategies. We all know that birth in Indian society locates an individual in a web of identities based on kinship and social hierarchy. Socialization in Indian society is spontaneous and effortless supported by custom and tradition. A peaceful coexistence with an inbuilt mechanism of conflict resolution has been the hallmark of Indian social system. Multiple identities were accommodated and reconciled without jeopardizing social harmony and identity. Consequently, the identity crisis of any kind was out of question. These effortless outcomes were creating the atmosphere for living with all sorts of identities around. This indeed can be taken as the basis of our expectations from the contemporary world. 

First of all, the religion based on caste by birth (varan ashram) created multiple identities and the social unity along with the national pride, but an all-embracing spirit was lost in it. This made the society vulnerable to invaders who played havoc with the country. Even in this situation the basic ethos of the society remained unperturbed for a long time. Moreover, the advent of the equalitarian principles of Islam challenged this equality perspective in a hegemonic spirit. 

It was in such a situation that Guru Nanak (1469-1539) laid the theoretical basis of a just and equitable society, expressed in the idiom of the common man. He no doubt created a model-identity and named it Sikh. But this identity was based on spiritual rather than religious principles like dos and don’ts. 

Making the concept of God easy to understand he defined Almighty (Akal) as one and only one who is true, creative, immortal, without fear, sans enmity, unborn and self-illumined. (From Mool Mantar). Such qualities of the Almighty gave rise to a certain weltanschauung among the believers. The nature is conceived as being based on air as the Guru, water as the father, earth as the great mother and day and night as the female and male nurses for all human beings. Such a conception of the world necessarily leads to a certain way of life for all. What is more, accepting the righteousness as judgment based on the merits and demerits of one’s life? If one is in the lap of Almighty wherein the entire world play goes on, then a different mind-set will have to emerge. According to their respective deeds some shall be near and some distant from the Akal. Those who have pondered over the Name, and have departed after putting in toil, O Nanak! Their faces shall be bright, and many shall be emancipated along with them. (from Shalok of Japji Sahib)

The human-identity in Sikh perspective is expected on these lines. This can be easily understood through the example of water. Water is supposed to flow in continuity without compromising its character, purpose and spirit. Water teaches us how to go through the obstacles with grace, determination and humility. Water flows without bothering about its past and future and flows with the given situations. 

Grappling with a crisis can engender a new identity. Guru Gobind Singh created Khalsa-identity with five k’s (Kes, Kangha, Kachha, Kara & Kirpan) which are apparently identity specific features, but the spirit of community-anthem given by Guru (ਦੇਹੁ ਸ਼ਿਵਾ ਬਰ ਮੋਹਿ ਇਹੈ ਸ਼ੁਭ ਕਰਮਨ ਤੇ ਕਬਹੂ ਨ ਟਰੋਂ) was in the continuity of the expectations mentioned above. With the politics around these days, Sikhs also opted for politics of religion instead of spiritual living and became the party to the crisis of identity in the contemporary world. It happened because of a gap between theory and practice. 

It should be kept in mind that the failure of practice is not a failure of theory and in the contemporary world Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the infallible source for all-embracing theory can save us from the multiple crises of identities.

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