Wednesday, February 26, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Gender discrimination?

Regarding your report Vedanti fails to end confusion over ‘seva’ (Feb 20), I would like to say that result of the SGPC probe into the “assault” on the NRI ladies exonerating the guilty sewadars is on the expected lines and is just as officious as the usual government probes into the misconduct of their officials. The whole state of affairs is extremely reprehensible and shameful, particularly the “urging” of an SGPC member, Mr Baldev Singh, for Jathedar Vedanti to keep away from the matter. This is what comes out of letting petty politicians, and people with hardly any inkling of the religious matters, have the upper hand in the management of your religious matters.

The question is that when Gurbani puts people of all classes, castes, creeds and sexes on the same footing, and vociferously condemns all discrimination against women, even on the grounds of “sutak”, would any Guru have refused any woman from touching his feet? If women can read and recite Guru Granth Sahib and recite kirtan even on public stages (have you forgotten Nabheywalian Bibian?), why can’t they carry or touch Guru Granth Sahib or its palki in Harmandir Sahib? If they can cook in langar or clean the kitchen, floors and the utensils of the langar, how can the same women become less than the “patit” or the Dalit who can be seen touching and kneading the palki? And if a woman (Mata Sahib Devan) can put patashas in the amrit the Dashmesh was preparing for creating his Khalsa, and if another woman (Mata Bhago) can shame the Khalsa Majhails into redeeming their bedawa and honour in the battle of Mukatsar, why can’t women clean the floor where our eternal Guru would be seated, or touch and even bear his palki?


It is high time that our high priests are given the upper hand in religious matters rather than the politically oriented SGPC and SAD office-bearers and their paid officials. The Sikh Panth should once appoint the best possible Jathedars of its Five Takhts and declare them the Supreme authority on Sikhism, entrusting all future appointments and removals to their majority decision. Left to themselves, they will prove to be much more knowledgeable, responsible, sanctimonious, scrupulous and honourable than the professional politicians and their partisan appointees who keep a tight hold over the Jathedars, appointing and removing them at will to use them for their political purposes.

Look at the way the SGPC chief, his P.A., the former manager as well as the present manager of Darbar Sahib are playing politics with the present issue. They are even denying the existence of the earlier decisions of their own committees and even the Takht Jathedars, accepting the right of women to participate in the “seva” in the sanctum sanctorum. What a joke! Even the Jathedars appear to have been embarrassed into silence. What a pity! When these people holding the Sikh shrines and maryada to ransom can defy the real teachings of the Gurus enshrined in Gurbani, quoting tradition as a pretext, what can we expect from ordinary Sikhs? What wonder then that our new generations, much more educated, well informed and enlightened than the older ones, are turning away in disgust.

Prof JASWINDER KAUR DHILLON, Guru Nanak Studies Deptt, GND University, Amritsar

Sikh rituals

Before putting the question that whether baptised Sikh women should be allowed to take part in the religious rituals, the foremost question that comes to one’s mind is that whether Sikhs should continue performing religious rituals that Guru Nanak condemned, from wearing of a sacred thread to the downgradation of women folk, vociferously? Interestingly, Guru Nanak’s resolute ridicule on the subject, in the form of Asa Di War kirtan is relayed live through TV and radio from the Golden Temple everyday!

One has heard of a number of “hukamnamas” proclaimed against not only the consumption of tobacco but also against its trading by Sikhs. But perhaps no such proclamation has ever been made against the consumption of alcoholic drinks and intoxicating drugs that, of late, have become almost a part of Sikh culture!

BALVINDER, Chandigarh

An unfortunate incident

I was shocked at the shabby treatment meted out to two England-based baptised Sikh women by some SGPC employees during the “sukh-aasan” ceremony (carrying of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in a palanquin) at the Golden Temple, Amritsar (“Women ‘assaulted’ at Golden Temple”, Feb 15).

These women had come all the way from London to participate in the daily evening “sukh-aasan” ceremony reportedly on the personal assurance of the Jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, on his visit to Britain.

If, for any reason, the SGPC employees did not like them to participate in the ceremony, they should have asked them politely to keep aloof instead of assaulting and insulting them.

It is also said that some orthodex Sikhs, not the SGPC employees, might have misbehaved with the women. If it was so, why did the SGPC “sevadars” there stand as silent spectators? Was not it their duty to restrain the unscrupulous people from maltreating the women?

Be that as it may, it is a case of blatant gender discrimination, although in Sikhism men and women are treated equal.

According to Mr Raghbir Singh, personal assistant to the SGPC chief, Prof Kirpal Singh Badungar, the Sikh clergy had not issued any directive on February 9, 1996, to allow baptised Sikh women to do “seva” in the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple. Does this alibi justify the roughing up of the women by the SGPC employees? Interestingly, Prof Manjit Singh, the then acting Jathedar of Akal Takht, has rebutted this statement.

The way the SGPC employees acted showed their arrogance. It is hoped that Mr Badungar will advise them to deal with the devotees with gracious politeness at the Golden Temple.

