N E W S
February 20, 2003
On February 13th, Mejinderpal Kaur and Lakhbir
Kaur of the United Kingdom claimed that they were prevented by SGPC sevadaars
from participating in the seva of the procession of Sri Guru Granth Sahib
from the Darbar Sahib. The sevadaars attending to the procession prevented
them from queuing with the male members of the congregation. The sevadaars
said that they could not touch the palki sahib, let alone carry it. Only
male members were allowed to do so.
In a phone interview from Punjab, Mejinderpal
Kaur stated that the two were pushed and insulted by the sevadaars. One
of the sevadaars said that his livelihood was at stake if he allowed them
to join the queue. Mejinderpal was surprised that people were actually
paid to carry the palki when volunteers were always available.
As a heated debate broke out and the two
women argued about equality granted by the Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the
Sikh Reht Maryada with about five of the sevadaars, Mejinderpal said,
"no one helped us." Although there was a lot of sangat surrounding
them, none of the men stepped in to help them, and the women were perhaps
too afraid to speak out, said Mejinderpal.
Mejinderpal and Lakhbir wrote a letter of
complaint to Jathedaar Joginder Singh about the incident. In the letter
they also urged the SGPC to intervene to allow women to participate in
the prakash and sukhasan seva. The whole incident was particularly surprising
to them because they had seen taped interviews with Jathedaar Joginder
Singh in London in December 2002 where he stated that Sikh women had every
right to perform seva at Harmandir Sahib.
As the two awaited word from the SGPC and
the Akal Takht, Harbeant Singh, Secretary SGPC, constituted a two-member
inquiry committee, headed by Major Singh, chief gurdwara inspector. Mejinderpal
said, "We found out about this from the press, we were never contacted
to give our input into the matter."
Jathedaar Joginder Singh asked the SGPC to
take steps to resolve the situation, keeping in mind the sentiments of
the devotees and Sikh traditions. The Jathedaar was one of the signatories
to a 1996 directive allowing Amritdhari Sikh women to perform seva in
the sanctum sanctorum, but that sentiment seemed to be absent now. The
manager of Darbar Sahib, Ajaib Singh, said there was no precedent in Sikh
history allowing women to perform seva.
The inquiry committee did not find any fault
with the sevadaars' actions.
The women also stated that, "every Sikh
feels that since the Sikh Rehat Maryada has endorsed an equal status to
women there should be no second thought or need to seek counsel for a
second opinion. Any attempt to seek counsel on this question is a delay
tactic. We fear that the issue of right to do Seva by Sikh women is being
deliberately protracted to appease the opponents of this right."
Mejinderpal and Lakhbir have sought the help
of the Shiromani Khalsa Panchayat (SKP) and the Akal Akhara to resolve
the matter. They have also found considerable support from Sikh scholars
and intellectuals such as Jaswinder Kaur of Guru Nanak Dev University,
former SGPC General Secretary Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, and former Jathedaar
Darshan Singh. All have condemned the incident and are seeking immediate
intervention of the Akal Takht Jathedaar and the SGPC chief to allow women
to perform 'kirtan' and any 'seva' at the Harmandir Sahib.
But Mejinderpal Kaur and Lakhbir Kaur plan
to force the issue. They are taking the campaign for the Sikh women's
rights to do Seva to Chandigarh where they are meeting various Sikh organizations
to marshal support. They have also started a petition
for the cause and are in the process of mounting world wide support. Mobilization
in Panjab villages has also begun. They are looking for support from Gurdwaras,
organizations, and the sangat.
Mejinderpal Kaur says, "We want to approach the SGPC with a lot of backing" and ask that the problem be resolved. But they are not going to let this drag on for long. If the SGPC does not resolve the matter, a demonstration in front of the Akal Takht will take place on March 9.