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HT Explainer | Know meaning and history of excommunication in Sikhism

Excommunication is a tradition prevalent since the days of the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh.

punjab Updated: Apr 14, 2018 10:39 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh reading out the ‘hukamnama’ against Harinder Sikka in Amritsar on Thursday.
Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh reading out the ‘hukamnama’ against Harinder Sikka in Amritsar on Thursday. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

Excommunication of Harinder Sikka, producer of controversial movie ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ from the Sikh panth (religion) on Thursday by the clergy once again brought Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, into prominence. Also under the spotlight is the concept of excommunication.

What does excommunication mean?

Excommunication means expelling someone from the socio-religious order of the Sikhs as a larger community. The five head priests led by the Akal Takht jathedar pronounce such an order.

Who is excommunicated?

As per the tradition, a Sikh is excommunicated for committing ‘bajar kuraihat’ (unpardonable offence) that covers four major offences — shaving off hair, keeping illicit relations, killing a daughter, and for demeaning Guru Granth Sahib or the ten gurus and keeping faith outside the religion. There are some minor offences that entail minor punishment (tankhah).

What’s the procedure?

Excommunication is a tradition prevalent since the days of the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, not written down yet its procedure is passed on from one generation of the Sikh clergy to the next. Sikh scholar Pirthipal Singh Kapur explains: “Those who accept a set doctrine set by the Gurus come under the ambit of Sikhism, are called Sikhs, and any Sikh who defies it is liable for punishment, which is pronounced by the Sikh clergy.” In recent times, there has been a system of giving hearing to the accused before the pronouncement, by being summoned before the head priests. In Langah’s case, though, he was not given a hearing as the FIR and the video “evidence” were available. In the olden days, Akal Takht used to act unilaterally. Now, the Takht jathedar works in consensus with other four head priests as an authority of the Sikh panth. The decision taken by them is considered final and binding on the panth.

Must read |HT Explainer: The unholy row over ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’

Who in the past have been excommunicated?

Giani Darshan Singh: In 2010, giani a raagi (hymn singer) was excommunicated by the Akal Takht for quoting the ‘Dasam Granth’, which the Takht has banned. Darshan Singh, who lives in Canada, never came back to the Takht for atonement.

Giani Zail Singh and Buta Singh: Then President of India Giani Zail Singh and Union home minister Buta Singh were excommunicated over Operation Bluestar in 1984, in which major damage was caused to Akal Takht. Both sought and were granted pardon later.

Gurbax Singh Kala Afghana: A Canada-based cop-turned-author Kala Afghana was excommunicated in 2003 for twisting gurbani in his books. Fearing arrest for his closeness to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, he refused to come to India and has not sought atonement.

Baba Santa Singh: The then Budha Dal chief was excommunicated in 1984 for damage to the Akal Takht during Operation Bluestar. He was given the task of rebuilding the Akal Takht and was granted atonement in 2001.

Sucha Singh Langah: A former minister in Akali-BJP government, Langah and a SGPC member was excommunicated in October 2017 after a video allegedly showing him in a compromising position went viral. He has not approached the Takht for atonement yet.