SHIROMAṆĪ GURDWĀRĀ PARBANDHAK COMMITTEE, a statutory body comprising elected representatives of the Sikhs concerned primarily with the management of sacred Sikh shrines under its control within the territorial limits of Punjab, Haryāṇā, Himāchal Pradesh and the Union territory of Chaṇḍīgaṛh. It originated with the Gurdwārā Reform or Akālī movement of the early 1920's, which lasted until the 1925 when the Gurdwārā bill was placed on the statute book.
The administration of Darbār Sāhib (the Golden Temple) complex had been, since the annexation of the Punjab to the British territory in 1849, controlled by the British government through a committee of Sikh aristocrats and a manager (sarbarāh) appointed by the British deputy commissioner of Amritsar district. The committee and the sarbarāh, are tired risāldār major and honorary captain of the Indian army, Arūṛ Siṅgh were anathematized among Sikhs for their association with the Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh tragedy.
On 12 October 1920, the Khālsā Barādarī, an organization of Sikhs from backward classes, held a dīvān (religious assembly) in Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh at which some teachers and students of the Khālsā College were also present. A large number of new entrants were initiated into the Khālsā Brotherhood by administering to them the rites of the Khālsā. As the ceremony concluded, the entire saṅgat went to the Golden Temple to offer kaṛāh prasād and ardās.
The clergy at first refused to accept the offerings from the so-called untouchables, but later agreed when on a reference being made to the holy book, a hymn which was read out instantaneously favoured the reformists' views. The saṅgat then went to the Akal Takht, honoured as the highest seat of religious authority for the Sikhs, to pay their homage. The priests on seeing the saṅgat coming fled leaving the holy Takht Sāhib untenanted. The reformers occupied the Akāl Buṅgā and appointed Tejā Siṅgh Bhuchchar as Jathedār of the Akāl Takht, with 25 volunteers to guard and serve it.
The deputy commissioner, on 13 October 1920, summoned the priests, the sarbarāh, and some notable citizens for consultation. The priests did not appear at the meeting, and the deputy commissioner appointed a fresh committee under the chairmanship of the sarbarāh. The reformers on the other hand summoned, under the authority of the Akāl Takht, a general assembly of the Sikhs to meet in front of the Akāl Takht on l5 November 1920 to deliberate the question. The government held hasty consultations with the Mahārājā of Paṭiālā and, on 13 November, nominated a committee of 36 Sikh notables for the management of the Golden Temple and other gurdwārās including the Darbār Sāhib at Tarn Tāran. The Sikh assembly held on 15 and 16 November elected a committee of 175 members representing all the districts, Sikh states of the Punjab, other Indian provinces, and Sikh organizations in Burma, Malaya, China and North America. It also included the 36 government nominees in the committee which it named the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, SGPC for short.
The inaugural meeting of the SGPC was held at the Akāl Takht on 12 December 1920. It appointed a sub-committee to draft the Committee's constitution. It elected Sardār Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā as president, Harbaṅs Siṅgh, of Aṭārī, as vice-president and Sundar Siṅgh Rāmgaṛhīā as secretary.
The Majīṭhīā Sardār resigned early in1921 to join the ministry set up under the Government of India Act, 1919, and Bābā Khaṛak Siṅgh was elected in his place president of the SGPC. The Committee was registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, on 30 April 1921.
Under its constitution, 80 per cent of the 175-member Committee were to be elected from different constituencies in the Punjab and outside including the princely states and the remaining seats were to be nominated by the elected members. There were to be a president, a vice-president, a secretary, an executive committee of 35 members of whom 19 could form a quorum and a 7-member working committee. In addition, local committees with paid secretaries were to be formed for the management of important shrines or groups of shrines. Conditions of membership of the SGPC included conformity to the teachings of the Gurūs, adherence to the injunction regarding five K's, and a subscription of Re. 1.25 per month. The prime functions of the Committee were to manage all gurdwārās under its control, cleanse them of un-Sikh and undesirable practices, to regularize expenditure and to utilize all income appropriately for purposes such as propagation of religion and education, upkeep and improvement of buildings and the running of Gurū kā Laṅgar (free community kitchens).
New elections under the constitution were held in July 1921. Bābā Khaṛak Siṅgh was elected president, Captain Rām Siṅgh vice-president and Sardār Bahādur Mehtāb Siṅgh secretary. Meanwhile, more gurdwārās were brought under the Committee's control, usually through negotiation and persuasion but also sometimes by coercion or use of force. The mahants often resisted strongly with resort, at times, to violence. The first such incident took place at Tarn Tāran where a group of Akālī negotiators was attacked by the priests with lethal weapons causing death of two Akālīs and injuries to many others. A far more serious tragedy took place on 20 February 1921 at Nankāṇā Sāhib where about 200 Sikh volunteers were killed by hired assassins of Mahant Naraiṇ Dās, the custodian of Gurdwārā Janam Asthān.
