The Paracolonialism of the Liberal Mind and the Problem of the Sikh as an Archetype
When the world witnessed the first images of the farmer’s protest in the March to Delhi, as the haze of smoke grenades and the vapour of water canons subsided, from amidst the fog emerged the figure of the Sikh – I don’t mean only the Herculean Singh (but him too as a representation) – of the the Sikh as an Archetype.
The Archetype of the Sikh manifests itself in various forms, attracts psychic reactions and countereactions, both subliminal and absolutely basic.
What I mean by this can be understood by considering instances of how non-Sikh Indians respond to the most intrinsic aspect of the Sikh form : kés.
On a subliminal level – I mean in the psychology of the civilisational soul of many, but most importantly the greater Indian realm – the késin is the most perfect form of the masculine. Thus, Siva of primordial power is a késdharin in Indian cosmosymbology. Yet, as any Sikh child knows, growing up in Indian playgrounds kés are often made the subject of ‘jokes’, and also, in instances of attacks on Sikh men the disrespect of kés is chosen as an especially effective strategy, or if by the state, tool.
It is a question to be asked – how can something that is so intrinsic to a civilisation’s self expression, a chosen symbol it associates with the unbridled (spiritual and physical) power, become an ‘object’ of ridicule.
For the simple reason that – ridicule is reaction : often motivated by the realisation of a something missing in oneself, or, one’s self. A hollow in the swa-ness of the identity-soul. In this case, since the symbol of hate is symbolically the manifestation of power in Indic culture, the self defensive outward reaction of ridicule is impelled by an inward feeling of powerlessness in the mind that is forced to deal with the Sikh form: which maintains itself as an undiminished whole having refused to surrender parts of its deeper self-ness (swa-roop), unlike the tamed synthetic pant-shirt, side parted and thoroughly colonised fashion of the common man, representing at once many layers of colonial re-engineering of identity. (Only a few cultures remain in India which maintain their organic ways, of language, fashion etc. Not coincidentally most of them have a history of resistance to imperialism. I’m reminded of Jats and Marathas. Dravidianism led to a reassertion of organic lifestyles in southern India, which seems to be fading once again.)
The Psyche of the Sikh carries in it, as a core qualia, the idea of resistance. Of maintaining oneself – uncompromised and whole. This manifests itself in personal choices and in community solidarity – including the sense of responsible ownership each member of the Sangat feels for the outward form (the body) and the inner sanctity (the mind) of the panthic-body.
Returning to the problem posed by the kesin roop. The history of colonialism bears testimony to the fact that regimes have chosen the cutting of hair of problematic populations as the surest means to tame them. That is, make them subject.
Sikhi is an anomaly. Not only have Sikhs protected their form whole, but in doing so have demonstrated to others that they too could have made the choice to do so.
This is one emanation from the Archetype of the Sikh. An Archerype which floats in a plane created by intersections of geography, psychology and the civilisational memory of a land as a constant reminder of things.
The presence of the Archetype is a constant reminder of some absence, especially for those conscious enough to think about the course of civilisational legacies of the past in the present, and the rivers that flow between the two. It is a thorn in the psyche.
Which becomes especially problematic for those groups who have given up or compromised some aspect of their purportedly inferior civilisational experience and adopted another.
For them, Sikhi is a problem that does not go away. Not once, not the second time, or even the third.
In the mobilisation of the farmer’s protests, the Archetype of the Sikh emerged at the forefront of metaconsciousness again, like a nomadic horde passing by in the distant steppes glimpsed by a solitary guard on a frontier post of a morally decadent empire whose ancestors had once come from out there it was a troubling manifestation.
Why couldn’t we?
The Sikh has always been a conundrum, an enigma, that while remaining on the liminal edge of Indian historiographical consciousness, as the historian sifts through the records of the past to fill facts into his ideological comfort-box, refuses to be confined into any simplified boundary. Is the Sikh the sarbat da bhala Sikh of Guru Nanak or the world shaking shastardhari of Guru Gobind Singh? For the sifter of facts, dealing with the problem of what he perceives to be a binary existing in one swa-form – as a synergistic dance of two sparks of primordial energy, the Dao of Siva and Sakti – is beyond grasp. He, with a leaden mind saturated with irreverent suchna, incapable of gnana, tries to break the duality through inane Gandhianisms, but failing can only put it away in some dark corner.
Radcliffe it, please. We will join the Commonwealth.
We must empathise with the history writer, for after all he is but a small man, a servant of some distant ivory tower, the only remnant of an empire which once ruled the world and now can at the most seek to irritate it.
How does a mere history writing scribe reconcile, when all his theories tell him that -so it is prophesied, as the march of modernity carries on, this small problematic minority in a shattered corner of a broken land, will be subsumed into the teeming masses of the national population.
Theories are a great comfort to moderate minds. Till they are forced out of their somnolence by fact.
The Sikh, laughing in the face of neocolonialism and embarrassing the pride of the phoenix in its propensity, not only re-emerges from the ashes, but does so twice as strong. What Mega-Hydra Monster is this Sikh, whom the poisonous platitudes of Gandhi will not weaken, and the cunning plans of Churchill will not break?
Let us impose Hindi on him. That is known to weaken a race.
If the historian had been an honest reckoner of the course of time, in the tradition of the masters who invented the Art of History, he would have known that the Sikh Form is a re-Emergence in an intersection of Time and Space, bearing qualia contained in other Historic Forms, which, after being reassimilated into the Stream of Time when their work in shaking their age was accomplished – creating heroes in history known who do not bow before empires – returned to dharamskanda.
