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Committees And Gurdwaras
Nanak Singh Nishter
The Sikhs of Punjab are living in a fortress where the oppressors and the oppressed both are Sikhs, and hence feel it is just a problem of power mongers and vested interests. Whereas we, outside Punjab, strongly realise that for the last one and a half decades, we are facing an invasion and undeclared war on our religious values from every nook and corner, and danger of extinction and assimilation. The religious Sikhs are being hunted throughout the world by framing criminal charges and creating factions of non-believers as moderates and staunch believers as fundamentalists, and the gurdwaras have been made the main targets. There is hardly any gurdwara where there is no such confusion, litigation and rivalry. This seminar is expected to deal with this situation Akal Takht should take appropriate steps to prevent the use of gurdwaras for distorting Sikhism. If Akal Takht continues to be a silent spectator, let us approach other Takhts. I want to draw the attention of this august house towards the affairs of the gurdwaras. It is in our purview to set things right ourselves, as “God helps only those, who help themselves.”
A poor Sikh used to go to the gurdwara regularly, but was ignored as a stranger. After a long absence, the granthi met him at the market-place and asked, “Why are you not coming these days ? ” “Well, I met Guru Nanak on the road and complained that I am not getting proper treatment and am often ignored,” the Sikh said. Before the Sikh could finish, the granthi interrupted him and asked, “Ha, and what did the Guru say ?” “Guru Nanak said, ‘we both are in the same boat.’”
With due apologies to those who are the few exceptions, this story and this paper reflect and indicate the sad state of affairs of almost all the gurdwaras. The gurdwaras are growing in numbers with expensive interior and outer decorations. Simplicity of langar has been replaced with rich foods. Sarovars (tanks) are also being dug and decorated with marble, and heavy expenditure is regularly incurred on things that are not used. Sub-standard hospitals and schools are coming up. Thus, community funds are being spent on projects which yield little benefit to the people. Other communities have made prestigious institutions, which have become sources of income and also give service to the general public, often free of cost. We, on the other hand, lavishly spend lakhs of Rupees on every event for pomp and show in celebrating Gurpurbs, non-religious and irrelevant diwans, kirtan darbars and for hiring professionals. These so-called preachers, instead of spreading the Guru’s message, are only interested in projecting themselves. They flatter the management, to ensure booking for future programmes. Thus, all religious practices are meant for pleasing the eyes, ears, tongue and ego, and not for changing minds. Annually, crores of Rupees are spent for pleasure, fun, name and fame of a few, whereas the community at large is ignored and neglected totally. The welfare of the Sikhs and the teachings of the Gurus are seldom on the agenda of gurdwaras.
Guru Nanak pioneered the idea of providing food and shelter at places of worship. This is a basic function of any gurdwara, which can be the best source of interaction among people from different parts. But most of the managements have abandoned this concept. Those who provide it, do so in such a poor way that nobody prefers to stay there. Some charge rents at par with commercial lodgings, and make it a source of income instead of a service. On the other hand, other communities have borrowed this idea and are providing shelters all over the world on nominal maintenance charges, such as Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mission, Rama Krishna Mission, every big temple, dargah and mosque. In recent years, Haj Houses (rest-houses) have mushroomed in every capital city of the states of India. In Mumbai, a spacious sky-scraper Haj House was constructed at the centrally located Crawford Market, apart from the already existing nearby Sarai (rest-house).
Restricting ourselves to the present-day gurdwaras, we will find a strange similarity in their establishment. In every place, wherever Sikhs have a significant population, they establish a gurdwara. Then subsequently, a series of gurdwaras come into existence because of split in the community or due to the ego of self-styled leaders. Once they become important office-bearers, they start playing games for retaining the management in their own hands by all means, foul or fair. At some places, they form societies of the people of their choice and register the gurdwara with the Government, so that non-members have no say. Another category is that of Government registered Trusts with lifetime custodians. There is yet another category called dera of self-styled sants, who are the absolute owners. All these gurdwaras are built and maintained by Panthic money, but most of them indulge in anti-Panthic activities, and function like commercial institutions. It is said that, “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and gurdwaras are no exception. The managements have hardly any sense of sewa, humility, accountability and responsibility. Anybody who resents this is labelled as ‘fundamentalist’ by people claiming themselves to be ‘moderates.’ This division is found in all gurdwaras the world over, with clashes, conflicts and litigations, which are encouraged by the Government and the society. The time has come to stop it at any cost, and Akal Takht should come forward to set things right.
