Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar

While we were still watching television, the future arrived with the idiot box’s own version of twitter, called ‘breaking news’. In this Age, speed is God. Everything, but particularly truth and exactitude, can be sacrificed to propitiate Hurry, the God. Often though, such news turns out to be as much broken as it is breaking.

A case in point is the incident in Vienna, Austria last month where two priests of the Guru Ravi Das sect were fired upon. Within hours riots broke out in the Jalandhar city in Punjab. The media, both print and  electronic variously, and mistakenly, termed it as a clash between two rival Sikh sects, an attack on a Sikh guru or a Sikh priest and Sikh gurudwara without realizing that the Ravi Dasi gurus and gurudwaras are not Sikh institutions. It also showed how much the media is  tied to religious categories and is so little aware not only of a minority religion but also of contemporary ‘low’ caste movements and sects.

In an article in the recent issue of EPW, Surinder Jodhka provides an informative take on the Ravi Dasi movement in the Punjab. It makes the following key points:

  • The Ravi Dasi cult in the Punjab has been an independent movement outside Sikh and Hindu religions
  • It has evolved during the 20th century in parallel with Mangoo Ram’s initiation of the ad dharmi movement, though is not synonymous with it
  • The Ravi Dasis revere the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Ravi Das (1450- 1520) met with Guru Nanak at least three times and he included 40 hymns and a couplet written by Guru Ravi Das in the collection of key contemporary writings later incorporated into the Adi Granth
  • His hymns envisage a casteless and classless society and he is more radical than contemporary Bhakti saints. This particularly comes out in his hymn on Begumpura
  • The Chamars in the Punjab by and large sponsor the Ravi Das deras and about 250 gurudwaras in the state. Kanshi Ram himself came from this sub- caste
  • Migration to Western countries during the 20th century and increasing ease of communication in last two decades has strengthened bonds between local and diaspora. According to Jodhka, a lot of funding for the deras has been from this diaspora

There is a small extract from a very fine hymn by Guru Ravi Das that appears in the article. It describes the ideal society Begumpura (“a city without sorrows”) envisaged by Guru Ravi Das:

The regal realm with the sorrowless name:
they call it Begumpura, a place with no pain,
No taxes or cares, nor own property there,
no wrongdoing, worry, terror or torture.
Oh my brother, I have come to take it as my own,
my distant home, where everything is right.
That imperial kingdom is rich and secure,
where none are third or second – all are one;
Its food and drink are famous, and those who live there
dwell in satisfaction and in wealth.
They do this or that, they walk where they wish,
they stroll through fabled places unchallenged.
Oh, says Ravidas, a tanner now set free,
those who walk beside me are my friends.

By and large it is a very informative article that stands in contrast with the media’s incorrect reporting of the recent riots in the wake of the Vienna firing.

Download the article. An earlier version of the article appeared at Kafila. Surinder has earlier guest blogged at a reader’s words (Imagining Punjab in the Age of Globalization).

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2 thoughts on “Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar

  1. Dear Mr. Bhupinder
    Sometimes I think that such kinds of sudden outbursts by the Political Society (in contrast to civil society as defined by Partha Chatterjee) can give us unlimited details of ruptures in history but these ruptures are not really adding anything to the understanding of fundamental rupture. Secondly, the latest analysis is not very strong on the praxelogical front. It recognises Gramsci on theoretical front but does not do so in practical terms. To be honest, this has created a situation where Naxalites seem to be only people symbolising resistance. Will you please respond to that.

    • Sunil, I am afraid I do not fully understand your question. What is the ‘fundamental rupture’? It would help me if you could elaborate since I am not familiar with some of the other terms like praxelogical. Also, please clarify what makes you think that this analysis uses Gramsci and the conclusion that naxalites seem to be the only people symbolizing resistance.

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