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Inder Singh Ghagga Excommunicated
By PUNEET SINGH LAMBA
The Sikh Times, Boston, Oct. 23, 2006
Photo: Inder Singh Ghagga
Photo: Kulbir Singh (second from extreme left) and Inder Singh Ghagga (extreme right)
Photo: Brawl triggered by Inder Singh Ghagga's speech at a gurdwara in Brampton, Ontario, Canada
Inder Singh Ghagga, a former professor of the Sikh Missionary College, Ludhiana, appears to have courted controversy with the publication of his recent book Sada Berra Eon Garkia (Misrepresentations in Sikhism), Patiala: Fateh Publications, 2005.
Inder's willingness to discuss the book appears to have fueled the controversy instead of bringing matters to an amicable conclusion.
As a result, The Tribune (Chandigarh) reported yesterday that Inder, along with several of his associates, has been excommunicated by Joginder Singh Vedanti, jathedar (chief) of the Akal Takht (the apex Sikh authority). The Akal Takht's action is highly reminiscent of Gurbakhsh Singh Kala Afghana's excommunication in 2003.
It appears that the controversy began to escalate after Inder's appearance at a gurdwara in Brampton, Ontario, where his speech was followed by harsh exchanges and perhaps some violence between Inder's supporters and other parties present at the gurdwara.
According to a video posted on YouTube.com by RaklaB on October 8, the violence was initiated by those who wished to silence Inder. Fists were thrown and turbans came off during the brawl that erupted during Inder's speech. The breaking point was apparently Inder's reference to Damdami Taksal's insistence, until very recently, that Jarnail Singh Bhinranwale did not die during Operation Bluestar in 1984 and was still alive.
Apparently, two weeks following the exchanges at the gurdwara, agreement was reached to discuss matters on September 27, 2006 at Gurdwara Tapoban Sahib, Brampton, Ontario (http://www.tapoban.org/).
Subsequently, another discussion was scheduled for October 1, 2006 at 9 a.m., apparently moderated by a neutral Sikh third party in the basement of a home. The discussion finally kicked off at 1 p.m. and lasted several hours. This discussion was video recorded. The following report is based on a viewing of the video recordings.
The format of the discussion was such that only two individuals were officially permitted to speak. The two were Inder himself and one Kulbir Singh, representing a group from Gurdwara Tapoban Sahib. Kulbir and many of his supporters were dressed in blue Akhand Kirtani Jatha (A.K.J.)-style turbans with the khandas (Khalsa emblems) attached on the front.
Inder started off by lamenting that although he had raised some four hundred points in his writings, minor critiques were being used to distract from the primary thrust of his book.
Guru Arjan's Martyrdom
The first issue raised was Inder's assertion that Guru Arjan must have lost consciousness during torture by the Mughals because, despite his substantial mental prowess, the Guru after all had a human body and all human bodies are naturally subject to pain. Inder clarified that he wasn't quoting any reference and that this was purely his own personal opinion.
Kulbir objected that a Sikh could scarcely be expected to seek support from the Guru during difficult times if the Guru himself was thought to be too weak to withstand torture.
Inder pointed out that a distinction ought to be made between the Guru and Akal Purakh (God). Kulbir seemed unable to draw the distinction.
Inder contended that if Guru Arjan had supernatural powers to resist torture he would have used those powers to change the minds of the Mughal rulers in order to prevent them from persecuting the Sikhs in the first place.
Further, Inder expressed objection to fantastic claims in Santokh Singh's hagiographical Suraj Parkash (1844) that Guru Angad's feet developed leprosy when Guru Nanak set his forehead at Guru Angad's feet upon appointing Angad as Guru. Inder explained that Suraj Parkash claims that this leprosy continued until the fifth Guru, Arjan, wiped Guru Nanak's son Sri Chand's feet with his beard.
Inder also objected to stories about people drinking the eighth Guru's charan-amrit (foot-wash) to cure chechak (small pox), especially given that Guru Harkrishan himself is said to have died of small pox.
Inder offered these examples to establish that his claim that Guru Angad must have lost consciousness during torture was no more blasphemous than well-accepted stories such as these suggesting that Guru Harkrishan himself died of small pox when Gurus were generally seen to be curing small pox.
Kulbir retorted, 'two wrongs don't make a right.'
Inder defended his right to cite his opinions without reference. He mentioned that Santokh Singh and many others also did not cite any references to support the views expressed in their writings.
After Kulbir repeatedly pressured Inder to remove from his book the reference regarding Guru Arjan's loss of consciousness during torture, Inder finally agreed to consider rewording the offending sentence.
