Can a ‘Sehajdhari Sikh Continue to Shave? An In-depth Analysis – Gurcharanjit Singh Lamba
“A person cannot claim to be a Sehajdhari Sikh by trimming/cutting his/her hair, beard or eyebrows in any manner.” – SGPC Expert Panel Report
“Can a Sehajdhari Sikh continue to shave and cut his kesh for the whole of his life?” Going by the gurmat, rahit maryada, hukamnamas and SGPC’s own gurmatas the answer is a clear ‘NO’. But wittingly or unwittingly SGPC, the supreme body of the Sikhs, does not think so and has declared ‘YES’. However much confusion has been created and the real issue has been lost in the din.
The Panth is at the crossroads now. It is also not the time for indulging in petty politics and initiating blame game or hurling accusations. It is a grim and grave situation requiring each and every well-meaning Sikh to contribute his mite to set the things in right perspective. Failure or indifference at this occasion will prove to be a blunder for the Panth and Panthik institutions.
The all-powerful apex body of the Sikhs, Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, was to answer this simple question “Whether or not a person who cuts his hair and/or shaves his beard is a “Sehajdhari Sikh?” It was an awfully simple poser. But this awfully simple question became simply awful for them to answer.
A Sikh is a Keshadhari by birth and has to keep and preserve the Kesh for whole life. Any transgression on this count is a self inflicted stigma earning for the transgressor the abominable label of a patit or an apostate.
A Sahajdhari on the other hand is a person who, though born in a non-Sikh family, adopts the road to Sikhism. However the day he becomes a Sahajdhari the first and foremost condition is that he is not to defile his Kesh in any manner. Like when American Sikhs adopt Sikhism the first thing they do is that they start keeping unshorn hair.
As such, though both a Sikh and a Sehajdhari Sikh Sikh cannot defile kesh or trim, the only difference between the two is that while a Sikh has the kesh by birth, a Sehajdhari Sikh comes from a non-Sikh family and has to grow keshas. While the former is a Sikh by birth the latter is a Sikh by volition. But trimming or shaving in both the cases is an anathema. To put it simply, while a Sikh cannot shave, a Sehajdhari Sikh cannot continue to shave. A Sehajdhari Sikh is on his way to becoming a Sikh but a Sikh cannot become a Sehajdhari Sikh. A Sikh transgressing this diktat will become a Patit. A patit or sirgumm has been defined by the SGPC as,
‘SIRGUMM’ – If a keshadhari whose birth and naming ceremony has been solemnized in accordance with gurmat, and under the influence of debauched company, discards the holy kesh he is, a ‘sirgumm’ (patit)
Sikh Rahit Maryada makes no mention of the term Sehajdhari Sikh. Section 4. (Chapter X). (Article XVI)(i) of the Sikh Rahit Maryada, which is applicable to all Sikhs (including Sahajdharis) makes it mandatory to keep the Kesh of his children intact.
Living in consonance with Guru’s Tenets……..A Sikh should, in no way, harbour any antipathy to the hair of the head with which his child is born. He should add the suffix “Singh” to the name of his son. A Sikh should keep the hair of his sons and daughters intact.(p.24)
So much so that Khushwant Singh, the renowned scholar who himself does not follow rahit, writes truthfully about the importance of hair.
…………..It proves that the sense of belonging to the Sikh community requires both the belief in the teachings of the Adi Granth and the observance of the Khalsa tradition initiated by Guru Gobind Singh; and that there is no such thing as a clean-shaven Sikh – he is simply a Hindu believing in Sikhism. (A History of the Sikhs – Khushwant Singh p.305)
SGPC had the occasion to discuss this issue many times in the past and had conclusively decided it in the light of the Rahitnamas, Hukamanamas, its own Gurmatas and numerous accounts by Sikh scholars of repute. Enriched with such scholarly and authentic backup there was not even an iota of confusion or contradiction. But surprisingly the matter was allowed to linger on for long and instead empty rhetoric has occupied the centre stage of the issue. The Executive Ignoring the unanimous report of its own Expert Panel, the SGPC came to the conclusion that “Once Sehajdhari Sikh becomes a Keshadhari Sikh, then he can not cut, trim or shave.” The SGPC by this has declared that till the Sehajdhari Sikh becomes Keshadhari he can continue to cut, trim and shave his kesh. And the Sehajdhari Sikh can remain ‘clean shaven’ his whole life. This, needless to say, is a patently dishonest reversal of the long-standing panthic stance on this most vital issue. SGPC’s own resolution of 12 May, 1938, reads,
Qualifications of a Sehajdhari Sikh:
The desired qualifications of Sehajdhari Sikh were discussed by the Dharmik Salahkar Committee which decided that the following conditions must be fulfilled by a Sehajdhari,
(i) He should grow beard
(ii) Should not expose kesh to the barber’s razor.
