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Prof. Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD
Keeping in view that many Rehits in various Rehit Namae lacked logic and were contrary to Gurbani, a new Sikh Rehit Maryada, Code of Conduct, was drafted by the Rouh Reet Committee, appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) during 1931. The draft prepared by this committee was further discussed by the Religious Advisory Committee of the SGPC. After 14 years the Religious Advisory Committee submitted the draft to the SGPC on January 7, 1945. Consequently the SGPC in its meeting of February 3, 1945 vide resolution # 97 has approved to do additions and deletions according to the recommendations of Religious Advisory Committee. It means that there were some additions and deletions, recommended by the Religious Advisory Committee, to be done. However, it is not clear from it and elsewhere in the text, whether the recommended additions and deletions were done or not. It is also not clear when and by whom it was declared as a statute. I have not come across any such edict (Hukm Nama), issued by the Akal Takht or SGPC, where the presently circulated Sikh Rehit Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) has been declared as a statute for the Sikhs. In spite of the above facts most Amritdhari Sikhs were unanimous in accepting it as an approved statute by the Akal Takht and the SGPC, when I discussed it with them.
Now the question arises: If it is a code then it should have been written like a code and should be interpreted as a code (Code = a systematic statement of a body of law; especially: one given statutory force). Thus, it ought to be free from redundancies and uncertainties, and must not be capable of being understood in two or more possible senses. Unfortunately, it is not so with the present Code of Conduct, published by the SGPC.
In spite of above facts Mr. Gurtej Singh (6) has indicated his concern to protect the Rehit Maryada: "Shall we not discourage those trying to raise controversies regarding the Rehit Maryada, and politely bring to their notice that their activity, being grounded in subjectivity is detrimental to basic panthic interest." Similarly, in the recent 'Declaration' (4), the SGPC has urged the Sikhs to be loyal to Hukm Namae and Rehit Maryada without evaluating their authenticity and validity according to the Gurbani, science and logic. It appears that it was declared so that nobody could dare to raise any controversy on it. In fact, it would have been a big step toward understanding of Sikhism in its real perspective if the Sikh authorities, the Akal Takht and the SGPC had taken a decision to revise the 52-year old Rehit Maryada before it is recommended for strict compliance by the Gurdwaras and the Sikhs.
In this series I am going to open discussion on some codes to be considered very seriously by the SGPC and the Sikh intelligentsia for immediate revision and modification of the Rehit Maryada before the Vaisakhi of 1999, so that it is made workable and acceptable by the Sikhs of Science Age of 21st century and which can stand the test of Gurbani, science, logic and court of law. I am putting "court of law" here because there are many cases in the courts in the North America and UK due to fights between different groups and the code of conduct may become a deciding factor for the present and future cases.
If some codes formulated by the past famous personalities of Sikhism, like, Bhai Nand Lal, Bhai Chaupa Singh, Bhai Dya Singh (one of the first Panj Pyarae), etc., can be rejected about 52 years ago by the Rouh Reet Committee and the Religious Advisory Committee of the SGPC, then there are no reasons that the present Rehit Muryada, printed by SGPC, cannot be corrected or modified in the light of Gurbani, and logic, the touchstones of the truth. One can compare the views of different authors and the old Rehit Namae given in references 3, 5 and 7, with that of the SGPC to verify the above fact.
The modifications of Rehit Maryada should be done by a committee of eminent Sikh theologians, having some knowledge of science; eminent Sikh scientists of various fields, having some knowledge of Gurbani; eminent Sikh lawyers, historians and linguists having some knowledge of both Gurbani and science, under the command of the highest authorities of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee. I had put an emphasis on the knowledge of science for all the members of the committee because we are living in the Space Age and Computer Age (Science Age) where precision and consistency are the rules of success and without the knowledge of science and law it will be difficult to formulate a precise, logical, and legally sound Rehit Maryada for the Sikhs of the Science Age and that of the 21st century.
The end of 1996 and the beginning of 1997 have witnessed a number of fights in Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Surrey, BC, Canada on an issue, "Whether the sangat should eat langar with hands while sitting on a strip of a carpet on the floor, or with spoons (cutlery) while sitting on chairs with tables." During these fights swords, iron rods and other weapons were used freely. Chairs and tables worth thousands of dollars were damaged during these fights. Consequently, many men and women were injured. The police entered the Gurdwara to control the situation. The Sikhs of Canada from coast to coast hanged their heads in shame when this scene was repeated on the national TV news while reporting the incidence and the follow-ups.
