Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Clash Between Culture and Religion

Quite often, religion can often be overshadowed by the interminable caste system. Although, Sikhi does not believe in the caste system, it has been fused into our religion, thus blurring the line between culture and religion. This week's discussion focused upon these misunderstandings and tried to re-draw that line. The Following are some of the main points that were discussed.

The Caste System:

  • Various Castes in the Punjabi culture: -Jatt (farmer), Carpenter (mistry), Landlords etc.
  • Guru Gobind Singh ji wanted to eradicate the caste system by introducing the 5 K's and so the individuals of lower caste (Jatts) embraced Sikhi.
  • "Jatt" vs. Ramgharian Gurudwaras --> marriage has to be in the Gurudwara of the caste that you belong to.
  • Parents are responsible for coming up with and encouraging this way of thinking. For example, a typical encounter with an auntie would include her asking the famous question: "what are you?" in hopes of knowing the caste that you belong to although Sikhi is casteless.
  • The generations in the UK especially, have taken the caste system very seriously
  • It seems as if it has been ingrained in our (parent's) minds.
  • Media Influences:
  • ~So many "wannabe" Sikhs coming out in the media and setting the wrong example for today's generation.
  • The youth in India especially rely on the media as their source
  • ~One of the main reasons for the increasing violence in Vancouver are these role models who promote drinking and fighting as the "Jatt" way of life.
  • ~The Jatt way of life: To look for fights
  • ~The Khanda- what is an emblem for Sikhs is now becoming more so a symbol for jades exemplifying their level of devotion to religion.

Questions Raised:

  • Sikhs today are usually associated with the caste system- what does that say about us as a community?
  • Role models for children today are Hip Hop Videos not the Gurus-Is there something wrong with that? If so, what should we do about it?
  • If you are asked by an auntie "what are you?" How should you respond?
  • What should be done with those communities in the UK and Vancouver where the second and third generation Sikhs are still adamant about sticking to their caste?
  • Whatever happened to the fundamental Sikh belief in equality?

Conclusions reached:

  • The caste system is against the Sikh philosophy
  • When it comes down to things, all "castes" have a similar lifestyle and live in the same environment
  • The more Punjabis we have, the greater the belief in the caste system--> notice that smaller communities have less knowledge about it-which is a good thing.
  • Plain and simply, the caste system is just Wrong and needs to be abolished.


  • They continue to exist today
  • Common examples: You cannot wash your hair on Tuesdays and Saturdays, don't leave the house/turn on the car if someone sneezes
  • There is still a predominant belief in Sants and Babas of one sort or another.
  • A reason why this hasn't been abolished is out of respect for the elders.

Punjabi Culture Vs. Sikhi

  • It is quite difficult for the two to be compatible, more so now because our culture has been tainted
  • The Western culture has a great and inevitable influence upon our way of life.
  • There is an increasing amount of alcohol abuse, compliments of the media.
  • The last name issue: Our Guru had given us one instruction but we fail to follow it and instead of using Singh and Kaur use the names which identify the caste that we belong to.
  • Although the Punjabi culture is a beautiful thing, it has a way of impressing beliefs upon you and seems to be more influential than our religion.
  • For example, when dealing with fellow Punjabi friends, you are more hard pressed to act a certain way in order to be accepted.
  • In Punjab, religion is fading rapidly. There is a common belief there that it is too hard to be the perfect Sikh so it is essentially pointless to try.

Questions Raised:

  • Is it too difficult to be a good Sikh with Punjabi/Hindu culture having such an influence on us?
  • Why is it so difficult? Can we make it better somehow?
  • Should religion have a greater influence on us or culture? Why is culture more influential?

Conclusions reached:

  • The youth here have a greater awareness about the issues between culture and religion facing us today (these discussions are perfect examples of that!)
  • Sikhism should be separate from culture.


Himmat Singh Khalsa said...

I think a good answer to an Auntie if they ask what you are would be:
I am a Human Being, or I am a Son/Daughter of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

Anonymous said...

"There is still a predominant belief in Sants and Babas of one sort or another"

- I just hope that you guys are referring to belief in Sants and babas, as wrong, in terms of people actually worshipping them. There is nothing in gurbani that says we shouldn't believe in sants and babas, and on the contrary, there is more evidence in Sukhmani Sahib and other bani's that support the idea of believing in sants. You guys need to be careful when you make statements such as these without clarifying and describing exactly what you mean or else people that are trying to learn more about Sikhi will learn the wrong things. I am not saying that it is okay to bow to a sant or anything that would compromise the authority of the SGGS but rather people looking to these sants for encouragement and further information. Sants are a good thing (well sometimes..don't want to talk about fake sants) but there is NOTHING AGAINST BELIEVING IN SANTS.