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Prelude to Gurdwara Legislation
Constitution Of First Gurdwara Committee, Delhi
Delhi had the unique privilege of formation of a representative Gurdwara Committee as early as 1914 covering all the historic Sikh shrines in the territory of Delhi. This Committee came into being in unique circumstances with the complicity of the authorities. This was a precursor of the Gurdwara Reform Movement. It was brought about in such a sudden manner that the contemporaries little realised its import, or its wider implications for the gurdwaras in Punjab.
It was remarkable that the existing mahants / pujaris created no problems, and were adequately compensated for relinquishing their hold over the historic shrines in Delhi.
The circumstances which brought about this sudden metamorphosis in Delhi Gurdwaras have been narrated in detail in a chapter on the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Affair in my doctoral dissertation, Freedom Movement in Delhi, since published (Delhi, Associated Publishing House, 1972). Briefly, the British search for a suitable site for a new seat of Government after the transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, announced by George V at Delhi Darbar, 1911, led Governor General, Lord Hardinge to gallop on horseback, one fine morning, to the hillock by the side of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj. On enquiry, he learnt, that it marked the site where Guru Tegh Bahadur’s headless body was cremated (and had underneath the Urn of his ashes). He was much impressed by the historic site and straightaway said, “This is the site of the Government” (Hardinge : My Indian Years, London, 1948, p. 72).
Now, the authorities, to plan a straight road, and to do landscaping of the area, planned to adjust the boundaries of the Gurdwara, demolished the outer wall altogether and put up an iron railing instead. The demolition of a part of the wall bestirred a spirited lady, namely Sham Kaur, the widow of late Mahant Sawan Singh. She had an only son named Mahant Gurbakhsh Singh, who was very young then. That brave lady placed her son on her breast and laid down on the wall and challenged them to cut her and her son to pieces, before demolishing the wall of the Gurdwara. The news of this deed of valour spread widely and reached Punjab and the demolition work was stopped early in November, 1913. Mahant Gurbakhsh Singh died in 1963, leaving behind him five sons and three daughters. It may be mentioned here that his eldest daughter, Harbans Kaur, married to Prof. Sher Singh Sher, an eminent Sikh scholar residing at Chandigarh. Mata Ishar Kaur, the wife of Mahant Gurbakhsh Singh is alive and lives at F-62, Green Park, New Delhi 110016, at the age of 95.
This act of sacrilege unleashed singular forces. The Chief Commissioner of Delhi in December, 1913, received telegrams of protest from almost all the Singh Sabhas in Punjab. This was the first time since the Anand Marriage Bill of 1909 that the Singh Sabhas were showing that much concern. The Sikhs of Delhi, for the first time in the city, took out a procession in December, 1913 on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, held a diwan at Gurdwara Sis Ganj, and sought intervention of the Chief Khalsa Diwan in the matter.
First half of 1914 saw the interaction of multiple forces. One, Sardar Harchand Singh of Lyallpur, who played a sterling role in the initial stages of the agitation on the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj affair, visited the site in January, 1914, and persisted in his determination to raise the matter at the Sikh Educational Conference in April 1914, and other forums, and otherwise take up the matter through pamphlets, press and platform. His efforts led to the opening of another front at Ludhiana, and discreet support from Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha.
Two, the Government sought the intervention of Raja Sir Daljit Singh of Kapurthala family to intervene on its behalf. It also marshalled the influence of Mr. King, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar, to soften up the Chief Khalsa Diwan.
Three, the Chief Khalsa Diwan, a timid body, caved in; it could not stand up to the authorities, nor could it face the onslaught of the aroused Sikh masses.
Different Sikh organisations and prominent Sikhs, besides the luminaries of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, were invited to a meeting on the 3rd of May, 1914, convened by Arur Singh, sarbrah of Golden Temple (He did so at the instance of Mr. King, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar). Six resolutions, meeting the desires of the Government, were adopted.
