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Intellectuals Question Jathedar's Power to Excommunicate


The Times of India, Chandigarh (Punjab, India), Jul. 16, 2003

"In what is seen as rising scepticism among the Sikhs, a group of scholars has questioned the authority of the Akal Takht jathedar [high priest] to excommunicate Canada-based Sikh writer Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana for his allegedly-controversial writings. Sikh intellectuals including Gurtej Singh, former I.A.S., Justice (retd.) Ajit Singh Bains, Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon and Maj. Gen. (retd.) Narinder Singh announced here on Tuesday that a World Sikh meet would be organised in Chandigarh on Sep. 14 to deliberate on the matter."
"A 21-member committee comprising Sikh representatives from here and abroad would be constituted within a week to organise the international meet. While demanding that Kala Afghana's excommunication by the Akal Takht be immediately revoked they said that it was against the basic Sikh ethos to excommunicate any Sikh. Gurtej Singh indicated that the Takht jathedar, on his own, had no authority to throw anybody out of the Sikh panth [community]. In normal course, a sarbat Khalsa [community gathering] should have been called to discuss the matter and consensus built in the panth for any action to be taken against any Sikh. Akal Takht jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti himself had been under a cloud for his controversial actions and it is, therefore, preposterous on his part to excommunicate a Sikh scholar even after he [Kala Afghana] had furnished explanations to all objections raised about his works."
"Dhillon said there was an urgent need to debate the role of jathedars and other priests in Sikhism. 'Their role should traditionally be confined to carrying out religious chores and not to pontificate on Sikhism as such,' he said. He asked what kind of authority does a jathedar possess that allows him to expel any Sikh out of the community? He revealed that the all-India Sikh Gurdwaras Act was silent on the appointment of jathedars, leave aside the powers that they exercise. The scholars also questioned the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee [S.G.P.C.] for becoming the representative of the entire Sikh community. 'The Sikhs are spread all over the world, whereas the S.G.P.C. represents the Sikhs only in Punjab, Haryana and H.P.,' he added. The S.G.P.C., he said, must confine itself to managing the gurdwaras [Sikh places of worship] and desist from taking theological decisions."