Three months on, nine villages adopt SGPC’s one-gurdwara initiative
The SGPC, which is responsible for the management of gurdwaras in the state, on March 10 started honouring panchayats or village committees that have worked to ensure a common gurdwara for all residents.punjab Updated: Jun 14, 2018 13:35 IST
Three months after the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) launched its ‘Ik Nagar Ik Gurdwara (One village, one gurdwara)’ campaign, nine of the 13,000 villages of Punjab have heeded to its call to bridge the caste divide among Sikhs.
Contrary to the cardinal principle of equality in the faith, there has been a proliferation of gurdwaras based on caste particularly in villages. To check this trend, the SGPC, which is responsible for the management of gurdwaras in the state, on March 10 started honouring panchayats or village committees that have worked to ensure a common gurdwara for all residents.
“Residents of Sarafkot in Gurdaspur district, Kadrabad in Amritsar, Kamowal in Hoshiarpur, Dhurkot in Faridkot, Dalo Majra in Fatehgarh Sahib, Kotli Biram in Gurdaspur, Awan in Amritsar, Kundran in Sangrur and Dhadrian in Sangrur have set up one gurdwara,” SGPC spokesman Diljit Singh Bedi said.
But the journey has not been easy. For instance, Sarafkot with 1,200 residents had five gurdwaras; one each for Mazhabi Sikhs, Dalit Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs besides two for upper castes Jat Sikhs. “It all started when youngsters got together to revamp a cremation ground in the village. We realised we could bring about more changes if we’re united. We started communicating through a WhatsApp group. It was here that one of us suggested that there should be a gurdwara in the village. It made sense,” says Harpal Singh, 35, a farmer. All gurdwara committees were dissolved and equal representation was given to the communities in the newly elected gurdwara body.
Youth power played a key role in driving the change in Kamowal village of Hoshiarpur district, too. The village had two gurdwaras; one for Jat Sikhs and the other for Dalits. “The idea to merge the two gurdwaras was on our mind for some time but it could not take shape till we heard about the SGPC’s drive through the media and decided to implement it,” says Satinderpal Singh, 32, a pharmacist, who led the initiative in the village.
“Some villagers approached me and I facilitated their meeting with the SGPC president, who assured them full cooperation. The decision to merge the gurdwaras was taken on April 24,” says Ranjit Kaur, the SGPC member of the segment. The one for Dalits was accepted as the common gurdwara.
On hearing about the SGPC initiative, residents of Kadrabad village, 32 km from Amritsar, approached Baldev Singh, the granthi at the gurdwara patronised by Dalits. “The community agreed to vacate the gurdwara and merge it with the other as it would be beneficial from the security point of view,” he said.
Sandeep Singh, the president of the gurdwara committee at Kadrabad, admitted that Dalits opposed the removal of the Nishan Sahib (religious flag) from their gurdwara.
Buildings for a cause
The vacated gurdwara buildings are being used for social work. Harnek Singh, the sarpanch of Sarafkot, said the four vacant buildings will be put to good use. “We plan to open a stitching training centre for women in one, a community hall in the second, a dispensary in the third and an anganwadi centre and library in the fourth,” he said.
The SGPC spokesperson said the gurdwara body has been offering books and literature to open libraries in villages. “SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal has asked all members to reach out to village committees in their respective segments to convince residents for a single gurdwara. Sikh preachers under the dharam parchar wing are also engaged in sensitising the villagers,” he said.
Word of caution
On the SGPC initiative, Gurmeet Singh Sidhu, a professor of religious studies at Punjabi University, said: “The idea is constructive but caste-based discrimination cannot be eliminated through this drive alone. That’s because this discrimination is not the sole factor behind separate gurdwaras. Casteism can only be demolished by giving space to the so-called lower castes at all levels.”
Sumail Singh Sidhu, a political analyst, agrees. “Without addressing discriminatory tendencies in society, the drive would just be symbolism. The SGPC first needs to introspect on whether this facilitates Dalits in getting their rightful place in power equations,” he says.
Baldev Singh Pandori, a labour activist, points out, “Gurdwaras have been merged but the cremation grounds in some of these villages are still separate based on caste.”