APOLOGY UPDATE: Apology Crisis in the Punjab! Again!

Time to check in again with our wacky friends in the Punjab. No, not Hillary and Obama … our pals in the Akal Takht!

(Which, for those who weren’t paying attention, are the five clerics who make up the high council or governing body of the Sikh religion in the Punjab region. Or something like that.)

As you recall, Dera Sacha Sauda said sorry again for dressing up like a revered Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, after his first just-under-the-deadline apology by press release was rejected by the Akal Takht. Let’s see how the new apology went down:

AMRITSAR: The Sikh high priests on Wednesday rejected the second
“apology” submitted by dera Sacha Sauda and announced to hold a Sikh
conclave in Ratia town in Haryana to press for arrest of the dera head
Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh. (“Akal Takht rejects dera Sacha Sauda apology for second time,” Punjabnewsline.com)

Ouch. It went down like a lead balloon. But why?

The Sikh clergy which held its meeting at Akal Takht in Amritsar for
more than six hours expressed shock over arrogant behaviour of dera
head and said that dera authorities have issued a “press note” instead
giving proper apology. The Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Joginder Singh
Vedanti in a written statement said that dera head had not expressed
any remorse for the sin he had committed and neither gave an assurance
not to repeat the same in future.

Yeah, that fax it in thing is just not working. I don’t know about you, but I get the impression Dera Sacha Sauda (aka Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh) isn’t really that sorry. He’s just trying to get by with the minimum:

The fresh “apology letter’ issued by dera Sacha Sauda has been amended
to seek an apology from Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikh community. The
letter didn’t carry the signatures of dera chief.

We discussed this before. But the Akal Takht is having none of that, rightly focusing on his lack of expressed remorse or assurances of not repeating his offense–two key elements of any sincere apology.

Now they want Dera Sacha Sauda aka Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh thrown in jail.

Apology Index readers in the United States are now saying: “Huh? The guy’s a bit of a jerk, but where’s the crime?” That’s because we live in a country that enjoys freedom of speech and freedom of religion packed into one delicious First Amendment. Add some peanuts and caramel and you’ve got a great name for a candy bar there.

Here in America we can practice our own religion, practice no religion, make fun of other people’s religions, dress up like whomever we want to, make obscene art involving religious figures, smoke, drink, cuss (well, maybe not smoke these days) and spit to our heart’s content. Is it any wonder people rushing the door to get in? America throws the best party, bar none.

Well, there is Ibiza.

But in many other countries, you better watch your mouth. And, in the Punjab apparently, your wardrobe. They take their blasphemy seriously. It may not be a hanging offense in India … but spontaneous human combustion is not out of the question.

As it happens, Dera Sacha Sauda already has an outstanding arrest order against him:

A Bathinda court on June 20 last had issued arrest warrants of Gurmit
Ram Rahim Singh in a case registered against him for hurting the
religious sentiments of Sikhs. The arrest warrants are valid till July
1. As per the condition of the court, the Punjab police has sought
state government’s permission to arrest dera head. It is expected that
state government would grant the permission and onus of arresting dera
head would be shifted on Congress Government in Haryana.

He’s definitely playing with fire here. As you can also infer from the excerpt above, he has become a bit of a hot potato. The Sikh hardliners are pressing for his arrest but no one in the local or regional government seems to want to be the one to give the order.

You know what that means! More Apology Crisis in the Punjab! fun to come! We’ll let things simmer for a while and check in later.

APOLOGY UPDATE: Apology Crisis in the Punjab!

Speaking of the Punjab —

CHANDIGARH: The dera Sacha Sauda of Sirsa on Wednesday submitted a
revised apology to the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs
for hurting Sikh sentiments.
(“Dera Sacha Sauda sends revised apology to Akal Takht,” Punjab Newsline Network)

I know you’ve all been wondering if he would re-apologize. Well, he did!

Apology Crisis in the Punjab! — Part 2!

We left off in Part 1 of Apology Crisis in the Punjab! with tensions rising over a perceived insult to a revered 17th century Sikh guru. In recent weeks, the region has seen  mass demonstrations, strikes, effigy burnings, boycotts and the deployment of heavily armed security forces. The Akal Takht  — the highest religious body of the Sikhs — set a deadline of May 27 for the offending leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect to apologize — or for his followers to vacate their ashrams and get out of town.

