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Badal makes himself chairman of All India Gurdwara Act Panel

Written by WSN Bureau

Friday, August 03, 2007

WSN Network

CHANDIGARH: Secular Akali Dal's president and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has made himself the Chairman of the committee which will make recommendations in the draft of the All-India Sikh Gurdwaras Bill-1999.

As per orders issued by the Governor of Punjab, the other members of the committee will be Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia, Kharak Singh, Jodh Singh, Jaspal Singh, Balwant Singh Dhillon, Jasbir Singh Sabar, Wariam Singh, and Sukhdev Singh Bhaur.

President of the SGPC, legal rememberancer, advocate-general will also be its members. Chief Secretary will be a member secretary of the committee.

With this, the solely religious issue now becomes part of the governmental thinking framework, and the danger is all the more because the last time the issue had come to the fore when SGPC presidentship was with Bibi Jagir Kaur and Shiv Basant was joint secretary in the Union Home Ministry, a number of objections had been raised. The entire All-India Sikh Gurdwaras Bill-1999 is so full of holes that any attempt to plug a few holes and turn it into a statute will be a mockery of the Sikh sensitivities.

Some of those currently in the committee were also among the critics of the earlier draft, and some were also proactive during the formulation of the Dalam Committee report which never saw the light of the day.

The All-India Sikh Gurdwaras Bill-1999 is meant to replace and enlarge the scope of the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 and the SGPC will lose its existence under the new bill. The bill has problems right from the definition of the Sikh, the way the Central Board is envisaged, the issue of powers of the Central Board and its relations with regional boards, the powers of the regional boards to merge with each other and the relationship with the government. The WSN will soon bring to the fore detailed discussion of the draft bill 1999.

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All India Sikh Gurdwara Act: Deviousness in a hurry

by World Sikh News

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not withstanding the several gapaing holes in the 1925 SIkh Gurdwara Act, the various exercises at hammering out an all India Act to govern and administer all gurdwaras in India have had a certain component attached which was more a pointer of the deviousness involved than a genuine attempt to help the community to have a statute for its shrines.

In 1999, the Union Home Ministry sent the proposed amendments in the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925, as received from Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections, Chandigarh, to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Punjab government, National Commission for Minorities, Central Ministries of Welfare and Justice for their in-depth examination and comments.

The ostensible reason was that after receipt of their detailed comments, the matter was to be examined by Ministry of Home Affairs, in consultation with Ministry of Law. It may be mentioned that a draft of the All India Sikh gurdwara Bill was also received from Chief Commissioner, Gurdwara Elections which has also been sent to the above-mentioned agencies and the concerned State Governments for their in-depth examination and comments. "Government of India does not want to act in haste on these proposals. Action on these proposals will depend ultimately on the views expressed by the Sixth Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar, Government of Punjab, Minorities Commission and other concerned State Governments and the evolution of a consensus in the Sikh community on these issues," an official statement of the Centre said.

But what exactly was at the root of the entire thing. The 1999 bill draft. Now that the Parkash Singh Badal government has once again stirrred the cauldron and appointed a committee on the matter, with the CM himself in chair (see previous issue of WSN), it is time for a thorough re-look at the 1999 draft.

The WSN is in possession of the draft and is even aware of much of the exertion that has already happened on the matter within the committee set up recently. But we will for the time beign limit ourselves to a discussion of the draft bill clause by clause.

First of all, a clarification. In 1999, the then Chief Commissioner of Gurdwara Elections (GEC) Harbans Singh prepared two separate documents. One was a draft notification proposing certain far reaching amendments in the existing Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 and the other was the draft bill 1999 aimed at replacing the 1925 Act altogether. The Draft Notification was sent to the Union Home Ministry on August 9, 1999, which sent it to the SGPC on August 31 that year for information and comments. What is not clear is at whose directive did the GEC prepare the draft at all? Though the draft notification had many welcome features, like removal of sehajdharis from voters' list, it also removed the bar on alcoholics and patits from becoming voters and members, repectively. There were many detrimental and disparaging changes in the definition of the Sikh. Almost all the amendments suggested in this draft notification now find a mention in the 1999 draft bill with further dilution.

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Definition of the Sikh

Read the brief note of the GEC, the author of the 1999 draft bill, himself on the matter: "The definition of the Sikh should be the same as in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act 1971 and right of vote at the election should be given only to the "Sikhs" so defined, and right to vote given to Sehajdharis for the first time in 1959 on Pepsu Gurdwara being brought under the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925, be omitted."

Now to the reality. The 1999 draft bill of course dropped the Sehajdharis from the voters' list. But then also went back on its own praise of the definition of the Sikh in the 1971 Delhi Act. The ddefinition, as per known academic and scholarly norms, must be definitive, free from ambiguity or misrepresentation. Here are the definitions in various acts reproduced:

+ Existing clause in Punjab Gurdwara Act 1925

2.(9) Sikh means a person who professes the Sikh religion or, in the case of a deceased person, who professed the Sikh religion or was known to be a Sikh during his lifetime.

If any question arises as to whether any living person is or is not a Sikh, he shall be deemed respectively to be or not to be a Sikh according as he makes or refuses to make in such manner as the (state) Government may prescribe the following declaration:-

I solemnly afffirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in the Guru Granth Sahib, that I believe in the Ten Gurus, and that I have no other religion.


+ Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1971

2 (n) "Sikh" means a person who professes the Sikh religion, believes and follows the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the ten Gurus only and keeps unshorn hair. For the purposes of this Act, if any question arises as to whether any living person is or is not a Sikh, he shall be deemed respectively to be or not to be a Sikh according as he makes or refuses to make in the manner prescribed by rules the following declaration:-

"I solemnly affirm that I am a Keshadhari Sikh, that I believe in and follow the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the ten Gurus only, and that I have no other religion." (Emphasis added)

+ Sikh Gurdwara Bill 1999 (Draft)

2(9) : 'Sikh' means a person who professes the Sikh religion, believes in the teachings of the Ten Gurus and Sri Guru Granth Sahib and in the Khande-ka-Amrit bequeathed by the Tenth Guru and keeps unshorn hair and does not use tobacco in any form.

The inference is clear. Even though the GEC claimed to have borrowed the definition from the 1971 Delhi Act, look what has been changed/omitted:

n The words "only" and "follows" from "believes and follows the teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Ten Gurus ONLY"

n 'I have no other religion' from the declaration

The definition of the Sikh which could be made part of the statute with concerted effort of the entire panth is now sought to be withered away with the stroke of the pen


Why the change in the 1971 Act definition? The 1925 Act definition said in the affirmation that "I have no other religion". Similarly, the 1971 definition, also says that the person making declaration must state that he not just believed in teachings of Sikh Gurus but believed in them ONLY and must also state that "I HAVE NO OTHER RELIGION". The proposed definition drops, without much ado, the words ONLY and the words that I HAVE NO OTHER RELIGION. What is more, the note on the draft bill which are an integral part of the bill so far say that these were MINOR MODIFICATIONS. So, is there no difference between believing in a particular thing and ONLY believing in that one thing and NO other: Why, for the love of God, must the panth accept these 'minor modifications'? Why is one Kurahit about use of tobacco included in the definition of a Sikh? Why not other don'ts about alcohol, about cohabiting, about? Pray, why only tobacco?

Of course it would be virtually impossible to include every Don't in the definition. So why not return to the Sikh Rehat Maryada. Therein, the definition of the Sikh goes like this: "ANY HUMAN BEING WHO FAITHFULLY BELIEVES IN (I) ONE IMMORTAL BEING, (ii) TEN GURUS, FROM GURU NANAK DEV TO GURU GOBIND SINGH, (iii) THE GURU GRANTH SAHIB, (iv) THE UTETERANCES AND TEACHINGS OF THE TEN GURUS AND (v) THE BAPTISM BEQUATHED BY THE TENTH GURU, AND WHO DOES NOT OWE ALLEGIANCE TO ANY OTHER RELIGION, IS A SIKH." Is there a problem with this definition?

Further, as per the Sikh Rehat Maryada, the Ardas of a Patit (apostate) and a tankhaiya is forbidden at the Akal Takht. However, the Patit is cleared for contesting the election of the SGPC.

The condition for a voter, not to be taking alcohol, is also proposed to be deleted in the proposals. It is argued that for all practical purposes this is a superfluous clause. However, we are of the view that in case this becomes a part of the statute it may open the floodgates for a negative approach.

Any amendment to the said act is proposed to be done with only consultation of the

SGPC. So, practically consent is not required. This may also prove to be disastrous in case of a malicious intent.


Other anomalies

+ The Akal Takhat Sahib is the symbol of the concept of Miri-Piri and it is not a Gurdwara but the Bill has declared it to be just another Gurdwara. (Section 45)

+ It is proposed in the Bill that the Jathedar of the Akal Takhat will have to take oath by appearing before the President of the Board or its nominee. (Section 78 (5))

+ A Patit committing any of the foru Kurahits was disqualified to become a member. Now out of the four, two have been removed, thus giving concession on this count too. (Section 33)

+ No new Gurdwara will be established without prior permission of the Registering Authority. Violation of this will make the person liable for imprisonment. (Section 5 and 6)

+ Disqualification of an alcoholic and a Patit apostate for becoming voter has been removed (Section 31 and 64 (iii))

+The definition of the Sikh has been made too loose and will now include groups openly propagating against Sikh scriptures (Section 2 zb)

+ Now, only "believing" and not "following" the teachings is essential

+ If a Gurdwara is not being used as a Gurdwara the same will not be recognised as a Gurdwara. (Does this mean that the Gurdwaras of Pakistan for which the ardas is done are no more Gurdwaras?) (Section 2zc(iv))

+It has to be proved that the Gurdwara has been established by the Sikhs. If the found/er of a Gurdwara is held to be not conforming to the definition of Sikh will that mean that with him the Gurdwara will also be declared as a non-Gurdwara. Will it not encourage the unscrupulous people to get themselves declared as non-Sikhs to take the gurdwaras out of the purview of the Act? (Section 2 zc (iv))

+Before the formation of a regular board, the interim board will be constituted by the Government. (Why govt?) (Section 124)

+ As per Sikh traditions, any Sikh can approach the Akal Takht. Now a multi-layered system of committees and sub-committees is being sought to be created between a Sikh and the Akal Takht Sahib. (Section 76)

+ The concept of Gurmata, Sangat, Panj Piaras, Guru Panth, Sikh Rahit Maryada do not find a place anywhere in the Act. (Section 83 (3))

+ In a situation of failure on the part of the committee to pay revenue to the Central Board it will be recovered as land revenue. So, the historic gurdwara may be open to the concept of 'kurki'! (Section 113(3))

+ The historic name SGPC has been removed and instead new name Kendri Gurdwara Prabandhak Board has been prescribed. (Section 17(2) and 156)

+ The rules for the management of the Gurdwaras will be made by the Government. (Section 147 and 152)

+ The basic Sikh principle is of Puja Akal Ki, Parcha Shabad Ka, Didar Khalsa Ka. But contrary to this the Act has declared the Gurdwaras as a place of worship of Guru Granth Sahib. (Section 2zc(v))

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