Every religion, every country, has its quota of sects. As long as man thinks, so long he will question every thesis presented to him by religious leaders and godmen. This is a fact of life.
Hinduism, in many ways, is a conglomeration of sects and it is to the eternal credit of the religion that it accepts freedom of thought as an inherent right of mankind. This is not to say that there haven'tbeen conflicts. Indeed there have been, but they were in days past. Hinduism'smost astounding distinction is that it does not have a Pope, a Prophet or a Guru to lay down what can or what cannot be believed. In that sense, it is the freest of all religions. Even if we forget the differences between the Shias and Sunnis, Islam cannot tolerate the Ahmediyas who are not accepted as Muslims.
One would have thought that of all religions, Sikhism, which in effect was born to protect Hinduism from Islamic onslaught, would not have any dissenters within it. But in 1978 the Nirankari sect raised the hackles of the Akal Takht and what happened then is common knowledge. That the Congress tried to exploit it, is to the eternal shame of the party.
Punjab?and then the country at large?paid a very heavy price for it. Now, we hear of another sect, the Dera Sacha Sauda, of whose existence few were even aware of till recently. But apparently it has been growing ?phenomenally?, as one newspaper reported, admitting to its dubious fold dalits and even?believe it or not?some Muslims and Christians, not to mention quite a few Sikhs as well.
If reports are to be believed, the ranks of the Dera have been quietly increasing with followers not only in Punjab, but also in its nearby districts in Haryana and Rajasthan, The sect reportedly also has branches in over fifteen countries, including Australia, Canada and the United States and has a paper Sach Kahun published from Delhi and the place of its birth, Sirsa. All of which is nobody'sbusiness except that its head, with the improbable name of Sant Ram Raheem Singh has become a source of irritation annoyance and anger of orthodox Sikhism. And the Sant is under CBI investigation for two murders. That a so-called Sant should have two murder charges against him should make one question his credibility. Even that would have gone unnoticed had he not tried to dress up like the 10th Sikh Guru, the most respected Guru Gobind Singh, and be seen preparing an elixir?amrit?to distribute at a public function, in imitation of that deeply respected leader. It was a most stupid thing to do and though Sant Ram Raheem later apologised, claiming that he had no intention of equating himself with Sant Guru Gobind Singh, or of showing disrespect to him, the damage had been done.
The picture of Ram Raheem in his new attire has appeared in an advertisement. What is disturbing is that the Dera Sacha Sauda has a political wing that religious sects are not supposed to have, but not only has this sect such a wing, that wing has been openly supporting the Congress thus mixing religion (for whatever it is) with politics. That Dera Sacha Sauda has given offence to orthodox Sikhism is a fact of life, even if one claims that freedom of conscience is a fundamental right. But freedom of conscience does not mean freedom to give offence, and the five high priests of the Sikh faith have demanded severe action against the Sacha Sauda.
One hopes that tempers will cool down and the more fundamentalist Sikhs will not again start shouting pro-Khalistani slogans, as they did recently. The charge has already been made that the Congress has been a complicit partner in the entire unsavoury episode involving the Dera chief. The Congress should be warned not to indulge in the politics of religion. This tendency has been noticeable in the Sachar Report that pitches the Muslim poor against the Hindu poor. The British played the separatist game and not only did they lose, but India lost as well. So would the Congress if it continues to repeat the performance of our former rulers to the greater damage to the country. The Congress losing is of no great consequence, but India cannot afford Congress communalism playing havoc with the country'sunity. Congress pretence to secularism has become a joke?a very cruel one at that. The Dera claims to oppose all established faiths and promote the spiritual ideal of One God and One Truth, but it would be wise not to go beyond its professed vision and get involved with politics.
God has nothing to do with politics. It is now coming to be known that practically all political parties have been wooing the Dera as a potent vote bank. It is nobody'sbusiness how the Dera votes individually or collectively. But the Dera is well-advised to stick to its spiritual aspirations and leave politics to individuals with their own fancies, instead of laying down the law as to whom its followers should vote for.
Many of our people are sliding into the medieval ages. Take the case of Vyalar Ravi, a Kerala politician. He is married to a Christian, but his sons have been brought up as Hindus, but when they visited the famous Guruvayur temple, the priests there were up in protests claiming that the temple has been desecrated and they sought to ?purify? it.
One can desecrate a temple by throwing rubbish into it; one can break an idol as several Islamic rulers from Ghazni Mohammad onwards have done in the past and Portuguese missionaries have done in Goa. But how can one desecrate God who lives in all of us and whose prayers He will listen to, be he a Brahmin, shudra or dalit?
Does God have a religion? Isn'tHe the purest of pure, beyond all desecration? The Guruvayur temple authorities only brought shame on themselves by denying Ravi'ssons the right to pray within the temple premises. The situation in Punjab seems to have quietened down, but all of us, to whichever religion we belong, need to do some introspection. Sant Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh did no service to Sikhism or spiritualism by trying to present himself as a modern-day avatar of Guru Gobind Singh.
Sectarian tensions are nothing new in Punjab where feelings often overflow into mindless violence with long-lasting effects. Sant Gurmeet Ram Raheem crossed the Laxman Rekha and the Congress which he supports must have told him sternly to behave himself under the threat that if he does not, it will disown his sect and its political support. We have had enough trouble with just one Bhindranwale. We don'tneed another one under any circumstances. Religious space should not be encroached upon by politicians out to get votes. When will the Congress ever learn? Sectarianism is commonplace in India. Let it be. That is part of our culture. But when a party seeks to exploit it, it damages the fabric of a united India and the offender must be put in his place. That is good government. How many murders and assassinations do we need to realise that we are One India, One People?