Caught between a rock and…

This extract from If you don’t know me by now reveals an incredible inconsistency in Sikh thought…the teaching of the brotherhood of humanity and yet the prohibition to marry outside the same caste, let alone the same race. Here’s more of Sathnam Sanghera’s inner turmoil as he decides whether or not to break the news to his parents about his relationships with English girls and to tell them that he wants to be free to marry whom ever he likes:

In desperation, I resorted to looking around my family for someone who might at least support me in the event of a confrontation with my mother. My brother was a natural person to consult, but relationships weren’t something we had ever discussed and I worried he would tell her. I thought I’d found an alternative when, during an interminable wedding, a respected elderly friend of the family remarked: ‘You know, we have to move with the times when it comes to marriage. We can’t behave like Punjabi villagers any more.’ But just as images of a white wedding flashed through my mind, me in morning suit, Laura Ill white, my family in the pews, he added: ‘For instance, if one of my sons wanted to marry a girl who wasn’t the right caste, I would try to understand it.’
The right caste?
He would TRY to understand?
The man had enjoyed a successful career in Britain, had spent nearly thirty years in Britain, and this was how far he’d come. The message came through loud and clear: marrying someone who was not a Sikh was the very worst thing you could do…

Despite this, sometimes, tired out worrying, I would allow myself to think positively. Sometimes — encouraged by friends — I’d decide things weren’t that bad. The Sikh faith, founded by Guru Nanak, was liberal. It taught monotheism, the brotherhood of humanity, rejected idol worship, the oppressive Hindu concept of caste, and had tolerance at its heart. Its gurdwaras were open to anyone; it was unique in respecting other religions and other people; Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, had preached equality and proclaimed that his disciples should ‘recognize the Indian race as one’. Besides, Mum must have worked out what was going on…

But these moments of optimism were the worst. With metronomic predictability, a crash would follow. I would visit Will and she would present me with gold jewellery she’d bought for my future bride, or would insist on a particularly depressing arranged marriage meeting. The worst crash came when she rang in tears, announcing that a great scandal had afflicted the family in India: a pretty and lively cousin of mine had run away to marry a boy. When I pressed for further information, it transpired, between her sobs, that the problem with this boy was not that he was from another religion, or from another caste, or the wrong age, or had bad prospects, or was even the wrong height or skin colour. The scandal, it turned out, was that he was – get this – FROM THE SAME VILLAGE AS THE GIRL. Which, apparently, is a no-no.

More than anything else, this story brought home the bleakness of my situation.

I can’t work out whether this makes the biblical teaching that all are one by faith in Christ, Jew nor Greek, male nor female, Punjabi nor English, attractive or unattractive to Sikhs. The demolition of race and caste boundaries through faith in Christ must be attractive. Yet, abandoning parental tradition must make such betrayal almost unthinkable.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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2 Responses to Caught between a rock and…

  1. Mr. Singh says:

    The person who wrote that tract doesn’t speak for Sikhs. Sikhism is against racial, ethnic, caste or other barriers amongst humanity.

    He obviously knows nothing of Sikhism otherwise he would have used religious arguments to counter his family’s objections.

  2. neilrobbie says:

    Thank you Mr Singh and welcome to Transforming Grace. I am very interested in this subject and am only just beginning to scratch the surface of Sikh thought and practice. I hope to grow in my understanding.

    I realise from what I have read of Sathnam Sanghera’s book that he has made the transition from Sikh culture to secular western culture without reference to Sikh teaching. His writing is based on his family’s tradition and how these conflict with secular practices. For example, he cites the TV program Eastenders as one of his points of reference, which is not Christian but secular (most western people sadly live without reference to the teachings of Jesus in the bible).

    May I ask, does your point mean that, according to the teachings of Sikhism, Sikhs are free to marry whom ever they please, irrespective of family background?

    If so, do you think there is an inconsistency in Sikh teaching and practice? If Sikhism is against racial, ethnic, caste and other barriers why does the practice of marrying within the same culture persist within Sikhism?

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