New Delhi, April 1 (CINEWS): On March 16th Rajya Sabha passed an amendment to the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925 to debar Sehajdhari Sikhs from voting in the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) elections. Sensing an opportunity Hindu organisations launched a major Ghar Wapsi campaign to bring the 70 lakh-strong community back into the Hindu fold.
While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) began a “village-level interactions” to “enlighten” Sehajdhari Sikhs, a little-known outfit called Hindu Nyay Peeth took to distributing pamphlets in some villages of Ludhiana and Bathinda reminding the community there that Hinduism is “always open” for them.
“The interactions have started in rural Punjab and soon seminars will be held at the grassroot-level to tell Sehajdhari Sikhs that they are no different from Hindus. The worry among the Hindutva groups is that with disillusionment setting in among the Sehajdharis, they may be ‘preyed’ upon or voluntarily turn to Christianity or Islam. “We have no problem with Sehajdharis remaining in Sikhism, if they get respect and rights but if not, they should turn towards their origin. There is no need to get forcefully converted to Christianity or Islam,” said Sukhpal Singh, national executive member, VHP.
The fiercely contested SGPC elections was mostly won by the Shiromani Akali Dal and its allies. The Bill is expected to come up in Lok Sabha this month.
The amendment is expected to cap a long legal battle that the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation (SSF) had mounted against the Centre, state governments of Punjab and Haryana and the SGPC. A petition on the issue, filed by the SSF against the SGPC, is pending in Supreme Court.
The SSF has described the Bill as an “RSS-BJP plot” to divide the Sikh community. Sehajdharis are those who follow Sikhism but without being Amritdharis, or baptised. They do not adopt the baptismal vows of the Khalsa panth initiated by Guru Gobind Singh. They might be born in Hindu, Sikh or other families but follow Sri Guru Granth Sahib. For instance, they describe themselves as Sikhs but mostly maintain short hair.
One of the pamphlets, being distributed by Hindu Nyay Peeth, states that Hindus and Sikhs are “two sides of the same coin”. Written in Hindi, it goes on to condemn the amendment, but says the exclusion has “strengthened the [Hindu Nyay Peeth] stand that Sikhs are “fundamentally” Hindus, and that the “doors of the organisation are always open to them”.
Meanwhile many Sehajdhari Sikhs aren’t happy with this new campaign and are insisting they are Sikhs, not Hindus.
SSF president Paramjit Singh Ranu said, “Sikhism is an entirely different community and not same as Hindusim. Sikhs are being divided, which is extremely unfortunate.”
When contacted, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said, “Hinduism and Sikhism are entirely different but Sehajdhari Sikhs cannot be allowed to vote in SGPC polls. Only Amritdhari Sikhs can vote.”
Meanwhile the BJP government has time and again made it clear that it favors anti-conversion laws in all states and at the centre too. Currently just Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, MP, HP and Odisha have anti-conversion laws.
Religious conversion has become a divisive issue in recent years. Ghar Wapsi targeting Christian converts made national and international news in 2014 and since then, there have been numerous instances of Ghar Wapsi all over the country. VHP national general secretary, Y Raghavulu claims 8 lakh Hindus are converted to other religions every year.
If anti-conversion laws are passed in India, would it also bar the Ghar Wapsi program? Would it cover ‘re-conversion’?