Sikh groups want a ban on religious sect

Unholy row
The Week (India), Sep. 1, 2002
Vijaya Pushkarna

Fifteen years ago Ashutosh set up the Divya Jyoti Jagriti Sansthan in Punjab, at a time when terrorists were calling the shots. His sect is known as the Noormahalias and they say that what they preach is no different from mainstream Sikhism. They believe that, as in Sikhism, there is no guru after Guru Gobind Singh and the Granth Sahib alone guides the community.

Yet, sparks flew recently when a sect preacher Shradhanand lashed out at the Khalsas during a function in Tarn Taran. Adding fuel to fire was his labelling of the sect’s headquarters at Noormahal near Jalandhar as ‘God’s abode’.

In the centre followers have put up a picture of Baba Ashutosh and are worshipping him, which Sikh bodies say, goes against the tenets of Sikhism. Many Sikhs, in fact, feel that the sect is on a confrontation path with them.

Sikh bodies including the radical All India Sikh Students’ Federation have been demanding a ban on “anti Panthic forces” represented by Ashutosh Baba. Led by the Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti, these bodies have told the government that they would launch a violent agitation unless these sects are banned.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has played it safe by referring the matter to a committee comprising scholars from the Guru Nanak Dev University and Punjab University, headed by N.S. Rattan, secretary of higher education.

Inevitably, politics has reared its ugly head. Gurucharan Singh Tohra, head of the All India Shiromani Akali Dal, has blamed former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for the meteoric rise of Ashutosh Baba. Badal, he said, allotted funds to build a two kilometre road and a 66 kw power grid near the Noormahal dera (centre). Badal’s younger brother Gurdas donated the two acres on which the centre stands.

Meanwhile, the Noormahalias insist they are a social organisation. False propaganda, they told Vedanti, had been spread that they did not honour Sikh principles and used derogatory words against the Gurus or tried to lure Sikhs to their fold. They handed over audio, video and printed material of the sect and said they were prepared to make changes if anything was found defamatory.

This is a far cry from the time of the late preacher Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the Nirankaris who launched an orgy of violence over similar differences. Hopefully, if the Noormahalias withdraw the objectionable portions a violent agitation will be avoided.

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