Wednesday, March 12, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



A miracle in wilderness

Recently I had the opportunity to volunteer my services at Guru Nanak Mission Hospital at Dhahan Kaleran in the district of Nawanshahr, Punjab. I was representing a USA-based professional organisation named Nasmda (North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association). Nasmda has affiliated with this hospital to provide volunteer services in medicine. Highly trained and skilled specialists in different fields of medicine and surgery will visit the hospital on an ongoing basis. The plan is to improve the technical skills and training of the physicians and surgeons serving this hospital.

I was highly impressed by the magnitude and high quality of this hospital. The hospital sits in the middle of the rural Doaba region. There is no major town or city in the immediate neighbourhood. The institute run by a private charitable trust was started in the early 80s. Mr Budh Singh Dhahan, an expatriate from Canada, took upon himself to organise this trust and start the mammoth task of building a hospital to serve the deprived, poor and relatively uneducated rural folks of this region. His dream has become a reality and at present they have a well-staffed, beautifully built 300-bed hospital, a top rated nursing school and nursing college. A top grade senior secondary school is also located on the site. All these institutions are run very efficiently, free of bureaucratic red-tape or political interference. Funds come from Punjabi immigrants. Local support by the grateful users of the institutes is noteworthy. The institute provides the much-needed medical service to the poor on a non-profit and at times charitable basis. 


There is no compromise on the quality of the services provided. In fact, there is great willingness to adopt the latest developments and accept help from overseas resources. The nursing college, which has affiliation with the University of British Columbia in Canada, is very impressive, well staffed and equipped to provide high-grade education. Locally educated girls in turn provide excellent nursing care to the people of Punjab as well have an opportunity to immigrate overseas for career advancement.

While Mr Budh Singh’s dream is close to fulfilment, he is striving hard to reach the final goal to establish a medical college on the campus. I was also encouraged to find out about a proposed plan to establish a trauma centre and a high quality cardiac care centre at the hospital soon. In the field of orthopaedic surgery where I came to help, we have already started providing arthroscopic surgery and very soon total joint replacement arthroplasty will be done. Advancements in other fields such as urology, colo-rectal surgery, ENT and ophthalmology are in progress.

Can one man make such a big difference in the life of a community? I did not have a clear realisation of this till I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks at this institute. The progressive and dynamic leadership of this agile octogenarian Sikh gentleman, Budh Singh, was inspiring. He gave up the good life and comforts of living in Canada, returned home and has spent the last 24 years working tirelessly day and night to make this possible. I have learnt a lot from him, particularly about human relationships, his breadth of vision, steadfastness against adversity and willingness to listen and adapt. Hopeless as one feels to see the falling standards of morality and the dishonesty that prevails at all levels of society in this land of our Gurus, this ray of hope was refreshing. I hope and pray for a few more individuals like him to show the light and the path so that our state can once again regain the pride of its rich heritage.

Tejpal Singh Dhillon, Raleigh, USA

Not casteless

The letters of Baldev Singh of Amritsar and Lt Col Bhagwant Singh of Mohali (March 4) have missed an important point. My argument that “Sikhism was not a casteless religion” was based on the authority of Sikh scriptures and known facts about the lives of the Gurus, none of which have been controverted by them.

An unknown newswriter of unknown credibility and loyalty quoted by Banerjee, the Bengali historian of the British days, or the views of an eminent Sikh historian, Dr Ganda Singh quoted by Baldev Singh, cannot stand before the sources quoted by me. Many Sikhs who are hard put to explain their bigoted views, start questioning the authenticity of many Banis of Dasam Granth despite protests from other Sikhs who hold this scripture also very sacred. Some other Sikhs had had to bear the wrath of the Panth when they had tried to excise the banis of Hindu and Muslim bhagats and sants from Guru Granth Sahib.

Even if we accept the argument that it was only the Tenth Guru who had abolished casteism while the “Vaars” of Bhai Gurdas were composed earlier, no such jugglery can explain the mention of the castes of Gurus in Guru Granth Sahib.

