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The Punjab cabinet has approved a proposal to amend the Sikh Gurdwara Act to permit the unrestricted broadcast of Gurbani. All there is to know

Monday, the chief minister of Punjab, Bhagwant Mann, announced that the state cabinet had approved a proposal to amend the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925 to guarantee “free telecast rights” for Gurbani from the Golden Temple. The action has sparked outrage in the state and prompted opposition parties to oppose the Aam Aadmi Party-led state government.

Mann has also stated that the Punjab administration will introduce a bill to amend the law in the state assembly.

According to an official statement, Mann stated that the 2023 Sikh Gurdwara (Amendment) Act would eventually lead to the elimination of the modern-day masands’ control over the broadcast of the sacrosanct Gurbani on free-to-air television. Mann added that the cabinet had approved the addition of Section 125 A to the Sikh Gurdwara Act, and as a result, the government will charge the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) with ensuring the “free to air” live broadcast of the sacred Gurbani from the Golden Temple.

What is Gurbani?

Gurbani means the word of the Guru (teacher), which is frequently a sung message.

Sikhism’s sacred literature is Gurbani. It refers to a compilation of compositions by Sikh Gurus and other authors of Guru Granth Sahib. It is memorialised in the sacred scripture as hymns.

What will change with the new amendment?

Private news-and-entertainment channel PTC network has had the broadcasting rights to Gurbani from Sri Harmandar Sahib or the Golden Temple for years. The Golden Temple has broadcast Gurbani in the morning and evening since 1998.

According to NDTV, the PTC network compensates the SGPC 2 crores annually for this service. The SGPC manages the Golden Temple.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has stakes in PTC, has been accused of monopolising the Gurbani television broadcast on multiple occasions.

Next month, the contract for Gurbani Broadcasting will expire, and the SGPC is in the process of renewing it. Last month, the prime minister offered to pay all expenses for the free telecast of Gurbani across all channels. However, SGPC president Harjinder Singh Dhami announced plans to solicit bids for telecast rights.

Mann has been an outspoken critic of the SGPC head for granting rights to a single channel, and he has offered to cover the costs of broadcasting the Gurbani on all channels for free.

SGPC opposes the move

In opposition, the SGPC asserted that the state administration could not amend the Act.

Harjinder Singh Dhami, chief of the SGPC, tweeted in Punjabi, “Chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann ji, do not confound the religious affairs of the Sikhs. The governments have no authority to meddle in Sikh affairs.”

“You are proposing amending the Sikh Gurdwaras Act in order to add a new section. But this can only be done by the central government, and then only on the recommendation of the Sikh-elected SGPC,” he added. Maryada (the Sikh code of conduct) is paramount in the broadcast of Gurbani, according to the head of the SGPC.

Opposition parties react to the move

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has also strongly opposed the government’s action. “Amending the Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 is unconstitutional because Parliament enacted it,” said Daljit Singh Cheema, a spokesperson for the Sikhs Against the Dictatorship, who claimed that the government was interfering in religious matters.

“The Sikhs will not tolerate the decision made at the direction of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal,” he added.

Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu praised the chief minister’s action by tweeting, “Sarb Sanjhi Gurbaani… means for everyone without distinction…This was a dream of millions of Sikhs around the world, including myself… commendable endeavour @BhagwantMann …Kudos.”.

The leader of the Congress, Sukhpal Khaira, blasted Chief Minister Mann and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. “What a sad day for Sikhs as a government of @BhagwantMann consisting of no Amritdhari Sikh (Baptised) and run from Delhi by leaders like @ArvindKejriwal who himself claims to be an ardent follower of RSS ideology will now decide the fate of a martial community of Sikhs and their religious affairs (Sikh Gurudwara Act 1925) that our forefathers achieved after immense bloodshed and glorious sacrifices! “I hope sense prevails over this group of phoney revolutionaries,” tweeted Khaira.

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