The rise and the fall

The wanton destruction of Sikh heritage in the name of kar seva is a recent phenomenon. Some pseudo-babas have converted the great institution of kar seva into a big industry. The case of Amrik Singh, follower of Baba Jagtar Singh, has stirred a fresh controversy in this regard. Varinder Walia reports

Baba Amrik Singh with Dera Kar Sewa Wale chief Baba Jagtar Singh, and Ranjit Singh ‘Tut’ who spent Rs 5 crore to carry out kar seva of the holy tank at the Golden Temple
Baba Amrik Singh (left) with Dera Kar Sewa Wale chief Baba Jagtar Singh (middle), and Ranjit Singh ‘Tut’ (right) who spent Rs 5 crore to carry out kar seva of the holy tank at the Golden Temple. — Photo by Rajiv Sharma

The construction of historical and other Sikh shrines has been done through voluntary contributions of money, material and physical labour. The concept of kar seva dates back to the times of the great Gurus who took keen interest in founding and developing new towns, and construction activities.

The first Sikh Master, Guru Nanak Dev, founded Kartarpur town. Subsequently, towns of Khadoor Sahib, Goindwal, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Kiratpur Sahib and Anandpur Sahib were got constructed and developed by Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Dass, Guru Ram Dass, Guru Arjan Dev, Guru Hargobind Sahib and Guru Teg Bahadur, respectively. This tradition of building activities was carried forward throughout various periods of the Sikh history by the Sikh sants.

In the 20th century, the modern era of kar seva was revived by Sikh sants, including Baba Gurmukh Singh, Baba Jeewan Singh, Baba Harbans Singh, Baba Jhanda Singh, Baba Dalip Singh, Baba Uttam Singh, Baba Kharak Singh, Baba Jagtar Singh and Baba Sadhu Singh. The main idea was to preserve the heritage of the community without any vested interest.

The concept of kar seva is unique in Sikh religion, but it must be guided by experts. In the past all Babas of Kar Sewa Wale led very simple and truly religious life and had no personal ambitions, whatsoever. In fact, all of them were fully devoted to kar seva and dedicated their lives to this cause. They used to be embodiment of love and compassion and great dedication.

However, the wanton destruction of Sikh heritage in the name of kar seva is a recent phenomenon. Some of the pseudo-babas converted the great institution of kar seva into a big industry, much to the chagrin of the Sikh Sangat. These so-called Babas have developed taste for air-conditioned luxury cars that ply on donations.

The criminal cases registered against Amrik Singh, follower of Baba Jagtar Singh, have brought denigration to the institution of the kar seva. The lifestyle of the absconding Baba has hurt the sentiments of all those who have great faith in this age-old Sikh institution. The flashing of the news that Amrik Singh had fled after embezzling donations worth crores from Dera Baba Jagtar Singh of Kar Sewa Wale at Tarn Taran had come as a great shock to the Sikh masses.

The absconding Baba got into more trouble when Patiala Police detected sensational documents pertaining to purchase of prime land in certain parts of Punjab and bank accounts in the name of the alleged culprits.

The alleged culprit, Amrik Singh had supervised the kar seva of the holy tank of the Golden Temple, gold plating of Darbar Sahib Tarn Taran and Sikh shrines in Pakistan and had collected huge donations. He was kept in captivity for many days in the dera. However, he fled on the pretext of purchasing medicines from Amritsar.

The Patiala Police registered a fresh case against the absconding Baba on the intervention of the Director General Police yesterday when Baba Gurmit Singh submitted more documents pertaining to the purchase of land.

According to an FIR registered against Amrik Singh, he had bank accounts in the Centurion Bank of Punjab, Patiala. The perusal of the bank statements of this account reveals the manner in which Amrik Singh and his associates, including Guriqbal Singh and Amandip Singh, used to embezzle these funds. Amrik Singh purchased land measuring 27 kanal, five marlas at a village near Bahadurgarh, near Patiala.