There was clear evidence that the mahants had the support of the government. This fact led to the purely religious movement into the political struggle involving direct clash between the reformists and the government. Two days after the inaugural session of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee on 12 December 1920, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal as the political wing of the SGPC came into existence. It carried out, under the overall guidance and control of the parent body, a series of morchās (1922), Bhāī Pherū and Jaito morchās (1923-24). The SGPC in this struggle maintained a policy of non-violence and peaceful, passive resistance whereas the government tried all means of suppression -- arrests, merciless beating, detention, summary trials, imprisonment and even firing on a peaceful unarmed band of volunteers at Jaito on 21 February 1924. Both the SGPC and the Akālī Dal were declared unlawful bodies on 12 October 1923 and all their top leaders and hundreds of activists were put behind the bars. The agitation however continued. Ultimately the government relented and recognized the exclusive right of the Sikhs to manage their own religious shrines. Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925, passed by the provincial legislative assembly on 9 July 1925 and implemented with effect from 1 November 1925 created a "Board", renamed Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee soon after (although the word Board still exists in the statute book) to provide for the better administration of certain Sikh Gurdwārā and for inquiries into matters and settlement of disputes connected therewith. This covered gurdwārās, listed in Schedules I and II annexed to the Act, located within the then province of Punjab. Later after the merger of the Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU) with the Punjab in 1956, gurdwārās falling therein were also included in the respective schedules vide the amending Act I of 1959, while gurdwārās lying in parts separated under the Reorganization Act of 1966 continued to remain under SGPC's jurisdiction. The Committee's control over gurdwārās in Pakistan of course lapsed on 15 August 1947.
The "Board", i.e. the SGPC, originally comprised 132 elected members from the Punjab besides head ministers of Srī Darbār Sāhib and of the Takhts, at Amritsar, Paṭnā, Anandpur Sāhib and Nāndeḍ, and 25 co-opted members from Sikh residents in the rest of India. Consequent to amendments made from time to time, the present composition of the Board is 140 elected members, five head ministers and 15 co-opted members. Twenty seats are reserved for scheduled caste Sikhs. The tenure of the Board, originally 3 years, is now 5 years or until the composition of a new Board. The tenure of the executive, however, is only one year. Delimitation of constituencies and the conduct of quinquennial elections is the responsibility of the state government. Every Sikh, male or female, who is more than 21 years of age has the right to be registered as a voter provided he does not trim or shave his beard or hair (Sahajdhārī Sikhs exempted). The first meeting of a newly elected committee must be held not later than one month after the government notification regarding its constitution, and thereafter a general meeting must be held at least once in a year. The quorum will consist of 31 members. The executive to be elected in general meeting every year consists of the president, two vice-presidents (one senior and one junior) and a general secretary (all these to be known as office-bearers), and between 5 and 11 members. The executive exercises, on behalf of the committee, all powers conferred on the latter which are not expressly reserved in the Act for the general meeting. All decisions in the executive as well as in the general meeting will be decided by majority vote, the president possessing a casting vote in the case of equality of votes for and against, provided that the head; ministers are not entitled to vote during the election of the office-bearers and members of the executive committee.
To adjudicate on any disputes regarding recognition of any shrines as being a Sikh gurdwārā under the Act or on complaints with respect to the SGPC or its committees or against any of its office holder or member past or present, a Judicial Commission consisting of three members is constituted under the Act. Its members must be Sikh lawyers or ex-judges of not fewer than 10 years standing. Appointments to it are made by the government provided that two of them must be selected out of a panel of seven names submitted by the SGPC. The expenses of the Commission are shared by SGPC and the government in the ratio of two to one. The Commission is not a court in the legal sense but a judicial body which substantially controls the functioning and operation of gurdwārā management. Cases before it are regarded as complaints and not as suits. It is permanently situated in a building owned by the SGPC, close to district courts in Amritsar.
Although constituted as a purely religious body for the management of gurdwārās, the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee with its vast resources (its annual budget now is around a thousand million rupees) performs multifarious functions. Besides propagation of religion including running of free kitchens, it runs a large number of schools and colleges, manages agricultural farms on gurdwārā lands, encourages research, printing and publication of works on Sikh religion and history, and helps victims of political repression as well as of natural calamities. It arranges visits of Sikh pilgrims to gurdwārās left in Pakistan and maintains liaison with Sikh organizations in other Indian states and abroad. It takes up with the government matters of Sikh interests or grievances. In this it collaborates with the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, a political party representing the Sikh masses.
The position of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee vis-a-vis the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal underwent a change soon after the passing of the Sikh Gurdwārās Act, 1925. Originally the Dal functioned under the control of the Committee, designed as it was to co-ordinate the activities of local and regional units of Akālī workers which already existed at the birth of the SGPC, and to mobilize and provide volunteers to the Committee as, when and where required. A confidential report of the C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Department), Punjab, dated 22 February 1922, refers to the Dal as "Central" Akālī Dal which appellation indicates its coordinating role in a federal set-up The Gurdwārā Act, while restricting the committee's field of action to purely religious, introduced an electoral system which needed an organ for politically educating and organizing the electrorate, which was supposed to be the real sanction behind the representative character of the committee. This role naturally fell to the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. As long as the apex leadership was common to both organizations, there was no difficulty for the two to co-exist. But as differences arose (and they cropped up as soon as the Act was passed), political activity in the Dal quickened. The very first election under the Act, held on 18 June 1926, was fought between a moderate group led by Sardār Bahādur Mehtāb Siṅgh, who had obtained their release by giving the undertaking of acceptance of the Act as demanded by the government, and others led by those who refused a conditional, release and were still in jail. The result gave a landslide victory to the latter, who rightfully claimed to be the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal. Thereafter it was the Dal which by virtue of its political strength controlled the SGPC. The latter provided the Dal with moral support and monopoly in the use of the pulpit on the plea that Sikhism recognizes no hiatus between religion and politics.
Ajīt Siṅgh Sarhadī