In the beginning of every cycle of time, such qualia emerge from the primordial essence of existence, from the inherent, self contained will to be in the atoms of existence, which are forged into weapons by wheel turning monarchs to mould ages – such is the Khalsa, such is the primordial will to power inherent in the Sikh thesis of history.
Every thesis engenders attempts at an antithesis. Few are as sorry as the Arya Samaj.
The Archetype presents itself differently to each perceiver, and motivates different psychic rasa in different minds.
It is one thing for a mind inhabited by the chaff of Hindutva, another for the ghosts past of Political Islam.
For the Liberal, the only logical strategy for dealing with this problematic Archetype is to confine it within the boundaries of an inane Stereotype.
I am told that in the textbooks of Nehruvian India, Sikhs would be largely absent aside for a few references to ‘their bravery’. Such inanities were supplemented by others, and in our times we have its successor – service (a bastardisation of our hallowed Seva).
These are psychological strategies to tame some form of perceived liminal threat. I spoke earlier of the psychology of ridicule as an outward manifestation of inner self hate. The inanity laden stereotype is an attempt to tame a potentially threatening and stubbornly pervasive id-group which threatens the Liberal Paracolonial vision of the body-politic.
A vision of homogenizing, neo-colonial modernity churning the national population into a newly hierarchised whole, in which will reign supreme the new Brahmins of the post-Nehruvian age, worshipping their new Manu, adoring the new lineages of rishis, building new cathedrals to the now most powerful Trinity of Marx, Locke and Kant.
The Punjabi Suba movement (author’s note: which I am critical of in many respects) was one of the greatest challenges to the Liberal Paracolonial Idea of India. One of the most persistent policies of the postcolonial state was enforced homogenisation through structural violence and social engineering. Identity, and every form of its expression, was attacked more vehemently than even in the colonial era. Propaganda was the most direct (irony intended) tool, but there were other forms of hidden pressures working to nudge people towards giving up their regional dress (Khadi-Topi promotion), forms of worship (enforced secularization), language (Hindi imposition), etc.
These strategies were deployed in synergy, in complete violation of the civilisational ethos of the deep civilisational idea of kingship of Indic civilisation, of the king as a nurturer of a multiplicity of panths as a true dharamraj (more on this soon), which should have re-emerged for a civilisational India to be reborn.
Instead, we have a parody.
If you transported a Rg Vedic Arya into the India of today, where do you think he would be most at home? In Gurgaon, or, at a camp of Nihang Singhs at Singhu border?
That is the threat of the Sikh Archetype whose continued existence and refusal to be washed away by the waves of westernising modernity, questions its very claim to be a universal age moulding force of change.
For is Sikhi not a manifestation of a different form of modernity? Not something engendered by conflict between the classes, but a response of some deeper logic of history to the fissure created by the battle of the forces of darkness and light deep within the ephemra of human experience of the ephemera of being itself?
It must be remembered.
From Kaliyuga, only one turn of the wheel away is the New Age. The wheelturner in this cycle of the cosmos is a people forged in the bloodsteel frontier who has watched empires come and go, and watches still.
The rajas of Kaliyuga, take note.
How the Sikh Archetype appears in different mindscreens is often a reflection of the position in the power hierarchy the observer currently occupies in the body-politic.
For most of India’s postcolonial history the Sikh has been a thorn in the liberal scheme of things. Which often festers, as we know.
The Sikh role in mobilising the farmer’s protest came at a time when the existence of this cabal is threatened. Now, the once feared Archetype, through the deployment of other convenient Stereotype-Frames, presents an opportunity for appropriation. But not soon after, there was ‘the girl from Kashmir’.
The fear returns.
The frames have failed.
It takes power to tame power.
“Liberalism is full of paradoxes and reveals different faces depending on one’s angle of vision. It offers one of the most inspiring visions of human equality, yet some of the greatest liberal philosophers justified colonialism with a clear conscience. Liberals condemned racist prejudice and misuse of political power … but endorsed both the economic exploitation of the colonies and arrogant assertions of cultural superiority. They insisted on the protection of the material interests of the colonial subject, but thought little of destroying their way of life.”
This extended quote is from Bhikhu Parekh’s takedown of the many hypocrisies of liberalism. Liberalism, rather than being innocently ridden with contradictions, is in my view, an elaborate exercise in disguise.
Everything that liberalism offers Sikhi – offers better – and as for visions for humanity, unarguably many other Indic ways of life too (which includes Indic expressions of Islam such as in Dara Shukhoh and Bulleh Shah).
And not merely at a theoretical level. Sikhi has displayed its praxis in successive ages, facing successive challenges, resisting (in most cases successfully) one oppressive regime after another. And the Sikh does so without grovelling at the altars of outwardly majestic but structurally weak ivory towers.
Sikhi is older than western liberalism in expressing the idea of equality and much truer. Other panths have done so in other ages, but Sikhi emerged at a particular intersection of Time and Space, representing an indigenous non-Western form of modernity (dare I call it!), and having successfully demonstrated its effectiveness in challenging injustice, countering crises, and creating just regimes, offers the world now facing a crisis engendered by liberalism, a starkly better alternative.
[The effectiveness of Sikh praxis is demonstrated by historical facts that cannot be brushed away by superficial displays of ‘affection’ for Sikhs, our role in history or our ‘bravery’. There is something deeper at play here. Which will reveal itself in the course of Time, in its Movement, called History.]
As the Wheel turns, it is the Makers of History who will stand tall – and glorious – amidst the ripples created by scribes dipping their quills in the waters that wash the feet of the giants whom their ant-vision cannot even begin to fathom : what then will they write of the gods but that they are fearsome, yet kind? A fear, and a hope.