Red Herrings and Real Issues. The Case of the Sikh Rehat Maryada.

This Sikh Bulletin editorial discusses the latest attack on the SRM by SGPC board member Dr Amarjit Singh Chawla which is aimed at undermining the integrity of the SRM, attack it validity and create disarray within the Sikh world. Its chief editor Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD argues that there is a need to look at the real issues concerning the SRM rather than dwell on such attacks that have been existant ever since the SRM was formulated.

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By Karminder Singh Dhillon | The Sikh Bulletin |

The 1945 SGPC-constructed and Akal Takhat-proclaimed Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) has been under constant attack by the dera, taksali, sant smaaj and sampardayi factions ever since it was launched.

Nothing surprising here. All these groups participated in its formulation in 1927 – ostensibly to steer it towards serving their own agendas – but rejected it from the day it was proclaimed in 1936.

Their objective was to render the SRM still born. Failing which, these groups have attacked the SRM relentlessly, resulting in its severe weakening. The result has been exactly what they wanted – while the 16,000 deras, taksals and sampardayi establishments have rejected the SRM in total, those Gurdwaras and Sikh institutions that claim to follow it to the extent of having promised its implementation in their constitutions – too do not follow it to any meaningful extent.

This is primarily because the vast majority of granthis that are employed in Gurdwaras across the world – the custodians of maryada in Gurdwaras – are the product of deras, taksals and sampardayi outfits. In addition to that, a vast majority of “symbol brandishing” individuals who seek the posts of Gurdwara parbandhaks too are imbued in dera, taksali and sampardayi maryadas. No surprise therefore that the SRM has suffered an overkill. It has been destroyed many times over.

Why then is the “maryada-concerned” Sikh world surprised at the latest attack on the SRM by Dr Amarjit Singh Chawla? All Chawla did was to regurgitate the often repeated false assertions that the SRM was “not approved” by the SGPC General Body and exists only in “draft” form. How can a document be called final if it never went its draft stage, he asked?

Furthermore, Dr Chawla’s intent appears to be no different than that of the dera, taksali and samparydayi folk, namely of undermining the integrity of the SRM, attacking its validity, and putting the Sikh Panth in a state of disarray.

One reason for the surprise may be that this time around, the nefarious attack on the SRM is spearheaded by elements within the very organization that led the Sikh Panth over the past 9 decades in first spearheading the formation of the SRM and then in propagating, disseminating and protecting its integrity – namely the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

In all fairness, it does come as a surprise to many that the attack on the SRM is led by SGPC Board Member and one-time General Secretary of SGPC Dr Amarjit Singh Chawla. But that’s where the surprise element ends. In reality though, Dr Chawla’s act of condemning the SRM ought to have come as no surprise – at least for the following three reasons.

One, Dr Chawla’s reprehensible condemnation of the SRM was coordinated and orchestrated in concert with the traditional enemies of the SRM – the derawadees, taksali and sampardayi folk. The SGPC Board member was soon joined by a chorus of leaders – of the Jatha Bhindra(n) Mehta under Harnam Singh Dhumma and other dera, taksal and sampardayi organizations. The arguments are the same – stale and false assertions. The methods are the same – baseless claims. The objectives are the same – undermine the already emasculated SRM. The only thing different is that this time the orchestra is led by someone who is “supposed” to be a non-dera personality. Which brings us to the second reason.

Dr Chawla’s dera and sampardayi affiliations are well known – he has regularly appeared and spoken on barsi functions of deceased dera personalities and participated regularly in dera organized functions. The Nanaksar Dera is his favorite. It is therefore clear that this well-orchestrated attack on the SRM is the result of Dr Chawla’s convictions and affiliations with groups that have never accepted the SRM from day one of its inception.

Three, the SGPC of today is no longer the SGPC of 1939 – when the SRM was formulated; or of 1945 – when the SRM was proclaimed. Over the past nine decades since, the SGPC has been slowly and surely infiltrated by persons that are aligned with dera, taksali and sampardayi thought. The same can be said of SGPC’s primary institutions – the five Takhats, including the Akal Takhat. One hundred percent of the current 25 Jathedars of the 5 Takhats, and 100 percent of all the Granthis at these Takhats and all other major historic Gurdwaras under the control of SGPC are dera and taksali trained. Is it any surprise then that the governing body of SGPC, its executive committee, its secretariat and general staff are of the same mold?

At the time of this writing, the Jathedar of the Akal Takhat had yet to make any comment on Dr Chawla’s attack on the SRM. He must surely find it difficult to comment when one’s paymaster (SGPC) in involved.

Nevertheless, even if Dr Chawla’s reprehensible condemnation of the SRM is a rehash of old claims, a factual response has been considered necessary by, amongst others, the Sikh Missionary Colleges.

Lady Singh Kanwaljit Kaur, President of the Global Sikh Council (GSC) issued a press-statement aimed at informing the Sikh Panth of the basic and pertinent facts pertaining to the SRM as follows: namely that the genesis of the SRM was on 15th of March 1927 through the setting up of a sub-committee to mobilize the Panth towards its formulation. And that nine years later, after all additions and deletions had been made, the SGPC gave its final approval to the SRM by its resolution No.97 passed at its meeting held on 3rd February 1945. It is thus not a draft by any measure.