The fresh FIR was registered under Sections 420, 406, 409,465, 467 , 468 , 470 , 471 and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code against Amrik Singh and his associates. The FIR further alleged that absconding Amrik Singh had “illicit relations” with a resident of Bakshiwala. It alleged that Amrik Singh had given one and a half kilogram of gold and costly mobile phone (“obviously pilfered from kar seva donations”) to one Kanwaljit Kaur.

Yet another FIR was lodged against supporters of Amrik Singh at Kum Kalan, Ludhiana, on behalf of Kuldip Singh, a former driver of the absconding Baba. In the FIR, Kuldip Singh alleged that he and other followers of Baba Jagtar Singh were beaten up by the supporters of the absconding Baba.

A manager of the SGPC who had been giving shelter to absconding Amrik Singh has also been arrested. Baba Jagtar Singh, chief of the dera, had earlier cancelled general power of attorney given to Amrik Singh, after his disappearance. The dera chief has also given public notices, warning the Sikh sangat against the activities of Amrik Singh.

The alleged culprit Amrik Singh had succeeded in securing multiple-visa for Pakistan to carry out kar seva of Sikh shrines in Pakistan. He had supervised the construction of the Golden Palanquin taken to Pakistan by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.

Amrik Singh, who is only about 38 years, had joined the dera of Baba Jagtar Singh at the young age of 17. He had visited many developed countries, including USA, with a view to collect donations.

The absconding Baba Amrik Singh who has been expelled from the dera of Baba Jagtar Singh Kar Sewa Wale, Tarn Taran, however, alleged that the dera chief and his followers inflicted “mental torture” on him for several days in captivity and hatched a conspiracy to “finish all proofs of embezzlement” collected by him.

Talking from undisclosed place, Amrik Singh alleged that he was “picked up” by the followers of Baba Jagtar Singh during the quadricentennial of the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev and kept in “illegal custody” at the dera, though he was severely ill.

There is a question mark on the kar seva of historical buildings done under the direct supervision of Amrik Singh. An ancient building adjoining Baba Atal that survived heavy shelling during Operation Bluestar was demolished in July 2000, thanks to the ‘kar seva’ carried out by Dera Baba Jagtar Singh. The ‘kar seva’ was entrusted to the Baba by the SGPC. However, a wall of the structure was saved due to the timely intervention of some concerned citizens. The ancient building dates back to the times of Guru Hargobind Singh. The Guru had monitored the construction of the octagonal tower from this place. Maharaja Ranjit Singh got the Barah Dari constructed at this place about two centuries ago. The Barah Dari is situated to the south of the Golden Temple, about 135 metre from Sarai Guru Ram Das.

Mr Balvinder Singh, a Reader and Head, Guru Ram Das School of Planning, Guru Nanak Dev University, laments that during the demolition, murals and art works were also destroyed. The building was demolished on the pretext that it was unsafe. Later, the building was re-constructed with old bricks (Nanakshahi bricks) with the help of photographs of the demolished building. Earlier, residents of the area had saved the building from demolition at the time of beautification of the surroundings of the Golden Temple.

The stand of heritage experts against the destruction of Sikh heritage by Amrik Singh has been vindicated. He was responsible for the demolition of the ancient house of Bebe Nanki, elder sister of Guru Nanak, at Sultanpur Lodhi. He got replaced some old frescos of Hindu gods from the roof of Darbar Sahib Tarn Taran. Mr Balvinder Singh says that instead of using tradition colours (natural pigments), acrylic paints were used. He says this does not give a soothing effect. “Let us learn from the experience or from our mistakes. Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angels (USA) has the techniques of preparing natural pigments, dyes, binding materials etc.

The kar seva of Sikh shrines in Pakistan monitored by Amrik Singh had also been going on in the same fashion without any professionalism. This is evident from the condition of frescos in Dera Sahib Gurdwara, and perhaps the façade of the birthplace of Guru Ramdas in Chunna Mandi, Lahore, will also be covered by marble slabs under the ongoing work of restoration.

