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Sehajdhari Sikh-


Should Sehajdharis have a right to vote in SGPC elections?
Sunday, January 5, 2003, Chandigarh, India
H.S. Mattewal

Should Sehajdharis have a right to vote in SGPC elections?
H.S. Mattewal

Of late the question as to whether the Sehajdhari Sikhs should or should not have the right to vote in the SGPC elections has been agitating the Sikh community. The question has assumed particular importance in view of the resolutions passed by the SGPC proposing amendments to the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, for limiting the right to vote only to the Keshdhari Sikhs as in the case of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1971.

This is a fundamental question, which has earlier also attracted strong views on both sides and needs to be decided after the widest possible discussion within the community and keeping in mind the interest of the community and the religion. And while doing so, it is important to keep in mind the admonition repeated frequently in Punjab newspapers Khalsa Samachar and Khalsa Advocate in the beginning of this century when similar issues were being debated that the greatest danger to Sikhs are Sikhs themselves and the tendency to forget the creed and message of the Gurus in the rush to control, to fight and to dominate.

The Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, was enacted as a result of sustained efforts and at the cost of tremendous sacrifices made by the community. About 40,000 Sikhs went to jail and 400 lost their lives during the struggle, it was drafted with the consent and support of Akali leaders and was enacted without opposition.

The definition of Sikh as given in the Act in 1925 was as under: “Sikh means a person who professes the Sikh religion” and in case any question arose as to whether any person is or is not a Sikh, he would be deemed to be a Sikh if he made the following declaration:

“I solemnly affirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in Guru Granth Sahib, that I believe in the Ten Gurus and that I have no other religion.”

A Sikh more than 21 years of age was qualified to be an elector.

However, in 1944, a proviso was added to the Section 49 dealing with the qualification of electors to the following effect: “Provided that no person shall be registered as an elector who (a) trims or shaves his beard or keshas except in the case of Sehajdhari Sikhs; (b) smokes; (c) takes alcoholic drinks.”

By an amendment in 1959 a new Section 2 (10A), which defines Sehajdhari Sikh, was inserted: “Sehajdhari Sikh is a person: (i) who performs ceremonies according to Sikh rites; (ii) who does not use tobacco or kutha (halal meat) in any form; (iii) who is not a patit; and (iv) who can recite Mul Mantar.”

Now the question is: who is a Sikh? The term Sikh occurs about 100 times in Guru Granth Sahib. To be a Sikh rests on a commitment to follow Gurumat as opposed to Manmat. Guru Amar Das says, “He alone is a Sikh, a friend and a kin, who commits himself to Guru’s will.”

Guru Gobind Singh says: “Only those who keep alight the unquenchable torch of truth, and never swerve from thoughts of one God. Do not thus believe even by mistake. In fasting, monastic life of worshipping forbears, Such may be recognised as true members of the Khalsa...”!

Can it be said that only the Amritdhari or the Khalsa Sikhs are Sikhs, or do the Keshdharis and the Sehajdharis also qualify to be Sikhs? One view is that only those who believe in Guru Granth Sahib and have been initiated into the Khalsa by partaking of Amrit and maintain the Rehat are Sikhs. “The sense of belonging to the Sikh community requires both the belief in the teaching of the Adi Granth and the observance of the Khalsa tradition initiated by Guru Gobind Singh and there is no such thing as a clean shaven Sikh, he is simply a Hindu believing in Sikhism” (Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs). This seems an extreme view and it excludes both the Keshdharis and Sehajdharis from the Sikh Panth and is not generally accepted.

The Keshdhari Sikhs are those who have not partaken of Amrit but believe in Guru Granth Sahib and obey the principal instruction of the Rahit, particularly keeping unshorn hair. They constitute a large percentage of the Sikhs and are accepted as members of the Panth. The main dispute that remains is regarding the Sehajdhari Sikhs.

Historians have noted that after the founding of the Khalsa, Guru Gobind Singh never forced his new discipline on all Sikhs. Among his most devoted followers were Bhai Nand Lal, Bhai Ghanaiya, Bhai Kirpa Ram, Bhai Lakhan Rai, Bhai Manua Bairagi, Bhai Hans Raj Bajpayee, etc. whose names are mentioned with respect in Sikh annals. They maintained their identity and position in the Panth as Sehajdhari Sikhs. “Thus a distinction was permitted to remain between a Sikh (disciple) and a baptised Singh, and this is how till lately a large body of Sikhs, called Sehajdharis, though outwardly not conforming to the symbols of the Khalsa, yet accepted the spiritual and social code of the Gurus and remained an inalienable and worthwhile part of the Panth” (A History of the Sikh People, World Sikh University Press, New Delhi, 1979).

Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha says “in contrast to baptised Sikhs, Sehajdhari is used for those Sikhs who do not adopt the Rahit of Kes, Sword and the Kach, but accept all other precepts and rituals of the Sikh religion. Besides Singhs, all the followers of Guru Nanak are included in the Sehajdhari group who are co-believers of the Sikh religion.” Bhai Kahan Singh warns that those Singhs who hate the Sehajdharis are not aware of the Sikh religion. He describes a Sikh thus: “A follower of Guru Nanak Devji who has embraced the Sikh religion of Satguru Nanak Devji, who believes in Guru Granth Sahib as his holy book and believes in the ten Gurus as one”.

In the Sikh Rahit Maryada which was drawn up by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 1945 after widest consultation in India and abroad, a Sikh is defined to be a person whose faith is in one God, the ten Gurus and their teachings and the Adi Granth. In addition he or she must believe in the necessity and importance of Amrit and must not adhere to any other religion. It is thus clear that Sehajdharis are not excluded.

Bhai Ardaman Singh in his article “One Guru — One movement” writes, “Sikhs as a whole are also known as and called the Panth. The Panth includes all sorts of Sikhs whether perfect or imperfect, whether still novice or fully responsible, whether Sehajdhari or of any other samprada. Anyone who believes in the Guru and Gurbani and has faith in no one else, cannot be denied to be a Sikh, and therefore, is a member of the Panth.”

Thus, to now restrict the right to vote only to the Keshdhari Sikhs will be going against the long tradition of accepting the Sehajdharis Sikhs as essential members of the Panth and granting them the right to vote in elections to the SGPC since its inception in 1925.

Anyway, the matter needs wider debate and discussion at the Panthic level, the yardstick being the teachings of the ten Gurus enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib.

To conclude, I again quote Kahan Singh, the venerated Sikh scholar whose warning seems particularly apposite today, “Those who create animosity and division by mixing up matters of religion, politics (niti) and society (samaj) are bound to suffer here (lok) and in the hereafter (parlok). They do not deserve the title of ‘human beings’ much less the title of ‘God’s Progeny.’ Those who belong to different religions and yet regard themselves as part of one ‘nation’ earn respect and honour.”

The writer is a former Advocate-General, Punjab.


H.S. Mattewal