As the deadline ticked every closer, all of the Punjab was on edge. Would Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh

say sorry, bringing an end to the crisis — or would Punjabis get another chance to show the world who puts the “jab” in Punjab by erupting in fury of religion-fueled violence and mayhem?

In the final hours, the apology came:

“Finally after 14 days, the conflict
between Sikhs and dera followers seems to have ended, as the Dera Sacha
Sauda apologised to the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh following the
controversy over newspaper advertisements that showed the dera chief
Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh attired like Guru Gobind Singh.

an apology through a press note issued at about 8 p.m. at the dera
headquarters, the dera stated that there is no question of imitating
Guru Gobind Singh, as we could not even think to do so.”
(“Dera apologises, but to Guru,” Tribune India)

Here is the actual text:

As you can plainly see, this apology raises a few questions.

What? You don’t read Hindi? That’s okay, neither do I. A full English translation has been hard to come by (Come on, Indian media, get with the program!) but I have pieced together the gist of it from several articles.

‘We are pained by the developments of the last
several days. We are sorry for the misunderstanding and would like to
apologise to Guru Gobind Singh,” the statement said.

”Baba Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim did not try to copy Guru Gobind Singh; he could never imagine doing that”. (“Dera Sacha Sauda issues apology,” NDTV.com)

“We never intended to imitate Guru Gobind Singh and we are regretful of the whole chain of events,” … The sect admitted that the ad had “created misconceptions” and was “unfortunate”.

“Whatever incidents had happened for the
past few days have hurt us. We have high regards for all Sikh Gurus and
have lots of love for Sikhs and the Sikh religion and the entire
humankind. We never intended to hurt anyone; we want to do good to
everyone and would never like to hurt anyone,” the sect said.
(‘Dera Sauda regrets hurting Sikhs,’ IBNlive.com)

Normally, I would parse the apology for you, but this is a special case — so I’m going to outsource the analysis to India. It’s quicker and cheaper that way.

First reactions from observers were cautiously positive:

“The apology had a substantial section
of Sikh masses jubilant while the Jathedars of the Takhts and the
Punjab Government were awaiting details of the statement issued by the
Dera before reacting.

however, made the union government and the Punjab and Haryana
governments heave a major sigh of relief as, sources said, it would go
a long way in assuaging the hurt caused to the Sikh sangat by the dera

“Apology is an
apology and if tendered to the founder of the Khalsa panth, it becomes
all the more significant and valuable,” commented a senior officials.”
(“Govts heave sigh of relief,” Tribune New Service)

But the Akal Takht (supreme body of Sikh clergy) were not impressed:

“The priests of the Akal Takht questioned the “spirit” behind the
apology but didn’t outrightly reject it and announced that their
agitation against the Dera would continue peacefully.

While noting that the Dera had sought “pardon” from Guru Gobind Singh,
their edict said the revered Guru is “the one who can pardon” but the
persons apologising must do it in the right spirit. “If that spirit is
missing, such apologies go waste”. The words used in the apology, the
edict says, make it abundantly clear that the Dera chief is an arrogant
and shrewd man.”
(“Dera apology: Sikh priest not impressed, not furious either,” Indianexpress.com)

Lashing out at the sect for their “indirect apology” over the row
surrounding 10th Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh, the Akal Takht said the
Dera head was an “egoistic and shrewd person” to apologise through a
press release.
(“Dera apology: Akal Takht dissatisfied,” IBNlive.com).

Apology rejected!

“Amritsar, May 30 : People belonging to the Sikh
community today endorsed the decision of Akal Takt to reject the
apology by Dera Sacha Sauda sect for alleged ‘sacrilege’ of Guru Gobind
Singh, and continued to boycott them.” (
Sikhs endorse Akal Takt’s decision to reject Dera apology,’ newKerala.com)

The Akal Takht’s main issue with the apology seems to be that it came in the form of an unsigned press statement, distributed by DSS press aides, rather than a personal apology by DSS leader Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh himself. And the language was, apparently, a bit slippery. Perhaps that is more apparent in the original Hindi. Hard for me to evaluate without a good translation, but certainly the “impersonal corporate voice” apology is always less effective than a direct personal apology.