On March 25, 2004, the first day of the kar seva of Amrit Sarovar of Harmandar Sahib witnessed an unprecedented rush of devotees. The rich and the poor were carrying silt on their heads. Those who could not find iron bowls to carry the silt preferred to carry it in hands. However, a gold spadeand three silver bowls donated by the Bank of Punjab were found missing. When the issue was raised in The Tribune, Amrik Singh had claimed that the gold spade might have been buried under iron bowls used in the kar seva and would be traced shortly. Finally, Amrik Singh produced the same following tremendous pressure. Instead of handing over five gold-plated spades and as many silver bowls to the SGPC, the chairman of the bank had handed these over to Baba Jagtar Singh. The SGPC, therefore, could not record the entry of gold-plated spades and silver bowls in its books.

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Police clueless about hotel murder case
Manish Kumar Singal

Tribune News Service
Even eight days after the murder of a person named Anurag Kumar, who was killed in one of the reputed hotels in Amritsar, the police is clueless about the killer and the motive behind the murder.

Meanwhile, the police has made the sketch of the suspected killer that has been sent to the police stations and hospitals all over the state.

The initial investigations have revealed that Anurag was given a dose of muscle relaxant followed by a large dose of anesthesia. This seems to suggest that the accused had medical knowledge.

The police said both the victim and the accused came by a Maruti Zen car. The deceased was sitting on the rear seat, while Rajender Singh (the suspected killer) was driving the car. On reaching the hotel, Rajender had opened the door of the car, which suggests that the deceased was a reputed person in his field.

Police sources said the killer entered the hotel around 1.20 pm on September 3. He asked the deceased to sit in the waiting room and went to the reception and entered his name as Rajender Singh and that of the deceased as Anurag Kumar. He entered the time of entry as 2.28 pm in the registration form.

Police officials said they were investigating why the hotel administration had not asked for their identity proof. “It also shows that the staff of the hotel might be involved in the murder,” said the police official.

After entering room number 1017 allotted to them, the accused administered the injection of Sucol, a muscle relaxant, to Anurag Kumar, following which the latter fell unconscious. At this stage, the accused administered another injection of anesthesia that is normally given in the quantity of 0.5 mg. But in this case its quantity was 50 mg that was 10 times more than the normal dose.

After killing Anurag, Rajender left the room along with the luggage and other belongings before 2.28 pm as noticed by the hotel administration, but no one found it suspicious. “The preliminary investigations revealed that the addresses given by the two were fake. But to further verify, we have sent our team to Mumbai and the verification is expected in 48 hours,” said the SSP, Amritsar, Mr S.S. Srivastava.

He further said, “We circulated the sketches of both Anurag (the deceased) and Rajender but no breakthrough has been achieved so far in the case.”

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Private hospital encroaches upon greenbelt
Ashok Sethi

The green space (earmarked as greenbelt by the Improvement Trust) in Ranjit Avenue residential area of the Old Circular Road has been “encroached upon” by a private hospital.

Residents of the area have lodged a protest with the civic authorities, urging them to immediately stop the encroachment of the green area by the hospital. The spokesman of the residents alleged the management of the hospital had cut off the iron fencing to make an entry point to the hospital that has been built in the residential colony of Ranjit Avenue.

The residents alleged that the management seemed to be not at all bothered to take permission or to seek change in the landuse to start a nursing home in the colony.

The spokesman said they had urged the authorities to immediately close the entrance from the main road and restore the green belt.

Meanwhile, some other commercial establishments have also sprung up in the area under the very nose of the authorities. Repeated attempts to contact the senior officers of the corporation and trust proved futile. 

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Amritsar to get its passport office soon
Sanjay Bumbroo

Tribune News Service
There’s good news for residents of Amritsar. The much-awaited and the long-pending demand of the people of the Holy City would soon be fulfilled with the setting up of a passport office here.