This century has produced several Reform Movements to to liberate gurdwaras from the clutches of masands, mahants and to remove anti-Panthic rituals. And those who have sacrificed their lives, limbs and properties for this noble cause are remembered daily and have become part and parcel of our prayers in Ardas. But it seems the spirit of the Movement is rapidly disappearing, with bettle relevance to the present times. Unless we keep its spirit alive and active, we cannot carry forward the fruits of those sacrifices. If we stop putting fuel in a lamp, the flame and light will automatically disappear.
Coming to the point of Legislation for Gurdwara Managements, if I am not mistaken, there are four such legislations — (1) Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925, which covers historical gurdwaras of the erstwhile area of Punjab, through the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. (2) Delhi Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Act, covering historical gurdwaras of Delhi. (3) Nanded Gurdwara Act, covering historical gurdwaras of Nanded and one of Aurangabad. And (4) the Jammu and Kashmir Sikh Gurdwaras and Religious Endowments Act 1973, which applies to all Sikh Gurdwaras of this state. All these legislations are enacted and governed by the people in political power, keeping loopholes for their back-door control, which is being continued till this day. Some other historical gurdwaras are governed by committees under registered societies indirectly under the District Collector. Now, we are passing through the worst days of Sikh history, facing constant war of nerves, which threatens our ideology and distinct features at the hands of some bureaucratic, political and social lobbies. Even then, if we expect any Gurdwara Legislation to bring improvement, it is like a goat believing the butcher. For example, we can see the amendments of the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Act 1959 under the heading, “to amend the Act for the purpose of extending it to the territories which, immediately before the 1st November, 1956, were comprised in the State of Patiala and East Punjab States Union and for certain other purposes.” ‘For certain other purposes’ under Section 2, after Clause 10, the Clause 10-A and Sub-Sections i, ii, iii, and iv have been maliciously inserted to include ‘sehajdhari Sikh’, and its definition, which provision has gone unnoticed by the Sikhs, has become a part of the Act from 1959 onwards.
We can see another example of the amendment of the Jammu and Kashmir Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1973, according to which under Section 2, Clauses d, e, f, and g were inserted in the year 1981 to provide for ‘sehajdhari Sikh’.
The people in power have so cleverly included non-Sikhs by defining the non-believers as ‘sehajdhari Sikh’ into the Sikh fold, which does not have any sanction, precedence or practice in the history, scripture or Reht Maryada. This has put a big question mark on our separate identity and creates confusion about the basic values of Sikhism itself.
1. I earnestly appeal to Panthic think tanks and especially to social scientists to come forward and start a crusade against this oppression of Sikhism by the so-called Sikhs themselves. In my humble opinion and in view of the above analysis of the problem, I suggest that unless amritdhari Sikhs are given their due share of respect and unless managements are elected through secret ballot by every keshadhari Sikh enrolled as voter for general elections of that area, this degradation in the managements cannot be controlled. Unless a person knows, believes in and practises Sikhism, he can never propagate the true spirit of the faith and manage the gurdwara in its correct perspective. Recently, the Election Commission of India has given a beautiful slogan that, “A law breaker cannot be a law maker.” And some time back, the High Court of Kerala has held that, “A non-believer of Hinduism cannot be appointed as a trustee of a Hindu temple trust board.” In practical life also, for getting a radio repaired we never go to the fan repairer. For repairs of bicycles, we never go to the car mechanic, even if he be our son or father. For every problem we search for a specialised person, who alone knows the defect and how to rectify it. But, what about our religion ? Let us compare ourselves with other religions and admit that ours is the only religion in the world which is controlled by non-religious people, or by persons who want to encash religious values for personal gains. The religion which could not be eradicated by kings, even with fabulous rewards on the head of every Sikh (dead or alive), is now being driven out from its very source, the gurdwaras, and that, too, by ourselves.