Some say that the fights were over the control of funds and the other say that it was over the Rehit Maryada of eating on a strip of carpet on the ground. The irony is that the group that created trouble had control over this Gurdwara for the last many years and had been eating the langar on the chairs and tables during their tenure. However, they wanted to replace it with a system of eating on the floor when they lost the control of Gurdwara in the election a year ago. Thus, the replacement of chairs and tables in the langar hall may not be the real issue, the main objective might be the control of Gurdwara funds, reported to be more than a million of dollars every year (Hamdard, Toronto, January 24, 1997).
According to the Rehit Maryada printed by the (SGPC) in 1945, the code for langar is as follows:
English version (It has been tried to keep the translation as literal as possible):
If one examines this code carefully, one can easily conclude that it lacks the precision, the consistency and the legality. Because it is not clear from it whether the pangat is on a strip of carpet on the ground or a row of chairs or whether one can use cutlery to eat food or not. The philosophy of Gurbani that every human being should be treated equal (1, 2), has been invalidated in this code by declaring that only Amritdhari Sikhs can eat in one plate. Because addition of this statement in the code clearly differentiates the Amritdhari Sikhs from the others by giving them a special status.
Unfortunately, both of the fighting groups of the sangat of Surrey Gurdwara have compromised to arrange four rows on the strip of carpet on the floor for one of the groups of the sangat and 14 rows of chairs for the other group (Hamdard Toronto, January 24, 1997). This is also a clear-cut violation of the principle of equality (1, 2). This situation will build more hatred and tension between the two groups every day when some will be eating langar on the floor and the others on the chairs. Exchange of letters between the Jathedar of the Akal Takht and the executive of the Gurdwara of Surrey did not make much difference in the status quo of eating on tables.
A recent meeting of Sikh intelligentsia of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Kapurthala and Ferozepur was held in Teja Singh Samundari Hall under the chairmanship of Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Amritsar during March 1997 for accelerating the progress of Gurmat Chetna Lehar (Awareness of Sikhism Movement). In this meeting some scholars while discussing on the demand of issuing of Hukm Namae for Rehit Maryada and pattatpuna (cutting of hair) said that issuing of Hukm Namae has its own code. They said that issuing of Hukm Namae will not support the cause of Gurmat Chetna Lehar, for this, the consensus of the whole nation is necessary. Prof. Manjit Singh, Jathedar of Kesgarh also supported that issuing of Hukm Namae cannot be very fruitful for the cause of Gurmat Chetna Lehar. (Indo-Canadian Times International Inc. March 27-April 2, 1997).
It appears that a good sense has prevailed to take such a decision of not issuing Hukm Namae on Rehit Maryada and pattatpuna. This decision might have been taken because of the strong stand of eating langar on table taken by the Executive of the Surrey Gurdwara.
It might be that they have realized that it is time to revise the Rehit Maryada before any Hukm Nama could be issued to any person or Gurdwara for strict compliance of inconsistent, imperfect and legally very weak Rehit Maryada as pointed out by Prof. D. S. Chahal in his various published articles and the articles and letters sent to various journals (8-20).
Such marriages where one spouse does not belong to Sikhism are being performed by many Gurdwaras without any realization that they are violating the code of Anand Sanskar. This type of marriage is becoming common among the Sikhs especially in the Western world. Yet no Gurdwara has ever refused to perform such marriages and even no Sikh authority has ever raised any objection to the violation of this code. If "unmat walian" is interpreted as "Non-Kesadharis" or "Non-Amritdharis" then the violation of that code becomes more prevalent and serious one that has been ignored by many Gurdwaras and the Sikh authorities.
This code is being violated every day by almost every Sikh and every Gurdwara, because, neither any Amritdhari Sikh has ever stopped his /her dealing with their sirgum relatives, nor any Akhand Pathis has refused to perform Akhand path for the sirgums; and nor any Kirtanwala, nor any Kathakar, nor any Dhadi, and nor any Gurdwara has ever refused to accept offerings from the sirgums. Similarly, no Sikh authority has ever issued any reminder to the Sikhs or the Gurdwaras to comply this code strictly.
There are many more codes that are either being regularly violated in the Gurdwaras or have become redundant for many Gurdwaras and the Sikhs. Those codes will be opened for discussion in this series in the future.