According to information, the passport office would start functioning from the Improvement Trust’s Nehru Shopping Complex situated on the posh Lawrence Road area possibly in the last week of November or the first week of December.

Confirming this, Mr Jugal Kishore Sharma, MLA and Chairman of the Amritsar Improvement Trust, said bowing to the longstanding demands of the residents of the district, the Central government had given its go ahead to open the passport office here at the earliest. The Punjab government would provide 50 per cent staff to the passport office to be established here, he added.

The Amritsar passport office would cater to the needs of five districts – Gurdaspur, Ferozepore, Faridkot, Muktsar, Tarn Taran and Amritsar. He said earlier the people of these districts had to visit the Regional Passport Office at Jalandhar for replying to various queries asked by the department.

Mr Sharma disclosed that recently the Regional Passport Officer (RPO) of Jalandhar, Mr Amarjit Singh, had surveyed various areas developed by the Amritsar Improvement Trust and had expressed his desire to open a temporary office at the centrally-located Nehru Shopping Complex on the Lawrence Road. Later, the trust would allocate the land for the construction of a permanent building of the passport office. He said the RPO had demanded 16 shops in the complex for opening the office and the trust had decided to allocate the required accommodation on the third floor of the complex.

He said the deliberations were going on for deciding the rent of the shops, which the trust would recover from the passport office. 

The chairman said that the trust would also install a statue of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the complex.

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My City
‘Resilience is the hallmark of Amritsaris’

The Holy City of the Golden Temple is the nerve centre and focal point of the Sikh faith, which by its simplicity of beliefs, its exalting moral and spiritual principles and sustained heroism, has etched an honoured place in the annals of the history of India.

The city of Amritsar enshrines a liberal tradition, consecrated by noble deeds of piety and sacrifice. Amritsar, a nectar sieve of piousness, is virtually the religious, educational and commercial capital of Punjab. The city has a rich cultural heritage spanning more than four centuries, and is a living symbol of the historical traditions of Punjabiat.

Right from its foundation, efforts were made to make Amritsar an economically prosperous place to attract traders and merchants from different parts of the country. The Sikh Gurus, and Misaldars and later Maharaja Ranjit Singh took keen interest to make it the hub of economic activity by inviting and inspiring artisans and craftsmen to settle here. Many abandoned Lahore to migrate to Amritsar because of the economic development. The result was that soon textile industry (shawls, carpets, blankets, raw silk) and in the metal industry (brass, copper, bell-metalled ware) developed as major industries. Gold and silver work, ivory work, woodcarving and leather work were the other areas for the artisans to display their talent. Amritsar soon monopolised the trade of tea, dry fruit. Different markets came into being and were known by the type of trade they had.

The people of Amritsar have always shown a remarkable spirit of resilience. They have bravely withstood the onslaughts of the Afghan invaders, the blows of Partition, the air-raids of Indo-Pak wars. All these calamities have never been able to dampen the spirit of the people here and they continue to take everything in their stride to march ahead with a smiling face and traditional communal amity. The economy of the city thus never suffered any serious setback. The spirit is evident from the lifestyle of the people who are full of life and activity. The city is dotted with a large number of eating joints and they all have a flourishing business.

In the field of education, art and literature, too, Amritsar has made its presence felt. Christian missionaries were the first to usher in the system of modern education. Khalsa College was established in 1892, Hindu College in 1924, Government College for Women in 1932, Government Medical College in 1943, Dental College in 1952, DAV College, Amritsar, in 1955, DAV College for Women in 1967, SLN Ayurvedic College in 1976. In 1969, Punjab government established Guru Nanak Dev University here.

