Distant thunder

Distant thunder

The large-scale violence in Punjab and Haryana following the attack on leaders of a sect, Dera Sachkhand, in Vienna has subsided but the incident again points to the caste faultlines even in religious orders that preach an egalitarian and humanistic worldview. Dera Sachkhand is dominated by dalits and they are followers of Guru Ravidas. The attack took place in a Ravidas temple in Vienna where Sant Niranjan dass, head of the sect which has its headquarters near Jalandhar, and his deputy were visiting. The attack by a group of fanatics resulted in the death of the deputy while the sant escaped with injuries. A Khalistani group has claimed responsibility for the attack, though the leader of another Khalistani outfit has denounced it. The Austrian government has also suspected the hand of militants behind the attack.

While the Khalistani role is a matter of speculation, it is clear that the caste conflict that is endemic to Indian society, was at the root of the Vienna incident too. It is surprising that Indians who settle down abroad carry with them their social baggage from home and transfer their hierarchical relationships and prejudices to their new environments. Sikhism preaches  universal brotherhood beyond caste differences but the Sikh society is not free of caste-inspired attitudes. This is actually the case with other religious orders which also reject caste. The rise and spreading influence of sects based on social groups like dalits is a result of the dominance of casteist attitudes and practices in society. It marks social, and in many cases, economic assertion. But the potential areas of conflict can be reduced if the wider society and dominant sections of it recognise the falseness of sectarian divisions and profess equality and love which all religions preach.

It is to be noted that the violence in Punjab and Haryana was directed against public property and symbols of state. It did not fortunately assume the form of confrontation and clashes between followers of the Dera and others. If it had, it would have been more difficult to control.  That shows that there was some sense of restraint even behind the anger and mayhem or that the authorities and the political and social leadership acted fast to bring the situation under control. The Dera leadership has also appealed to its followers and others to shun violence and disruptive activities. But there is need for continued vigil to ensure that there is no fresh outbreak of trouble.   

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