By Gurmukh Singh | OPINION |
- Events after his demise expose shoddy administration at SGPC
- Caste is unlikely to be a factor
Award winning Kirtania of Sri Darbar Sahib, Bhai Sahib Nirmal Singh Khalsa passed away at around 4.30 in the morning on 2 April 2020. He was cremated 16 hours later at about 8.30 pm on the same day in darkness in a secluded land between the villages of Verka and Fatehgarh Shukla near Amritsar.
According to news report by a senior journalist, Jatinder Kaur Tur, after much hassle and running around to find a public cremation place, despite cremation facilities and much land owned by SGPC, he was finally cremated in land belonging to someone living abroad.
To quote the report, “Khalsa’s body was brought to the spot from GNDH [Guru Nanak Dev Hospital] and the cremation started at around 8.30–9 pm…. they discovered in the middle of the cremation that there was insufficient wood in the pyre. The villagers opened a sawmill in the middle of the night and supplemented the wood…..as it was dark, the entire proceeding was carried out to light emanating from car headlights.
Allegedly, even this secluded land belonged to a person living abroad. It is not clear if the village committee had the specific permission of the owner.
The sequence of events described is as follows: Bhai Sahib became ill on 19 March after Kirtan at Chandigarh. On 21 March his family took him to Sri Guru Ram Das Charitable Hospital run by the SGPC at Amritsar and he was given some medication. On 21 March, his family took him to the Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, run by the state government, in Amritsar.
For the following 10 days, Khalsa shuffled between the two hospitals for treatment. On 29 March, the family called an ambulance to rush him to the Sri Guru Ram Das Hospital. The next day, on 30 March, the hospital referred him to Guru Nanak Dev Hospital and it was confirmed that he had COVID-19. At about 4 pm on 1 April, Khalsa was taken into an isolation ward at the hospital. The great award winning Kirtania of the Guru departed for Sach Khand at around 4.30 in the morning on 2 April, 2020.
Despite frantic efforts by the family, following refusal to cremate at various Amritsar city and village public crematoria, the body was finally cremated in the evening in land between two villages, Verka and Faztehgarh Shukla.
Sadly, the whole episode was marked by chaos and reflected most negatively on the conduct of all concerned including the SGPC. Yet, after the event senior SGPC office holders expressed outrage at the Amritsar district administration and the residents of Verka for disrespecting Khalsa. It is quite remarkable that, according to them, they themselves learnt about the problems the family was facing only twelve hours after his death.
It is a matter of great concern for the global Sikh community, and a measure of the state of the Panth, that there are headlines like: A Padma Shri awardee from the Mazhabi Sikh community was denied cremation spaces in Punjab.
However, it is unlikely that caste was a factor in this mess up. After all, Bhai Sahib held a most respectable position as Darbar Sahib Kirtania since 1979. He was a Padam Shri awardee and would have been recommended for the award by SGPC or other Sikh organisations. Yet, the impression given by SGPC staff following his demise is that there is lack of any general planning, internal communication and control regarding such eventualities.
Admittedly, the coronavirus is a new threat, but death of esteemed Darbar Sahib sevadars is not a new event. In any case, SGPC should be better prepared to take immediate responsibility for own Kirtanias and sevadars.
These are the basic needs of any good organisation, especially a central Sikh institution like the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, reputed as the mini parliament of the Sikhs.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: email@example.com. The article appeared here.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Embrace poor Sikhs, urged Ragi Nirmal (Asia Samachar, 4 April 2020)
Renown ragi Nirmal Singh dies after testing positive for Covid-19 (Asia Samachar, 2 April 2020)