A sewadar gives prasad to a devotee at Golden Temple. None of them is wearing a mask. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
A sewadar gives prasad to a devotee at Golden Temple. None of them is wearing a mask. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
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Amritsar: It’s not uncommon to spot long queues at Sri Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple, in Punjab’s holy city Amritsar. The queues, albeit much shorter, did not go missing even during the nationwide lockdown announced in March to fight the Covid crisis, and came back strong immediately after the restrictions were lifted for places of worship on 8 June.

The Golden Temple, the most prominent place of worship for Sikhs, now looks just like it used to do before the pandemic struck — when people won’t wear masks, there would be no social distancing, and no need for hand sanitisers.

When ThePrint visited the Golden Temple Saturday and Sunday, it appeared the temple and its devotees don’t see much reason in precautions, or the rules set by the government. There was no social distancing, face masks, or screening, and no mandatory use of sanitisers.

While the sewadars (volunteers) at the main entrance said the temple isn’t forcing anyone to sanitise hands or wear masks, devotees entered the temple in large numbers — in clear violation of the government’s social distancing guidelines that permit only 20 people at a time.

There also seemed to be difference of opinion within the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the statutory body running the temple, on the Covid guidelines to be followed. While a senior member of the panel complained that sewadars have been asking devotees to take off masks before entering the temple, other members said masks were not mandatory.

Meanwhile, Surinder Singh, honorary secretary of Sikh body Chief Khalsa Diwan, a central organisation of various Singh Sabhas spread across Punjab, died of Covid Saturday. The 66-year-old used to recite Gurbani at the Golden Temple. The public relations officer of Chief Khalsa Diwan, however, said Singh hadn’t been coming to the temple since March due to his old age.

The Golden Temple had remained open even during the lockdown, but there was no distribution of prasad during that period, amid far fewer visitors.

Asked about the negligent approach in running the operations, the temple management said all guidelines were being followed. Health officials in Amritsar said while several meetings were held with SGPC officials regarding people not wearing masks, all they could do is “request them since it is a statutory body”.


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Baba di kher hai, kuch ni hona

According to the management, the temple has been witnessing daily footfalls of around 25,000. This is one-fourth of the usual numbers, but still far from what the guidelines mandate — 20 people at a time, in staggered shifts.

On Friday, ThePrint found temple staff and devotees walking around the premises without masks.

Lack of social distancing measures as people queue up at Golden Temple. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Lack of social distancing measures as people queue up at Golden Temple. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint

Asked about that, a sewadar at the main entrance said, “Whoever wants to wear, can wear one. We can’t force anyone.” A second sewadar said, “It is a place of faith. No one can be forced to do anything other than express their devotion here.”

The temple wasn’t screening anyone either. A defunct walk-in screening model lay idle at the main entrance.

On the use of sanitisers, the first sewadar showed a bottle kept next to him. “Whoever wants to use, can use. There’s no paabandhi (prohibition),” he said.

One sewadar stood distributing prasad to devotees, without wearing a mask. Asked why, he said, “Baba di kher hai, kuch ni hona (We have our God’s blessings, god won’t let anything happen to us).”

None of the volunteers distributing prasad or Amrit (holy water) wore masks.

This is how the situation has been since the lockdown was lifted for places of worship on 8 June.

What the guidelines say

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s SOP on places of worship, issued in June, people need to maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet inside temple premises.

The rules also mandate wearing masks. Those who don’t follow this mustn’t be allowed to enter. It also calls for staggering of visitors in queues.

The Centre’s guidelines also bar distribution of langar and prasad. However, the Punjab government allowed this in a separate order on 10 June, stating that the permission is “subject to physical distancing norms and all Covid-19 hygiene while preparing and distributing food”.

Evidently, the Golden Temple doesn’t seem to be following any of these rules.


Also read: This Delhi doctor doesn’t wear full PPE when treating Covid-19 patients. Here’s why


What the local authorities say

The local administration never asked the SGPC to halt religious activities at Golden Temple even when it remained open during the lockdown. The police stopped devotees from entering only on 6 June, the Operation Blue Star anniversary, a senior official of the Amritsar health department said on condition of anonymity.

Dr Rajesh Bhaskar, the Covid nodal officer in the Punjab government, however, said the advisory should be followed at all religious places.

Golden Temple is located at the centre of Amritsar, which is among the worst Covid-hit districts in Punjab with nearly 8,000 cases and 300 deaths.

“Initially, there were multiple containment zones there but now there aren’t many, only few micro containment zones and one containment zone in the entire district,” said Himashu Agarwal, nodal officer for Covid in Amritsar.

“We have had several meetings with SGPC regarding people not wearing masks but we can only request them since it is a statutory body,” he said.

Difference of opinion in SGPC?

In a Facebook post on 27 July, SGPC secretary Kiranjot Kaur highlighted the lax attitude of the temple administration.

“I had gone for darshan with my husband and I wasn’t stopped once but thrice and each time asked to remove my mask, but I didn’t. I asked who had issued such an order,” Kaur told ThePrint.

“God has given us brains and I even spoke to the president of SGPC saying that we can’t be so rigid in this regard and health and safety comes first and that our religion doesn’t believe in any rituals,” she said.

“She said at best the ragis inside could be exempted when they are doing kirtan but how can the public coming from outside be asked to remove their masks, which is against any precautionary guideline during a pandemic?”

SGPC officials, however, maintained that proper hygiene was being maintained.

Kulwinder Singh, another SGPC secretary, said, “We are following all the rules and guidelines.”

Asked about the concern over masks, he said, “There has been some disparity in opinion within SGPC on this issue so it depends on a particular day, those on duty are in which group… We encourage wearing masks but don’t force anyone.”

