The Parliament on Monday passed the bill to amend a 91-year-old law to exclude Sehajdharis Sikhs (‘gradual adopters’) from voting in the elections to Sikh religious bodies.
Ahead of assembly elections in Punjab next year, the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was passed by the Lok Sabha more than a month after Rajya Sabha approved it. President’s nod is now pending for it to become an Act.
Replying to the debate on it, Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the demand for not giving voting rights to Sehajdari Sikhs was made by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) that “often demanded that those who are not Sikhs should not be given [the] voting rights. The SPGC general assembly of 2001 also passed a resolution regarding this”.
The Union cabinet had recently approved the amendment with effect from October 8, 2003. It had earlier been carried out by a home ministry notification on that date, but was quashed by the HC on December 20, 2011, leaving it to the legislature to amend the Act.
The definition of Sehajdhari Sikh has no religious sanction as far as the fundamental tenets of the religion are concerned. This nomenclature was added to the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 under British rule. The bill proposes to remove the further exception given to Sehajdharis in 1944 to vote in the elections.
Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, however, said in the House that the “Sikh Gurudwaras Act should be renamed Badal Gurudwara Act”, taking a jibe at Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal. The latter heads the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) which controls the SGPC for several years now.
“You are trying to divide families through conspiracy...You are doing wrong with 70 lakh Sikhs who had voting rights in SGPC for 60 years... You are dividing the already minority community of Punjab into a sub-minority community,” he said.