“Who is adhering to the Khalsa tenets of Guru Gobind Singh Ji more – the one who has kept a full beard and all other manifestations but sits in a shop to sell cloth or the one who has shorn off his hair and beard but continues to work towards the ideological mooring of the Khalsa by dedicating his life towards the security of the nation?”
The issue of voting rights of Sikhs in the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) is been played out politically for quite some time now. The SGPC has defined a true Sikh as one who adheres to all tenets of the Khalsa as laid down by the tenth Guru of the Sikh faith, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It has defined such followers as “Amritdhari Sikh” and vested upon him the right to vote for SGPC elections. For the remainder it has coined a few different definitions. One among them is “Sehajdhari” – someone who has taken the path of gradually adopting Sikh tenets. The second definition coined by the SGPC is ‘Patit” – this includes such Sikh who the SGPC feels have violated the religion’s precepts by trimming or shaving their beard or violating other guidelines laid down by Guru Gobind Singh for a Khalsa to follow.
Guru Gobind Singh Ji well understood the need to fight against the evil and ruling powers of his times that were persecuting the Sikhs, Hindus and all religions other than their own -Islam. It was for this reason that he created the Khalsa from among his Sikh followers and others who wished to join forces with him against the persecutor.
The Guru appreciated that his Khalsa will have to draw on courage that goes beyond the fear of death for which reason he sought to give to the latter a special identity. Being a military and strategic genius he understood the need for regimentation of those whom he called to arms for this holy and righteous war against a much more powerful enemy.
Hence the Guru gave the edict to his Khalsa to partake Amrit (holy Nectar) and adorn the five K’s – Kesh (uncut hair and beard), Kara (iron/steel bracelet), Kacch (long cotton undergarment), Kanga (wooden comb), Kirpan (dagger). Following this edict was deemed to be compulsory to join the ranks of the Khalsa. The Guru, like all noteworthy generals, also adhered to the norm that he set for his soldiers and took the vows himself too. He further glorified the Khalsa with beautiful poetry of which the most significant lines are “Khalsa Mero Roop Hai Khas, Khalsa Mehi Ho Karo Niwas” (Khalsa is my true form, within the Khalsa I abide). This created an indelible bond of oneness between the Guru and his Khalsa followers.
The military vision of the Guru resulted in a mass movement across Punjab to fight against injustice, wickedness and immorality. Such was the commitment that families of Punjab, both Sikh and Hindu, started initiating their eldest son into the fold of the Khalsa.
The Khalsa faced untold atrocities but ultimately emerged victorious in creating a huge Empire after extinguishing, ignominiously, its most enduring enemies, the Mughals and the Afghans. This extraordinary feat was accomplished within a short period of a century from the death of their revered Guru and master, Gobind Singh. The momentous moment in history was marked by the coronation of Ranjit Singh as the Maharaja of Punjab in 1801.
The breakdown of the Sikh Empire, mainly due to internal politics, led to the whole of Punjab coming under British rule. The British were quick to understand the inherent traits of loyalty and courage of the Khalsa and they immediately accorded to them an exalted Martial status. For the Khalsa, the abiding reason for joining the British forces was to save Punjab from the marauding Afghans. Khalsa was deployed in the Afghan frontier and fought iconic battles like the Battle of Saragarhi. They did not allow the Afghans to set foot into the holy soil of Punjab ever again.
Khalsa along with the Sikh community was actively involved in the freedom struggle. Khalsa joined the Indian National Army of Subash Chandra Bose in great numbers and became a cause of great worry for the British, thus expediting their exit from India.
In independent India the Khalsa was and still remains in the forefront of national security. One among the first units to be inducted for the liberation of Kashmir in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947 was from the iconic Sikh Regiment. In all wars after that the Khalsa forces exhibited extraordinary valour and commitment to the national cause.
I am a proud Khalsa since my family has been following the tenets of Guru Gobind Singh JI in dedicating ourselves to national security and safety of the weak and underprivileged for generations on end. My great grandfather and grandfather served the British Army in the Afghan Frontier, my father served both the British and the India Army and I have served the India Army for three decades. I was sent to join the forces despite being the only son born after five daughters. Now, just because I have trimmed my hair and beard, there are some who wish to define me as a “Patit!”
My question is, who is adhering to the Khalsa tenets of the Guru more – the one who has kept a full beard and all other manifestations but sits in a shop to sell cloth or the one who has shorn off his hair and beard but continues to work towards the ideological mooring of the Khalsa by dedicating his life towards the security of the nation?
With time everybody has changed, but every Sikh and Khasla adheres to his faith in his own way. This sentiment needs to be respected. The idea is to assimilate all children of Sikhism so long as they hold respect for the teachings.
It is important to remember here that even Guru Gobind Singh in his edict said “Sab Sikhan Ko Hukam Hai Guru Maniyo Granth” (All Sikhs are commanded to look upon the holy Granth as their Guru). Evidently, the Guru assimilated Sikhs as his disciples regardless of their following the path of Khalsa. Who then has the right to coin words like “Sehajdhari” and “Patit?”
There are many who hold the belief that the distinctions have been created with a vested interest of the Badal family led Shromani Akali Dal (SAD) which wishes to retain control over the SGPC in view of its huge financial and political power. It was the SAD that prevailed upon their ally, the BJP, to amend the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925 in 2014, despite the Punjab and Haryana High Court, in December, 2011, having restored the voting rights of around 60-70 Lakh Sehajdhari Sikhs in elections to the SGPC after quashing the central government’s notification dated October 8, 2003 debarring Sehajdharis from voting in the SGPC elections.
On May, 27 2017, the Punjab and Haryana high court issued notices to the Centre and Punjab government on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of a legislation that barred “Sehajdhari” (non-baptised) Sikhs from voting in polls to the SGPC. It was argued that neither proper facts nor any figures were placed before the Home Minister to take such “a drastic step just to further political cause of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partner Shiromani Akali Dal led by Parkash Singh Badal.”
A person born a Sikh has the right to remain a Sikh and/or a Khalsa till such time that he announces a change of his religion. A person whose faith holds the holy Granth as his/her Guru cannot be treated as an outsider at the Gurudwara where the Holy Granth (his Guru) resides. Those are being called Patits simply because they are unable to adhere to the tenets laid by the tenth master still hold complete faith in the Guru Grant Sahib as ordained by the very same master and contribute generously to the community. They do “Seva” and add to the pride of the community while making a substantial financial contribution. It would be more appropriate to keep them integrated rather than pushing them away with parochial thinking.