(iii) Make at least one of his children a Singh.
(iv) Should perform all ceremonies according to Gurmat.
(v) Should not consume tobacco.
In 1973 General House meeting of the SGPC while demanding that the so-called Sehajdhari Sikhs be disfranchised from Sikh Gurdwara Act, adopted the resolution that,
“At the time of enactment of the Sikh Gurdwara Act, in the year 1925 there were Sehajdharis in some districts of Punjab who fulfilled the required qualifications. But after the partition (1947) except for negligible number this sect has virtually become extinct. Of these Sehajdharis some have become ‘Singhs’ and some have become part of the Hindu culture.”
This stand of the SGPC was accepted by the Government of India and on 8th October, 2003 by Gazette Notification No.S.O.1190(E) disfranchised the Sehajdhari Sikhs and provided that only keshadhari would be entitled to vote in the Gurdwara elections.
In this background to answer the latest poser “Whether or not a person who cuts his hair and/or shaves his beard is a “Sehajdhari Sikh?” Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee in General House Meeting held on November 22, 2008 decided to form a seven member Committee of scholars, legal experts and S.G.P.C representatives to give opinion, based on historical, theological and philosophic perspectives. SGPC President Jathedar Avtar Singh Makkar was authorized to nominate the committee members and he nominated the following individuals:
(i) S. Sukhdev Singh Bhaur
(ii) Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, Member S.G.P.C.
(iii) S. Dilmegh Singh Secretary
(iv) S. Jasbir Singh Sabar, Director Correspondence Courses, S.G.P.C.
(v) Prof. Anurag Singh, Director Sikh History Research Board, S.G.P.C. Amritsar.
(vi) S. Suba Singh, Principal Shaheed Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar.
(vii) S.Gurcharanjit Singh Lamba (Advocate), Editor, Sant Sipahi, Jalandhar.
On November 26, 2008 the seven-member Expert Panel assembled at Kalgidhar Niwas, Chandigarh and considered the whole issue and decided, with six opinions to one, that the issue already stood resolved by SGPC resolution of 12 May, 1938 that a Sehajdhari Sikh has to be sabat soorat (with unshorn kesh).
Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra had once quipped that there are only two qaums (nations) in the world, Sikhs and monas (clean-shaven). But going by the latest stand of the SGPC there will be two quams in the world, Sikhs and Sehajdhari Sikhs. Every non-Sikh or even an anti-Sikh now can infiltrate the panth and panthic institutions using the cloak of a Sehajdhari Sikh, courtesy SGPC.
To set the record straight and save the Panth and Panthik institutions from further embarrassment and irreparable damage the Panth desires and demands that the SGPC should understand its religious obligation and without mincing words should declare in absolutely unambiguous terms that It honours its own gurmata of 12 May, 1938 and in the light of this a person claiming to be Sehajdhari Sikh has to grow his kesh and beard and under no circumstances can cut, trim or shave, if he wants to remain a part of the Sikh Panth.
As a matter of fact the difference between a Sikh and a Sahajdhari Sikh has been well explained by Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, that a Sahajdhari does not keep the rahit of kachhahra and kirpan. Thus he is to grow and keep unshorn Kesh. A picture of Sahajdhari is given in the Mahan Kosh, Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Languages Deptt. Punjab.
A Sikh has his Kesh by birth whereas a Sahajdhari, though he earlier might have had shorn Kesh, has to grow these to become keshadhari. A Sahajdhari is to adopt Sikhism gradually but cannot remain a Sahajdhari his whole life.
Though the SGPC Executive Committee in its meeting of 3rd December, 2008 accepted the report of the Sub Committee in toto yet the reports in the Press suggested that the SGPC did not prohibit a Sehajdhari Sikh to continue to shave and trim. This was quite contrary to the recommendations of the Expert Panel. On 4th December, the members of the Expert Panel brought this to the notice of the President of SGPC who was on a tour to Bihar. Jathedar Avtar Singh expressed dismay and categorically stated that he had accepted the 1938 resolution and the anomaly if any would be corrected. He then ordered another emergency meeting of the Expert Panel, which was held the same day at Guru Nanak Niwas Amritsar. Here in this meeting the Expert Panel endorsed its recommendations given to the SGPC on 26th November and reiterated in signed statement that “Hence a person cannot claim to be a Sehajdhari by trimming/cutting his/her hair, beard or eye-brows in any manner.” Here the resolution adopted by the Expert Panel was signed by all the members except one.