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Those not on our rolls are not Sikhs: SGPC

NEW DELHI: At a time when there is a hefty premium on the numbers a community or caste can boast, the Sikh Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, along with the Punjab government, seem anxious to prune the ranks of Sikhs.

Determined to retain the 'minority' tag which gives SGPC virtually a free hand in running the huge network of Sikh educational institutions, the committee has said that only its members can be counted as Sikhs.

The audacious claim, which seeks to conflate the community with members of the controversial religious body and puts a whole number of sects - from colourful Nihangs and Nirankaris to Dera Sacha Sauda, Udasis and Radha Soamis - out of the fold, was put forward in the Supreme Court on Friday by SGPC and the Punjab government.

SGPC and the state government, controlled by its political cohorts - the Akalis - had approached the SC to challenge an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which ruled that the community could not claim "minority status" in Punjab.

The HC judgment had come on petitions filed by students who had applied for admissions to medical and dental colleges run by SGPC but failed to secure them because of the 50% reservation given to Sikhs after the state conferred minority status on the Sikh community.

The SC Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices C K Thakker and R V Raveendran, which issued notice on the petitions but refused to stay the HC judgment, seemed to scoff at the arguments.

On behalf of the petitioners, counsel Harish Salve and Jayshree Anand argued that SGPC had since its formation in 1925 recognised only those as Sikhs who believed only in "Guru Granth Sahib", the "Ten Gurus" and "no other religion".

Though true, the criterion has never been used as a litmus test for determining who is a Sikh. Though the community has frowned upon leaders of Nirankaris and Baba Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda, who call themselves Gurus, Nihangs have rarely been seen as outsiders.

The community leaders did not seek to look askance at Sikhs worshipping Hindu gods even after the toll the turbulent 80s took on the bond between the two communities.

The HC in its December 17, 2007, judgment had said: "There is no material to substantiate that 'Sikhs' are a non-dominant group in Punjab apprehending deprivation of their rights at the hands of 'dominant group' who may come to power in the state in a democratic election."

Counsel for SGPC tried to substantiate their plea by arguing that the number of Sikh electors in Punjab registered with the religious body was 53.98 lakh, which is less than 50% of the total 1.65 crore registered voters in the state.

It did not seem to wash with the Bench which remarked that if the SGPC's method of determining the minority status was to be accepted, then the entire Hindu community, with myriad sects and sub-sects, would also be entitled to claim 'minority status'.

SGPC and the state, in their appeals before the SC, took shelter under a declaration from the National Commission for Minority Act under which the Central government had issued a notification on October 23, 1993, declaring Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians as minority communities.

The Bench, however, demurred, pointing out that the Act pertained to the areas where the community, in relation to the total population, was in minority, implying that the law could not be invoked in Punjab where, according to the 2001 Census, Sikhs were the majority. The stand of the Bench mirrored the one taken by a constitution Bench in the T M A Pai case.

This was also the reasoning that HC used to strike down a 2001 notification of the Punjab government, allowing SGPC to reserve 50% seats for Sikhs in its educational institutions. The HC had said government should have taken the population of the state into consideration rather than of the country.


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