In June this year, a controversy had erupted after Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh called for the youth from the Sikh community to train in traditional martial arts and modern arms. While the Jathedar had said it was needed to get “our youth out of drug menace”, not many know that the highest temporal seat of Sikhism had once earlier too called for “military training” for the youth from the community “to protect the country”. The edict in this regard was issued by the Akal Takht on Diwali in 1948, just over a year after Indian had gained a hard fought freedom from the British raj and when the pain of the oppression the country had faced for over a hundred years was still fresh in the minds of the people.
“Our Bharat is free from slavery and Sikhs have sacrificed a lot for this Independence. We have to keep the Panth in ‘Chardi Kala’ and take country to heights of development. For this purpose, the Sikh Sangat must take care of four points,” read the edict.
The four points were (1) pray to almighty for the independence of gurdwaras and Hindu sisters left behind in Pakistan; (2) make efforts for the rehabilitation of the migrants who came from Pakistan after Partition; (3) get military training to protect the country; and (4) shun liquor.
There was a reason why there was a focus on praying for independence of gurdwaras in Pakistan in the edict. The initial years, post Independence, were very difficult for those managing the Sikh shrines in the newly created country. The Sikh priests at the gurdwaras were not allowed to move without permission from the police.
The first meeting of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), concerning the Sikh shrines in Pakistan, was held at its headquarters on September 30, 1947. the SGPC wrote to the Punjab government to initiate talks with Pakistan for the management of gurdwaras.
One such correspondence mentioned that eight gurdwaras of great historical importance in Pakistan, including Nankana Sahib, Bal Lila, Patti Sahib, Tambu Sahib, Mal Ji Sahib, Kiara Sahib, Chevy Patshahi and Akal Bunga owned nearly 18,000 acres of land. The SGPC mentioned that these “gurdwaras are to Sikhs as Mecca is to Muslims, Vatican is for Christians, and Jerusalem is for Jews”.
SGPC wanted that these gurdwaras and the properties attached with them be protected. In the same correspondence, it also sought that India take the possession of the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib by exchanging land with Pakistan.
According to a list prepared by Sukhdev Singh Barwala — the author of ‘Vishre Gurdham’ (Separated Gurdwaras) — there were around 90 Sikh shrines in Lahore city alone. His book mentions around 1,000 gurdwaras across Pakistan, most of them having historical significance.
Punjab government responded to the letter in December 1948 and informed SGPC that Pakistan officials were made aware about the memorandum but nothing substantial came out of it.
In the mean time, the SGPC kept receiving reports about people encroaching upon the gurdwaras and their properties in Pakistan. It forced SGPC to publish an advertisement urging the Sikh community to pass resolutions and send them to Government of India demanding that needful be done for the management of gurdwaras in Pakistan.
The Punjab Vidhan Sabha too passed a resolution on these lines and sent it to the Government of India. The SGPC, however, passed another resolution on August 3, 1949 condemning the alleged cold efforts by Punjab government in this regard. On July 29, 1951, the SGPC called a convention on the issue. Later, the same year, on October 28, the SGPC decided to amend the standard Sikh prayer, which is performed in every gurdwara across the globe at least two times a day. Since then Sikhs have been praying, “God, almighty, our protector, and helper ever, restore to us the right and privilege of unhindered management and free service of and access to the Nankana Sahib, and other centres of the Sikh religion, the gurdwaras, out of which we have been evicted”.