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Nihangs are followers of Sikhism and are not a religion unto themselves: high court

The petitioner in this case was Ranjit Singh Phoola, who is the head of Nihang Singh Jathebandi group namely Tarna Dal Missal Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh Poohla.

The court further said that life is not just about being able to breathe, it is about being able to live with dignity. (Express Photo)

“Nihangs are followers of Sikhism and Gurmat but are not a religion unto themselves and the attire given to them is traditional but it is not a part of religion,” said a Punjab and Haryana High Court bench recently while dismissing a plea seeking cancellation of the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) certificate granted to Punjabi movie ‘Masand’, and challenging its release.

The petitioner in this case was Ranjit Singh Phoola, who is the head of Nihang Singh Jathebandi group namely Tarna Dal Missal Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh Poohla.

The petitioner had challenged the release of ‘Masand’ – after watching the trailer of the movie – on the ground that it could hurt sentiments of those following Sikh religion and promote community hatred. The petitioner drew a parallel between the villain’s character in the film as shown in the trailer and the life of Jathedar Ajit Singh Poohla (head of Nihang sect, Tarna Dal), who was murdered by some radical elements. According to the petitioner, based on the trailer, the film glorified the murderers.

Ranjit Singh Phoola had contended before the high court that the chief of Nihang Jathebandi wears turban in a specific way giving a distinct identity showing the ranking of the Jathedar. He is shown in the trailer wearing a ‘pharla’ (turban) in a manner worn by Tarna Dal which is strikingly similar to the ‘pharla’ worn by leader of Nihang Singh Jathebandi, and such a portrayal is detrimental to the tenets of Sikhism, the petitioner contended.

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Also, it was contended by the petitioner that the feelings of Nihang Singhs and people of Punjab in general would be hurt if the Nihang Sikhs are depicted in a negative manner and it could reduce the status and respect of the Nihang Singhs, notwithstanding the sacrifices made by them.

A bench of Justice Vinod S Bhardwaj, in a detailed judgment, had said that “Nihang” is a Persian word – meaning a “crocodile” – given to the Akalis by the “Mughals”. They are a part of the Sikh military order. They are renowned for their martial skills with a vocation of being a warrior. “A Nihang has to live by a regime of ‘Rehat’ (disciplined way of life), ‘Naam Abhyaas’, knowledge and ‘Jeevan’ (spiritual life). The Nihangs differ essentially from all other Sikh orders in being a militaristic organisation. However, they are followers of Sikhism and Gurmat but are not a religion unto themselves. The attire given to them is traditional but it is not a part of religion. The symbols worn by them depict their rank and group but does not become a part of religion. An ardent follower of faith through its rituals and practices cannot partake of religion itself which lives beyond the followers.”

Justice Bhardwaj said, “At the outset, the film is not based on life of their leader and is not a biographic account. It claims to be inspired by a true event. It is not an adaptation of a true event or a dramatic representation of an event. An inspiration from an event is essentially a work of fiction woven around any aspect of an event…it cannot be said that an event portrays a character or person in a shade other than the belief of an objector and that any such portrayal needs to be changed.”

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The high court said, “The character may be inspired in some ways but the same is not portrayal of the person, as alleged. Even otherwise, the petitioner has not seen the movie and has challenged only on the basis of promotional trailer which is of 2-4 minutes in length as against the feature film of 2½ hours. Tolerance, acceptance and mutuality of existence are essence of Sikhism. Rigidity and intolerance have no scope in a religion which commenced by challenging rigidity and dogmatic practices and questioning the relic worship. Religion and belief are often beyond objectivity and are largely not influenced by anyone else’s non-belief. Any such fear is disbelief in the foundation of religion itself which he claims to profess.”

The high court added, “Any citizen would not have a legitimate right to confront exhibition of a film duly certified by the statutory authority and to claim that the same should be pulled off from screening or exhibition in theatres. Such tendency cannot be accepted or allowed to escalate as it curtails rights of every other person in society to espouse his views and to portray them… Once an adequate mechanism and guidelines have been prescribed under the Cinematograph Act, 1952, for public exhibition of movies, there cannot be any other checks and balances. Those who disagree or have reservations of their own against such work of art are under no compulsion to watch/view the same…”

Justice Bhardwaj held that the uniform of Nihang Jathebandi is not equivalent to the five ‘Kankaars’ which are integral part of Sikh religion. Any such attempt on the part of the petitioner to equate the insignia worn by the Sikh Jathedar/Nihang Jathebandis to be a part of Sikh religion would rather be an abrasion of Sikh religion and is thus unacceptable.

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The high court dismissed the plea stating that it would be arbitrary to not allow the respondent to exhibit his movie on this score.

The movie was released on November 18 after the order was pronounced on November 9.

First published on: 29-11-2022 at 12:38 IST
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