ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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What Does It Mean?

Minority Status for Sikhs in Punjab

As Punjab enters another election year, the Akali Dal seems to be shifting to the community/religion axis of its politics in the hope of consolidating its electoral base. The state government's recent decision to classify three professional colleges run by the SGPC as 'minority institutions' is apparently a part of this effort.

The Punjab government has recently decided to classify three of the professional colleges being run by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) in the state as ‘minority institutions’ (The Tribune, March 29, 2001; The Times of India, March 31, 2001). The three professional colleges to which this decision initially applies are the engineering college in Anandpur Sahib, a medical college and a dental college located in Amritsar. This was in response to a proposal submitted to this effect by the SGPC some four months back. Since the Akali Dal effectively controls the SGPC, the decision also reflects on the policy and perspective of the ruling party The immediate implication or intention of such a decision is obviously to reserve 50 per cent of the seats for admission to the courses being run by these institutions for members of the Sikh community as provided under Article 30 of the Indian Constitution. However, the move also reflects some of the underlying social and political processes, as they seem to be unfolding during the recent past.

The only educational institution that enjoyed such a status in Punjab so far was the Christian Medical College at Ludhiana. While the Christians are obviously a small community in the state constituting only around 1 per cent of its total population, the Sikhs are not. They constitute nearly 60 per cent of the total population of the state. However, at the national level, the Sikhs are obviously a minority. Even in the state of Punjab, the SGPC could claim, the Sikhs could be in minority if they were to be identified solely on the basis the definition of a Sikh given in the Sikh Gurudwara Act of 1925. According to this definition, only those who have faith in the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) alone are to be categorised as Sikhs By implication, all the peripheral sects, such as Radhaswamis, Nirankaris, etc, who believe in living gurus and who could have been counted as Sikhs during the Census enumeration, would stand excluded, and thereby bring the number of Sikhs to below 50 per cent of the total population of Punjab Moreover, the word ‘minority’ has not been clearly defined in the Constitution. There is no mention that for a group to be considered a minority community, it must also be in a minority at the state level.

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