Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014

Amid fears of a faceoff, Akalis start streaming into Haryana gurdwaras

Sikhs from Punjab at the Manji Sahib Gurdwara in Ambala. Sikhs from Punjab at the Manji Sahib Gurdwara in Ambala.
Written by Ruhi Tewari | Kurukshetra | Posted: July 25, 2014 3:10 am

Staring out at the dusty road, Avtar Singh shakes his head in despair as he looks at the truckloads of men in blue turbans and women in salwar-kameezes entering the Manji Sahib gurdwara in Ambala. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-dominated Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has sent its “army” from Punjab, he says.

They have done so to guard the major gurdwaras in Haryana after its Assembly passed a Bill allowing creation of a separate management committee for Sikh shrines in the state, Avtar Singh adds.

“There is no doubt Haryana should get its own gurdwara committee. We are discriminated against in the current system. So much money goes from Haryana and yet we get nothing. This is a question of our rights,” he says.

However, Avtar Singh is wary of violence. “There is danger looming large. We don’t want any panga (trouble). We don’t want violence for this. Then it just won’t be worth it.”

Avtar Singh’s fears are reflected across all the major gurdwaras in Haryana, with the SGPC believed to have sent men and women in batches to eight of the main ones, including Manji Sahib, to “guard” them.

While the Centre told the Congress-led Haryana government to withdraw its Bill on the creation of a Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (HSGPC), on Wednesday the latter went ahead and constituted a 41-member HSGPC to manage, supervise and take over the assets of all the gurdwaras in the state.

With most of Haryana Sikhs backing the state’s move, The Indian Express visited four of the eight gurdwaras in the state that look primed for a fight.

Akalis in blue turbans sit at the entrance of the Panjokhra Sahib gurdwara in Ambala carrying kirpans, while a larger number roam inside the complex. In the market outside, most of the hushed whispers revolve around who the men and women are and why they are here.

Baldev Singh, who runs a shop selling knick-knacks, says the Akalis have “captured the gurdwara” by sending their men “mainly from Punjab”. “See, it’s simple. It’s like living in a rented house versus owning a house. Till now, it has been like the former for us from Haryana — it hasn’t been our own. But we want our own committee. Why should Punjab decide our fate?” he asks, as the five others around him nod their heads.

Same questions are being raised outside the Sahib Patshahi 6th gurdwara in Kurukshetra and the Nada Sahib gurdwara in Panchkula. Jaswant Singh, who owns a mobile shop outside the Kurukshetra gurdwara, and Harpreet Singh, a shopowner near Nada Sahib, say Haryana has been deprived by the SGPC on many counts, including in jobs in gurdwaras. The finances are used by and for Punjab, and all the benefits accrue to the bigger state, the Sikhs of Haryana say.

Of the 170 members in the SGPC, only 11 are continued…

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