The people of this place have been fortunate in receiving education from teachers like Bhai Jodh Singh, Principal Teja Singh, Sant Singh Sekhon, Gurbachan Singh Talib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Principal B.S. Bahl, Principal Bhagat Ram, Dr Yudhveer Sachdeva, Dr P.N. Chuttani. The city has produced players of international repute like Bishan Singh Bedi, Madan Lal, Amarnath brothers, Vijay Mehra, Dinesh Khanna, Parveen Kumar, Sandeep Byala and many more.

The city of Amritsar is proud to have produced a number of philosophers, poets, playwrights and artists. Bhai Vir Singh wrote a number of books and edited a few journals. His tradition was kept up by Charan Singh and Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid. Dhaniram Chatrik, Prof Mohan Singh, Hira Singh Dard, Faiz Ahmed Faiz contributed in the field of poetry. Nanak Singh wrote a large number of novels with Amritsar as the background. Saddat Hasan Manto, Mohan Rakesh and Mulk Raj Anand won international acclaim as fiction writers.

The city, however, lacks the forest cover and does not have the required greenery. The only green patch is Ram Bagh Garden. The much talked about Galliara Scheme is still on paper and gathering dust in the Municipal Corporation Office of Amritsar. — Dr V.K. Sharma, Principal, DAV College, Amritsar

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Polytechnic teachers protest against ‘privatisation’ move
Our Correspondent

Members of the local chapter of the Punjab Polytechnic Teachers’ Association, along with students of four colleges, organised a protest against the state government for the transfer of management of polytechnics to societies.

The protesters burnt the effigy of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and blocked the traffic for an hour, resulting in traffic chaos at Bhandari Bridge.

Teachers and students of four colleges, including the Mai Bhago Government Polytechnic for Women, GIGT College, Government Institute of Textile Technology and Government Polytechnic, participated in the protest. They started the march from their respective colleges and converged at the Hall Gate under the leadership of their local president, Mr Parambir Singh Mattewal.

They also submitted a memorandum to the authorities, demanding immediate action on the matter. They claimed that the change of management would hamper the academic environment in the institutions across the country.

Mr Mattewal said the association would hold a state-level protest in the constituency of the Technical Education Minister, Mr Ramesh Dogra, at Dasuha (Hoshiarpur) to convey its grievances to the government. He added that the move was nothing short of ‘privatisation’ of polytechnics.

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Bridging ‘Faasle’ through theatre
Tribune News Service

History of sorts was created in the field of Punjabi theatre when Punjabi Naat Shala organised the performance of the 150th show of the Punjabi play “Faasle” on September 10 here.

The play is the story of a woman snake charmer who is talented, self-respecting, yet poor. She helps the villagers get rid of snakes that are in big numbers in the village. Meanwhile, she falls in love with a doctor of a government hospital of the village.

Each character of the play symbolises a particular section of the society. Jitender Brar, the playwright, is an engineer by profession. Narender Sanghi, the director of the play, started his theatrical journey 20 years back. Through sheer hard work and dedication, he has established himself as a talented director.

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Murals that motivate

What inspires a person to work towards his goal? Self-help books? Celebrities? Murals? Yes, murals do work as a motivating factor. To prove this The Guidance Resource Centre of the State Institute of Education, Sector 32, Chandigarh, has engaged nine city-based fine art teachers from various government model schools to create four wall murals, which are to quote Dr. Harsh Batra, the Director of the institute, ‘educational, inspirational, ethical and esthetic’.

Sanjay Kumar of Government Model Senior Secondary School (GMSSS), Sector 40 is busy giving the finishing touches to his dancing figures. Lying next is a huge clay model worked out on the theme of history that starts with the Indus Valley Civilization to the modern-day Chandigarh by two artists, Vishal Bhatnagar and Rajinder. Two motivation-packed murals in wooden board, ply and sun-board by Nisha, Rajesh Siwach, Sanjeev Arora, Surjit Singh and Ramdev are strategically placed, one on the wall that leads to the Guidance Resource Centre and the other at the center itself.

— Parbina Rashid

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