2. The root-cause of the Brahminical evils was the offerings to the priests. The philosophy behind the living on dakshana (offerings) and bhiksha (charity) for the priests was introduced to keep them away from ego and, create a sense of humility in the learned people, who are responsible to educate the society. But, for thousands of years this priestly class has been exploiting the society for its monetary gains, and further tightens its grip over the religion through the clutches of rituals and customs. As a result, not even one person out of thousands knows what Hindu religion is. Because of this ignorance of their own faith, Hindus are attracted by the knowledge and wisdom spread by other religions, which is the main cause of conversion, in addition to other worldly benefits. Keeping in view the short time and space, I am avoiding to quote Gurbani which has hundreds of times cautioned us to be aware of this danger. Now this is a challenge before us. Are we not following in the same footsteps ? If so, it should be our main concern to find ways and means to save the Panth from this destruction by banning the “Ardasey” as an illegitimate private practice, which prevents the spread of the Guru’s teachings. Let them adopt a therapy to cure the patient by any means, but not enhance the disease by pleasing every one.
3. The beauty of Gurbani in Gurmukhi script is in its mixed spoken languages of the common man. To get acquainted with this matchless treasure of wisdom and experience, let us start a Guru Pahachan Lehar, spreading Gurbani to know the Guru yourself, to understand while reading. Let all individuals pledge “each one — teach one.” And the gurdwaras should become the centres for teaching and learning. The illiteracy among us is so high that in Punjab alone lakhs of Sikhs are not able to read Gurbani even though Gurmukhi is the script of their mother-tongue, the state language. For Sikhs living outside Punjab, it should be made obligatory on the gurdwara managements to appoint teachers to teach Gurbani in Gurmukhi script at various localities. The more scattered largest minority of Muslims with a population of 10,15,96,057 (12.12% of the population) have Madrasas (Quranic Schools) in every Mosque. There are paid staff and volunteers for door to door Islamic preaching and teaching of Quran. It is obligatory for every child to learn the Quran in Arabic script at the age of 4 years 4 months and 4 days and the ceremony is called Bismillah Khwani. Every member of the smallest minority of Zoroastrians (Parsi) with a total population of 76,382 reads their holy book, Zend Avsta, in Zend language. After their genocide or conversion in their mother-country Iran, they migrated to India exactly 1367 years back, but still maintain their distinct identity, and are highly placed in society.
4. The Government is spending crores of Rupees as grants in aid for minorities and their institutions. Other minorities are fully utilising these public funds for the welfare of their community people. The Muslim minority is getting exclusive and additional crores of Rupees for their Waqf Boards, Haj Committees, for modern education in Madrasas, construction of Haj Houses, marriage halls, Urdu Bhavans (auditoriums), grave yards, and monthly salaries for Imams of Mosques, apart from the apologies for the demolition of the abandoned Babri Masjid. Whereas the Sikh minority population of 1,62,59,744 (1.94% of the population) is extorting money from its own people in the name of gurdwaras and institutions for public welfare, making the poor poorer. For the rich, it is the only fruitful offerings, which the common man avoids gurdwaras out of inferiority complex. This situation should be reviewed, discussed and debated at all levels.
5. All gurdwaras of an area should be interlinked with one another, and in turn at the state and national level. This will help to ensure uniformity of rituals in gurdwaras, attention to day to day Panthic and socio-economic problems and policies for the welfare of the people of the community. Let us try to cultivate Sikh minds in our bodies. Individuals make the community. Let the community also make the individuals, out of their own contributed offerings.
Without going into further time-consuming details, I would like to conclude with a couplet of Guru Gobind Singh, who has very clearly ordained :
;/t eoh fJB jh eh Gkts, nT[o eh ;/t ;[jks B ih e' ..
dkB d:' fJB jh e' Gb', no[ nkB e' dkB B bkrs Bh e' ..
nkr? cb?, fJB jh e' d:', ir w?, i;[ nT[o d:' ;G che' ..
w' rqfj w?, wB s/ sB s/, f;o bT[, XB j?, ;G jh fJB jh e' ..
(d;w rqzE ;kfjp, gz. 716)
One sole light pervades all beings —
This the holy Master through the holy Word reveals.
Himself has He made them distinct, apparent to the mind —
This mode of creation has He made as He willed it.
May I be a sacrifice time and again to those chanting
laudation of the holy Lord.
None without the Preceptor’s teaching follows the way of
enlightened devotion —
By Divine grace may one be absorbed in devotion
In Thy beauty dost Thou fascinate all creation :
By Thy looks dost Thou the creation penetrate;
In Thy will lies suffering and bliss,
Lord Creator !
— Guru Granth Sahib, p. 125