Punjab Unrest 2015
1. What triggered the 2015 unrest in Punjab?
The Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, was stolen from a gurdwara in Burj Jawahar Ke village in Faridkot on June 1. In the third week of September, provocative posters against Sikhs appeared in Bargari village nearby. On October 12, several torn pages of the book were found scattered in Bargari. That evening Sikhs started protesting at Kotkapura town, around 15 km from Bargari, demanding that those behind the desecrations be arrested. While Sikhs insist that the torn pages belong to the stolen book, the police is yet to confirm that. On June 14, in a village called Behbal Kalan, near Kotkapura, police cane-charged protesters blocking a road. During the clash, police opened fire killing two protesters, both Sikhs, and injuring several others. From October 15, protests spread across the state with roadblocks being set up on numerous roads and highways. On October 20, there were more than 160 roadblocks in the state. Until Wednesday, that number had dropped to around 60. This is the first time in more than three decades that a desecration has led to state-wide protests.
2. How many cases of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib have been reported since October 2015?
After protests in Bargari village, six more incidents of desecration were reported from Sangrur, Ferozepur, Amritsar (rural), Taran, Ludhiana and Bathinda districts. So far, seven people have been arrested in five cases. Two cases are yet to be investigated. Sikh organizations have blamed followers of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda of being behind the desecrations. They feel that Dera followers were emboldened after their chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim was pardoned by the Akal Takht, for his alleged blasphemy in 2007. Both the police and the Dera have consistently denied any involvement in fomenting trouble.
3. Why did preacher Gurmeet Ram Rahim upset Sikhs?
In May 2007, the dera chief allegedly imitated tenth Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh during an initiation ceremony at Salabatpura (Bathinda). Akal Takht ordered him to appear before it and apologize. An unsigned apology addressed to Guru Gobind Singh sent by Dera chief did not cut ice with clergy and a directive was issued to Sikhs to snap all ties with him and his followers. Punjab police also booked the preacher for hurting religious sentiments. But in February 2012 just before Punjab assembly polls, the police filed closure report in court. The dera chief had openly directed his followers to vote for Congress in February 2007 assembly elections. Though SAD formed the government, Congress won a majority of the seats in southern Punjab where there are maximum dera followers.
4. Why was Gurmeet Ram Rahim pardoned?
In an unexpected move on September 24, the Sikh clergy announced they had pardoned Gurmeet Ram Rahim on the basis of a clarification he sent. This was criticized by a wide section of Sikhs. Although Akali Dal leaders insist they had no part in the pardon, the popular perception is that it was directed by Akali Dal bosses to get dera followers on their side ahead of the 2017 assembly elections. Akali Dal controls Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) which appoints the high persists.
5. Why was the Gurmeet Ram Rahim's pardon revoked?
After strong opposition from the Sikh community, including from the influential Punjabi diaspora, the pardon was revoked on October 16. Such a revocation is unprecedented in Sikh history.
6. How does the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)work and what is the Akal Takht's role?
The SGPC is a statutory body and its members are elected by Sikhs from Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh. The body manages historic gurdwaras. Also called the mini-parliament of Sikhs, the SGPC's role has expanded beyond simple gurdwara management. The Akal Takht is the supreme temporal seat of Sikhs.