The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) will complete 100 years of its existence on November 15. It was born out of a movement against the mahant and priests who had control of prominent gurdwaras including the Golden Temple with the help of the British.
However, little is known about the SGPC’s fight against untouchability and the caste system even in its initial years.
October 12, 1920, was a big day in the history of the SGPC. On Monday, a couple of Dalit and Sikh organisations came together to celebrate the anniversary of restoration of Dalits rights to offer Krah Parshad at the Golden Temple.
The coming years were full of turmoil as many Sikhs died in an attempt to take control of big gurdwaras across Punjab, and SGPC was properly established in 1925, after the Gurdwara Act came into existence.
The first important steps against untouchability were taken in an SGPC House meeting called on March 14, 1927. “…Sikhism does not differentiate on the basis of caste. So those who have become Sikhs from the so-called lower castes should be treated equally. If any Sikh is not allowed to take water from a well due to so-called lower caste, efforts should be made to win equal rights for that Sikh…Such an insult of any Sikh is an insult of the whole Sikh community,” reads an SGPC resolution passed that day.
The very next day, one more resolution was passed by SGPC urging Punjab government to “not mention caste of any Sikh on official documents as Sikhism does not approve of division on the basis of casteism”.
On October 8, 1927, the SGPC General House asked the interim committee to publish and circulate an appeal that no Sikh should be stopped from taking water from wells, entering gurdwaras or sitting in langar due to untouchability.
A similar resolution was passed on February 21, 1931, which said that Sikh children from the “so-called lower castes” should not be stopped from attending Sikh schools. It was also decided that a special committee would be made to look into the problems of Sikhs who had recently converted from the lower castes, related to their earnings, lack of land and other issues.
On November 12, 1936, SGPC General House passed a resolution and appeal to the community to make efforts so that Sikhs who converted from the lower castes can contest elections of Punjab Assembly. General candidates were asked to sacrifice their space in politics for the Sikh candidates from lower castes. It also asked to specially consider untouchables who had converted to Sikhism for appointments of sevadars in gurdwaras.
On March 10, 1938, a resolution was passed to ask Sikh education institutes to specially consider untouchable converted Sikh students while granting scholarship or remitting fees.
On April 24, 1939, SGPC asked the Indian government and British rulers to reserve three seats from the Sikh quota for Sikh candidates from schedule categories and schedule category voting rights for the schedule caste Sikh voters for 10 years.
On October 26, 1941, the committee asked the government to give equal preference to Sikh men converted from untouchable categories, for recruitment in police or Army as preference was given to Sikh men from general castes.
SGPC reserved 12 seats for Dalit Sikhs in its House and added provision of one more nominated Dalit Sikh member to its House. It saw a conspiracy in use of the word ‘Harijan’ for Dalits by Congress, and banned its use for Sikhs who had converted from ‘untouchable classes’.
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