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In-Depth: Booked for blasphemy, US citizen questions SGPC’s authority regarding publication of Guru Granth Sahib

February 25, 2015 | By

Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee

SGPC [FIle Photo]

Chandigarh/ Amritsar: A US citizen, who faces a complaint under section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, has filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court challenging (so-called) monopoly of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for printing/ preparing Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib.

Thaminder Singh Anand of California on Saturday (Feb. 21) moved the high court against the SGPC, pleading that there is no law in Sikh Gurdwara Act which prohibits the publication and distribution of Guru Granth Sahib.

Thaminder faces Blasphemy charges in Amritsar:

It may be recalled that the SGPC had filed a case against Thaminder in Amritsar on November 28, 2014 for unauthorized printing of the Guru Granth Sahib in China and shipping it to other countries. The effectiveness of SGPC’s complaint is under question because of jurisdictional issues.

High Court Notice to SGPC and Punjab Government:

Aggrieved over this, he moved the HC seeking quashing of the FIR filed against him for hurting Sikhs’ religious belief (Section 295 of IPC). The case has been fixed for next hearing on March 30.

Hearing the plea, the HC has issued notices to the Punjab government and the SGPC.

Thaminder’s arguments (raised in his petition before P&H High Court):

“There is no law or clause under the Sikh Gurdwara Act which prohibits the publication and distribution of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The sole right to print conferred upon the SGPC is self-created right under its own code of conduct. Self-created right has no force of law,” Thaminder argued before the court.

In his plea, which came up for hearing before Justice Jitender Chauhan, Thaminder argued that the SGPC has no copyright on Guru Granth Sahib. Besides, there is no complaint or protest by the community that the religious feelings have been outraged.

The petitioner also claimed that since he was a US citizen, the IPC did not apply on him and Amritsar police had no jurisdiction to book him. He also argued that in the FIR, SGPC had not disclosed who authorized it to have the sole publisher’s right and under which “law”.

The petitioner pointed out that when litho printing was introduced, Lahore-based Munshi Hira Nand’s Yanta Yantaralya Vidya Prakashan and M/s Bhai Chatar Singh Jiwan Singh had published the lithographic volumes of Guru Granth Sahib and Gurbani gutkas. “Later, M/s Bhai Chatar Singh Jiwan Singh started publishing Guru Granth Sahib and gutkas in type printing and they are the pioneers in this field. Similarly, Munshi Hira Nand used to publish Guru Granth Sahib before Partition in Lahore,” he argued.

Arguments raised by Thaminder are objectionable:

It is notable that many of the arguments raised by Thaminder Singh Anand, especially those related to the status of “maryada” and “copyrights” are untenable and objectionable. As per Sikh tradition, Guru Granth Sahib is “Jaagat Jot” of Ten Sikh Gurus and even the Indian Supreme Court has acknowledged fact that Guru Granth Sahib is “living Guru” of the Sikhs and could not be equated with sacred Text/ Writings/ Religious Books of other religions. Thaminder’s arguments put his “intentions” under question.

Gurdwara Act 1925 and Satkar Act of 2008:

There are two enactments in Punjab that are related to management of affairs of Sikh Gurdwaras and the Satkar (respect) of Guru Granth Sahib. One is Gurdwara Act of 1925, which deals with Management of Sikh Gurdwaras and other is Jagat Jot Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Act 2008, which was meant to maintain respect of Guru Granth Sahib.

Gurdwara enactment – An achievement or source of trouble:

Sikhs in general and the ‘Akali’ leadership (including leadership of Badal Dal and other Shiromani Akali Dal factions) in particular, recognize ‘The Gurdwara Act’ of 1925 as a major achievement for the Sikhs. The ‘Act’ passed by the Britishers during their colonial rule in the subcontinent provides for management of historic Sikh Gurdwaras by an elected board called the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC).

The Act was result of hard and long struggle fought by the Sikhs during early decades of the 20th century. Though the many of the main leaders of the struggle called the Gurdwara Sudhar Lehar were not in favour of statutory enactment, the Act was widely recognized by the Sikhs and it continues to be so.