“Yahaan har ek sar-afraaz jhuk key chalta hai.

Adab sey daur-e-zamaanah bhee ruk key chalta hai.”

(“Sar-afraaz” means exalted one).


Caste certificates

This is regarding the letter of Lt Col Bhagwant Singh of Mohali (Feb 18) in which he has questioned the requirement of prefixing the word “Sikh” to castes of Mazhabis and Ramdasias in caste certificates meant for Army recruitment. This has been customary for long. Although Mazhabis are invariably Sikhs, Ramdasias could be either Sikhs or Hindus. Therefore, for recruitment to Sikh regiments, the caste certificates have to specify the caste.

He is also slightly misinformed about the tenets of Sikhism regarding casteism. Sikhism is not, and never was, a casteless religion, but it grants unconditional equality to people of all castes, creeds, classes and sexes. Sikhism does not bother to abolish casteism, it just preaches its insignificance. Gurbani stresses that before God what matters is man’s deeds, and not peoples’ riches, status, castes or creeds.

Otherwise, Gurbani itself mentions the castes of Gurus. Bhai Gurdas, the scriber of the Adi Granth, regarded as St. Paul of Sikhism, records the castes of many prominent Sikhs of “gurughar” in his “Vaars” (ballads), often considered the key to Gurbani and Gurmat.

Dasam Granth eulogises the clans of Bedis and Sodhis to which castes had belonged the founders of Sikhism (Guru Nanak Dev) and Khalsa (Guru Gobind Singh) respectively. All the ten Sikh Gurus belonged to the Khatri caste. Had they really wanted to abolish casteism, they would have surely married some of their kinsmen into other castes, even if they could not bestow guruship upon any non-Khatri.

Castes of many of their Sikhs, invariably called their Khalsa, whether Amritdhari or not, have been mentioned in some of the few extant “hukamnamas” of Gurus and their consorts published by the SGPC. Therefore, it is a fallacy to claim that Sikhism is a casteless religion. However, Sikhism does preach universal brotherhood of man, that is, universal equality of all human beings as they are the children of the same singular God — Ek, Onkar.


Land demarcation

The common land (shamlat) of villages Bari Karoran and Chhoti Karoran under sub-tehsil Majri and Tehsil Kharar was divided among the villagers according to their holdings and share under the Punjab Government’s orders. The revenue record was maintained, Khasra No, Khatono No, etc in the name of the individuals concerned. The land is situated along the forest belt — mountainous, undulating and seasonal stream bed. There is no chart available with the Revenue staff showing the demarcation to know the individual holding Khasra No etc.

The villagers have been selling their share of holding at a very normal price. The registration was carried out and the revenue record changed and maintained accordingly. However, in the absence of any chart or demarcation, those purchasing the land could easily encircle it with barbed wire fencing. Even some who bought, say, three kanals, could unscrupulously fence about 15 acres of land. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Under the circumstances, proper demarcation of the ground should be carried out in the larger interest of those who own the land or purchased it. This will also help maintain the government records properly. The demarcation is essential to evict illegal occupants of the land, if any, in the area.

If the authorities consider demarcation a difficult exercise, let the Forest Department acquire this land, as decided by the government to increase the forest cover. Moreover, this area being close to Chandigarh, can be developed as a tourist spot on modern lines by the Forest Department.

LT. COL P.S. SARANG (retd), Chandigarh


Punjab becomes a pioneer

The Punjab government has rightly decided to rectify its mistake of abolishing charges for canal water (The Tribune, February 20). Equally welcome is its decision to replace the old method of charging with a new one which does away with the role of a “canal patwari”. This undoubtedly makes it a pioneer state in India to have introduced such a reform which can become a turning point in the history of canal water management. It is ironical that Haryana which started its search for an alternative method some 25 years ago and even succeeded in performing one, namely “Warimetric”, has not been able to exploit it and make any headway in this direction.

The Warimetric method is a proxy for volumetric one as the charge is related to the quantity of water delivered. Economically, it is a zero budget method as it does not require any new infrastructure or field establishment like patwaris. Thus, there are no overhead charges and all the revenue earned is a net saving. Administratively, it induces farmers to become quantity conscious in the use of a valuable resource like water. There is no gestation period. It is automatic and hence is foolproof against any leakage or theft of water revenue. Socially, it is farmer-friendly as it liberates him from the age-old bondage in which the canal patwari has been holding him. It has remained in operation in Haryana on six distributaries for a similar number of years without any administrative problem.

Punjab intends to charge a flat rate of Rs 80 per acre per year for the culturable command area. This tantamounts to charging income-tax unrelated to the income. Farmers are likely to object to this snag and rightly so as it is against the principle of equity and fairplay. In my opinion, Punjab should adopt the innovative Warimetric method of charging by making use of all the spadework done by Haryana and picking up the threads from where it was left.

S.P. MALHOTRA, Former Engineer-in-Chief (Irrigation), Haryana, Panchkula


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