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).
“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
APOLOGIZER: 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.