RELIGIOUS PUNISHMENT AND THE ACCUSED: HISTORY AND TRADITION
When we go through the Hukamnamas, Directives and Decrees issued time to time from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, we find that most of the Edicts and Orders pertain to alleging a Sikh guilty on account of some religious misconduct, awarding religious punishment or ex-communication from the Sikh community etc. if we go through history, we ger numerous historical references wherein even dedicated Sikhs were declared offenders and, at that time, were awarded religious punishment.
The religious deserters, disregardful, Guru slanderers, the femicides, conflict builders in the community, fake gurus and violators of religious code and the associates of discarded and degraded members from the community where all used to be declared sacrilegious and thus offenders of religious code of conduct. This is tradition of the ‘Guru-Panth’. Penalty fixed for any sacrilege against the Sikh Code of Conduct is termed tankhah – the religious punishment. Any Sikh who violates the living code is called tankhahiya – the accused. The core of the word is and tradition that when the Muslim rulers of Punjab struck an open comprise with the Sikhs and deputed many Sikhs on government service with adequate salaries, then the self-respecting Sikhs took this action as most detesting and called those Sikhs as tankhahiyas – the accused ones. After some time, any individual accused of religious misdeed was used to be termed as ‘tankhahiya’.
In accordance with this view of Bhai kahn Singh, the individuals serving under Muslim rule and getting the salary came to be called tankhahiya. One thing is clear from this that anybody getting secluded from ‘Guru’s community’ and then serving some rival entity is considered totally worthless. But the tradition of ‘tankhah’ – the religious punishment – is much older, which we shall discuss now.
The equivalent words of ‘tankhah’ are salary, wages, remuneration or payment. But in Guru’s ideology, tankhah means religious penalty, religiously imposed fine or cess for anti-religious activities or to the religiously accused.
In line with khalsa religious tenets, one has to maintain single-minded allegiance with the community, and if there any misdeed takes place, one has to be regretful in the presence of congregation and beg remittance of penalty.
According to the Sikh Code of Conduct, following individuals shall be liable to chastisement involving automatic boycott:
1. Anyone maintaining relations or communion with elements antagonistic to the Panth including the minas (reprobates), the masands (agents once accredited to local Sikh communities as Guru’s representatives, since discredited for their faults and aberrations), followers of dhirmal or Ram rai, et, al., or users of tobacco or killers of female infants;
2. One who eats / drinks left-overs of the unbaptised or the fallen Sikhs;
3. One who dyes his Beard;
4. One who gives off son or daughter in matrimony for a price or reward;
5. Users of intoxicants (hemp, opium, liquor, narcotics, cocaine, etc.);
6. One holding, or a being a party to, ceremonies or practices, contrary to the Guru’s way;
7. One who defaults in the maintenance of Sikh discipline.
Any one who partakes in any of the above numbered points is declared tankahahiya: the accused in Guru’s community. These points include every aspect related to Sikhs and society. After the Hukamnamas ordained in 1978 from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, the ‘Nirankari Sect’ is included as antagonists of Sikh Community, and anyone who keeps kinship with them becomes ‘the accused one’ – tankhahiya. However, to err is human and any Gursikh could do some mistake. As such, the Guru-verdict necessitated the construction of penalization:
Anyhow if misconduct gets unwittingly committed by a Sikh, he should go to a nearby Gurdwara, stand humbly before the congregation and admit his omission. In presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, ‘Five Beloved Ones’ be chosen from the congregation. The chosen ones should discuss the misdeed of the person and ask the gathering to devise the corrective ‘religious punishment’ – tankhah.
The gathering should in no way be rigid; neither should the accused be obstinate in accepting the punishment. The punishment should be in the form of a manual service, particularly to be done with hands.
The process of religious punishment – tankhah – in regard with the code of conduct makes it clear that self-acceded punishment is a religiously corrective indictment which the delinquent Sikh himself asks for by attending the congregation in a Gurdwara. But if a so-called Sikh commits some heinous misdeed which is related to Guru-Panth or the overall Sikh community, or does not present himself in the Sikh gathering for remission, then, accordance with the Guru-Panth’s legislation, he is declared the ‘accused- tankhahiya’ – from any Takhat and especially from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib. If such a Sikh, even after being declared as ‘the accused’, does not present himself before the ‘Five Chosen Ones’ at the Takhat for pardon of his misdeed, the ‘Five Ones’, as representatives of ‘Guru-Panth’, excommunicate the person from Sikh community. If we observe the historical perspective, the meenay, masand, dheermaliye, ramriye and nirankaris have summarily been discarded from the Sikh community, and any type of dealing with them is deemed ‘anti-panthic’ and in violation of community code. Violators of panthic legislation have often been declared ‘offenders’ and they have been, sooner or later, coming to the supreme sovereign seat of Guru-Panth, Sri Akal Takhat Sahib for accepting the punishment. It is not a new tradition; rather it is Panthic practice in support of which we get many examples since the Guru period in Sikh history.
One point needs to be reiterated that acceptance of punishment means that so-unwittingly committed misdeed is not repeated. Also, the other religious brethren get an admonition out of it.
At the time of awarding punishment, there should be no prejudice in any way. It is divine repute of the ‘Guru-Panth’ to purge a Sikh of its religious or social sluggishness and bestow upon him an ever blissful state of living.
