Sikh-Nirankari conflict peaked with 1978 clash

CHANDIGARH: Early Christian missionaries in Punjab were fascinated by “street disturbances” in Rawalpindi, when some Hindus complained that an organised group had hurl abuse at the “cow” and rejected idol worship.

Sikh-Nirankari conflict peaked with 1978 clash

The news of the clash in The Tribune dated April 14, 1978.

editorial@tribune.com

Vishav Bharti

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 18

Early Christian missionaries in Punjab were fascinated by “street disturbances” in Rawalpindi, when some Hindus complained that an organised group had hurl abuse at the “cow” and rejected idol worship. The missionaries noted that this was due to an individual’s effort to establish a new sect. They are called Nirankaris from their belief in God as spirit without bodily form.

Though Nirankaris’ conflict with the Hindus can be traced to the early 1850s, they by and large remained at peace with the Sikhs for almost a century.

The turning point in the Sikh-Nirankari relationship is believed to have come after Avtar Singh took over as the sect chief in 1943. He not only proclaimed himself “Satguru” but also introduced a book “Avtar Bani” and allegedly tried to copy Sikh symbols like starting the system of Sat Piare etc. He was successful in organising Nirankaris into a powerful sect. However, in his book “A History of The Sikhs”, Khushwant Singh noted that the fundamental difference between both was that the Nirankaris were worshiping gurus other than the 10 recognised by the Sikhs.

However, the conflict reached its peak on April 13, 1978. Activists of the Akhand Kirtni Jatha and Damdai Taksal marched towards the venue of a Nirankari convention in Amritsar. It led to a clash that left at least 17 dead and a majority of them were Sikhs.

The bloodshed was not a bolt from the blue. The seeds of that clash were sown much earlier, said Jagtar Singh, a Chandigarh-based senior journalist and author of “Khalistan Struggle: A Non Movement”.

“Earlier taking note of the aggressive Nirankari campaign, on November 28, 1973, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)passed a resolution against the Nirankari chief.”

The SGPC, in its resolution, appealed to the Sikhs to remain alert over the “tactics” of the then Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh. “That was the first organised intervention by the Sikhs. Even before Amritsar clash, some small skirmishes had already taken place at several places in Punjab. Sant Kartar Singh of Damdami Taksal was leading the campaign against the Nirankaris.”

Following the deadly clash in 1978, Akal Takht issued a hukamnama asking Sikhs to sever ties with Nirankari Sikhs. Later in 1980 in Delhi, Akhand Kirtani Jatha’s Ranjit Singh killed Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh. Ranjit Singh was later nominated as Akal Takht Jathedar.

“The possibility of such conflicts spinning out of hands always remains when the state commits historical blunders and does not bother to correct them even after decades,” said Jagtar Singh.

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