Ah, but did Ram Rahim Singh intend to make a sincere and effective apology, expressing true remorse for his actions?

Maybe not. Let’s back up a few steps and look at this whole situation again. As I said in Part 1, sometimes a lot can depend on an apology. If you read the extra credit assignment from the BBC that I recommended yesterday, you get a little more insight into what’s really happening here. This article also sheds some light. And this interview with a Sikh leader.

While the Sikh religion is strong in the Punjab, many other religious sects, like the DSS, are active in the region. They compete with the established faiths for followers and for political influence. In February elections, the DSS made an overt appeal for voters to support a particular party, contrary to custom. This angered the Sikhs, who generally supported a different party.

Did Ram Rahim Singh intend to imitate the revered Sikh guru in the newspaper ad that started this kerfluffle? He says no, and maybe he’s telling the truth — in which case he would feel he’s done nothing wrong and has no need to personally apologize. Whatever his true intentions, the ad became a convenient opportunity for the Sikhs to strike back at the DSS for asserting itself too overtly in the elections.

While I am sure the outrage of most Sikhs was sincere, we can’t overlook a certain level of calculation in the situation. The protests, the strike, the boycott and the demand for an apology all look like the Sikhs seeking to put the DSS in its place. If you own multiple cats or multiple dogs, you know what I mean. Every so often, the pack has to sort itself out and establish who the Big Dog (or Top Cat) — especially when a newcomer arrives on the scene.

Often the demand for a public apology — especially when backed by threats and ultimatums — is simply a power play. By ultimately forcing an apology from the DSS, the Sikh leaders reassert their dominance in the region’s affairs. Knowing this, the DSS resisted for as long as possible … right up to the deadline. Ultimately, the pressure was too great. But a personal apology from the sect leader would concede too much. To save face, the apology was in the anonymous corporate voice, delivered by fax. LIkewise, it was not addressed to the Akal Takht, as demanded, but to a long-dead guru.

So the DSS leader’s goal here, as I read it, was not to deliver the perfect apology … but to issue a “good enough” apology. Good enough to ease the pressure and defuse the situation without being a complete capitulation to the demands of the Sikhs. In rejecting the apology, the Akal Takht recognized the ploy … but they also could not deny the fact that an apology was in fact made.

So the apology does not end the conflict, but moves it to another phase:

“The statement reprimanded the dera chief to desist from his pretensions and not to hide his wrongdoings.

The Akal Takht said the social boycott call against the sect and its
followers would continue. It said that peaceful protests against the
dera would continue till all its campuses were ‘uprooted’ from Punjab.

The statement urged Sikh followers of the sect to return to the Sikh religious fold.

It further stated that legal steps would be taken to bring the dera chief to book.”
Sikhs endorse Akal Takt’s decision to reject Dera apology,’ newKerala.com)

As my karate
instructor used to tell me:  “Block and counter! Block and counter!”
When you block a blow against you, you must immediately counter it.

The lesson here is that sometimes a public apology — or the demand for an apology — is not really about expressing remorse.

Sometimes apology is policy.

DATE OF APOLOGY: May 27, 2007
Dera Sacha Sauda sect of India
APOLOGIZEE:  Guru Gobind Singh — who died in 1708
FOR: The “misunderstanding” that the DSS leader was imitating the revered guru in a photo advertisement.

Apology Crisis in the Punjab!

Sometimes a lot can depend on an apology. For the geographically challenged, the Punjab region is in northern India — and also Pakistan. Which country actually owns the area is one of many sources of conflict between the two countries.

The current situation has nothing to do with that, however. Rather, it concerns whether the apology of Baba Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim to the Akal Takht for dressing up like Guru Gobind Singh is acceptable enough to bring an end to the Sikh social boycott of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect and related violence.

I’m not making this up. It’s a crisis in the Punjab! Granted, it doesn’t take much to cause a crisis in the Punjab. Richard Gere kissing someone can cause a crisis in the Punjab. They are many excitable people in the Punjab. Keep that in mind. If you’re ever in the Punjab.

