Following the attack on Bhai Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale, the issue of ‘Sikh Rehit Maryada’ (code of conduct) has come to the fore. Bhai Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale was attacked on May 17 by followers of Baba Harnaam Singh Dhumma. While Dhadrianwale escaped the attack, one of his aides, Bhai Bhupinder Singh Khasi Kalan was killed. Since then, supporters of Baba Harnaam Singh Dhumma have tried to use the issue of Maryada not just to justify the attack, but also seek amendments to the Sikh Rehit Maryada that was approved by the SGPC in 1945. From the recent incidents following the killing of Bhai Bhupinder Singh, opponents of the Sikh Rehit Maryada have made this reservation their weapon to oppose Bhai Dhadrianwale and defend Baba Harnaam Singh Dhumma.
Lately, along with supporters of Baba Harnaam Singh Dhumma, several of his opponents who also have reservations about the Sikh Rehit Maryada have been making claims that the 1945 document was not approved by the Panth, nor was it stamped by Sri Akal Takht Sahib, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs. These people are stating that Sikh preachers like Dhadrianwale “committed blasphemy” by adopting the Sikh Rehit Maryada and hence the attack was justified.
How close Dhadrianwale is to the Sikh Rehat Maryada is a different question. My point here is to discuss the relevance, importance, authenticity, need and aim of the Sikh Rehat Maryada which is being published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) for decades. The SGPC, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), Sikh Missionary College (Regd) Ludhiana, Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, and other major Sikh organizations get copies of this maryada printed in large quantities and distribute them among the Sikh Sangat free of cost. The sections of the Panth are fully dedicated to the Akal Takht and consider the Sikh Rehit Maryada as their base. In addition, several other organizations, including the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and even factions of Sant Samaj who have different views on some issues, are also respectful of the Sikh Rehit Maryada and follow it as a base.
It is a well known fact that this maryada was not drafted by any single person or organization. The Sikh Rehit Maryada was adopted in 1932 by a 50-member committee (including representation from Stockton (California), Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia), with opinions from 21 additional correspondents on August 1, 1936. Ever after it was adopted by the SGPC general house, criticism continued to pour in, however, the document has since remained as a minimum baseline for all Sikhs to follow. A few factions, including the Damdami Taksal, have kept reservations on some points. However, it is still prevalent that Sant Giani Gurbachan Singh Bhindranwale and Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, 12th and 14th heads respectively of the seminary, had a positive approach on this maryada despite differences.
Giani Gurbachan Singh commonly said that Taksal’s own maryada is not that of the entire Panth and the ‘Sikh Rehat Maryada’ is the common baseline for the Sikhs. While Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale stayed at Nanak Niwas for several years, and had the capacity to bring amendments, but he chose to focus on more important issues. Sant Jarnail Singh also used to forbid his students to impose Taksal’s own maryada at the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs. Sant Ji used to say that a single organization cannot temper with the Akal Takht’s maryada which is approved by the panth. A lot needs to be learnt from these Gursikhs, who despite having differences with the Sikh Rehit Maryada, understood the need for having a common minimum requirement for the Sikhs.
Today, the Panth is amidst a major chaos. We are lacking good leadership and have lost control of most of Panth’s institutions to political parties. What we need today is to get rid of negativity and bias and interpret the Sikh Rehit Maryada through a positive mindset. For example, one can question that the Sikh Rehat Maryada asks to recite three morning banis only. However, we can also interpret this statement to state that a Sikh must recite at least three banis, and there is no limit to recite extra banis.
The Sikh Rehat Maryada should be considered a “common minimum programme”, akin to the process followed by political parties who come together despite differences. In politics, every party has its own ideology and position on various issues. When they join hands, they follow a common minimum programme. Similarly, every section of the Sikhs may have differences with others, still there are many points which are common among them. The ‘Sikh Rehat Maryada’ represents these common points. In a nutshell, the Sikh Rehit Maryada plays the role of the common minimum programme which is necessary for Panthik unity and integrity.
The issue of Maryada has once again been brought to the fore and we are fighting over small differences. Perhaps it is a test for the Panth to see if we can survive a Khalsa Raj if we were given power. If we were given power, will we allow others to practise Sikhi as per their understanding or will we force our views on others? We must remember that before the last Sikh kingdom – the time of Maharaj Ranjit Singh, there were misls which had countless differences, however, when they were attacked, these misls came together to defend the Panth. Are we willing to do the same?