There were/are very few voices of concern which objects to the enactment (the Gurdwara Act) and puts rationale behind it under question. They are of the view that the Gurdwara enactment paved the way for government interference in to Sikh religious affairs.

Jagat Jot Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Act 2008 – a faulty decision of SGPC:

The widespread recognition of the Gurdwara Act affected the psychology of the ruling regime of SGPC to such an extent that they do not think of anything beyond the government/ Indian state tools to address the issues and Jagat Jot Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Act 2008 is major example of it.

To address the issue of ‘unauthorised’ publication and ‘sale’ of Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib by some publishers, the SGPC passed a resolution requesting the Punjab state assembly to pass a law ‘authorising’ the SGPC as only competent body to publish Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib.

There were certain genuine concerns involved in this issue as certain publishers (primarily M/s Bhai Chatar Singh Jiwan Singh of Amritsar) were preparing Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib only for their business gains. They were not taking due care while preparing Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib and this was also leading to “Shabad-jor Bhindta” (difference in written form/ words of Gurbani). Moreover these commercial publishers were not taking care of ‘Maryada’ (Sikh religious code of conduct).

Though there were genuine concerns behind the issue, the decision taken by the SGPC was faulty – for following reasons:

(1) Indian state, being a ‘secular state’ (or at least so claimed), has no authority to enact laws on internal matters of a religion. Therefore internal matters of Sikh religion were not subject matters of the Indian state, including Central government/ Indian parliament or any of the state governments/ state assemblies. So, first fault of SGPC’s decision is that it has surrendered a subject matter related exclusive jurisdiction of the Sikh Panth to the Indian state via Punjab assembly.

(2) The SGPC failed to take a decision in accordance with the Sikh tradition. Instead of initiating a process to evolve Sikh jurisprudence and frame standard norms related to preparation of Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib, the SGPC handed over the matter to the Punjab assembly. Now the organs of the Indian state are authorised to adjudicate upon matters related to this subject matter (preparation of Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib), and even the validity of the Act itself is do be decided by the Indian judiciary. e.g. If Sikhs are to raise an argument that SGPC was not authorised to surrender the subject matter related to the jurisdiction of the Sikh panth to the Punjab assembly, Sikhs will have to raise this point before the Indian judiciary; which means the final authority will lie with the state/ judiciary, not the Sikh panth.

(3) There are certain technical flaws as well. The concerns (referred above) were universal in nature, but the authority of the Punjab assembly’s enactment does not extend even to the city of Chandigarh, not to talk about other states of the Indian subcontinent or the foreign countries. So the issue widely remains un-addressed. If some publisher starts a printing press in Chandigarh or Haryana etc. and starts printing Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib the SGPC can’t do anything because the Jagat Jot Guru Granth Sahib Satkar Act 2008 does not extend to these territories. If SGPC is to invoke Section 295-A of the Indian penal code against such publishers, then it should be asked that why the Satkar Act of 2008 was enacted, because Section 295-A of IPC was already in force in al-most all states of Indian sub-continent (excluding Jammu and Kashmir, where the IPC is not applicable).

(4) As the issue was related to internal religious matters of the Sikh panth, the proper authority in this case was the Akal Takht, which has universal jurisdiction over internal matters of the Sikh panth. As many foreign states have already recognized the Sikh martyada adopted by the Akal Takht as standard code of conduct on matters related to the practise of the Sikh faith, any norms adopted by the Akal Takht regarding preparation of the Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib would have emerged as ‘standard regulations’ related to preparation of Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib.

What could be done?

Assembly enactments will not be able to extend any help in this regard. The Sikh panth should handle this issue within it’s own jurisdiction as per Sikh traditions. The Akal Takht Sahib should invite suggestions from the global Sikh community on issues related to preparation and transportation of Saroops of Guru Granth Sahib. There should be due deliberation on various aspects of the issue, ranging from spiritual to technical matters. After taking notice of suggestions made by Sikh sangat, various Sikh bodies, including SGPC/ DSGMC or other Gurdwara Management Committees and the experts’ advice, standard norm should be laid down on this subject under the seal of Akal Takht Sahib. Regional Sikh bodies should ensure the enforcement of such norms through available/ any possible means.

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