I will admit up front that I don’t quite understand all the nuances here. But I’ll explain this as best I understand it. There is a sect in the Punjab called Dera Sacha Sauda.  We’re gonna call that the DSS. Their leader is a guy named Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. I’m sure friends call him something less wordy. Let’s say Ram Rahim Singh for short. Anyway, a few weeks back he appeared in a newspaper ad for the DSS dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Yes, he did. Who, you might ask, is Guru Gobind Singh? Clearly, you are as ignorant of the Sikh religion as I was before I read the Wikipedia article.

This article sums up the problem: The sect’s leader, Gurmit Ram Raheem Singh, appeared in an newspaper
advert as Guru Gobind Singh, one of 10 revered saints in the religion,
and was pictured offering holy water to the faithful. The advert upset
the main Sikh religious governing body, the Akal Takht, and triggered
violent protests in the Punjab earlier this month that left one dead
and scores injured.”

Apparently, you do not dress up like Guru Gobind Singh. Or, presumably, any of the other 9 Sikh gurus. I’m crossing Sikh guru off my list of Halloween options. You should too.

So, the Sikhs of the Punjab, and there are many, were upset at the apparent DSS insult to their religion. Violent protest and clashes ensued. Nobody throws a crisis like the Punjab:

Tens of thousands of Sikhs and DSS supporters have been gathering in various places in Punjab and Haryana.

Some Sikhs have been armed with swords and bricks. They
are reported to be surrounding a DSS campus near Salabetpura in the

Many DSS supporters have gathered in Sirsa in Haryana, where the sect has its headquarters, to ward off any attack by Sikhs. (“India tensions over Sikh protests”,BBC News).

Even the national government got into the act: The central government has sent two battalions of the Rapid Action Force, a paramilitary force comprising commandoes, to Sirsa.”

Local leaders were not impressed. Only two battalions? You can’t throw a decent crisis with two battalions. It’s like central government isn’t even trying.

“Punjab’s Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, has asked
the federal government to despatch 50 companies of paramilitary forces
to ensure peace.”

That’s more like it. Meanwhile, the Sikh clergy did their part to get the barbecue roaring by calling for a social, political and religious boycott of DSS followers. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I think it means nobody talk to them.

Could it possibly get any worse? Could the Sikh leaders possibly dial up tensions any higher than a social, political and religious boycott?

Of course they can! This is the Punjab, baby!

Take it, BBC:

“Cities and towns across the northern Indian state of
Punjab are shut in response to a general strike called by the Sikh
community.” (“Strike by Sikhs hits Indian state,”
BBC News).

Where are the cops when you need them?

“Thousands of machine-gun wielding soldiers are on alert
and the anti-riot Rapid Action Force personnel have marched through
some of the sensitive areas.”

Did anyone remember to bring the burn in effigy kit? It’s just not a party without a burning effigy.

“In the state of Jammu, Sikhs have held protest
demonstrations, burning effigies of the leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda
(DSS) religious sect.”

Oh, good. They remembered. How are the DSS followers holding up?

“Fearing possible violence by outraged Sikhs, security
forces have erected barricades around the headquarters of the Dera
Sacha Sauda (DSS) religious sect in Sirsa town [in the neighbouring
state of Haryana].

An estimated 20,000 DSS followers live on or near the campus.

The sect also has many smaller campuses across Punjab.”

This is just a suggestion, but maybe the DSS folks should stick close to their campuses until this blows over.

Sikh leaders have demanded that all campuses where sect members live be closed within a week.”

Or not. (Thank you, BBC, for that informative report). See, this is why there is no crisis like a Punjab crisis. Just when you think they’ve taken the tension as far as it can go without someone breaking out the high explosives, the Sikh leaders play their trump card and demand that all the DSSers get out of town.

Is there any way out of this mess? Is there anything the DSS can do to end this madness before the whole Punjab goes up in flames.

Why, yes: “Sikhs are demanding an apology from the leader of a
religious sect who appeared in an advert dressed like one of the Sikh
religion’s most important figures.”

An apology might make it all better. This being the Apology Index, you had to see that coming. Honestly, I gave it away way back in the second paragraph. And the title. Speaking of which, this post has gotten rather long, so we’ll examine the apology and its consequences in Part 2 of Apology Crisis in the Punjab!

PS: If you’re interested, the BBC offers some socio-political context and analysis of what led to this mess: ‘What is behind Sikh protests?”. No? Didn’t think so.