Punjab: Mixed Views as Akal Takht Chief Says 'Every Sikh Should Have a Licensed Weapon'

While many have criticised Giani Harpreet Singh's statement, some have also justified it, saying that there is nothing wrong in keeping weapons for self-defence, 'considering the state of minorities in the country.'

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Jalandhar: Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh on Monday, May 23, said every Sikh should possess a licensed modern weapon because “such are the times”, drawing criticism from many who questioned the rationale behind such a statement. Many experts also justified it saying that there is nothing wrong in keeping weapons for self-defence, considering the state of minorities in the country.

The Akal Takht is the highest temporal seat of Sikhs.

In a video message, Singh said, “Even today, there is a need, especially for Sikh boys and girls, to follow the orders of Guru Hargobind Singh. They should take training in ‘gatka baazi’ (a traditional martial art), sword fighting and shooting. And every Sikh should also try to possess a licensed modern weapon in a legal way because such are the times and the developing situation is such,” he said.

Singh was speaking on the occasion of Guru Hargobind Singh’s ‘Gurta Gaddi Diwas’. Guru Hargobind Singh was the sixth of the 10 Sikh gurus. Guru Hargobind was executed on the orders of Mughal emperor Jahangir.

Being the head of Akal Takth, Singh usually releases statements on all major Sikh religious events and also on issues concerning minorities, society and the country.

The Akal Takth head, in the video message, also said, “Sikhs should learn Gurbani, follow religious ways of life and stay away from drugs, which have ruined our houses, conscience and wisdom. The only way to stay away from drugs is by following the ‘Bana’ or the distinct identity in terms of clothing and five ‘Ks’ of Sikhism. This was the teaching of Guru Hargobind Singh.”

Singh had earlier given statements citing the mass killings of Sikhs in 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the attack on Golden Temple in June 1984. He had also cornered the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (BJP-RSS) for the vilification of minorities in the country, particularly Muslims. In 2019, Singh had demanded a ban on RSS after its chief Mohan Bhagwat had termed India as a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

The Akal Takth head’s statement incidentally came a week before the 38th anniversary of Operation Bluestar (June 1 to June 10), when the then Union government had not only demolished Sri Akal Takth Sahib – the highest institution of Sikhs – but also attacked the Sri Harmandir Sahib, the sacred shrine of the Sikh community.

Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann took strong exception to Singh’s statement, and urged him to spread the message of peace, harmony and brotherhood in society rather than asking Sikhs to keep licensed modern weapons.

Mann said that weapons don’t have any place in a congenial and harmonious society. “The Akal Takht head should focus on spreading the message of Gurbani which envisages ‘Sarbat da Bhalaa’ (welfare of one and all). It is the need of hour to ensure that hard earned peace of the state is maintained at every cost,” he said in a press statement.

Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring wrote on Twitter, “With due regards, humbly urge Jathedar Shri Akal Takhat Sahib to tell why Sikh youths need to get licensed modern weapons? Given the highest temporal position he holds in Sikh community, his call for modern weapons raises concern about any particular threat to the community.”

Later in the day, Warring demanded the removal of Singh from the exalted position for the sake of peace in Punjab. He wrote on Twitter: “The statement by Jathedar Sahib about arming youth with modern licensed weapons without explaining facts is mischievous and dangerously threatening communal harmony. I strongly demand his removal from exalted position for the sake of peace of Punjab, as he is the mouthpiece of vested powers.”

Also read: A Change of Guard Is Not Enough to Solve Punjab Congress’s Problems

What did experts say

Jalandhar-based BBC journalist Pal Singh Nauli said that after watching Singh’s video, it appears that he issued the statement keeping in mind the country’s current scenario.

“India has gradually become a dangerous country for minorities. Look at the condition of Muslims. The BJP-RSS created a narrative against the Muslims and then promoted it by repeatedly intimidating and beating them publicly. In such a scenario, it seems that Giani Harpreet Singh issued the statement after deeply thinking about all these issues. He added that although the Narendra Modi government is making desperate attempts to woo the Sikhs, but one cannot turn a blind eye to the treatment meted out to the minorities in the country.”

Nauli also said, “Giani Harpreet’s statement is similar to that of [Jarnail Singh] Bhindrawale, when he had told the Sikh youth to keep weapons for self-defence. However, the only difference is that at that time, Punjab was under the grip of militancy. Also, as per Sikh religion, it is customary for ‘Amritdhari Sikhs’ (baptised Sikhs) to keep weapons for self-defence and to protect the weak. There is nothing wrong in it.”

Another senior journalist and an expert on Sikh affairs, Gurbachan Singh, said that it is the responsibility of Giani Harpeet Singh to clarify the background of his statement. “I feel it is not wise advice. The Akal Takth chief’s statement can have wild repercussions. The real problem is that he issued this statement days before the anniversary of Operation Bluestar on June 6. Sikhs across the world hold large congregations to observe this day. So, Giani Harpreet’s statement holds more importance. He should explain what are the kind of dangers about which he made a veiled reference by saying the ‘time ahead is not good’. Already we know how central agencies remain on the lookout to foment trouble in Punjab. Suddenly the ‘Khalistan narrative’ came into the picture and Sikhs were being targeted. Issuing such a statement can actually prove misleading.”

Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, the granddaughter of Master Tara Singh, who was one of the founding members of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) said, “Who does not know how Sikhs were killed and attacked in November 1984? Had the Sikhs kept weapons at that time, the amount of loss would not have been so severe. I think that if law and order problems deteriorate, there is nothing wrong with keeping licensed weapons for self-defence. After all weapons are not toys. One needs permission and police clearance to use them. Also, as per Sikh religious history and traditions, it is a must for Amritdhari Sikhs to keep weapons. Even the Akal Takth pays obeisance to ‘shastra’ (traditional Sikh weapons). Weapons are not banned in Sikhism.”

Former SGPC chief and former SAD MLA, Bibi Jagir Kaur, also defended Giani Harpreet Singh’s statement and said that he was simply asking the Sikhs to keep ‘licensed’ weapons, that too for self-defence.

“Though it is only Giani Harpreet who can clarify in which context he made this statement, but definitely, it appears that he has no wrong intention. He did not issue an edict (Hukumnama) for the Sikh community to keep weapons. It is an appeal to keep them for self-defence. Considering how the drugs menace, murders and robberies are increasing, I think there is no harm in keeping modern licensed weapons. Media should also abstain from jumping to conclusions,” she said.

Later in the evening, the SGPC also tweeted the Akal Takht head’s video from its official Twitter handle.

SGPC chief Harjinder Singh Dhami refused to comment on the statement and said, “Giani Harpreet Singh alone can say in which context he made this statement.”