Guru Nanak and Halal Meat
Next, Kulbir raised an objection to Inder's view that Guru Nanak could not have refused halal meat during his travels to Mecca. Inder argued that Guru Nanak would have had to follow Muslim norms and eaten out of shared utensils in order to join the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
On the topic of meat eating, Inder contended that it was foolishness to discuss the topic since the Guru Granth refers to both those who argue in favor and those who argue against as moorakh (foolish).
Kulbir arrived at the conclusion that Inder's wording portrayed Guru Nanak as a coward who had succumbed to Muslim pressure and eaten halal meat and that the wording ought to be modified. It seems Ghagga was pressured into agreeing.
After all of the above, the debate finally reached the main topic at hand, i.e. Kulbir's objection to Inder's inclusion of naam simran (the recitation of a specific mantra or phrase) in his list of deceitful activities currently prevalent in the Sikh Panth. The reference was to Inder's essay 'Naam Simran Ik Gorakh Dhandha' (Naam Simran, a Futile Enterprise).
Inder clarified that his critique of naam simran was directed at the prevalent practice of parroting certain phrases and sentences without understanding their meanings or taking the time to appreciate their import. He said that the Sikh Panth should have been at great heights by now if the thousands of unattended akhand paths (continuous recitations) had been beneficial.
Inder asked why the Gurus had bothered to write such a comprehensive Guru Granth if it were enough to do naam simran and merely recite a choice phrase.
Here Kulbir's request was more extreme, i.e. that the entire essay be withdrawn. Inder was willing only to modify the essay's title.
There was no agreement and the discussion began to go in circles. Kulbir claimed that many of Sikhism's ideas were common to other religions. He said that what truly distinguished Sikhism from other religions was naam simran, the very concept that Inder appeared to be critiquing.
The crux of most arguments appeared to be Kulbir's unwillingness to accept an alternate interpretation of the words and ideas contained in the Guru Granth. He insisted only one interpretation was valid.
Inder emphasised the need for vichaar (contemplation) rather than naam simran.
As things reached boiling point, Kulbir insisted that Inder's attack on naam simran was an attack on the very foundation of Sikhism. Inder took exception to Kulbir's suggestion that Inder's essay had provided Sikhism with a shoe-beating. To his credit, Kulbir instantly apologized.
Apparently, the two had agreed to use Sahib Singh's interpretations as standard. However, at one point there was some disagreement when Kulbir wanted to use an interpretation by Harbans Singh.
Finally, agreement was reached that Inder would acknowledge in his essay the Sikh Rahit Maryada's stipulation that a Sikh must perform naam simran as part of his/her daily regiment.
Next, there was discussion on karaamaat (magical powers). Inder suggested that no magical powers were required since the Gurus had taught Sikhs such bravery that allowed a handful to resist hundreds of thousands of Mughals at the fort of Chamkaur. This, Inder emphasised, was in contrast to how a handful of Mughals had previously invaded and occupied a land of millions.
Inder argued that if the Gurus had alternate magical powers they would have used them to prevent all negative occurrences such as the persecution of Sikhs by Mughals. Kulbir responded that the Gurus did not use their powers to prevent certain negative occurrences for reasons mere humans cannot fathom. Inder scoffed at the futility of discussing matters that had been acknowledged as unfathomable.
Kulbir argued that Sikhism was against individuals using magical powers to, for example, grant sons to women. He asserted, however, that it was okay to beckon magical powers of the sangat to secure the birth of a child. Inder asked why former S.G.P.C. President Gurcharan Singh Tohra had no children and why current Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti has no son despite the countless prayers offered by them and by others on their behalf.
At various stages during the discussion, while Kulbir seemed inclined to beat a dead horse, Inder seemed willing to acknowledge that perhaps it was best to disagree and move on.
Even though Kulbir had stated at the start of the discussion that there was to be no winner or loser, The Panthic Weekly report on October 11, 2006 was titled 'Inder Ghagga Loses Debates to Panthic Singhs in Toronto.' The report also fails to use Singh with Inder's name.
Overall, the discussion was refreshingly civil despite some very controversial topics. Apparently, Kulbir's supporters outnumbered Inder's supporters and broke the rule of five attendees from each side. Despite that, for the most part, the gathering honored the rule to allow only Inder and Kulbir to speak. Although voices were raised often and tempers flared occasionally, the situation was not allowed to get out of hand. Inder, Kulbir, the organizers and other attendees ought be congratulated accordingly.