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Stop Processions

Courtesy: Jagpal Singh Tiwana.

The Hindustan Times, Jan. 20, 2006

Photo: Khushwant Singh

As usual, Sikhs of Delhi took out a procession on Guru Gobind Singh's birthday. It was undoubtedly as great a spectacle as those in the years past: a mile-long file of men and women walking ten to twenty abreast. Punj Piyaras (the first five beloved converts to the Khalsa Panth) with kirpans drawn, brass bands, gatka [martial arts] groups, displaying their skills with lathis [staffs], swords and whirlers; the decorated palki [palanquin] carrying the Granth Sahib, followed by women singing hymns. Traffic came to a halt, shops enroute pulled down their shutters. It took the procession several hours to cover the distance from one historic gurdwara to another. Life in the city came to standstill for over six hours.

Every such procession costs the community several lakhs [1 lakh = 100,000] of rupees which could have been better spent building more schools, hospitals, etc. What takes place in Delhi takes place in all big cities where there is a sizeable population of Sikhs. It is repeated at least thrice every year (Guru Nanak's birthday, Guru Tegh Bahadur's martyrdom anniversary and Guru Gobind Singh's birthday). These processions have nothing whatsoever to do with Sikhism; they are not even part of maryada ­ a religious tradition.

I had often toyed with the idea of writing against our national habit of taking out processions which deprive thousands of their daily earnings and no doubt make people miss their appointments, trains, flights, and some, in immediate need of urgent medical relief, deprived of their lives. I did not do so earlier lest I be accused of being anti-religions and deserving of punishment by people who look upon themselves as guardians of the faith. They would ask for my head on a platter.

I brought up the subject very discretely when a few Sikhs happened to be in my home. They included Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, former cabinet minister and Akali member of the Lok Sabha [lower house of parliament], Tarlochan Singh, chairman, National Commission for Minorities [N.C.M.] and M.P. Rajya Sabha [upper house of parliament], Nanak Kohli, N.R.I. philanthropist, and Tavleen Singh, journalist. Tarlochan Singh spoke out: 'All the goodwill we Sikhs earn by sewa [service] and the langar where we feed thousands free of charge everyday is destroyed by these processions. They should be banned.' All the others agreed.

It would be foolish for any government to try and ban religious processions. It has to be done by leaders of the community. In the case of Sikhs of the S.G.P.C., jathedars [head-priests] of the Akal Takht and governing bodies of different gurdwaras. I am sure Hindus and Muslims will be shamed into doing the same. Then the government can come down heavily on political processions as well.