Sri Guru Nanak Ji said,
ਨੀਚਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨੀਚ ਜਾਤਿ ਨੀਚੀ ਹੂ ਅਤਿ ਨੀਚੁ ॥
Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low.
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤਿਨ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਥਿ ਵਡਿਆ ਸਿਉ ਕਿਆ ਰੀਸ ॥
Why should he try to compete with the great?
ਜਿਥੈ ਨੀਚ ਸਮਾਲੀਅਨਿ ਤਿਥੈ ਨਦਰਿ ਤੇਰੀ ਬਖਸੀਸ ॥੪॥੩॥
In that place where the lowly are cared for-there, the Blessings of Your Glance of Grace rain down.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji taught and preached the equality of all humans, embracing those deemed inferior by the caste system. In langar (free kitchens), people of all castes sit together, sharing meals without discrimination. The fifth Guru, Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, also emphasized human equality, building the Sri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar with four open doors, symbolizing universal accessibility. The Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture, includes verses from a diverse range of spiritual sources, including Hindu Brahmin saints, Muslim Sufis, and devotees from lower castes.
The tenth Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, established the Sikh mission of Saint-Warrior by creating the Khalsa and baptizing the “panj pyaare,” five men from different castes. Guru Nanak Dev Ji encouraged the establishment of Dharamshalas, which later became known as Gurudwaras. These serve not only as religious centres but also as schools, hospitals, granaries, shelters, and resting places for travellers.
Unfortunately, during British rule, some caste-arrogant individuals infiltrated Sikhism, and “masands” and “mahants” privatized Gurudwaras. The Gurudwara Reform Movement of 1920 aimed to free these holy sites from the influence of the mahants, eventually establishing the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to oversee Sikhism’s historical Gurudwaras. The SGPC’s protocol policy states that no Sikh shrine will discriminate against non-Sikhs, untouchables, or castes.
However, caste-based discrimination persists today, with some Gurudwaras and camps established in the name of specific caste communities. The Sachkhand Ballan gurudwara in Jalandhar, built by the Ravidasi community, exemplifies this trend. In some instances, Dalit Sikhs are barred from entering upper-caste Jat Sikh Gurudwaras, and discrimination against Dalit Sikhs remains a political issue in Punjab.
Another instance of multiple gurudwaras in close vicinity can be observed on Amritsar-Chogavan road, where four gurudwaras are built in close proximity to each other.
Sikh leadership is aware of these incidents, and efforts have been made to address the issue. The “One Village, One Gurudwara Movement” was initiated by Shiromani Committee President Gobind Singh Longowal to promote sectarian unity and commonality. Under this initiative, villages with a single Gurudwara were honoured, and unused Gurudwara buildings were repurposed for community functions such as libraries, dispensaries, sports clubs, and Gurbani-Kirtan training centres.
Despite these efforts, caste divisions and higher caste egoism continue to persist, dividing villages based on caste and resulting in multiple Gurudwaras in some locations. It is essential to remember and uphold the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the other Sikh Gurus, who sought to create a society that transcended the divisions of caste and fostered love, harmony, and equality among all people.
Further reading of casteism in Sikhism: Indian Express
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.