Acting on one of the resolutions, the Chief Khalsa Diwan, on 21st June, 1914, drew the constitution of the Khalsa Gurdwara Committee, Delhi. The Committee was to consist of seven members to be elected as follows :
1. Four members from Delhi Province to be elected by the Delhi Khalsa Sangat (Sikhs of Delhi);
2. Three members to be elected or nominated as under :
a. One member to be returned by Sri Darbar Sahib (Amritsar) and the four Takhts — Akal Bunga Sahib (Amritsar), Sri Kesgarh Sahib (Anandpur), Patna Sahib (Patna) and Hazoor Sahib Nanded (Deccan);
b. One member to be nominated by the Darbars of Patiala, Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala and Faridkot states;
Note : The representatives of the States will be nominated by the States in turn as under :
Patiala for two years; Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala and Faridkot for one year each; and in case any State does not exercise its right within two months, then the next State in turn will have the right to return a member;
3. One member to be elected by the Khalsa Diwan and Singh Sabhas affiliated to the Chief Khalsa Diwan.
Pursuant to the Constitution, early in July 1914, four members of Delhi to the proposed committee were elected at an ordinary Singh Sabha meeting in Delhi. Shortly, the Committee started functioning.
After the conclusion of World War I in 1918, construction of the new Capital, which lay abandoned for the duration of war, was revived. The Government, thinking discretion to be better part of valour, decided to readjust the proposed roads for the Central Secretariat building, to abut Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, so as to leave it in the form of a rectangle, with extra land to the Gurdwara.
An agreement ceding extra land was signed on 1st March, 1920, between the Deputy Commissioner (Delhi) and Chief Engineer on behalf of the Government and the Khalsa Gurdwara Committee through its representative S.B. Sobha Singh. The Government imposed a condition that the Sikhs would not construct a building inside without its prior permission. This was because of the Government’s fears that the Sikhs might put up an imposing structure to serve as an alternate centre of attraction, in the process impinging on the architectural equilibriun of the Capital site as conceived.
The outer wall of the area ceded to Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, as also the inner wall, were constructed by the Khalsa Gurdwara Committee by end 1920 after Sardul Singh Caveeshar in the daily Akali of 2nd September, 1920, had asked for 100 martyrs to construct the walls of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj.
With the enactment of Gurdwara Act 1925, the Delhi Gurdwaras came under the supervision of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the nomenclature of the Committee changed to Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (D.G.P.C.). Till 1947, the Sikh population of Delhi was not large and elections through Singh Sabhas were considered appropriate. Later direct election under the control of S.G.P.C. were organised. It was to loosen the control of S.G.P.C. over Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee that Nirlep Kaur in May 1971, with the help of some toughs from Haryana/Punjab, physically seized the Delhi Gurdwaras with the blessings of the local police. The Akali agitation, under Sant Fateh Singh, to liberate the Delhi Gurdwaras led to the enactment of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Act in 1971, when the Delhi Gurdwaras were placed under a different statute. The first elections to the Delhi Gurdwara Committee were held only in 1975.
Meanwhile, in the 1960s Jathedar Santokh Singh, Secretary, Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, announced at a diwan on the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the existence of “a dispute” about the land between the outer and inner walls of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, which now the Government was claiming from the D.G.P.C. My first reaction was to go to the stage of the diwan and announce the existence of the agreement of 1st March, 1920, ceding the land to the Gurdwara. I chose to be discrete. I went to Bakhshi Gurcharan Singh, a leading Advocate, then President of D.G.P.C., and told him of the existence of the agreement, and also the Government file numbers and where the files were lying. Shortly afterwards, Bakhshi Gurcharan Singh told me that thanks to the information passed on by me, the ‘dispute’ had been settled to their satisfaction. During this period, I learnt from Delhi Record Office that the relevant file along with the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Papers, which I had seen in mid-1950s for my research work on Freedom Movement in Delhi, were sent to Delhi Development Authority, and since then, nobody knows, where those papers are lying, because till now, these have not gone back to the Delhi Record Office.