When told ThePrint team was asked to remove their masks, Golden Temple manager Mukhtiar Singh said, “This shouldn’t have happened. No one should ask anyone to remove a mask.”


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28 Comments Share Your Views

28 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t see why so many sikhs are so upset about this report. If we are doing something wrong and it is brought to our notice, we should correct it rather than get defensive and take it as an attack on our religion. The Golden Temple is run by humans and humans often make mistakes. Nothing wrong in following the guidelines for the protection of our own community. In fact, as a leader of the faith, the gurudwara should set an example in teaching people to set a high standard of hygiene.

  2. For your kind information the management of Gurdwara sahib has been set a small passing area at the entrance of Golden Temple from where the devotees are passed under from the spray of sanitizer. So don’t give false statements about gurudware without it know

  3. This article is trying to spread hate and fear, I’ve been to harimandir sahib twice after lifting of restrictions, social distancing is being maintained to the extent it should be maintained.

  4. Why you shit people not visiting Mosques ?
    Stop Spreading your Islamic Propoganda, WORST JOURNALISM IS FROM PRINT.
    पता नहीं क्या कीड़े पड़े हैं तुम्हारे दिमाग में, डूब मरो बेशर्मो ।।

  5. If you are having quality journalist then please report on how economy of country has gone down, how people are committing suicides as they have nothing to eat. In sikh gurdwaras thousands of people have been taking langar without discrimination, they were alive due to langar distribution at gurudwaras. Why your article not mentioned this even once? Cause you people do biased journalism targeting Sikhs. These are same Sikhs who feed the people even in pandemic, they fight for your freedom at border, they grow food for you. Have some sense and act sensible. Stop targeting Sikhs and focus on rebuilding India’s economy and bringing to light the basic problems faced by Indians. Donot interfere in sikh gurdwaras.

  6. Aneesha Bedi.
    Very long article against Sikhism.
    1st of all check your name.
    Then search on Sikh maryada.
    Then think of your subject Golden Temple
    (Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib).

    I didn’t read your entire article, headlines were enough.
    Why this why that.
    Again you need to search again of whom your TALKING ABOUT.

    SHAME ON YOU.

  7. Bruh its SRI HARIMANDIR SAHIB AND ITS A GURUDWARA , STOP THE GOLDEN TEMPLE, THE GOLD ON SRI HARIMANDIR SAHIB WAS ONLY A TRIBUTE BY MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH TO THE GURU.
    AND YEAH
    IT IS A GURUDWARA
    NOT A TEMPLE
    THANKS.

  8. Ok, Do you focus on rath yatra in south , ganpati yatra, all were shoulders to shoulder, did you cover that story or episode, why on DARBAR SAHIB (not golden temple).

  9. I thought that Online Media like The Print and The Wire are not biased and show the real news but after this article which specifically targeting minority.

    SHAME ON YOU THE PRINT TEAM.

    Earlier I always support the medium like yours financially and over social media, now doubting your earlier articles and news posts too might be biased.

  10. Before covid 19 there were around 1 lakh people ate langar(food) daily at Darbar Sahib Amritsar.Then why you didn’t show any news about it.Now when you have no content you display about social distancing and want fame for this from government. Wahe guru

  11. I would like to suggest journalists to focus on GDP china related issues and farmer bills. Not on this and this is Sachkhand Shri Harminder sahib nt Golden temple. Stupid fellow

  12. I’m amazed at how disgusting and distasteful this kind of reporting by this so called “journalist” can be- well to me I call it irresponsible journalism. Mind you Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib was the first Gurdwara to impose wearing masks and sanitising their premises while sanitisers are given at the entrance. Shameful reporting.

  13. I’m also punjabi but reading these msg gives me a thought that there are large no. of illiterate people who don’t care about themselves and others…and also they are fighting over name temple or gurudwara…God teaches us not to hate but here these people are setting up very bad example…shame on you…

  14. Very right n true. By the way Gurudwara in English the word temple is right. But this Journalist article shows a fragrance of jealousy.

  15. Dear Miss bedi,

    As per the rules in Sikhism no man or woman should do parda on gurdwaras and you cannot just target one religion print never goes to mosques and ask them to maintain distanc

  16. People came here for peace of their soul. If u have fear to get corona do came at golden temple .No one is inviting u to come there . So pls mind your own business.

  17. First of all it is not a temple. Its a Gurudwara, be respectful please. And second, if the print has so much time to visit Darbar Sahib during this or get the news in any manner, then why aren’t your “Quality Journalists” doing something about the falling economy, border disputes, farmers bill, climate change & corruption.

  18. Hell with your system and hell with your guidelines. Mahakaal takes care of us! And faith is and will be superior to any bloody pandemic or other crap. Stop scaring and controlling the people.

  19. Before covid 19 there were around 1 lakh people ate langar(food) daily at Darbar Sahib Amritsar.Then why you didn’t show any news about it.Now when you have no content you display about social distancing and want fame for this from government.
    #Soldmedia..

  20. This should not happen. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and the last thing we need now is being at risk.
    Being the Akal Takht for Sikhs, I did not expect this from the Golden Temple. Also, I congratulate and thank The Print for doing reporting of such matters very fearlessly, in times when most media have focused on other irrelevant issues.

  21. Why are you writing a Gurudwara as ‘Temple’. There is nothing officially as ‘Golden temple’, the real name is Darbar Sahib Gurudwara.
    And if your logic is that all place of worship in India are temple then from next time call out the names of mosques as Babri Temple, Jama temple..

  22. Very good example of leaving natural & tedious things to God. Fate is fate. and faith is faith. if you believe deep within nothing bad gonna happen, then superpower too helps you.

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