Conspicuous by Absence: Maturity in Sikh Clergy
As the Patiala incidents unfolded before the entire state and left it shell-shocked, a Panthic gathering was called at the Akal Takht, to ponder over the ramifications of this incident. The incident in Patiala was a handiwork of some lumpen elements on both sides that had been instigating and daring each other on social media for a week and thus resulting in the flashpoint. Could it have been prevented with the timely action of both the factions is a question everybody knew the answer to but what happened at the all factions gathering at the Akal Takht was more surprising and astonishing.
Addressing the gathering, Gaini Harpreet Singh -the Akal Takht Jathedar, spoke of the conspiracy being hatched by the state in which the land, crops and generations of Punjabis are systematically being destroyed through us only. He emphasized that this is being done so that after the land is destroyed the original inhabitants would be forced to move to other pastures and they would come and occupy this land. What he failed to mention was that once the land is unlivable for Sikhs, how could it be of any use or habitable for any other race or religion who would come to occupy it. Another Bizarre statement he made while continuing his address was that 625 IVF centers have been opened in Punjab where the semen of outsiders was being used to impregnate our girls. He did not bother to give any backup data or even an iota of proof for the allegation he had made. Perhaps he was unaware of the fact that these centers offer treatment to both male and female patients who are unable to conceive by natural means. Maybe his feudalistic mindset only saw problems in reproduction or IVF as a solution to male reproduction problem of low semen count. His thought could not fathom that these centers are offering solutions to both the male and female patients who are encountering problems in naturally reproducing a child.
With this single statement, the Jathedar has cast a shadow of prejudice on the thousands of couples in our state who had been blessed with a child taking the services of the IVZF centers. The joy of starting a family after so much struggle and despair has been overshadowed by the insensitive and unscientific remarks of a religious head. Is it justified that a person holding a high position in the minds of the religious majority in a state to issue such statements without bothering to back them up with a data point of scientific backing. Even if he thinks that the male youth of our state are becoming infertile due to drug problems or rampant abuse of drugs, he has not uttered a single word against such practices in any of his addresses. Yet he chose to malign and target a scientific process to help childless families find the joy of parenting. He has not acted on the leaders of the Akali party who are behind bars on the charges of selling drugs to the youth of Punjab but he has attacked the doctors for running these centers as a part of the conspiracy.
Before discussing any more on this issue let us understand the importance of this position in our religion or our lives. The Jathedar of Akal Takht is the supreme temporal position in the hierarchy of the Sikh religion. Every Sikh is bound by his religion and tradition to honour the words that are spoken by the Jathedar of Akal Takht. Such is the reverence that once Akali Phoola Singh, the then Jathedar even summoned Maharaja Ranjit Singh to appear before the Akal Takht. The Maharaja was found guilty of marrying outside his religion when he married a Muslim lady of Lahore named Morran and handed a punishment of 50 lashes The Maharaja bowed before the Akal Takht and begged forgiveness and underwent the punishment meted out to him. Even in more recent history, the Akali leadership like Master Tara Singh and Sant Fateh Singh along with six other executive body members of the Akali Dal were called on the Akal Takht and punished in 1962 for their activities. From such respect and reverence, we have reached the stage when the present Jathedar of the Akal Takht is called a puppet in the hands of Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal by a member of parliament of the opposition party.
The fall from grace started in the late 1970s when the Akali Dal suffered from internal strife and the position of Akal Takht Jathedar was used to offer legitimacy to one particular faction. The episode of forgiveness to Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda further eroded the respect and legitimacy of the position. The present Sikh leadership and the Jathedar himself have done nothing to restore or rebuild the trust in the community. There are a number of issues facing the Sikh community today and this position primarily was built to guide the Sikh community in times of crisis. The villages in Punjab have multiple Gurudwaras and cremation grounds which are meant for different castes but there is no place for casteism in the Sikh religion. Even the Akali Dal, which portrays itself as the true representative of the Sikh community has different wings for SC/OBC leaders and even district and state heads for these wings. But the Akal Takht Jathedar has not even spoken on this issue a single time leave alone any effort to eradicate this menace from our society. Even other issues such as drugs, overspending in marriages, overdependence on pesticides and chemical fertilizers, or even the conversion of Sikhs into other religions in our border belt have been brushed under the carpet and never addressed by the Jathedar. On the other hand, even if a small political problem comes in front of the Akali Dal, The Jathedar is quick to address the community and appeal to the need to strengthen the party. Even on the most recent episode of an attempt to sacrilege in the Darbar Sahib complex, it has been close to five months but not a single word has been spoken even after the SGPC formed its own SIT to investigate the incident.
It is highly imperative that steps should be taken for restoring the lost dignity and credibility of this position at the earliest. The highest seat of authority in the Sikh religion does not have a permanent Jathedar and an acting Jathedar is taking care of the responsibilities for the past four years is itself a testimony to the seriousness our leaders show towards this position. There are no guidelines available in the public domain on how to appoint and remove the Jathedar of Akal Takht. There are also no minimum requirements for such an eminent position to be filled. Why is it that a person toward whom the entire community is supposed to look for guidance in times of need does not have a minimum requirement of any knowledge/experience about our traditions and Sikh maryada or religion? If there are any then why are they not in the Public domain? Why is it that a panel of say three or five names is proposed by the Sikh Sangat and then one name is chosen among them for the appointment to this position as the Jathedar of Akal Takht? Why the process of appointment is a secret affair and the allegations of Jathedars being appointed after a name is received in an envelope from the party president of Akali Dal allowed to gain ground?
The issue is very important for our community and it must be addressed urgently if respect and trust are to be maintained. We have to move with the times and public transparency is the need of the hour. In the times when even a child refuses to believe whatever is told to him blindly and asks questions, how can we expect the whole community to follow blindly if the leaders show no transparency or high moral grounds in their conduct? It is also very important that the person holding such a high post lives up to the standard by his fair and impartial conduct and not succumb to the temptations of power and greed.
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