THE REAL ISSUES

The real issues pertaining to the SRM are however more intricate than the issue of stale allegations that are rehashed by Dr Chawla. One wonders if SRM supporting Sikhs create a fuss repeatedly over these stale allegations as a way of avoiding or at least deflecting from the real issues.

One real issue that is staring us in the face is the fact that the SRM is not adopted at the five Takhats even. All of them have their own maryada. The four taksals have their own maryada. One Takhat conducts the daily slaughter of a goat as offering – in direct contravention of the SRM and of Gurmat. Two Takhats have parkash of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) side by side another granth – something expressly forbidden in the SRM. How does one label the SRM as “panthik maryada” in such a state of affairs?

Then there are close to 16,000 deras which are basically Gurdwaras run by individual group or cults and none of them follow the SRM. The sant samaj of Punjab does not follow the SRM either.

The Darbar Sahib Amritsar which is considered the Vatican for Sikhism too does not adopt the SRM in the conduct of its most basic functions. The SRM has a stipulation regarding what can be sung as Kirtan. The Ragis at Darbar Sahib are frequently heard singing compositions that are excluded from the stipulation. The SRM stipulates that the parkash of the SGGS is the first order of business in a Gurdwara. In the Darbar Sahib, Kirtan of Asa Di Vaar precedes the parkash. The Kirtan is interrupted midway to do the parkash.

The reality therefore is that the SRM is adopted and followed by a minority of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions. Its rejection amongst an increasing number of non-dera, non-taksali and non-sampardayi Gurdwaras and institutions is based on a variety of controversies that surround its creation, process and stipulations; the primary of which is the fact that the very groups that are opposed to the SRM – the deras, taksals and sampardayi folk – managed to smuggle in their beliefs through the back door of the compromise that was needed to finalize the SRM. The outcome has been an SRM that is laden with provisions that are in deeply serious contradiction of the principles of Gurbani and Gurmat. No one can say that the postulations of the SRM pertaining to Nitnem Banis and Amrit Sanchar Banis is in accordance with the principles of the SGGS. How can it be when a majority of the Banis for both are from outside the SGGS?

Amidst such defects, the decision to adopt or not adopt the SRM is made by individual Gurdwaras and their congregations. The position amongst a majority of Gurdwaras is to follow only portions of the SRM.

Given such a state of affairs, the basic question is not whether the SRM is a draft or a final document. The primary question is also not whether the Akal Takhat has sanctioned it. These questions become moot when faced with the contradictions of the SRM with the tenets of SGGS and Gurmat.

The fundamental questions are therefore simply these: Is the SRM the accepted maryada of the Sikh Panth and is the SRM the practiced maryada of a majority of Gurdwaras and institutions. The overarching question is whether the SRM is fully and completely in line with the dictates of Gurbani as enshrined within the SGGS. The related question is: what are the options for enlightened Sikhs who are aware that the maryadas of the deras, taksals and sampardayi outfits, and the SRM do not conform to the principles of Gurbani – and that their contradictions are merely a matter of degree. Can the SRM become the choice maryada simply because it is less corrupted than the maryadas of the deras, taksals and sampardayi outfits? Is this a good criterion to justify making it the “constitution of the Sikhs”?

In line with the above-mentioned fundamental questions, the fundamental assertions are these: One, the Akal Takhat has lost the moral authority to propagate, enforce and defend a maryada that its own Jathedars are not affiliated with – in mind, body and soul. All of them are schooled in maryadas that are in contravention of the SRM. Two, Dr Chawla has just ascertained what was increasingly clear to the Sikh world – that the SGPC too has lost that moral authority.

One simply does not preach what one does not practice.

And one cannot be expected to practice what one was never schooled in.

Sikh thinker, writer and parcharak Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston), is a retired Malaysian civil servant. He is the joint-editor of The Sikh Bulletin and author of The Hijacking of Sikhi. This article appeared as the editorial of the The Sikh Bulletin – 2023 Issue 3 (July – September 2023). Click here to retrieve archived copies of the bulletin. The author can be contacted at dhillon99@gmail.com. 

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1 COMMENT

  1. This was an eye opener. Does anyone knows what are the exact ratios between the majority of gurdwaras who dont follow the SRM and the minority that do, in Malaysia itself.?
    Can the sikh public be made aware of some statistics and status of each gurdwara, in Malaysia?
    Is there a central governing body to guide our gurdwaras here?
    Why not the wise elders organise an academic and general national symposium on SRM and Sikh Principles and Practices?
    Why not have it at a convention centre, 2 day event, talks and festive activities too to help garner support?
    Maybe in conjuction with Vasakhi next year.
    Invite guest speakers from overseas too.
    English and Panjabi speeches.
    Scholars and learned people as speakers.
    Invite representatives from each gurdwara in Malaysia.
    Better if it remains a conference, and not a religious event.

Comments are closed.