Sahjdhari Sikhs: Leadership's Role in getting them back into the mainstream.......by KBS Sidhu
Sahjdhari Sikhs: A Renewed Vision for Sikh Leadership
Chandigarh: Sikhism, a faith both profound and vibrant, has significantly enriched the spiritual and cultural tapestry of India. It stands as a beacon of inclusivity, equality, and brotherhood, principles that are deeply embedded in the teachings of the ten revered Sikh Gurus.
These values have not only shaped the ethos of the Sikh community but have also profoundly influenced the broader Indian ethos.
Historically, Sikhism has forged a distinct and proud identity, marked by its unique spiritual practices, cultural norms, and social contributions. Intriguingly, the very term 'Sikh' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'शिष्य (Shishya),' meaning a student, a learner, a follower, and thus, a devotee.
This etymology underscores that for a devotee, Sikhism represents a continuous progression, a lifelong journey of following and internalizing the teachings of the Gurus, including Sri Guru Granth Sahib, revered and worshiped as the manifestation of a living Guru.
Now, at a pivotal juncture in its journey, Sikhism is presented with a momentous opportunity for introspection and fortification from within, particularly by turning its focus towards the Sahjdhari Sikhs.
This subgroup, integral to the Sikh community, embodies the dynamic and evolving nature of the faith, reflecting the continuous journey of spiritual exploration and growth that lies at the heart of Sikhism.
As the community looks towards the future, there is a profound need to nurture and guide these individuals, who represent not just the diversity within Sikhism but also its potential for growth and renewal in the modern world.
The Legal Definition and the Path of the Sahjdhari Sikh
As per the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925, "Sikh" is defined under Section 2(9) as someone who professes the Sikh religion, believes in the Guru Granth Sahib, and believes in the Ten Gurus, and affirms that they do not adhere to any other religion.¹.
Furthermore, "Sahjdhari Sikh"² is defined in Section 2 (10-A) of the same Act as a person who performs ceremonies as according to Sikh rites, abstains from tobacco and Kutha (Halal meat), is not a Patit³ (apostate), and can recite the Mul Manter. This definition provides a legal framework but also illustrates a journey of gradual, progressive and inclusive engagement with Sikhism.
2016 Parliamentary Amendment: Took Away Voting Rights of Sahjdharis
In 2016, following at the instance of the incumbent Sikh leadership, a pivotal legislative change was enacted: the revocation of Sahjdhari Sikhs' voting rights in SGPC elections, a move previously affirmed by the constitutional courts.
This significant change was brought into effect through a retrospective amendment to the SGPC Act by Parliament, applicable from 2003, to undo the Court verdicts⁴.
This development had sparked intense social and legal debates, highlighting the need for a renewed focus on this crucial demographic within the broader Sikh community⁵.
A “cut surd” is NOT synonymous with a Sahjdhari Sikh
It is a common misconception that a Sikh who cuts his hair or trims his beard falls into the category of a Sahjdhari Sikh, often colloquially referred to in urban slang as a “cut surd.”
However, the definition under Section 2(10-A) of the SGPC Act, when read in conjunction with the definition of a “Patit,” makes it amply clear that “a Keshadhari Sikh who trims or shaves his beard or keshas” cannot be considered a Sahjdhari Sikh. The primary distinction, then, in strictly legal terms, lies in the individual’s reluctance or inability to declare that “he has no other religion.”
If not voting rights, Sahjdhari Sikhs should be encouraged to become complete Sikhs
Currently, there is a significant opportunity to assist and guide the approximately 70 lakh ‘disenfranchised’ Sahjdhari Sikhs, who are on the path towards embracing Sikhism, in their evolution into Keshadhari or Amritdhari Sikhs.
The Sikh leadership, both within the SGPC and in the broader community, should actively engage in this effort, focusing on the collective well-being of the ‘Panth’ rather than the narrow scope of electoral politics, be it in SGPC, Vidhan Sabha, or Lok Sabha elections.
Strengthening Bonds Through Shared Spiritual Heritage
The Sri Guru Granth Sahib, venerated in Sikhism as the living embodiment of the Guru, contains numerous respectful allusions to Hindu deities. These references are approached by Sahjdhari Sikhs, and indeed by most Keshdhari Sikhs, with profound reverence and respect.
Within Sikhism, these deities are not worshipped or seen as distinct gods and goddesses, but often symbolize aspects of the Akal Purukh (the omniscient God). This thoughtful portrayal in the sacred scripture offers Sahjdhari Sikhs a valuable context to deepen their understanding and appreciation of Sikhism’s fundamental teachings.
The respectful acknowledgment of these deities in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib highlights a shared spiritual lineage, strengthening the bonds within the Sikh community and celebrating its diverse heritage.
Embracing Sikh Teachings in Community Development
- Reflecting Sikhism's Inclusive Spirit:
- True to Sikhism's ethos of transcending divisions, encouraging Sahjdhari Sikhs to fully embrace Sikh principles aligns with the core teachings of the Gurus. This journey is about shared spiritual exploration and deepening understanding within the community.
- Countering Extremist Ideologies:
- By focusing on nurturing Sahjdhari Sikhs, Sikh leadership effectively counters narratives that blur distinct religious identities, reinforcing the unique and inclusive character of Sikhism.
- Promoting Deeper Commitment:
- The transition from Sahjdhari to Keshadhari and Amritdhari Sikhs should be a supportive process, fostering personal spiritual growth and a stronger commitment to Sikh values.
- Global Outreach through Advanced Technology:
- Modern technology opens new avenues for sharing the wisdom of the Guru Granth Sahib globally. This effort can enhance worldwide understanding of Sikhism and its universal teachings.
Conclusion: Nurturing Growth from Within
In a rapidly evolving world, the growth and sustained relevance of the Sikh community hinge on its ability to adapt and foster growth from within. Steering Sahjdhari Sikhs towards a more complete embrace of Sikhism, rooted in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus and the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, extends beyond merely preserving tradition. It's about enhancing the Sikh community with understanding, respect, and grace. Additionally, this endeavor has a profound global dimension.
Engaging with the Sikh diaspora worldwide and disseminating the message of the Gurus transcends geographical boundaries and cultural differences.
Even if it does not result in formal conversion in the traditional sense, spreading the teachings of Sikhism globally plays a crucial role in promoting the values of peace, tolerance, and universal brotherhood, reflective of the faith's core principles.
“Sikh” means a person who professes the Sikh religion or, in the case of a deceased person, who professed the Sikh religion or was known to be a Sikh during his lifetime.
If any question arises as to whether any living person is or is not a Sikh, he shall be deemed respectively to be or not to be a Sikh according as he makes or refuses to make in such manner as the State Government may prescribe the following declaration: -
“I solemnly affirm that I am a Sikh, that I believe in the Guru Granth Sahib, that I believe in the Ten Gurus, and that I have no other religion.”
Sahjdhari Sikh’ means 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 Manter.]
“Patit” means a person who being a Keshadhari Sikh trims or shaves his beard or keshas or who after taking amrit commits any one or more of the four kurahits. (Section 2 (11).)
A number of amendments in the Sikh Gurdwaras Act, 1925 have been effected after the reorganisation of Punjab on 1st November, 1966, but only with Parliamentary approval (which automatically includes the assent of the President of India).
This includes the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Act, 2016 which retrospectively took away the voting rights of “Sahjdhari Sikhs” (w.e.f. 8th October, 2003). It received the Presidential assent on 5th May, 2016, after the Bill was passed by both the Houses of the Parliament.
November 12, 2023
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