Chandigarh: The alleged “disappearance” of more than 328 saroops (copies) of the Guru Granth Sahib has pitted the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) against the Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Committee, a self-styled socio-religious Sikh body that polices attempts at sacrilege of the holy book.
The Guru Granth Sahib can only be printed and distributed by the SGPC, a 100-year-old organisation that manages historical Sikh Shrines across the country.
The controversy centres on the fact that the Guru Granth Sahib, considered to be a living guru, can’t be simply procured from the SGPC. It involves an applications process, inspection, and a ceremonial installation, with the SGPC also maintaining a register on the number of saroops printed and circulated.
In May, a retiring employee of the SGPC publication department, Kanwaljeet Singh, alleged 267 saroops of the Guru Granth Sahib had been dispatched without these being entered into official records. An inquiry ordered by the highest temporal body of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht, subsequently discovered that many more saroops may have gone missing over several years. The inquiry report was submitted to the Akal Takht in August.
The Satkar committee has since sought an FIR filed against the SGPC employees responsible for the incident, but the latter has said it doesn’t want any outside interference in the matter.
On Monday, more than a hundred members of the Satkar committee started an indefinite sit-in demonstration outside the Teja Singh Samundri Hall that houses the SGPC office in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.
Minor clashes were reported Tuesday between members of the SGPC task force, which handles internal security, and the protesters. The same day, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic), a breakaway faction of the SAD led by Prakash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal, held a protest at Sangrur.
Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa is the president of SAD (Democratic).
Meetings between members of the Satkar committee and representatives of the SGPC to resolve the matter remained inconclusive Monday and Tuesday evening. Some other Sikh bodies across the state now plan to hold a meeting over the issue Thursday to support the Satkar committee.
The SGPC prints saroops with the Golden offset press at the Gurdwara Ramsar Sahib in Amritsar, and stores them at Guru Granth Sahib Bhawan, from where they are dispatched on demand.
In May, Kanwaljeet Singh blew the whistle on the alleged unauthorised dispatch of 267 saroops.
His revelations led to a furore and the Punjab Human Rights Organisation, an NGO led by former Punjab & Haryana High Court judge Ajit Singh Bains, made a complaint to Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh and the Punjab chief secretary, and sought a probe.
A three-member committee was formed under advocate Isher Singh of the Telangana High Court, and tasked with the inquiry. In their 1,000-page report, submitted to the Akal Takht on 24 August, the committee said they had discovered as many as 328 saroops missing from the publication department in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
They also reported that 80 more saroops were burnt in a fire in 2016, an incident they claimed was played down by the SGPC. The report said it would be a Herculean task to find out how many more saroops had been missing since 2015 as the records had been maintained “very poorly”.
The report also indicted 16 employees of the SGPC, including chief secretary Roop Singh.
On 27 August, the SGPC executive committee declared that it will not only initiate action against the erring employees but also get an FIR lodged. While some of the 16 employees were dismissed from service, others were suspended. Roop Singh tendered his resignation.
However, on 6 September, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal held a press conference where he announced that an FIR will not be lodged as the SGPC executive committee had decided not to allow an outside agency to interfere in its affairs. “The SGPC is capable of taking punitive action against the erring employees,” he said, tendering an apology to the Sikh community for the incident.
Why the pilferage
The procurement of a saroop involves a lengthy procedure that starts with a written application to the SGPC by the person or the organisation looking to procure it. A committee of the SGPC then visits the house/place where the saroop would be installed. Once the committee gives its nod, the saroop is dispatched through five Singh sahiban and ceremoniously installed in their presence.
In order to circumvent this process, which takes several months, some VIPs and NRIs allegedly try to directly procure the saroop through the employees. “SGPC employees are only the small fish. References to part with saroops without following the due procedure come from the top, including Akali leaders who control the SGPC,” said PHRO principal investigator Sarabjit Singh Verka.
The Satkar committee, which has members across Punjab, tracks places that might have procured a saroop without the SGPC’s authorisation, and also instances of sacrilege. Their main targets are deras and mutts where the saroop is installed to render legitimacy to the dera or mutt head.
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