February 10, 2006 may assume significance in the history of Akal Takhat on many counts. It has prepared groundwork for enlightened discussion on issues of religion and politics in the Sikh world. Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti’s directions to call for an intra-party convention to resolve turban issue in France, declaring Baba Daljit Singh Chicagowale guilty of religious misconduct and withdrawing the boycott of the Sarna brothers conclude a religio-political chain of events that followed after DSGMC former Chief Paramjit Singh Sarna’s procession to Nankana Sahib for the installation of the golden Palki. Sarna’s effort won him a spot in the limelight. The SGPC seemed paled into insignificance in face of the welcome treatment accorded to Sarna both in East and West Punjab. Capt. Araminder Singh appeared as if shooting a message to Parkash Singh Badal “So what if you control SGPC in Amritsar, I control DSGMC in Delhi” Parmjit Singh Sarna was still in the thick of his devotional somersault, when his detractors enacted a mutiny with the express help of Parkash Singh Badal. Badal’s supporters in Delhi sought the intervention of the Akal Takhat which the Jathedar of the supreme body directly granted. The unsavory situation sparked a very heated discussion among Sikhs across party lines. The Jathedar’s role came under sharp criticism. The sponsorship of the Jathedar’s visit to USA by Baba Daljit Singh Chicagowale had also put him in lurid lights. The vituperative fallsout inflicted on the Jathedar sometimes crossed even the decency of language thus creating an injury on the psyche of the ones who believe in its supremacy.
The historical aspect of the whole scenario may be significant because of its dimensions. In view of several controversies, the following issues have come up for further discussion.
* Jathedar’s appointment and the enormity of his role in Sikh World.
* Monitoring the religious practices and stopping the spawning of commercial preachers at home and abroad.
* Standardizing norms for the title Sant under Sikh Maryada.
* Scrutinizing the activities of self appointed Sants and their damage to Sikhism.
* Providing support to film, movie or documentary producers who intend to use Sikh history, religion and culture.
* Making available resources to researchers with a professional guidance.
* Spreading the message of Sikh Gurus untainted and uncontaminated by caste, creed and class considerations.
* Maintaining a forum of diversity of opinions
The foremost issue that has come to light is how to appoint Jathedar of Akal Takhat and how to make his participation possible in deciding matters of religious importance. Since the appointing authority is in the hands of SGPC, it should be made sure that the nominee is able to face debates, discussions and determinations. The nominee’s appointment should be ratified by the general house of SGPC. The nominee should face questions in the house about his group allegiance, preferences, favors and past record. It may seem irrelevant to cite Judge Alito’s case here, but it gives insight into the Sikhs’ problems. Judge Alito had to encounter scathing criticism about issues that were detrimental to democrats. Though democrats couldn’t thwart his appointment, yet Judge Alito came out chastened after facing the Senate. The first decision after being appointed was most unlike a republican representative. He voted with the majority (6-3) and surprised Chief Justice, John Roberts and two others known to be the conservative wing of the court. The lives of two Missouri inmates on death row were spared.
The second most nagging issue before the Sikhs may be ever increasing number of individuals claiming themselves to be Sants. How do they get the honorific? Perhaps no one can answer that question. How do they meet the norms of becoming a Sant? Are they promoting Sikh values in the best tradition of Sikhism? These are some of the questions Sikh Sangat around the globe deserves to know. Is Akal Takhat prepared to issue a directive to the SGPC for arriving at a consensus on issues that affect one and all? The opposing groups in the general house of SGPC may be called to work out viable solutions to these problems. The present trend of slitting each other’s throats will only extend the regime of confusion worse confounded.
The third most important issue is to monitor the activities of self-appointed Sants. The SRS society Chicago brought up a case of religious misconduct and also produced enough evidence against Daljit Singh Chicagowale for enjoying the illicit company of a woman. The case against Baba Daljit Singh is said to be so complete in details that it leaves no room for a second opinion. The work of the SRS and newspapers in investigative reporting is appreciable. Assuming the responsibility for what one is writing about is the highest moral of modern journalistic writing. The Baba Chicago case can set the precedent for all those who believe in merely slandering religious people, and doing very little to make a case supported with concrete evidence. The defensive posture taken by Baba, that it was an invasion on his privacy, would have more ground if he was living a private life. As a spiritual head of a religious place dependent on offerings of devotees can’t be said, under no stretch of imagination, to support a private life.
Fourth, the issue which is going to crop up again and again will be the misrepresentation of Sikh history, culture and religion. Under the directive of Akal Takhat, the SGPC should set up an office to make available all kind support required by producers, directors, and media managers for the truthful representation of history, culture and religion. The focus on Sikh history and religion has grown 10 times greater in recent times. Therefore, a larger number of producers, directors and media managers will be working to bring Sikh history on the silver screen. It is the right time to seize on the possibilities to the demand of this ignored area.
Fifth, the professional guidance to researchers is equally important. Researchers working under the guidance of University professors will use Sikh history resources in different ways. It may conflict with the traditional view held by Sikhs. Sometimes, misunderstanding may occur because of ignorance and lack of perspective. Therefore, the SGPC should nominate a person of high credentials to provide enlightened guidance to all those who are venturing to write on historical facts and circumstances.
Sixth, caste, gender and class considerations are so rampant in Sikh circles that the real message of the Gurus lies buried under the monopolistic politics of few dominant castes. The curse continues uninterrupted because it gives legitimacy to the supremacy of a few on the majority. The criticism of Brahmanism has little effect in the face of Sikhs’ own participation in caste ridden politics.
There is no tradition of maintaining a forum for the play of differences. As a result Sikhs end up pigeonholed into separate groups with no chance of any interaction. The segregation of Sikhs from Sikhs makes them a most vulnerable community. They easily become instruments of their enemies’ design. In such a situation, they are incapable to safeguard their interests. On the contrary, they are sometimes a party to the misbegotten view of their own history and religion.
In the long history of the institutions, the Jathedar of Akal Takhat became controversial many times for playing a partisan role. Earlier, [Bhai] Ranjit Singh was criticized for becoming a party to Capt. Araminder Singh’s charge against Tohra for visiting the Sant Nirankari Bhavan. Tohra was exonerated by the then Jathedar Ranjit Singh. Capt. Araminder Singh maintained a studied silence after that. Nobody knows till today what transpired between the two. People said Tohra manipulated Jathedar Ranjit Singh through the offices of CPM Politbureau member Harkishan Sujeet Singh. Sonia told Araminder Singh to stop his campaign against the veteran leader. The summons to appear before Akal Takhat was not complied by Prakash Singh Badal either. The stand taken both by Tohra and Badal was to avoid embarrassment to their political careers. The right course, however, for them would have been to submit to the authority of the Takhat. The resultant punishment would have only raised their stature as Sikhs. Paramjit Singh Sarna emerged greater in a situation that otherwise would have made him look more hardheaded.
The court of Akal Takhat is not like other institutions of justice. It has only moral authority on the religious conduct of Sikhs in representative positions. The religious punishment is in fact no punishment. It is like the seva that is done willingly by hundreds of devotees everyday in Gurdwaras. It has more spiritual meanings rather than poetic justice in the phenomenal sense. To clean shoes, dishes, reciting Gurbani, paying for Karah Prashad to name a few of these sevas are just in the nature of fracturing the inflated ego and bringing the fear of God in the minds of the guilty.