CHANDIGARH: Punjab has witnessed more than 100 incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib - the holy book of Sikhs - in the last two years. The matter became so serious that it emerged as an issue in the Punjab Assembly elections in February.
A report submitted by the Zora Commission, set up by the Akali Dal government of Parkash Singh Badal to look into cases of sacrilege, has been termed as inconclusive by the current Congress dispensation in Punjab. With the new state government constituting a fresh commission of inquiry, here’s a look at some major incidents of sacrilege and what the government did to curb them.
How did incidents of sacrilege begin?
The first incident was reported two years back. The Bir (a copy) of the Guru Granth Sahib went missing from Burj Jawahar Singhwala on June 1, 2015. Pages of the holy book were found scattered in the streets of Bargari village on the Kotkapura-Bathinda highway. It triggered mass protests and the police opened fire on protesters near Bargari. Two people died in the incident.
Despite a statewide outcry, desecration of scriptures continues in the border state. The Amarinder government has constituted a fresh commission of inquiry into the issue
Incidents of sacrilege have been continuing in Punjab.
* A few days ago, seven scriptures of the Guru Granth Sahib were found burnt at the gurudwara in Aulakh village in Muktsar Sahib. The jathedar (high priest) of the Akal Takht, Gurbachan Singh grilled the gurdwara management committee who claimed it happened due to a short circuit.
* In February 2017, torn pages containing Gurbani verses from the Sikh holy book were found in an open drain at Khalra village in Tarn Taran.
* In January, a few pages of the Gutka Sahib were found in front of a shop in Muktsar.
Which other places have witnessed such incidents?
Incidents of sacrilege have been reported from Kohrian village in Faridkot, Mishriwala village in Ferozepur, Ludhiana, Gurusar Mehraj village in Bathinda and Sarai Naga village Muktsar.
How many culprits have been identified?
The Punjab Police have prepared a report that states more than 100 sacrilege incidents took place since June 1, 2015. The police have been able to identify the culprits in only 50 such cases.
Why did sacrilege become a major electoral issue?
After remaining dormant for months, desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib emerged as a major electoral issue in Bathinda, Muktsar, Faridkot and Moga districts during the Assembly election. Both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party promised that if they came to power, they would re-investigate the whole issue and bring the guilty to book. The previous Akali Dal- BJP government was criticised for its failure to solve the sacrilege cases. It was alleged that they had a hand in these incidents.
What did the Badal government do?
The Badal government instituted a judicial probe into the matter. However, nothing concrete surfaced from the probe. Neither was the missing Bir traced nor were the culprits arrested. The officials responsible for the death of two youths who died in police firing at Bargari are yet to be identified.
What is the latest?
The current Congress government in Punjab has set up a new commission of inquiry headed by former High Court judge Ranjit Singh to look into cases of sacrilege. This decision was taken upon the advice of advocate general Atul Nanda, who indicated that the previous commission failed to identify the people behind the sacrilege incidents.
Is only the Guru Granth Sahib included in the inquiry?
No. The government, through a notification issued by the Department of Home Affairs and Justice, has included all sacrilege incidents, including those involving the Bhagwad Gita and the Holy Quran Sharif besides the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, in the ambit of the Ranjit Singh Commission’s terms of reference. The new commission, set up under Section 11 of the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952, has a tenure of six months.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is sacrilege?
A violation or bad treatment of a sacred object or a holy book. When sacrilege is verbal, it is called blasphemy and when it is physical, it is known as desecration. Approaching a sacred place without permission may also be treated as sacrilege.
What is the punishment for sacrilege in Punjab?
Last year in March, the Punjab Assembly passed a bill that seeks life imprisonment for causing damage or sacrilege to the Guru Granth Sahib with an intention to hurt the religious feelings of people. Earlier the period of imprisonment for offenders was two years.
Which other scriptures have been subjected to sacrilege?
* In September 2016, torn pages of the Bhagwad Gita were found in a canal near Jalandhar.
* In June 2016, torn pages of the Quran were reportedly found in a drain in front of the cemetery. The Punjab Police arrested Delhi AAP legislator Naresh Yadav in connection with the incident. He was later released on bail.
* In 2015, torn pages of the Ramayana and the Bhagwad Gita were found in a street in the Chander Nagar area of Ludhiana.
When was the Guru Granth Sahib written?
The Adi Granth, the first rendition, was compiled by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan (1563-1606). Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, added all the 115 hymns of his predecessor Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, to the Adi Granth and affirmed the text as his successor.
How should the Guru Granth Sahib be treated?
The Guru Granth Sahib is given the same respect that is shown to human gurus during their lifetime.
* In a Gurdwara, it is put to bed in its own room every evening.
* At the beginning of the day the granthi, and any other Sikh present, lead a procession to carry the Guru Granth Sahib to its position on the Manji Sahib (a small platform on which the Guru Granth Sahib is placed) in the Diwan hall (the room where worship takes place) of the gurudwara.
* The Guru Granth Sahib is never placed on the ground. Sikhs never turn their back on it.
* While the Guru Granth Sahib is being read, the Granthi (the appointed reader of the scripture) waves a special fan, called a chauri, over the pages.