A Colonel in the Indian Army apparently sowed the seeds of a Buddhism-Sikhism dispute near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh 36 years ago.
On April 24, the National Commission for Minorities sought a detailed report from the Arunachal Pradesh government over the claim of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) that a historical site associated with Guru Nanak Dev in Mechukha had been converted into a Buddhist shrine.
Mechukha, also spelt Mechuka or Menchukha, is a sub-divisional headquarter of the Shi-Yomi district, perched about 6,000 metres above the mean sea level. The place is about 30 km from the nearest point of the LAC, dividing India and the Tibetan region of China.
The SGPC was seemingly offended by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu taking to social media after a visit to Neh-Pema Shelpu Drupkhang, the shrine claimed to be a gurdwara, on April 8. Mr. Khandu said he offered prayers and sought the blessings at the Buddhist shrine where Guru Padmasambhava meditated.
The Neh-Nang Cultural Development Society (NNCDS), a Buddhist organisation mostly comprising the local Memba community, has termed the SGPC claim unfair. The entire area under the Mechukha sub-division and beyond had no gurdwara before the Sikh Regiment arrived in 1987 primarily to guard the LAC, the NNCDS said.
“The shrine in contention is a phukp, the local word for a cave, wherein Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche meditated. The cave has been a pilgrimage for the last 450 years for the Buddhist community inhabiting Mechukha for more than 600 years,” Norbu Naksang, president of the NNCDS told The Hindu.
The shrine is about 14 km from Mechukha.
The shrine was appropriated after the Sikh Regiment arrived. Under the command of Colonel Dalvinder Singh Grewal, who claimed that Guru Rinpoche was none other than Guru Nanak, the soldiers gradually began removing the Buddhist symbols and sacred items and replaced them with what the Sikhs revere, locals said.
Their only fault
According to a member of the NNCDS, the “only fault” of the peace-loving locals was to be accommodative — allowing the Sikh soldiers some space to pray together.
“Soon, the soldiers began objecting to Buddhist rituals, particularly the tradition of offering chhang (local brew) and meat to Guru Padmasambhava, a tantric lama who propagated his form of Buddhism along the Himalayan belt,” the member said.
After years of tolerating the “humiliation in our own backyard”, the NNCDS wrote to Arunachal Pradesh Assembly Speaker, Pasang Dorjee Sona on October 24, 2020. Mr. Sona represents the Mechuka Assembly constituency.
“There is no evidence of any Sikh or Guru Nanak’s influence in the Menchukha area before the advent or deployment of the Sikh Regiment of the Indian Army in 1987,” the NNCDS memorandum read.
The use of the site “forcefully” by the Sikh Regiment “without the consent of the Membas is extremely objectionable”, the NNCDS said while regretting the “non-cooperation” of the Army authorities working “on behalf of the gurdwara”.
After receiving the memorandum, Mr. Sona met SGPC general secretary, Harjinder Singh Dhammi at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on November 1, 2020. “I have proposed a middle path to sort out the issue so that it doesn’t hurt the religious sentiments of each other and both coexist in harmony in the larger interest of religion and humanity,” he posted on a social media platform after the meeting.
He also wrote that the SGPC assured him of sending a team to Mechukha soon to sort out the issue amicably. The SGPC never sent any team, State government officials said.
A team from the National Commission for Minorities is expected to visit Arunachal Pradesh in May to study the issue.
“The shrine in contention is a phukp, the local word for a cave, wherein Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche meditated”Norbu NaksangPresident, NNCDS