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Two Disturbing Developments

There are many a problems that are exercising the minds of well-wishers of the Panth. But two recent developments are really very disturbing. One is the open confrontation among Jathedar Sahibans of takhts. The other is the recent de-reservation of 50% seats for Sikh students in the SGPC-run educational institutions by the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The confrontation among the Jathedar Sahibans is unfortunate, particularly during the year when we are celebrating the third centenary of conferment of Guruship on Sri Guru Granth Sahib. In times of crises, the Sikh community has always looked to the five high priests for guidance as they have been representing the wishes and sentiments of the Panth. Since there was cohesion among them, no differences ever arose. However, things seem to have changed and the desire for personal aggrandizement has overtaken the interest of the Panth with one of the Jathedars. Besides the present incumbents, a couple of former Jathedars have also joined the fray. The Jathedar of Takht Patna Sahib has been issuing irresponsible edicts so that the Akal Takht Sahib had to take notice of these and issue a decree that those edicts were not valid and were liable to be ignored. He has challenged the authority of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and further claimed that Takht Patna Sahib was supreme and that it could issue edicts against the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib as well.

There is a historical record to show that Sri Akal Takht Sahib is the only takht established by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib. Neither he nor any one of the succeeding Gurus established any other takht during his lifetime. Sri Akal Takht Sahib was established to look after the temporal affairs of the Panth. In fact, there can be only one takht for the Panth. Multiple takhts working at counter purposes to one another can only lead to anarchy.

The Panth has added four more takhts during the course of history. Panth certainly has the authority to do that, but none of these takhts, despite their being connected with the life of Guru Gobind Sngh, was established as a takht by the Guru himself. The Guru left Patna Sahib while he was still a child. He stayed most of his time at Sri Anandpur Sahib and created the Khalsa at this place. He spent some time at Damdama Sahib and later moved to Hazoor Sahib, where he left this mortal world giving spiritual authority to Sri Guru Granth Sahib and temporal authority to the Khalsa. Guru Gobind Singh continued to regard Sri Akal Takht at Amritsar as the real throne of the Immortal Lord. He did not accord this status to any other place. There is no harm in having more than one takht, but these have been created by the Panth to cater to the regional requirements, and not as rivals to Sri Akal Takht Sahib.

Thus, the arrogance of an individual, occupying a position of trust, challenging the Supreme Authority of Sri Akal Takht cannot be ignored. The Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib has rightly taken a firm stand against this and needs the support of the Panth to uphold of the authority of Sri Akal Takht Sahib.

We learn from newspaper reports that Jathedar, Takht Patna Sahib is bringing out a White Paper ‘exposing’ the alleged misdeeds of the Jathedar, Sri Akal Takht Sahib so that the SGPC would be compelled to remove him from the Jathedarship. This means that the former has no scruples about washing dirty linen in public that will sully the character and image not only of a Sikh personage occupying the highest Sikh seat but also that of the most sacred Sikh institution. It also does not behove a Jathedar of a Sikh takht to challenge the decisions of the Jathedars taken collectively with majority of the representative Sikh religious organizations. The Nanakshahi Calendar, based on irrefutable scientific calculations and facts, has been adopted by the Sikh Panth after the issuance of an Akal Takht edict to that effect. Regarding the Dasam Granth controversy, it calls for restraint against all kinds of hawkish postures on the authenticity or otherwise of this work till Akal Takht Sahib takes a final decision on it. In the last Editorial of April – June issue, a mechanism was suggested to sort out this raging controversy. Now, this belated raking of one already settled issue and another under-the active-consideration issue to settle personal scores amounts to an act of blasphemy that needs to be dealt with sternly. The entire Sikh Panth must rally round the Akal Takht Jathedar Sahib.

The situation has risen apparently due to the fact that SGPC has no control over either Takht Patna Sahib or Takht Sri Hazoor Sahib so that the possibility of such an unpleasant situation cropping up has always been there. This had been realised as early as 1950 when the leaders of the Panth like Master Tara Singh, Giani Kartar Singh and Sardar Hukam Singh started a move for having an All India Sikh Gurdwaras Act. They managed to persuade the ruling parties to pass this legislation and Sikhs were invited to propose a suitable draft of the Bill for approval of the Parliament. The Institute of Sikh Studies has been following the history of this case. It organized a seminar on this issue in order to expedite the execution of this legislation. As a result, a Drafting Committee was appointed with Justice Harbans Singh as the head. This had the approval of the Akali leaders, the SGPC as well as the Government. The Draft, which provided for the redressal of all these problems we are facing today, was prepared and referred finally to the Punjab Govt. It is still resting with the Govt for more thought. In the meantime, the damage continues. Haryana is asking for a separate SGPC. In this situation, a humble request is made to the present Akali Govt to return the Bill with suitable amendments, if any, for a formal legislation in the Parliament. There is no other way. Once this Bill becomes an Act, we will have a Constitutional mechanism to deal with all these problems. It will not only streamline the functioning of our sacred Sikh shrines but also define the rights and duties of their functionaries. The earlier the Sikh Panth accomplishes this task, the better.

