The concept of sacrilege in Sikhism dates back to the time when the holy book Sri Guru Granth Sahib, considered the living guru by the Sikhs, was compiled by fifth Sikh master Guru Arjan Dev. Any bid to tamper with the original text of Guru Granth Sahib or any physical harm done to the holy book is considered a sacrilege.
Sarbjinder Singh, head of the Department of Guru Granth Sahib Studies at Punjabi University, explains that tampering with the original text of Guru Granth Sahib was a very serious crime from the beginning. “Seventh Sikh master Guru Har Rai excommunicated his own son Ram Rai, the potential claimant to his seat, because he distorted a line from Guru Granth Sahib to please the then Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb. It was not the only incident when someone was excommunicated because of a very minor change to the original text. Many such examples can be found over the years.”
He says the idea of causing physical damage to Sri Guru Granth Sahib was institutionalised by Lakhpat Rai, the Diwan of Lahore, who imposed a ban on the use of word Gur (Punjabi translation of jaggery) because it resembled the word Guru. “Lakhpat Rai ordered the destruction of all existing copies of Guru Granth Sahib during the Chhota Ghallughara (One of the two genocides of the Sikhs during the 18th century) and it is said that many Sikhs died defending the cart on which Guru Granth Sahib was placed.”
In his paper ‘Origin of Hindu-Sikh tension in Punjab’, historian Ganda Singh mentions the incidents in the second half of the 19th century in which Arya Samaj leaders placed copies of Guru Granth Sahib on the table like any other book during their public meetings in Punjab. This led to the rise of the Singh Sabha movement, and the subsequent formation of the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee.
The origin of tensions between the Sikhs and the Nirankari sect was the offensive attack on the Guru Granth Sahib. Dera Sacha Sauda was also initially accused of tampering with the original text of Guru Granth Sahib.
The rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, head of the Sikh seminary Damdami Taksal, as a separatist ideologue, is attributed to the incident in Chando Kalan village of Haryana in which a bus of the Damdami Taksal carrying Guru Granth Sahib was allegedly set on fire by the Haryana Police in 1981. It was an incident that Bhindranwale, who used to call Guru Granth Sahib his “pita ji”, never let his congregation forget in the runup to militancy in Punjab.
Amarjit Singh, head of Guru Granth Sahib Study Centre at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, talks of different layers of sacrilege. “When Mughals rulers attacked Guru Granth Sahib during the 17th century, the Sikhs took it as an attack by the enemy. But things changed after Independence. Now Sikhs had no clear enemy, but the attacks on Guru Granth Sahib did not stop. After 1984, they believed Congress was their enemy. But in 2015, their Guru was attacked when Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) government was at the helm. They didn’t know what to do. It was an exceptional situation,” he says.
“The 2015 sacrilege is more serious than Operation Bluestar. In 1984, the Congress Government never said that Guru Granth Sahib was its target. But in 2015, Guru Granth Sahib was made the target,” underlines Gurmeet Singh Sidhu, head of religious department at Punjabi University.
According to Sidhu, the various governments and their machinery need to be sensitised about the concept of Guru Granth Sahib. “We saw how initially police officials didn’t pay any attention to the complaint of Guru Granth Sahib’s theft from a gurdwara at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village on June 1, 2015. May be they were not aware that Guru Granth Sahib is not a book.”
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