Sandeep Singh: U.P. Sikhs Strictly Uphold Sikhi Yet Face Discrimination From Punjabi Sikhs
Ajmer Singh feels that many Punjabi Sikhs discriminate against them for speaking Hindi, even though U.P. Sikhs have largely stayed truer to Sikhi
January 13, 2022 | 5 min. read | Original Reporting
The Lakhimpur Kheri massacre in October 2021 brought with it greater awareness and attention to the existence of old Sikh communities in Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Baaz visited some villages in the area to garner a better understanding of how local Sikhs live and their, at times problematic, experience with Punjabi Sikhs.
Amritpal Singh, 40, is a local farmer and shares that the history of Sikhs in UP is long.
“Since Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s era, Sikhs are living in this region. Actually, it is our 13th generation living here. This story passed from generation to generation and we only have heard oral stories.”
His village, Diva, is in UP’s Baharaich District. There are nearly 300 Sikh homes, and about 20 Hindu ones.
“There are 7-8,000 Sikhs in four to five villages between Dhanauli Khurd, Ghora, Matera, and Chotepur of this district,” shares Amritpal Singh.
The majority of local Sikhs are dependent on farming, with some working as home guards in the UP police.
“Sikhs here are extremely poor but they have built a huge Gurudwara Sahib and Langar Hall where they organize Langars on Gurupurab and invite Gatka teams for competition.”
Amritpal Singh explains that because of the small population, local Sikhs do not marry outside of their religion, which limits their pool of possible relationships. Rather, they marry within their extended relatives, however, some have been able to marry Sikhs in Punjab.
The way in which all locals here practice Sikhi is much stricter than what you commonly see amongst Punjabi Sikhs. All Sikhs here have kept their kesh, and there is a ban on consuming tobacco and gutka.
Ajmer Singh, 65, is a retiree, owns a few acres of land, and is his village’s Gurdwara Granthi.
“Our ancestors who came from Punjab were Sikhs. They kept following Sikhi and not even a single one of us eats Halal, all of us keep unshorn hair, go to Gurudwara and do path of five Banis,” he says.
He continues, sharing how adherence to Sikhi here is maintained, far from Punjab.
“If anyone violates the Maryada of Sikhism, we invite the person to Gurudwara Sahib and insult them there. Then we make them take Amrit and read five Banis. We do not let the violators of Maryada sit in pangat. Violaters are forced to sit outside pangat.”
He defends the practice by sharing that Guru Gobind Singh sacrificed his four sons for Sikhi.
Baaz spoke to a few other Sikhs that shared greater details.
“In our village, Sikhs are not allowed to cut their hair. Any violation of the rule is punished with fines and ostracism from the community. We don’t let people who cut their hair to sit in a row of Langar,” one of them shares.
Another Sikh man told us on the condition of anonymity that before they began going to the Gurdwara and practicing Sikhi, they used to practice casteism and did not let people from lower castes use the same well as them.
“Now we invite everyone to Gurudwara and make them sit in a row with us and feed them Langar without any discrimination. Now we treat everyone equally and invite them to our family functions,” he shares proudly.
Sikhs in UP, however, maintain a conflicting relationship with Sikhs in Punjab.
“Whenever we listen to news about Punjab it makes us extremely happy,” Amritpal Singh explains.
“When we go to Punjab all of us try to talk to people in Punjabi,” he shares, but their Punjabi is often mixed with Hindi and accented having lived outside of Punjab for so long.
A 70-year-old Sikh sugar mill worker shares how language has shifted over time after Sikhs migrated to UP.
“Initially we used to speak pure Punjabi but with time we started speaking Hindi and our entire language has changed.”
Ajmer Singh feels that many Punjabi Sikhs discriminate against them for speaking Hindi, even though UP Sikhs have largely stayed truer to Sikhi.
As he shares his various religious books, reading through the Suraj Parkash in Punjabi, he explains the tension.
“Punjabis consider us stupid and think we are bhaiyas. We are Gursikhs and servants of Guru.”
The new generation of Sikhs in UP has started speaking Hindi which has caused problems connecting with Sikhs from Punjab leading to the discrimination.
Ajmer Singh has noticed it too.
“Not everyone speaks to us with disrespect but some of them do speak to us in an insulting manner. Due to the cultural impact of UP, we started speaking Hindi and it gets mixed with Punjabi. What can we do then?”
“Discrimination exists as we speak Hindi and our boys are called bhaiyas. We wear a turban, keep unshorn hair, and do path of five Banis. The new generation can read and write Punjabi but they can’t clearly speak Punjabi,” Ajmer claims.
Bhaiya is used as a slur by Punjabis for those from UP and Bihar, often working in Punjab as migrant labourers.
Ajit Singh is a principal at a local public school.
“Our own brothers discriminate against us. They say that because we don’t speak Punjabi it means we are bhaiyas, claiming that we only adopted Sikhi. But they themselves don’t follow Rehat Maryada, don’t do path, and some of them don’t even know the names of the 10 Sikh Gurus.”
Ajit Singh feels that speaking Punjabi is not a prerequisite to being a Sikh.
“I tell them that I am Guru Gobind Singh’s Sikh and if I live in Nepal, I will speak Nepali and If I live in Bihar I will speak Bhojpuri. When I go to school I speak English, here I am speaking Punjabi. I will speak the language according to the audience. A Guru’s Sikh should respect everyone and every language.”
Ajmer Singh has trained 25 youths on how to do path. Many of them go to Punjab to get trained in reading Gurbani and doing Gatka as well.
We met two brothers, Sukhdev Singh, 23, and Mohinder Singh, 21, who were at home taking care of their crop. Both were trained in path, harmonium, and Gatka at Mastuana Sahib Gurudwara of Punjab’s Sangrur District.
While Sukhdev liked Punjab, he did not like the way Sikhs in Punjab are going away from their own religion.
“Punjab is a good place. But you will find so many monas in Punjab. It is not easy to differentiate between Sikhs and non-Sikhs in Punjab as Sikhs have started cutting their hair.”
Ajmer Singh says that they still want their kids to learn Punjabi but there is no opportunity to learn the language.
He claimed that there is not even a single Punjabi teacher in the village’s government school. He shares that the government wanted to appoint one but they said they could not find anyone who holds a Punjabi certificate.
Ajmer Singh hopes that the SGPC can send some help to teach their children Punjabi.
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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