In an unprecedented step influenced by persistent pressure from radicals and other sections of the Sikh community, the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal authority of the Sikhs, on Friday revoked its September 24 decision to exonerate Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the 2007 blasphemy case.
“As a consensus within the Panth on the pardon granted to the dera head could not be reached, the ‘gurmata’ (religious decree) stands withdrawn,” Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh said after presiding over an emergency meeting of the five Sikh high priests at the Takht secretariat in the Golden Temple complex here.
When contacted, Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda’s spokesperson Dr Aditya Insaan said, “We have no comment to make on this issue at the moment.”
Ironically, the Takht’s decision came on the day the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) issued an advertisement appealing to the Sikh community to accept the September 24 directive.
In another development, Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Friday directed police to withdraw all cases registered against people protesting against the recent sacrilege in Faridkot district, even as the Akal Takht demanded that the cops responsible for the Kotkapura canecharge and firing on Sikh protesters be dismissed and put on trial.
The deputy CM, who also holds the home portfolio, said he had told police to withdraw all cases registered against protesters at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan, both in Faridkot district, and elsewhere in the state.
In another damage-control move, Sukhbir suspended former Faridkot senior superintendent of police (SSP) Charanjit Sharma on Friday for “lapses in the line of duty”. A ‘bir’ of Guru Granth Sahib was stolen from a gurdwara in the district in June, when Sharma was posted there. He was presently holding the charge of the Moga SSP. The suspension was ordered on the recommendation of the special investigation team (SIT) formed after the incident of sacrilege in Faridkot district.
Meanwhile, it’s back to square one for Ram Rahim as the May 2007 decision of the Akal Takht, calling for his social boycott, has again come into force. He was condemned by the Takht after he allegedly dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru, during a gathering of dera followers at Salabatpura in Bathinda district.
Besides Giani Gurbachan Singh, those who took part in the emergency meeting on Friday included Takht Keshgarh Sahib jathedar Giani Mal Singh, Takht Damdama Sahib acting jathedar Giani Gurmukh Singh, Takht Patna Sahib jathedar Giani Iqbal Singh and Giani Raghbir Singh, a granthi (priest) of Harmandar Sahib.
Giani Gurbachan Singh claimed that the jathedar of Takht Hazoor Sahib in Nanded (Maharashtra), Giani Kulwant Singh, had given his consent to Friday’s decision on the phone. In his place, Giani Raghbir Singh attended the meeting to complete the quorum of ‘Panj Piaras’ (five beloved ones of the guru).
Why the flip-flop
* The Sikh clergy was under fire for its September 24 decision to pardon the Sirsa dera head, not only from radicals but also from a large section of moderate Sikhs, including members of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)
* Calling for the jathedars’ ‘social boycott’ and demanding their resignation, radicals had claimed that the pardon was granted at the behest of the SAD, which is eyeing dera votes in the 2017 assembly polls. The Sirsa-based dera has a considerable following in the Malwa belt and the Akalis are keen to mend fences with the sect chief
* Some radical groups had given a call for a Sarbat Khalsa (congregation of Sikhs) on November 10 to take up the decision to pardon the dera head
* Pressure mounted on the Akal Takht jathedar after the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib at Bargari village in Faridkot district. The sacrilege led to large-scale protests which took a violent turn, claiming two lives in Kotkapura
* The Takht jathedars’ about-turn is being seen as a move aimed at pacifying Sikh radicals in particular and the community in general
‘Gurmata’, not ‘hukamnama’
When asked whether a decision taken by the Akal Takht could be withdrawn, Giani Gurbachan Singh replied, “We had issued a ‘gurmata’ (religious decree), not a ‘hukamnama’ (edict). The former can be withdrawn or changed, while the latter cannot be.”
The Sikh ‘rehat maryada’ (religious code) of the SGPC makes a mention of the word ‘gurmata’, which means “a decision taken in the name of the guru”, but there is no reference to ‘hukamnama’ (edict).
“All the Akal Takht’s decisions are taken in the guru’s name. We can refer to these as ‘gurmata’ or ‘hukamnama’, both mean the same,” SGPC member Jaswinder Singh Advocate told HT.
The Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of the Sikhs, on Friday revoked its pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a 2007 blasphemy case after Sikh outfits protested the leniency shown to the controversial sect leader.
The Takht pardoned last month the Sirsa-based sect chief following his written apology for appearing before a congregation attired as the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, in 2007. The incident had triggered clashes between Sikhs and Dera followers while the Takht ordered the sect leader’s social boycott besides a ban on his congregations.
Eight years later, Sikh organisations opposed to Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal were unhappy with the decision to pardon him because rituals and norms demand any guilty person to physically appear before the Takht. They said the Dera chief got away with the offence without apologising in person.
Some hardliners even criticised Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh.
As pressure mounted on the Takht, it convened a marathon meeting of the five Sikh high priests in Amritsar on Friday and decided to annul its September 24 verdict.
The revocation came amid simmering tension in Punjab over the alleged desecration of a ‘bir’ or copy of the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, as rumours swirled that it was the handiwork of Dera supporters.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim had denied any role in the sacrilege after more than 100 torn pages of a ‘bir’ were found scattered at a village in Kotkapura on Monday.
Radical groups started protests in Faridkot on Tuesday, demanding action against the culprits. A violent flare-up in Kotkapura town that left two people dead and more than 60 wounded.
Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Friday directed the state police to withdraw all cases registered against people protesting against the desecration.
“My sentiments have also been deeply outraged by the desecration and I can understand the actions of the people,” he said.
Over 600 people, including Sikh preachers and a former jathedar of Damdama Sahib, had been booked by the Faridkot police on Thursday for clashes between protesters and police.
With inputs from HTC, Chandigarh