[FOUNTAIN]A stereotype overcome as a Sikh leadsWe often mistake a big, glaring-eyed giant wearing a turban as a typical Indian. But the villain in the 007 series is in fact a Sikh. They make up only 2 percent of the 1 billion population of India. India is a melting pot of religion, and the Hindus, 80 percent of the population, do not wear turbans. In spite of their small numbers, the minority Sikhs came to be known as typical Indians because of their unique appearance and strong personalities, which leave a vivid impression. Sikhism is a unique religion.
“Sikh” means a pupil or disciple in an ancient Indian language. Sikhism emerged in the Punjab region, the cradle of an ancient civilization in the upper Indus, in the 15th century. The religion is a combination of monotheistic Islam and polytheistic Hinduism.
When Guru Nanak Devi Ji came to India, he created Sikhism as a third way in order to spread Islam and relieve the religious tension with the Hindus in the region. By accepting the monotheism of Islam, the Sikhs deny the Hindu caste system under the name of “equality before God.” But the faith of transmigration, the core of Hinduism, survived. Today, Sikhism is considered a sect of Hinduism.
As a result of religious oppression and resistance, the Sikhs turned hostile. When a guru, the highest leader of the religion, died a martyr while opposing Islam in the 17th century, the Sikhs vowed revenge. All Sikhs who went through a special ceremony wore a turban and a metal bracelet on their right wrists and always carried a dagger next to their chests as symbols of their pledge. They were given the title Singh, meaning a lion.
In 1984, India’s prime minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered the occupation of the Golden Temple, a holy shrine of the Sikhs. She was later assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. Furious at the death of their leader, Hindus indiscriminately slaughtered anyone wearing a turban.
The daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi is Sonia Gandhi, whose party recently won India’s parliamentary elections. She refused the post of prime minister and recommended Manmohan Singh, a Sikh. Mr. Singh would be the first non-Hindu prime minister in India.
The emergence of a Sikh prime minister is perhaps even more striking than Sonia Gandhi’s decision not to claim the family’s nearly hereditary leadership.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.