The only solid argument Lt Col Bhagwant Singh has given is regarding the Dashmesh having ordained the Sikhs (or was it the Khalsa?) that all Sikh men should suffix “Singh” and all women should suffix “Kaur” to their names. Were these suffixes to replace the suffixes of Chand, Das, Kumar, Lal etc. or the sub-castes? Sub-castes are always mentioned after these suffixes, isn’t it? I have not come across any “ordainment” of the Dashmesh not to mention one’s caste or sub-caste.

And as for Sikh leaders and Maharajas not suffixing their castes to their names, the point is: did any of them marry his daughter or sister to a Sikh of lower caste? How many Sikhs of lower castes have been able to marry their sons amongst Sikh families of higher castes?

Bhai Aridaman Singh Jhubal, Amritsar

Vir Savarkar

It is shocking that the BJP govt, has succeeded in hanging the portrait of Vir Savarkar — a man who had pledged fealty to the British, had propounded the two-nation theory along with Jinnah and was implicated in the assassination of the Father of the Nation — along side national heroes in the Central Hall of Parliament. As has been rightly pointed out by a renowned historian, Prof Bipin Chandra, that except for his very early revolutionary activities for which he had been sent to jail, Savarkar had never participated in the freedom struggle, had opposed the Quit India Movement and had offered full support to the British government in World War II as President of the All India Hindu Mahasabha.

DR M. Hashim kidwai, ex-MP, New Delhi

Quality of letters

It looked somewhat strange on reading views expressed by Dr Gursimrat Kaur Sandhu of Amritsar that letters being published during the last six months by The Tribune are not so relevant to society and lack in “thought provoking” content. I am also a regular reader of this paper for the last four decades. I feel that only during the said period of six months maximum letters dealing with various facets of life: social, political, economic, religious, cultural etc., problems and happenings of society have been covered by this column. There did not seem any dearth of ideas. In comparison to other newspapers which I also subscribe, The Tribune presents an improved outlook as well as contents which is one of the reasons of its vast popularity.

DR H.S. Chopra, Amritsar


Varna and the caste system

This is regarding the letters of Lt. Col. Bhagwan Singh of Mohali (Feb 18) and Bhai Aridaman Singh Jhubal of Amritsar (Feb 26) in which the former argues that Sikhism is a casteless religion and the latter thinks it is not, and never was, casteless. In this significant discussion, I take the side of the former.

According to the Hindu law, the basis of Varna and caste system is (1) social stratification (2) caste based occupation (3) restriction on common messing and marrying.

Social stratification does mean a step like the social position of the Varnas and the higher to lower class. But Sikhism grants unconditional universal equality and brotherhood to all human beings. That is why all Sikhs sit together on an equal level and eat together in a single line. It shows Sikhism is against the basic principle of social stratification and the restriction on common messing as well.

On the other hand, while Sikhism permits every Guru Sikh to wear a sword. It means it makes each one a Kshatriya and allows them to use the suffix of “Singh” with their homes which can be used by Kshatriya only in Hinduism. Thus Sikhism is fundamentally against the division of their Guru Sikhs into occupation-based Varna or caste.

This is further supported by another strong evidence. There is well known philosophy of Sikhism: “kirt karo te vand khao” (Work hard and distribute fruit among all). Here there is no indication of distribution of occupations among their Guru Sikhs, neither there is any law of punishment by prohibition or outcaste on changing of occupation as it is in Hinduism.

In fact, Sikhs have been recruited from Hinduism. That is why some of the characteristics of Hinduism are still in vogue. This environment of caste-ridden society of Hinduism has affected casteless religions like Christianity and Islam i.e. it has created Nav-Christian or Muslims and originals.

Undoubtedly, Sikhism is a great religion, though silent on the issue of caste, but except the restriction on common marrying, virtually it has axed the roots of the caste system. That is why Sikh religious leaders raise a cry while the VHP declares Sikhism a part of Hinduism.

As a matter of fact, Sikhism is following the footsteps of ancient Indian native Sangha or guild system, where there were occupation-based ethnical groups or clans of people and nation-in-arms system or military which brought India name, fame and wealth in those days.

DR. NAVAL VIYOGI, Director, Indian National Historical Research Council. Ludhiana


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