M.L. Sondhi

Mainstream, October 13, 1962

I have read with interest Sri Balraj Mehta’s article. It is refreshing to read an analysis in which the writer tries his best to focus attention on the real factors which have influenced relations between the Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab. His research has led him to examine the contemporary problem in the social and economic setting of a century. Much of the discussion about communalism in the Punjab has conspicuously failed to consider the policies of the Akalis within a broad framework of historical development. The writer has refused to identify himself with a partisan approach and has expressed himself in a spirit of objectivity. I would grant that his article is both thought-provoking and timely.

Unfortunately, he has been unable to avoid several one-sided assertions which have led him to make at least one rather presumptuous judgement and a number of sweeping statements.

While observing the characteristics of the friction and rivalry between the two communities, the writer has allowed himself to be guided by a deterministic interpretation of the emergence of the Arya Samaj as an organisation with expansive tendencies in violent encounter with the rest. He would seem to subscribe to the view of every Arya Samajist being a potential soldier working against the integration of the communities.

This analysis is unrealistic for several reasons. For one thing, the character of the entire Arya Samaj movement, which even its worst critics will not deny was a mass movement led by able leaders like Lajpat Rai and Shradhanand, which based upon a tremendous advance in concerted action, and developed purposes and objectives far beyond the name and ideology with which it started. It cannot be forgotten that Arya Samajists and Arya Samajist sympathisers provided a platform for activities of Shahid Bhagat Singh and Ajit Singh.

The assumption that the Arya Samaj was only motivated by considerations of spreading its influence is not borne out by facts. There is no evidence of a general attitude of hostility among Arya Samajists towards Sikhs or vice-versa. The Arya Samaj has respected limits on its freedom to propagate its religious ideology. During the struggle against British imperialism in which Punjab played a leading role, the common values placed before the entire country became more important than the “provincialism” of the founders of sectional movements. The same applies to the Arya Samaj. Under the pressure of events and the conflict against the imperialist enemy, the general Indian pattern was given the pride of place.

It would be totally unrealistic for us to concern ourselves today with stray textual evidence if we are seriously concerned with the wider range of problems which were connected with Arya Samajist social thinking. It would be preposterous to lift out stray examples of Arya Samajist or Sikh thinking and declare that both were engaged in some sort of vicious competition. Such an interpretation cannot be consistent with a historical analysis which seeks to understand the remarkable way in which both the Arya Samaj and Akali movements were able to inspire strength and unity in the masses of the Punjab, and awaken a response for which the national leadership more than once complimented the Punjabis.

When we survey the field of genuine Sikh grievances, we cannot ignore the many examples where Sikhs and Arya Samajists have worked shoulder to shoulder in creating social organisations which, in spite of the political friction in Punjab, are still acknowledged to be second to none in the country in their strength and ability to achieve practical results. In attempting to solve the political problem of Punjab, we need not estrange the Arya Samajists.

What is needed is to devise specific measures which can comprehend the basic explanation of the social and political distance between the two communities which is being widened in the present “power” situation in Punjab.

It is not possible for me in a short space to give more than a few hints about the lines on which the problem can be attacked. I would suggest three aspects which should receive conspicuous attention. First, we should remember that Punjab has been subjected to economic and technological changes which have accompanied rapid industrial development in a predominantly agricultural region. Much of this development has been menaced by obscurantist thinking. It is to the credit of the Punjabis that they have overcome most of the barriers. There is no reason for complacency, however, for the rate of economic development must be accelerated. This would require higher standards of public administration and the courage to implement economic policies which in the short run will conflict with the interests of powerful lobbies.

Secondly, a Herculean effort must be made to bridge the alarming gap between economic and cultural changes. At the present moment, the Punjabis seem to be obsessed with economic and technological advance. This often earns them the reputation of being “Westernised materialists”. It is important to realise that for economic advance to be sustained, it is of crucial importance to make a minimum of cultural advance. Much of the future of Punjab hinges on this. Language is a vehicle of thought. If thought is there, it will break through all encrustations. The language controversy in Punjab is in a sense a camouflage. The hard and inescapable fact is that Punjab has not so far produced a Tagore or a Vallathol. The various manifestations of prejudice we see in today’s Punjab are mainly the result of an increase in industrial and commercial contacts without a corresponding acceleration in the efforts towards creative cultural contact, by which I mean primarily contemporary achievements in the field of serious art, literature and music.

Thirdly, and finally, I would suggest the need to modify a certain puritanical spirit which dominates both the Akalis and the Arya Samajist elite which seems to have served a useful purpose during the national movement, but today is a negative influence on healthy emotional expression of the Punjabis as a whole and especially of the younger generation. The aggressive self-confidence we notice in Punjabi youth is often the symptom of the inability of the community to integrate its young men in its social life. Feelings of resentment against hypocritically imposed standards encourage a sense of insecurity and frustration. The real success of young Punjabi men and women in the fields of arts and sciences will spur them on to pressing their rightful and fundamental protest in a manner which will be the essential condition of Indian progress instead of the unsympathetic conflicts of today which express a cultural inadequacy which all Punjabis, Arya Samajist and Sikh, feel intensely but may not care to confess.

The most effective measure I can think of would be to arouse public opinion and Mainstream which has many Punjabi readers would do well to encourage a frank and honest discussion without starting a “cold war” between Arya Samajists and the Akalis. It is the task of political wisdom, when things are going the wrong way, to create circumstances for responsible political action. Sociologists, economists and historians should come forward with concrete proposals. There is still time to readjust policies.
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