It Is Becoming Clear That The SGPC No Longer Speaks For The Sikh Community

05 January 2016
On 1 January 2016, in an unprecedented move, the SGPC sacked four of the Panj Piyare: Satnam Singh, Tirlok Singh, Mangal Singh, and Satnam Singh Khanda. The fifth Panj Piyara, Major Singh, had retired the day before. However, by doing so, the prime religious institution of the Sikhs has turned its back on the community.
Sameer Sehgal / Hindustan Times via Getty Images
On 1 January 2016, in an unprecedented move, the SGPC sacked four of the Panj Piyare: Satnam Singh, Tirlok Singh, Mangal Singh, and Satnam Singh Khanda. The fifth Panj Piyara, Major Singh, had retired the day before. However, by doing so, the prime religious institution of the Sikhs has turned its back on the community.
Sameer Sehgal / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The Sikh jaikara, or slogan, “Jo bole so nihal, sat sri akal” is used in various situations. It means, “Whoever utters the following shall be fulfilled: truth is timeless.” Two parties are involved in the jaikara—the person uttering the first half, and the group responding with the second. The larger the gathering, the louder is the jaikara. When greeting others, Sikhs often evoke only the second part, one after another. Sikhs give jaikaras to show reverence and respect in religious settings; agreement and support in political settings; mobilize troops or express fury when attacking an enemy; and sometimes, as evidenced on 28 December 2015 at the Gurdwara Jyoti Swarup at Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, as a subversive tool to express displeasure, and silence an adversary.

It was the last day of the three-day Jor Mela, an annual function to mark the martyrdom of the two younger sons of the tenth Sikh guru, Gobind Singh, who were bricked alive by the Nawab of Sirhind, 310 years ago. The occasion was the speech by Avtar Singh Makkar, the jathedar, or the custodian, of the elected apex body of the Sikhs, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC). The congregation kept shouting the jaikaras and did not allow Makkar to complete his speech. It was a spontaneous defiance by the community of its highest institutional structure. In deference to the congregation's anger, Giani Gurbachan Singh, the jathedar of the Akal Takht, one of the five seats of power in Sikhism, decided to not address the congregation.

Unlike other religions, many of which are governed through one central institution, the Sikh religion is organised along a three-tier system, each of which acts as a check and balance on the others. The tiers include the five takhts (seats), the SGPC, and the Sarbat Khalsa, or the community plenary of the collective body of Sikhs. Since the community is large, the Panj Piyare—the “beloved five”—are chosen to acts as its representatives. The Panj Piyare are customarily nominated by the SGPC, and their mandate is to carry out missionary work.

The public defiance at the Jor Mela shows that Sikhism, the fifth largest religion in the world, is calling for reforms within its religious institutions. The subversive application of the jaikara by the masses in out-shouting Makkar comes from a long-felt need of the community to press for reforms within its supreme religious institutions. The act conveyed that the common people were not willing to be taken for granted any longer. It stung.

In October 2015, the takht jathedars reversed their decision to grant pardon to the Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmit Ram Rahim, who had allegedly dressed up as Guru Gobind Singh in 2007 and was accused of blasphemy. The pardon, granted in September, was heavily criticised, and the jathedars decided to reverse it. The Panj Piyare, who, as representatives of the community, can have a say in such matters, summoned the jathedars. When the jathedars failed to appear, the Panj Piyare directed the SGPC to replace them. The deadline they gave for this replacement was 2 January 2016. On 1 January, in an unprecedented move, the SGPC sacked four of the Panj Piyare: Satnam Singh, Tirlok Singh, Mangal Singh, and Satnam Singh Khanda. The fifth Panj Piyara, Major Singh, had retired the day before. However, by doing so, the prime religious institution of the Sikhs has turned its back on the community.

Amandeep Sandhu Amandeep Sandhu is working on a non-fiction book on Punjab.

Keywords: Shiromani Akali Dal Punjab SGPC Panj Piyare Prakash Badal Sukhbir Badal Jor Mela
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