PATIT, an adjective formed from patan meaning fall, decline or degradation, with its roots in Sanskrit pat which means, variously, "to fall, sink, descend; to fall in the moral sense; to lose caste, rank or position," usually denotes one who is morally fallen, wicked, degraded or outcaste. It is slightly different from the English word ‘apostate', which usually stands for one who abandons his religion for another — voluntarily or under compulsion. A patit is one who commits a religious misdemeanour or transgression, yet does not forsake his professed faith. He may seek redemption and may be readmitted to the communion after due penitence.
In the sacred literature of the Sikhs as well as of the Hindus, the word is normally used in the general sense of fallen or sinner as opposed to pure or virtuous. It often appears in composite terms such as patit-pāvan and patit-udhāran (purifier or redeemer of the sinner) used as attributes of God and Gurū. Its use as a technical term in Sikh theology appears to have come into vogue after the creation of the Khālsā and the appearance of various codes of conduct prescribed for the Sikhs in the form of rahitnāmās during the eighteenth century. Even the rahitnāmās describe transgressor of the code of conduct as tankhāhīā (one liable to penalty) and not patit. Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh (1787-1843) the poet-historian, appears to be the first to use patit in the sense in which it is now understood among the Sikhs. In ritu 3, aṅsū 51 of his magnum opus, Srī Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth, the poet relates a story, based on an anecdote from an earlier work, Gur Ratan Māl (Sau Sākhī), of a Sikh lady shaken in her faith under the influence of a Muslim woman, who is subsequently reclaimed. She is described as saying : Bakhsh lehu ham tumarī sharanī patitin pāvanatā bidhi barnī (we seek refuge with you [0 Guru:]. pardon us and tell us the way to purify patits). The Siṅgh Sabhā movement of the last quarter of the nineteenth century had reclamation of the patit Sikhs as one of its major objectives. Shuddhī Sabhā, an offshoot of the Siṅgh Sabhā, established in 1893, had as its sole purpose the reconversion of apostates, and reclamation of patits. By a patit was meant a Hindu or Sikh, man or woman, who had abandoned his/her traditional religious faith under Muslim or Christian influence. Also, an initiated Sikh who committed a major kurahit or breach of religious discipline, became a patit, while for minor breaches of the Sikh code, one only became a tankhāhāī or one liable to penalty or punishment whose misdemeanour could be condoned by saṅgat or holy fellowship after an apology, repentantly and humbly tendered, and/or a punishment, usually in the form of (fine) and/or sevā (voluntary service) and extra recitation daily of one or more routine prayers. Sikh Rahit Maryādā approved by Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee in 1954 after prolonged deliberations, retains the above rules without specifically defining the term patit. Its legal definition as inserted in the Sikh Gurdwārā Act, 1925, through the amending Act XI of 1944 runs as below:
"Patit means a person who being a Keshdhārī Sikh trims or shaves his beard or keshas or who after taking amrit commits any one or more of the four kurahits."
Delhi Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1971, contains similar definition except a reference to keshādhārī because unlike Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925, it defines only keshādhārīs, and not sahajdhārīs, as Sikhs. It states :
"Patit" means a Sikh who trims or shaves his beard or hair (keshas) or who after taking amrit commits any one or more of the four kurahits.
According to old rahitnāmās, as well as the Sikh Rahit Maryādā, the four (major) kurahits are (a) trimming or shaving of hair, (2) eating kuṭṭhā or halāl meat, i.e. flesh of bird or animal slaughtered in the Muslim's way; (S)sexual contact with a woman or man other than one's own wife or husband; and (4) the use of tobacco in any form.
Being a patit entails several religious, social and even legal disabilities. For example, besides being a religious offence punishable by saṅgat, being a patit is a social stigma; a patit cannot have his ardās said at any of the five takhts; and a patit cannot be elected to the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee. The Sikh Rahit Maryādā advises Sikhs not to associate generally with patit. Especially, co-dining with a patit would make a Sikh tankhāhīā. A patit who fails to appear before the saṅgat when summoned, or who refuses to accept its verdict could invite punishment leading to his excommunication from Sikh society. The power of excommunication however vests only in the Akāl Takht at Amritsar, the highest seat of religious authority, and is exercised in exceptional cases involving eminent persons and Panthic honour. Of course, the sanction behind such punishment and disabilities is purely religious, moral and social pressure, except in cases falling under the Sikh Gurdwārās Act.
W. Owen Cole