Following Supreme Court orders dismissing a Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) petition challenging Punjab and Haryana High Court (HC) orders of declaring 2011 elections of Sikh mini parliament null and void, there is a sense of ambiguity which prevails over what the exact length of the tenure of reinstated SGPC team will be.
While upholding elections of SGPC in 2011, Apex Court also upheld debarring of Sehajdhari Sikhs from voting in SGPC elections. It also gave liberty to Sehajdhari Sikhs to challenge Amendment made to the Sikh Gurdwara Act in June this year in court.
Welcoming the decision of Apex court, Sehajdhari Sikh Federation chief Dr Paramjit Singh Ranu said that Supreme Court had provided them with a chance to ‘fight for the voting rights of nearly 70 lakh Sehajdhari Sikhs’ who have been excluded by the Sikh Gurdwara (Amendment) Act, 2016.
Speaking to Daily Post, Dr Ranu said, “It is only half the battle won with Supreme Court allowing Sehajdhari Sikhs to challenge the Amendment afresh. Nowhere in the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925 is it written what constitutes a Sikh and a Sehajdhari Sikh. These differences are just being brought to the fore to help Fascist elements keep control of the Gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh. We will definitely continue with our 12-year-long fight to seek voting rights to the SGPC.”
He also said that there is no clarity as to how long the reinstated office-bearers would continue in office. “There is a lack of clarity on these Supreme Court orders in terms of whether the reinstated officials’ term would be counted from the date of notification, December 20, 2011 or whether it would be from the date of Supreme Court vacating the stay on the elections, September 15, 2016.”
Meanwhile, SGPC interim head Jathedar Avtar Singh Makkar, while speaking to the Daily Post, said that Supreme Court has reinstated the elected officials in 2011, and that any future course would be charted out once the court orders are received by them. He said, “There is a lack of clarity on these Supreme Court orders. We are yet to receive these orders, once we do receive them, we will study them and then take appropriate action to comply with them”.
What is the SGPC Act Amendment 2016?
Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha on March 15, 2016 by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and was unanimously passed on March 16. It was later passed in Lok Sabha and now a formal nod from President Pranab Mukherjee is left to complete the formalities. The Bill lays down guidelines for administration of gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh through the SGPC whose headquarters are situated in Amritsar, Punjab. Under provision of Section 45 of the Bill, only Amritdhari (baptised) Sikhs are allowed to contest the elections.
It debars the Sehajdhari Sikhs from participating in the election process of SGPC, taking away their voting rights, 91 years after the SGPC Act’s formation in 1925. The Sehajdharis were formally given the voting rights under the Act in 1944. The Sehajdhari Sikhs only had the right to vote but could not become members in the committee by contesting the elections.
Who are Sehajdhari Sikhs?
While the Act defines Sehajdharis as people who perform ceremonies as per Sikh rites, do not consume tobacco and halal meat, have not been expelled from the religion for transgression and can recite the ‘Mul Mantra’, there is no formal definition of the community according to the religion or Sikh holy text ‘Guru Granth Sahib’. Author and journalist Amandeep Sandhu says the definition of Amritdharis (who partake the holy water) and Patit (Sikhs who trimmed their hair) was first added in the Act in 1944 and the Sehajdharis were formally given a place in the Act by 1959 amendment. The word Sehajdhari can be defined by breaking it down into two parts- Sehaj meaning easy and Dhari meaning follower.
Therefore, a Sehajdhari is the one who is not baptised or does not follow all five tenets of the religion, but believes in the ten Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. Hence, a Sehajdhari can also be defined as a person who has decided to get baptised and formally inducted into the religion at a later point in life. There is still confusion regarding exact definition.
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