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Gurdwara Legislation

Gurdip Singh

Background
1. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee had emerged as a sequel to the second phase of achievements of the Singh Sabha Movement. The first phase was the revivalism of true Sikh religious values. The second phase was the organised struggle for regaining control and management of the gurdwaras. The third phase of political activism is beyond the scope of this topic.

2. The creation of the S.G.P.C. was the outcome of supreme sacrifices inspired by religious zeal. The S.G.P.C. was acutely needed, during the post-partition period, to stimulate and pay back the commitment to primacy of religious way of life, because the post partition years have been a period of disorientation for the Sikh community. This period has been characterised by the following four factors :

a) Uprooted families and disintegrated social circles burdened with grievous concerns seeking rehabilitation.
b) Economic instability that precluded wide and intense political involvement.
c) Hindu majoritarian attitudes and subtle Congress machinations to subvert Sikh superiorities with ulterior designs to liquidate Sikh identity.
d) Exposure to a non-spiritualistic world of on-rushing materialistic attractions.

3. The first two factors gradually resolved satisfactorily through resilience in the Sikh character. The perils of the latter two have kept magnifying. The unethical lure for raw power and greed could not be contained in accordance with Sikh ethos and through the agencies at the disposal of S.G.P.C. The mutuality between religious and political conduct, which had helped maintain equilibrium leading to ascendancy of Sikhism, slowly reversed. One way traffic towards corrupting power ultimately submerged the religious and moral platform. It is here that the role which the S.G.P.C. should have performed in the post partition period, was found gravely wanting.

4. One need not go into the ills of management of gurdwaras or list failures in infusing religious values, suffice it to say that the S.G.P.C., as an organisation and instrument, needs urgent re-engineering, so as to re-invest it with purpose and trust.

Defects
5. The S.G.P.C., which is juridically girded, has now acquired a baggage of encumbrances and controversies. The virus of internal conflicts has contaminated Gurdwara Committees throughout the world.

6. The legislation as such has two facets :

a) It affords certain safeguards and protections through the Tribunal and the Commission.
b) It is the infirmities in the provisions relating to management which need to be rectified.

7. The crucial issue of electing members for the S.G.P.C. needs to be examined. Considering the constituencies for S.G.P.C. members and Punjab legislators, a strange complexity appears to reside in their delineation. Constituencies for Gurdwara Management elections and political representation are virtually conterminous. This is an unhealthy structural parallelism, because the nominations for S.G.P.C. acquire unavoidable political cross-currents at the very beginning. The nominations of candidates for S.G.P.C. becomes subjective to the dictates of political parties, mainly the Shiromani Akali Dal. These captive candidates remain prisoners of the political hierarchy. Thus, they are not Sikhs imbued with sewa, because while serving the interests of their political masters, they relegate the very cause of their genesis.

8. The S.G.P.C. jurisdiction is territorially limited. In the remaining part of the country, bodies constituted in various ways under state acts ranging from 1860s to 1970s, are in existence. These inequities lend themselves to rivalries. The exploits of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee are an outstanding example. The appointment, or rather the absence of the appointment of Jathedar Sahiban of the two historic Takhts outside S.G.P.C. jurisdiction, is another glaring anomaly.

9. The worst infirmity is the interface with the Government which controls elections with the sole obligation to serve its political interests. This is extremely manipulative. The alternative to a dissolved body is that of placing the management in the hands of lower rung bureaucrats, i.e., the dissolution of S.G.P.C. invites management by D.C. Amritsar. For Patna Sahib Gurdwara, it is the local S.D.M.

10. Last but not the least is the system of financial management of the S.G.P.C. which is simply mystic.

Corrections
11. Although the S.G.P.C. presents an image of primary Sikh entity and categorises itself as the Parliament of Sikhs, the truth is that this is unrealistic and the track record of the S.G.P.C. also belies this claim. The situation urgently requires to be legally corrected while being ideologically enthused.

12. While contemplating correctives, we must consider our own first-hand experiences and envision in depth what heritage and legacy we assimilated from our grandfather’s time, and what future picture in respect of our grandchildren glares at us and what we wish to bequeath to them. Thus the correctives must encompass :

i. Future perspectives.

ii. A justifiable global dimension.

13. Towards this objective we should work on two options :

i. A global organisation like the World Sikh Council (W.S.C.).
ii. Modify the S.G.P.C.

14. The W.S.C. is what we may term as a Global Senate of Sikhs. It should globally coordinate the management of gurdwaras to provide an ideational unity at the base of the Sikh Nation, and secondly through the ordained institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib inspire unity at the apex of the Sikh Nation.

15. Focusing on the S.G.P.C., it must extend its territorial coverage to include the entire country, because the mission and purpose of every gurdwara is identical. The obstacle to this stems from the Government of India’s scheme to impede Sikh unity and contain the potential of accumulated and centralised human and financial resources that could be commanded by the Sikhs.

16. The other major aspect is to confine the role of S.G.P.C. on two accounts :

i. It must extract itself from the political arena and devote itself to such a management regime of gurdwaras that it may act as a model for gurdwaras abroad to follow.
ii. It should generate consciousness to inculcate Sikh way of life from the absolute base of the gurdwaras.

17. Coming to the specific items :

a) The Gurdwara Act must be an All India Act. There is no logical reason against it. If the present Act can cover states like Haryana, Himachal and U.T. of Chandigarh, why cannot other states be covered ? Beside other advantages, cases like state government’s prejudicial action for land alienation at Hazur Sahib, Nanded, will be checked effectively.
b) The number of elected members must be reduced to 1/4 or 1/3 of the present strength. The quantity may get replaced by quality. We should also refine the procedure for nomination and election of S.G.P.C. members. A procedure has been suggested in a paper published in the Oct. - Dec. 1996 issue of the Abstracts of Sikh Studies, (pp. 114-15). This paper also elaborates the avoidance of election of the S.G.P.C. President each year. As an alternative to yearly election, it suggests formation of a five member committee for governing the affairs of S.G.P.C.
c) The conditionalities for holding S.G.P.C. elections must neutralise, legally and administratively, the scope for manipulative intent by the powers that be. In the eventuality of dissolution of the elected body, the system of management must be decided by Jathedars Takht Sahiban and, if required, in consultation with the past five members the governing committee of S.G.P.C. or / and President W.S.C., President Chief Khalsa Diwan, etc.
d) No member of the S.G.P.C., past or present, may serve on any trust or other body formed or aided by funds from the S.G.P.C. The onus of managing such institutions must be autonomously entrusted to specialists.
e) The financial system of accounting of gurdwara funds must be reviewed in detail by commissioning an expert study team. All arisings must be first pooled and then appropriations made for administrative as well as other projects.
Finally, we may appoint a committee of legal experts to translate the accepted concepts for progressing through the Punjab representatives in Parliament.

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The Lord, Treasury of noble attributes, is inencompassable;
Not through learned exposition is He attained :
To attain Him banish egoism ever.
One attaining the Lord is absorbed in the fear of God,
As He takes dwelling in the self.
Brother ! rare is the man who realises the Lord :
Ritual piety without realisation is making waste of the
valuable human incarnation.
Those tasting the Lord alone know this joy —
Those without it in delusion are lost.
The holy Name is the true amrita, beyond description.
Those tasting it are approved of God, in holy
Word absorbed.

— Guru Granth Sahib, p. 33

 

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