Celebrating of 150th year of the Singh Sabha Movement
Kendri Singh Sabha Focuses on Sensitizing Sikhs Towards Social Justice
Considering that in the present days the aggressive Hindutva is attempting to infiltrate the pristine Sikh philosophy, and religious principles to confuse and distort the distinct Sikh way of life, the Kendri Sri Guru Singh Sabha (KSGSS), representing the Singh Sabha Movement decided to focus on refurbishing the Unique Sikh Identity with the Social Justice as its main thrust. With the Hindutva whipping majoritarian nationalism securing the majority population’s support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that succeeded in establishing the majoritarian rule, the Sikhs, as a tiny minority, feel threatened and are left with no option but to huddle together to safeguard their distinct religion, ethos, and way of life.
The Hindutva, in essence, is the modern version of the Arya Samaj that surfaced in the 1870s with its slogan that the “Sikhs are part of the larger Hindu Samaj.” When Arya Samaj and Christian missionaries were nibbling on the small Sikh Panth through their respective conversion campaigns directed at the Sikh community, the Singh Sabha Movement came out successfully to defeat their nefarious designs. Evidently the Hindutva— a recent political construct—is status quoist opposing any social change and even utilises the scriptural support to the obnoxious caste system. It invokes nearly obsolete and mythical ‘Vedic period’ as an emotive religious anchor to build up its ‘vote bank’ for attaining political power.
On the contrary, with more than two centuries old Guru period with the Sikh philosophy, principles and practices evolved thereafter openly advocate social, human, and gender equality. With universalism is its creed, Sikhism vociferously opposes the caste system and exploitation of human beings by the mighty and powerful. Taking up cue from that, the KSGSS has taken up the issue of “social justice” as the theme of the 150th-year celebration of the Singh Sabha Movement. The year-long celebrations were launched at a function held the main function at the KSGSS’s main office in Chandigarh on October 22 last. During the chalked out celebrations, 12 special seminars will be held with the active participation of known Sikh theologians and intellectuals at different cities and towns in Punjab and the same type of functions and the same number of discussions will be organized outside Punjab at Mumbai, Kolkata, Bhopal, Delhi, and other places. Besides that, old and relevant Sikh literature and books that are facing extinction will be republished and circulated among the Sikhs and libraries. A special issue of ‘Singh Sabha Patrika’ dedicated to the Singh Sabha Movement will be brought out.
The thrust of the seminars will be on the implementation of the “Sikh Rehat Maryada” approved by the Akal Takht in 1946 after 13 year-long deliberations among the Sikh intellectuals, religious persons, and representatives of various Sikh sects. The KSGSS is of the view that the flourishing ‘Deras’ and “ Sant Samaj” in Punjab and abroad enjoy the political rulers’ patronage and have openly been opposing the ‘Sikh Rehat Maryada”. They have even brought into practice their own respective brands of “Maryada” which, all of them together, promote the Brahmanical practice of “individual worship and priesthood supremacy” flouting the Sikh religion’s main concept of “Sabad Guru”. In a way, Deras and ‘Sant Samaj’ tacitly helped the introduction of the ‘Biparwaad’ (Brahmanical ethos) among the Sikhs in India and abroad thereby superseding the distinct Sikh Identity in religious and philosophical terms.
Fifty years earlier, the centenary celebration of the Singh Sabha movement was held in 1972 with former Lok Sabha Speaker Hukam Singh leading the team of Sikh luminaries, intellectuals, writers, and politicians. Among others, SGPC president Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Giani Gurdit Singh were active participants in arranging discussions and seminars. A plethora of literature on Sikh history and philosophy came up during the year-long celebrations which also highlighted the contribution of the Singh Sabha movement toward the establishment of the uniqueness of the Sikh Faith and the distinct existence of the Sikh Panth as evolved and shaped by the ten Sikh Gurus.