Here is the text of the Constitution of the Khalsa Gurdwara Committee framed by the Chief Khalsa Diwan on 21st June, 1914 :
1. There shall be formed a Gurdwara Committee styled “The Khalsa Gurdwara Committee, Delhi” consisting of seven members, four from the Delhi province and three from outside Delhi, for the improvement of the Sikh Gurdwaras in the province of Delhi.
Note : This Committee has been formed in accordance with the terms of Resolution No. 2 of the Representative Panthic Committee meeting of 3rd May, 1914.
2. The members of the Committee shall be Singhs of not less than 21 years of age, and shall be elected or nominated as the case may be as under :
a. Four members from the Delhi Province to be elected by the Delhi Khalsa Sangat.
b. Three members to be elected or nomiated as under :
i. One member to be returned by Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, and the four Takhts — Akal Bunga Sahib (Amritsar), Sri Keshgarh Sahib (Anandpur), Patna Sahib (Patna) and Hazoor Sahib Nanded (Deccan).
ii. One member to be nominated by the Durbars of Patiala, Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala and Faridkot states.
Note : The representative of the states will be nominated by the states in turn as under :
Patiala for 2 years, Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala and Faridkot for 1 year each.
And in case any state does not exercise its right within two months, the next state in turn will have the right to return a member.
iii. One member to be elected by the Khalsa Diwan and Singh Sabhas affiliated to the Chief Khalsa Diwan.
Provided that if the members are not elected or nominated within a period of two months from the issuing of notice for such members being returned, the Chief Khalsa Diwan shall nominate such members having due regard to the different interests represented above.
3. Except in the case of the representation of Native States [1(b)(ii) above], three years after the formation of the Committee, two members shall retire every year by rotation. The first retiring members being selected by ballot or by consent, subsequent retirements will be of those who have been longest in office. Retiring members will be eligible for re-election.
4. Ten clear days’ notice will be given for convening a meeting of the Committee and no business shall be transacted unless there is a quorum of three members present in a meeting. The minutes of the proceedings shall be recorded by the Honorary Secretary in a book kept for the purpose.
5. In every meeting of the Committee, the members present shall elect one from amongst themselves as Chairman of that day’s deliberations.
6. The Committee shall elect annually :
a. One from amongst themselves to act as Honorary Secretary of the Committee;
b. Subject to the general control of the Committee, the Secretary may appoint a paid or an Honorary Assistant Secretary to help him in the discharge of his duties, provided that in the case of a paid Assistant Secretary, the Secretary shall take the sanction of the Committee about the pay of such an incumbent. Such Assistant Secretary, whether he is paid or an Honorary Officer, shall not have a right of vote in the Committee and shall work under the orders of the Honorary Secretary.
7. The office of a member shall become vacant by death, resignation or by rotation as provided under the rules.
8. The Committee shall present to the Panth annually an audited statement of accounts showing the expenditure for each year. The auditor shall hold a certificate to audit the accounts of public companies; he shall be appointed by the Chief Khalsa Diwan and his remuneration shall be fixed by them and paid out of the funds of the Committee.
9. The Committee shall be competent to make its own rules, not inconsistent with those for the conduct of business, and they shall be competent to do all and everything that is necessary for the objects enumerated in rule 1.
10. A change in these rules shall only be made if a majority of the Committee recommends such a change and it is approved by the Chief Khalsa Diwan.
Make the body the soil; put therein the seed of good deeds;
With the Name Divine irrigate it.
Let thy mind be cultivated, and raise crop of God’s devotion :
Thus shalt thou obtain the state of nirvana.
Thoughtless man ! why take pride in worldly pelf ?
Father, progeny, wife, mother — none in the end
shall succour thee.
Uproot malignant weeds of evil inclinations and thoughts —
Discarding these, the self contemplate.
As this cultivation with prayer, austerity and
self-control thou shalt guard,
The lotus shall bloom and therefrom ooze nectar.
He that during the twenty-seven phases of the noon,
Each day garners devotion;
In the three periods of life keeps death in mind;
In the ten scriptures and eighteen Puranas seeks the
Creator without limit —
Saith Nanak — thus by the sole Lord
Shall he be taken across.
— Guru Granth Sahib, p. 23