‘Well-entrenched elements of Sikh establishment are perpetuating institutionalised segregation’
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has issued a notice to the Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) to investigate and reply to charges about caste-based segregation in historic gurdwaras of the State.
The NCSC notice that comes on a representation by Abroo, a socio-political initiative working for empowerment of the marginalised in Punjab, was also studied by its own Atrocities and Protection of Civil Rights Wing.
Abroo had commenced a project, titled ‘Punjab’s Map of Shame’, last year, after it stumbled upon what it calls several “shocking and blatant cases of apartheid happening in well-known gurdwaras” in the State.
Sikhism does not recognise caste and to strive for a casteless society is one of the basic tenets of the faith.
In its letter to the NCSC, Abroo founder Pukhraj Singh said though the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) acknowledged existence of caste-based gurdwaras in the State, his investigation revealed cases of institutionalised and systemic segregation perpetrated by well-entrenched elements of the Sikh establishment.
Calling for an investigation into these transgressions, Mr. Singh demanded that the control of such gurdwaras be handed over to provisional and progressive bodies.
This would reinforce the point that gurdwaras were not merely religious bodies but centres of social upheaval; places where the common public can take charge to implement the shared ethos.
Citing the Gurdwara Reform Movement of early 20th century, he said, “Spiritually-sanctioned prejudices, in a religion that abhors ritualism, is evidence of deep-rooted subversion of the Sikh philosophy and its spiritual tenets.”
Response of SGPC
Commenting on these findings, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said, “There is no place for caste-based discrimination in Sikhism, and if such a matter comes to our notice, we persuade them to stop it. We also issue appeals from time to time to follow the Sikh tenets.”
Kiranjot Kaur, SGPC member and its former general secretary, said: “Though caste issues have always plagued Sikhism and from time to time, the SGPC has been passing resolutions that caste-based discrimination is not compatible with the basic tenets of the faith, many of these gurdwaras are not recognised by the SGPC as authentic sources for the interpretation of Sikh philosophy. Even an apex seminary like the Damdami Taksal discriminates on caste and gender.”
Ms. Kaur, however, admitted that though the influence of caste had been ejected from gurdwaras after the Singh Sabha movement of the early 20th century, it has once again reared its head in the religion due to caste-based politics in recent years.
Some notable examples documented in the representation to the NCSC include Sur Singh, a 350-year-old Sikh seminary in Taran Taran, where Mazhabi Sikhs (Scheduled Castes) are not only given ‘amrit’ (as part of the Khalsa baptism ceremony) from a separate utensil but are also referred to by the clergy as Chauthey Paurey Wale (people from the fourth step) to justify the discriminatory treatment.
Mr. Pukhraj Singh says, “The Sikh seminary is being managed by Baba Dayal Singh, commander of Bidhi Chand Dal, one of the four battalions of the Khalsa army.”
The representation further notes that in Gurdwara Raja Ram in Dhotian, Mazhabi Sikhs are barred from performing ‘langar sewa’ because “they look dirty.”
The gurudwara is being run by a powerful baba, who is well-connected with the SGPC and who has been instrumental in renovating several crumbling historical Sikh shrines in recent years.
It goes on to provide several other examples of caste-based injustices from gurdwaras in Sarhali, Lehra Khana and Joge Wala.
In Sur Singh, Mazhabi Sikhs are given amrit from a separate utensil In Gurudwara Raja Ram, Mazhabi Sikhs are barred from performing langar sewa because they “look dirty”
In Sur Singh, Mazhabi Sikhs are given amrit from a separate utensil
In Gurudwara Raja Ram, Mazhabi Sikhs are barred from performing langar sewa because they “look dirty”