We observe historically that Bhai Satta and Balwanda – the court musicians of Guru Arjan Dev somehow, become defiant to the Guru-house and the Guru made an admonition that no deal with them in any way. It lasted for a long time, but at last, the kind Bhai Ladha ji mediated to get satta-balwand pardoned. Only after getting the omission omitted from the Guru-house, one composition of the same ‘Satta-Balwanda’ was included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib thereby bestowing an immortal honor to the duo.
Critics of Guru-house and followers of Prithia git named as meeney and were discarded from the Sikh-community. As expressed by Singh Sahib Prof. Manjit Singh, Ram Rai got punished by the congregation. ‘Ram-Rai’, the elder son of Guru Har Rai, has disobeyed the Guru’s Order (like Mr. Buta Singh, the Home minister of India in 1984 A.D), Ram Rai had got enraptured with the fear and, no doubt, many temptations offered by rulers of the time and dispite unlimited spiritual powers blessed by Guru, became impertinent to the Guru. Guru Sahib also made an order not to shows his face to him. This gap lasted long time. But at last even the conscience of Ram Rai pricked and compelled him to send a letter to Guru Gobind Singh through his men. He pleaded for conciliatory forgiveness which Guru Gobind Singh acknowledged as a mark of giving protection to the seeker. Starting from Sri Paonta Sahib, the two met in a boat at the bank of river Jamuna, and Ram Rai felt relieved after getting his omissions pardoned from the Guru-house.
When the masands, the so-called representatives of Guru-house, no longer remained true to ethical living, then Guru Gobind Singh himself issued Hukamnamas to discards the masands from the community and strictly checked the Gursikhs from having any tie with them. In this reference, one Hukamnama of Guru Gobind Singh ji is worth perusing:
”From the Guru Gobind Singh Ji for the devotees of Naushehra dated Phalgun 10, 1758 Bik. 6 February, 1702…whole community is my Khalsa,; have no ties with masands… Any Sikh who joins, take him… make no problem, love each other, that’s my pleasure”
Guru Gobind Singh strictly forbade the Sikhs indulging in Idol-worship, cemeteries, cremation grounds, tombs and graves. But when in 1764 Bikrami, he reached Dadu Dwara while going to Deccan, (there is a reference in history) Guru Ji offered his obeisance to Dadu’s tomb ny making a arrow touch his forehead, and because of which the khalsa declared punishment to the Guru in offence of greeting a grave. Guru Sahib ordained that he had done so in order to have an examination of the Khalsa, and then admitted the punishment and pursued the scared custom further.
This incident is recorded in Sau Sakhi in detail…
In reality, a Gursikh deems himself feels honored by undergoing the punishment imposed by ‘Guru-Panth’. By undergoing the punishment, a Gursikh feels affection of the community and live honorably as member of the Guru-family. Getting the religious punishment is scripted as self-submission of the Gursikh before ‘Guru-Panth’.
As we are already discussed that, in order to sustain peace in Punjab, the Muslim rulers employed many Sikhs and they were called tankhahiyas, the violators of the order of Guru-Panth. In this regard, we have an illustrative example of Bhai Subeg Singh who became government contractor at Lahore court. When he met the ‘Khalsa Panth’ after receiving the distinguished rank and the robes of honor, then first of all he was awarded religious punishment, as an historical event.
As such ‘Five Singhs’ awarded punishment to Bhai Subeg Singh and remitted him in Khalsa panth – Khalsa community. The same Subeg Singh along with his son became the pinion rolled martyr and thus set an example for his love for the community and an example of ethical living.
Jassa Singh Ichogill, who later became famous as Ramgarhia, had been excommunicated from Sikh community under an allegation if killing an innocent girl child, and he had taken service under Adina Bagh. At the time of siege of Ram Rauni fort, he sent a message inside the fort and requested his religious brethren to forgive him and allow his home coming.
Bhai Rattan Singh bhangu, the composer of Sri Guru Panth Parkash, has scripted the event as such.
It becomes clear from the above illustration that the violators of code of conduct are to be declared offenders, and, in case of defiance, a stringent community tradition of excommunication has ever prevailed. Few references also provide us a cue that everyone enjoys equal status like Brothers in the Khalsa Panth or Guru-Panth. If anyone commits a sacrilege, he is imposed religious punishment, and after that he is readmitted into the community.
The ‘punishment’ in the form of dusting the shoes, cleaning used utensils in the kitchen, reciting Gurbani in addition to the daily routine, offering money for Panthic projects, sweeping of the floor or any other kind according to the religious constitution. If we look from this aspect, then excommunication of masands, offering of Gold coins by Guru Gobind Singh, flogging of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and asking kartar Singh Bedi in 1924 to walk bare-foot from Amritsar to Nankana Sahib and for donating Rs. 10,000/- for community projects and organizing five Akhand Paths (continuous recitation) of Guru Granth sahib can also be different forms of indictment.
In the present times, we have seen that S. Surjit Singh Barnala and S. Buta Singh were given a long religious punishment and, in order to make them realize their omission, a wooden slate was hung round their neck. S. Avtar Singh Hitt was asked to donate Rs. 31,000/- at three places each for community projects and likewise many others were awarded punishments such as cleaning of used utensils of community kitchen, dusting shoes of religious congregation, reciting Gurbani or sweeping the surroundings of Sri Harimandar Sahib. The motif behind in suchlike decisions that the Guru’s devotees may get encouraging inspiration from these Judgments, live Guru-oriented life and manifest the slogan of ‘Guru panth’: