Ground Zero : Preserve Gurdwara Sis Ganj area in Delhi as national heritage

Delhi Sikh Gurudawara

Chandigarh, April 9: It is being made very clear in the beginning itself that the intention here is not to question the directions of the Delhi High Court on the demolition of piao (water kiosk) outside the historic Gurdwara Sis Ganj that is associated with the supreme sacrifice made in this country for the protection of human rights, nor the subsequent observation of the court that “dignity  of the court” was at stake as the structure was reconstructed by the Sikh devotees within hours.

The high court is fully justified in ordering encroachments in the Chandni Chowk area, the heart of old Delhi. This kiosk is a small structure built to serve drinking water to the people. The cause is noble. This is the place that is part of the collective Sikh psyche. However, at the much broader level, it should have been part of the collective Indian psyche.

Without going into technicalities about jurisdiction, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal should take initiative for preserving and beautifying this area as the national heritage.

Going by the history, a group of Kashmiri pandits approached the Ninth Sikh Lord, Guru Tegh Bahadur at Anandpur Sahib seeking protection saying their religion was under threat. They were the forefathers of the very people who have left behind their homes in the valley as the “Azadi” struggle intensified during the last more than two decades. The ruler in Delhi   then wasr Emperor Aurangzeb  whose name the BJP has tried to wipe out by changing the name of the road after him to Dr Abdul Kalam Road.

Guru Tegh Bahadur took up their cause and started for Delhi. On way, he was taken into custody. Aurangzeb offered to spare his life provided he agreed to change his faith. The Guru offered his head instead. He was martyred outside Chandni Chowk Kotwali. His three associates too were tortured to death and they were Bhai Mati Das, Bhai Sati Das and Bhai Dyala. There is no parallel example in the history of this sub-continent.

This was a sacrifice not just for the cause of the Sikhs but the humanity and the protection of human rights and dignity.  The Guru volunteered to be martyred for the greater cause. The water kiosak is in the memory of his associates.

Going by the media reports, the court ordered removal of encroachments on a PIL filed by Madhu Kishwar who too is a product of Jawaharlal Nehru University turned supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the issue here is not of political affiliations but of going to the roots.

Sis Ganj, as such, is a monument to the fight for human rights and rather than treating is through the tunnel vision of its just being a Sikh shrine, it has to be seen in briadr historical perspective. It is the perception that has to change. It is only then that this water kiosk would not be treated as just another encroachment.

No government so far has ever thought of preserving and beautifying this area as part of collective Indian psyche, if there is one. Those chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ should understand the significance of this shrine.

This entire area should be preserved as heritage complex and plans should be made to beautify it.

It is pertinent to recall the agitation launched by the Sikhs when the then British government demolished the wall of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj, the place where the body of the Guru was cremated. His head was taken to Anandpur Sahib by a devotee and cremated there. The wall was demolished as New Delhi came up with Viceroy House, now Rashtrapti Bhavan, near  this gurdwara. These gurdwaras were built by General Baghel Singh who had taken over Delhi.

The British government had the concurrence of the Chief Khalsa Diwan in the demolition decision. The government acquired part of the gurdwara land in 1912 to beautify Viceroy House and build a road. The British Indian Government razed the wall of the Gurdwara to the ground on January 14, 1914. The wall was 400 feet long, 2 feet thick and 11 feet high. The bricks of this wall were used for the construction of the road. About 25 acres of the land  belonging to the Gurdwara was also taken over for the purpose of constructing the wall. This action evoked strong resentment among the Sikhs. The Sikh leaders in Punjab decided to launch agitation. Volunteers started from Lahore on December 1, 1920 to reconstruct the wall of the shrine. The wall was re-built in 1921. That in a way was the start of gurdwara liberation movement.

Going by the way this small structure was rebuilt within hours, it is evident that the situation could develop into confrontation and nothing would suit the Akali Dal more in Punjab in the election year.


Jagtar Singh


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