WITH THE Rajya Sabha passing a legislation barring Sehajdhari Sikhs from voting in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections, Hindu organisations have launched a campaign, including on social media, asking the 70 lakh-strong community to “identify with their origins and join Hinduism”.
While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has started “village-level interactions” to “enlighten” Sehajdhari Sikhs, a little-known outfit called Hindu Nyay Peeth has started distributing pamphlets in some villages of Ludhiana and Bathinda to convey that Hinduism was “always open” for them.
“The interactions have started in rural Punjab and soon seminars will be held at the grassroot-level to tell Sehajdhari Sikhs that they are not different from Hindus. We have no problem with Sehajdharis remaining in Sikhism, if they get respect and rights but if not, they should turn towards their origin. There is no need to get forcefully converted to Christianity or Islam,” said Sukhpal Singh, national executive member, VHP.
On March 16, the Rajya Sabha passed the Sikh Gurdwaras (Amendment) Bill 2016, excluding the Sehajdharis from voting in the fiercely contested SGPC elections, mostly won by the Shiromani Akali Dal and its allies. The Bill is expected to come up in Lok Sabha next month.
The amendment is expected to cap a long legal battle that the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation (SSF) had mounted against the Centre, state governments of Punjab and Haryana and the SGPC. A petition on the issue, filed by the SSF against the SGPC, is pending in Supreme Court.
The SSF has described the Bill as an “RSS-BJP plot” to divide the Sikh community. Sehajdharis are those who follow Sikhism but without being Amritdharis, or baptised. They do not adopt the baptismal vows of the Khalsa panth initiated by Guru Gobind Singh. They might be born in Hindu, Sikh or other families but follow Sri Guru Granth Sahib. For instance, they describe themselves as Sikhs but mostly maintain short hair.
One of the pamphlets, being distributed by Hindu Nyay Peeth, states that Hindus and Sikhs are “two sides of the same coin”. Written in Hindi, it goes on to condemn the amendment, but says the exclusion has “strengthened the [Hindu Nyay Peeth] stand that Sikhs are “fundamentally” Hindus, and that the “doors of the organisation are always open to them”.
Parveen Dang, Hindu Nyay Peeth spokesperson, said the organisation will be reaching out to Sehajdhari Sikhs in every village of Punjab. “We are ready to take them back in our fold. A conversion ritual will not be required as they are Hindus by origin. When the SGPC is rejecting them, we will give them their rights,” said Dang.
However, many Sehajdhari Sikhs have condemned this campaign, maintaining that they are Sikhs, not Hindus.
SSF president Paramjit Singh Ranu said, “Sikhism is an entirely different community and not same as Hindusim. But it is a slap on the face of Akali Dal… because of its support to the anti-minority agenda of the BJP, Hindu organisations are calling us ‘rejected’ and want us to join Hinduism. Sikhs are being divided, which is extremely unfortunate.”
When contacted, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said, “Hinduism and Sikhism are entirely different but Sehajdhari Sikhs cannot be allowed to vote in SGPC polls. Only Amritdhari Sikhs can vote.”
Major Singh, sarpanch of Dhurkote village where the pamphlets were distributed, said, “I am a Sehajdhari Sikh. Just because we are not Amritdharis, no one can snatch right of being a Sikh from us. The SGPC, for its own political benefits, is throwing us out and Hindu organisations are wooing us to increase their numbers. We are Sikhs by birth and shall remain so till death.”