The other disturbing development is, as mentioned in the beginning, the de-reservation of 50% seats for Sikh students in the SGPC-run educational institutions by the Hon’ble Punjab and Haryana High Court. Punjab Govt had allowed this reservation through a proper notification. The Punjab and Haryana High Court, however, struck it down presumably on the plea that reservations are meant for minorities and that the Sikhs are not a minority in the state of Punjab. The SGPC has rightly approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court for reversal of this order. We have not been able to lay our hands on the arguments that the defendants have taken in the court. We learn, however, that effort is being made to prove that the Sikhs are a minority in Punjab because a large number of Sikhs go to deras, which profess by a personal, dehdhari Guru and not Gurbani Sabad as the Guru. It has also been pleaded that there are many Sikhs who have not completely adopted the Sikh Rehat Maryada approved by the Panth and issued by the SGPC. According to 2001 census, the Sikhs constitute 59.2% of the Punjab population as against a 37.5% of the Hindus. The Census figures do not provide any information on whether a particular Sikh sect or an individual followed the Rehat Maryada or not. It is enough that he enrolled himself as a Sikh during the Census Operation. Now at this time, after about eight years, it would not be appropriate to deny that status of being a Sikh to any individual who had enrolled himself as a Sikh in the last census; rather, nobody is in a position to do that. Even if the Court accepts this plea that some people are really no more Sikhs, it will be difficult to provide any reliable numbers. Moreover, this plea will not serve the purpose of the SGPC.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that assessment of a particular community as a minority or otherwise has to be done at the national level, and not at the state level. The Constitution of India leaves no doubt about it. The Government of India has listed Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, etc., as minorities in a notification in the year 1992. Thus, a Sikh remains a member of the minority community wherever he happens to be living in the entire state of the Indian Union. Indian States are not states in the real federal sense; these are only administrative units of the Central Govt with very limited powers. Thus, this innovation to determine minority/majority status of a particular community at the state level is against the spirit of Indian Constitution and is designed to deprive the Sikhs of their legitimate right in the Indian Union. No other community is affected by this. The move appears to have its origin in a recent judgement delivered by a Division Bench of the Supreme Court in a case that has absolutely no relevance to the present issue. The Hon’ble Judges have remarked that the list of minorities should be gradually reduced and ultimately completely done away with. This unconstitutional policy has to be resisted at all costs. It might necessitate an action on the part of the Sikhs on the political front also.

The move to prove the Sikhs to be a minority in Punjab is likely to be counter-productive. It was after a prolonged struggle and countless sacrifices that a State of Punjab was reorganized and demarcated with a predominantly Sikh population. To lose that status now will raise a number of other unpleasant issues detrimental to the interests of the Sikh Panth. The convention of having an Akali Ministry and a Sikh Chief Minister will be open to question, besides disturbing several other power-sharing norms. Such a situation should be avoided at all costs. Our religious and political leaders and legal luminaries spearheading this mission must take a farsighted view of the issue and insist that Sikhs are a minority in India, and that determination of minority or majority status taking state as a unit is unconstitutional and untenable. Such an approach will not only uphold the already existing constitutional provision but also keep all the existing splinter Sikh sub-sects under the umbrella of the Sikh Panth for garnering more political benefits for the Sikhs in the State of Punjab. By claiming to be a minority in Punjab, we shall be opening a Pandora’s box of fresh complications, which we may not be able to resolve. Such a shortsighted approach will prove suicidal for us. Thus, wisdom and commonsense demand that we do not lose sight of the larger perspective, while trying to score a singular point of reservation in Sikh institutions. Being pennywise pound foolish may suit an individual, but not a community and a nation which carries the burden of history, past, present and future.

In the view of the situation explained above, our main emphasis in our case against de-reservation should be that determination of minority status of a community has to be done at the national level rather than at the state level, as has already been provided in the Constitution. That should be the main thrust and direction of our defence and struggle against the High Court Judgement.

For resolution of such complex challenges confronting the Panth, we need an organization of well-informed, enlightened Sikh scholars and professionals committed to the welfare of the Panth. Fortunately, some panthdardis, enjoying international repute in their fields, are dedicating their expertise and time selflessly, and are working collectively under the banner of International Sikh Confederation (ISC). This organization, with its Headquarters in Chandigarh, is an apolitical think-tank of Sikh intelligentsia devoted to the propagation and promotion of Sikh ideology, and social, economic and educational advancement of the Sikhs all over the globe. Its sole aim is to complement, supplement and strengthen the central Sikh institutions so that these may deal with the emerging challenges effectively. It is in a position to provide inputs to the SGPC as well as Sri Akal Takht Sahib after thorough deliberations and well-thought-out formulations. Services of this Organisation should be utilized in dealing with these challenges so that the Panth may always put up a united front at the national as well as international level, and advance towards its destined glory.


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