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SGPC Elections: Gurdwara Election Commission asks Punjab Govt to prepare voter list, Sehajdhari Sikh Party seeks clarification on who can vote

Notable, the last SGPC elections took place in 2011. For twelve years, the elections could not take place due to the legal battle over the voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs.

On May 27, Gurdwara Election Commission wrote to the Punjab Government asking them to prepare a list of voters for the Shri Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) elections. Notable, the last SGPC elections took place in 2011. For twelve years, the elections could not take place due to the legal battle over the voting rights of Sehajdhari Sikhs.

Who can register as a voter for SGPC elections?

As per the latest letter by the commission, only Sikhs who have attained the age of 21 are eligible to register as a voter for the upcoming SGPC elections. However, if the person cuts his or her hair, smokes, or drinks alcohol, that person is not eligible to register as a voter. At the time of registration, the person has to declare that he or she fulfills the requirement.

There is slight confusion over the matter for which Sehajdhari Sikh Party’s chief Paramjit Singh Ranu has sought clarification. He said, “It is unclear whether the Sikh women who remove their hair, including facial hair, can be registered as voters or not…” During a debate on News18 Punjabi, Ranu said he welcomes the notification as it would allow the majority of the Sikhs who are not Amritdhari (Baptised) but maintain unshorn hair and do not smoke or drink to register as a voter. However, SGPC needs to clarify its stand on Sikh women who get beauty services as it includes trimming hair and maintaining eyebrows.

Speaking to OpIndia, Paramjit Singh clarified that the question was raised by him only in the media. So far his party has not sought the clarification in writing. Furthermore, Paramjit Singh added that with the recent notification, Sehajdhari Sikhs have won 50 percent of the battle.

On examining Sections 49 and 92 of the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, it has been well established by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India that every person shall be entitled to have his or her name registered on the electors provided he is more than 21 years of age. Furthermore, it notes the same guidelines such as the person should not trim or shave his beard or Keshas, the person should not smoke and the person should not take alcoholic drinks.

Who can contest elections?

As per Sections 48 and 91 of the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925, while a person registering to vote is not bound to be an Amritdhari Sikh, the conditions to contest the election are different. The person has to be an Amritdhari Sikh above the age of 25. Being just Keshdhari will not be enough to contest the elections. Furthermore, the person has to be able to read Gurmukhi. That means he should be able to read and recite Shri Guru Granth Sahib in Gurmukhi.

Also, he should be able to fill out the nomination paper for the election to the Board in Gurmukhi in his own handwriting. If a person gets elected as a Board Member but is later found to be a ‘patit’ (a person who does not follow religion’s precepts), his election will stand void. Detailed guidelines for filing nominations for the elections will be issued later by the Gurdwara Election Commission.

The legal battle of Sehajdhari Sikhs’ voting rights

On October 8, 2003, the Government of India issued a notification and amended Sections 49 and 92 of the Sikh Gurdwara Act. As per the notification, Sehajdhari Sikhs were not allowed to register as voters for the SGPC elections. The notification by the then-BJP government was brought on the behest of Akali Dal leaders Prakash Singh Badal and Balwant Singh Ramoowalia. The notification was for five years and was challenged by the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation in the same year in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

While the matter was in court, SGPC elections were held in 2011 and 57 lakh voters participated. A few days after the elections, in December 2011, a three-judge bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the 2003 notification saying that the legal right of the Sikh voters cannot be taken away except by a competent legislature. The orders were challenged by SGPC in the Supreme Court.

In March 2013, the Supreme Court of India asked the Executive Committee headed by Sardar Avtar Singh Makkar to manage the institutions under SGPC. In 2016, the NDA-I-led Government of India amended the Sikh Gurdwara Act and added Sections 49 and 92 imposing restrictions on Sikhs to register as a voter if they shave a beard, shorn hair or consume alcohol and/or smoke.

During the debate on News18, when SGPC President Harjinder Singh Dhami said Sikhs should not shave beard or shorn hair, Paramjit Singh said he agree to it but they should at least have the right to vote. He said that it has been made clear that only Amritdhari Sikhs can contest elections and Sehajdhari Sikhs do not have any problem with it. However, voting rights should be extended to every Sikh, irrespective of the fact if he is Sehajdhari or Amritdhari.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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