The Singh Sabha Movement originated in 1873 in Amritsar when Thakur Singh Sandhawalia and Giani Gian Singh took the lead in opposing the open conversion of the four Sikh students to Christianity. And they established the first Singh Sabha there. In 1879, Giani Dit Singh, Prof Gurmukh Singh, and Kanwar Bikarama Singh, however, set up the second Singh Sabha in Lahore. The Lahore Singh Sabha flourished in the shape of a ‘Reformist Movement’ which involved various other Sikh intellectuals and religious personalities like Attar Singh Bhasaur, Bhagat Laxman Singh, Bhai Vir Singh, and Jawahar Singh.
The Lahore Singh Sabha is also credited with starting a journalism programme in Punjabi in Gurmukhi script and published tracts, pamphlets, and books to eradicate Brahmanical rituals and superstitions that had crept in a big way among the Sikhs. It also set up hundreds of Khalsa schools and colleges in the distant rural areas helping the uplifting of the education level of the Sikhs.
Otherwise, following the fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule in 1849, the Sikhs forming around 10 percent population of erstwhile Punjab suddenly got dwindled in numbers. The British Administrative Report of 1851-52 says that many Sikhs relinquished their identity and joined other religions. Some Sikh Army generals even embraced Islam and Christianity. Besides, the Brahmanical rituals and caste system which began surfacing during the last decade of the Khalsa Raj got much more pronounced after its fall. According to the 1881 Census, the population of Sikhs came down to mere 18 lakhs in Punjab towards the end of the 19th century. And the Sikh identity got virtually overshadowed by the Hindu way of life and religious practices. The above development is evident from the fact that a church came up in one of the ‘bungas’ in the ‘parikarma’ of the historical gurdwara in Tarn Tarn and the entry of untouchable Sikhs (Dalits) was restricted to a specific time of the day in the Durbar Sahib, Amritsar.
Against the above background, the Singh Sabha Movement did a yeoman service in fighting out the Hindu rituals and promoting and preserving the Unique Identity and Culture of the Sikhs. Enthused by the Singh Sabha ideology and practice, the awakened Sikhs removed idols of ‘gods and goddesses’ from parikarma of the Durbar Sahib (Golden Temple) and secured unrestricted entry of so-called untouchable Dalit Sikhs there on 12 October 1920. Besides that the leading Sikhs, galvanized by the Singh Sabha Movement, established an independent Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) that worked for odd five years before the Sikh body was tacitly subjected to the British control by the enactment of the Gurdwara Act in 1925. The Gurdwara Reform Movement, however, liberated the Sikh shrines from the British-supported Mahants (hereditary priests) and set up the Akali Dal as a Sikh political outfit.
Presently, the Sikh community has again got embroiled in various controversies and confusions warranting the revival of the same spirit of the Singh Sabha Movement. The KSGSS, therefore, is attempting to rejuvenate the old religious zeal to protect the Sikh institutions and Sikh practices which are now under more severe attack than what they had confronted in the 19th century.
For this purpose, the KSGSS has taken up a ten-point agenda as under:
1. Attempting to build a casteless Sikh society.
2. Motivating Sikhs towards the uplifting of Dalits and their education level.
3. Strengthening Sikh Education Institutions and education level and reviewing Sikh history to rectify distortions deliberately infused by vested interests.
4. Refurbishing and strengthening the separate and unique identity of the Sikhs.
5. Attempting to reform the management of Sikh religious places and institutions.
6. Opposing the increasing influence of Deras and Deradars on the Sikh Panth.
7. Implementing the Akal Takht approved ‘Sikh Rehat Maryada’ among the Sikhs living in various parts of the world
8. Organising seminars and discussions to propagate the Singh Sabha school of thought.
9. Publishing pamphlets, books, magazines, souvenirs, and related literature to promote Singh Sabha’s thoughts and practices.
10. Helping the helpless, poor, and deprived people as per Sikh principles and practice.
KSGSS call upon the apostate Sikh youth to remember their rich Sikh heritage and unique Sikh identity and return to their own original appearance with unshorn hair and turban which empowers them to be called as Sardars. A practicing Sikh is automatically prohibited from the consumption of tobacco and other intoxicating drugs and enables him to lead a healthy, happy life.