Sunday, February 16, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

SGPC orders probe into ‘assault’
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, February 15
Religious advisory committee (SGPC) passes resolution on March 9, 1940 to allow baptized Sikh women to perform ‘kirtan’ inside sanctum sanctorum of Golden Temple.’

‘... five Sikh high priests direct the SGPC to allow baptised Sikh women to perform ‘seva’ in sanctum sanctorum of Golden Temple on February 9, 1996.’

Even after 63 years of the decision of the Religious Advisory Committee the SGPC failed to arrange a jatha of women to perform ‘kirtan’ at the Golden Temple. Signatories to this decision were Sikh leaders Jathedar Mohan Singh, Bhai Labh Singh, Sikh scholar Principal Teja Singh and Prof Ganga Singh.

However, a jatha of baptised Sikh women under the banner of the Sikh Chetna Manch which succeeded in performing symbolic ‘seva’ at sanctum sanctorum on the night of March 25 and 26, 1996, had created ripples in Sikh circles. Following criticism by orthodox persons in the community the jatha did not dare to repeat the practice though Sikh tenets do not preach gender discrimination.

Manager, Darbar Sahib issues ‘permit’ to select persons who monopolise the ‘seva’. The ‘privileged’ devoters who had been performing this ‘seva’ for a long time were the first to criticise the Sikh clergy, including the then acting Jathedar Akal Takht, Prof Manjit Singh, Giani Kewal Singh, Giani Bhagwan Singh, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti (he was priest Golden Temple at that time) and Giani Mohan Singh for issuing a directive to the SGPC for allowing women to perform ‘seva’. The directive of the Sikh high priests had stated categorically that Sikh tenets treat women and men on a par and hence gender discrimination could not be allowed inside the Golden Temple. So much so dress code was laid down for men and women who wanted to perform ‘seva’. The Sikh clergy, however, had directed the Sikh women to bring at least one member of their family along while performing ‘seva’ inside the Golden Temple.

The incident of ‘assault’ on two England-based baptised Sikh women who wanted to participate in the “sukhasan” ceremony at the Golden Temple has shaken the entire Sikh world. Mr Harbeant Singh, Secretary SGPC said that he had constituted a two-member inquiry committee, headed by Mr Major Singh, chief gurdwara inspector, who would submit his report within two days. He said the SGPC employees who had ‘assaulted’ the women would be placed under suspension. If found guilty, the employees would be sacked. He asked the victims to assist the inquiry committee to identify the employees who had ‘misbehaved’ with them so that stringent action could be taken against them.

Meanwhile, the Sikh intellectuals while condemning the incident sought immediate intervention of Akal Takht Jathedar and the SGPC chief to allow women to perform ‘kirtan’ and any ‘seva’ at the Golden Temple. Dr Harnam Singh Shan, a noted Sikh scholar said that Sikh tenets did not preach gender discrimination giving background of stopping women from participating in ceremonies at the Golden Temple, Dr Shan said the practice was introduced in the sixties of the 18th centuary when control of the Golden Temple was under the management of udasis. Since the Udasis do not marry, they (udasis) had laid the pre-condition that women would not be allowed to perform ‘seva’ inside the sanctum sanctorum. However, Dr Shan said that circumstances had changed now and baptised Sikh women should be allowed to perform any ‘seva’ in the Golden Temple.

Dr Jaswinder Kaur Dhillon, a senior reader in the Department of Guru Nanak Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University said Sikh clergy should immediately direct the SGPC to allow baptised Sikhs to perform ‘seva’ immediately as such practice which was against the teachings of gurus would bring a bad name to the community. Bhai Ashok Singh Bagrian, another Sikh scholar criticised the incident when two England-based women were roughed up for participating in the “sukhasan’ ceremony. He said Sikhism should free itself from the influence of “dera-ism” and gender discrimination should be stopped forthwith. Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, a former General Secretary of the SGPC who had already condemned the incident, announced that she would take a jatha of baptised Sikh women to perform ‘seva’ and ‘kirtan’ at the Golden Temple shortly.

Meanwhile, Bibi Mejinderpal Kaur and Bibi Lakhbir Kaur, who were allegedly ‘assaulted’ by certain SGPC employees announced that they would mobilise public opinion against gender discrimination. They said Sikh clergy and SGPC chief should end ‘gender discrimination’. They said ‘justice’ delayed is justice ‘denied’ and women should be allowed to participate in ‘seva’ without further delay.

PATIALA: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Kirpal Singh Badungar today ordered a probe into the alleged misbehaviour with two United Kingdom-based women who reportedly were not allowed to participate in the ceremony involving taking the palanquin bearing Guru Granth Sahib at Darbar Sahib in Amritsar on February 13.

Addressing a press conference here, Mr Badungar said he had received a report that two UK-based women were allegedly not allowed to participate in the “sukhasan” ceremony.

The SGPC chief, however, did not rule out ‘indiscretion’ on the part of the women complainants saying if they were found guilty of any indiscretion, they would be asked to behave appropriately. On the issue of ‘seva’ of Guru Granth Sahib which traditionally is disallowed to women, the SGPC chief said he was ready for a discussion on the issue. He said he would ask the five Sikh high priests as well as the ‘Sikh samprada’ to arrive at a unanimous decision on the issue.

Mr Badungar said he had postponed his meeting with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani which was scheduled for tomorrow. He said he would be meeting Mr Advani soon and take up the issue of re-examination of the cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riot’s widows.

Mr Badungar reacting to a statement of Punjabi University Vice-Chancellor S.S. Boparai that he (Badungar) was interfering in the management of the varsity, said this was not true

LUDHIANA: The two England-based women have sought the help of the Shiromani Khalsa Panchayat (SKP) to resolve the issue with this stage is set for a confrontation with the SKP and the Akal Akhara, Amritsar, too extending unconditional support to not only the visitors but also women in general who are not been allowed to take part in various activities at the shrine. This was decided at a meeting held at the residence of Prof Darshan Singh, a former Jathedar of the Akal Takht, held late this evening.

“Justice delayed is justice denied and we will not rest in peace till our due is given to us. We are not asking for anything other than what has been allowed for women by none other than the Sikh Gurus. The Jathedar, during his recent visit to UK is on record in a taped interview with a London-based channel, that women were free to perform ‘seva’ at the Golden Temple,” claimed Lakhbir Kaur and Mejinderpal Kaur, flanked by Baba Ishwar Singh Hyderabad and senior SKP activists, who reached the city after being unable to contact Jathedar Vedanti.

Commenting on the unsavoury controversy, Prof Darshan Singh said it was time to settle this issue once and for all. Such aberrations have been surfacing during the past and were every time pushed under by the leadership on the pretext of tradition. Why are we shying away in allowing women to carry out ‘seva’ when the Gurus have not made any distinction between men and women, he questioned.

Lakhbir Kaur and Mejinderpal Kaur said they had submitted a complaint to the Akal Takht secretariat and also tried to contact Jathedar Vedanti, who was on his way to Delhi. His secretary told us that the Jathedar would examine the issue on his return.

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