:: Heritage Status For Sri Darbar Sahib :: The Sikhs face a big threat to their sovereignty - the jurisdiction of the Sri Harimandir Sahib and Akal Takht is to be formally conceded over to the jurisdiction of the Indian Government, if this 'behind the scenes stealth' move is allowed to go through.
Without any consultation with the Panth, collusion between the Government of India and some misinformed Sikhs, has resulted in an application for 'heritage status' to UNESCO.
In essence, the Harimandir Sahib should have no formal juridical control by any manmade political institution. Its physical protection and management is the responsibility of the Sikh Panth.
The Akal Takht is the political seat of Sikhs, representing the sovereignty of Guru Panth in the balance of Guru Granth & Guru Panth - it is the 'living' decision making institution of the Sikh Panth. With a Heritage status, the independent sovereignty of Guru Panth will be formally taken away, making one of Sikhi's main institutions defunct. This is why the world's buildings representing seats of sovereignty institutions - like Buckingham Palace or Windsor Palace in UK, the White House, be as they be beautiful buildings, never apply for heritage status as they are 'living' sovereign institutions.
We present the argument below in more detail- the pros and cons for this application in order for a consultation within the global Sikh community. In addition to this website, we are taking this argument into the community.
Witness84 was able to get hands on this 'very secret' document - an event that in itself sent alarm signals. We have studied this document and had lawyers in the UK deliberate on the documents.
Witness84 is taking a stand of opposing this application with the most forceful vigour. Our campaign is to make representations to UNESCO and SGPC - we make these letters available below for YOU to join in and make this a common Panthic campaign, which requires urgent action as the application is at an advanced stage.
In addition, we are building a PETITION page by the end of this week.. please show us your support by signing this.
Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre (Mr. Francesco Bandarin) has written to the Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO (Ms Bhaswati Kukherjee) regarding the concerns of the Sikh Community:
Letter to MP from Individual UNESCO has sent their representative to Amritsar to assess the suitability of Sri Darbar Sahib to be included in the world heritage site list. The nomination for this recognition was made by SGPC under advice from a PR agency in Delhi and government officials. Little was discussed within SGPC and indeed very little within the Panth - the Sikh community as a whole.
When rumours of the application surfaced last year, the Sikh Human Rights Group tried to get hold of a copy of the application. But SHRG faced resistance, it was only after a threat of court action and a representation to the late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, then the president of SGPC that a copy was made available. SHRG's first impressions of the report were relayed to Mr Tohra who was alarmed at the possible consequences of the application - he had not read, nor was he briefed about the final completed application. SHRG requested to put the matter before the Panth, but so far the new SGPC committee has failed to respond.
Heritage status for Sri Darbar Sahib has significant benefits but it also has serious implications for its intended status that have not been debated in the Panth before submitting this application.
In the event we have taken the liberty to put the matter to the Sikhs worldwide ourselves so that informed opinion can be made and views be communicated to the SGPC, the Indian State and UNESCO.
Heritage status will put the Sri Darbar Sahib on the list of sites whose architecture will have to be preserved by the Indian government with the help of the international community, i.e. UNESCO.
However there are important implications that arise as a result of fulfilling the criteria One of the responses implies that India 's jurisdiction and administration applies in Sri Akal Takht Sahib. The result could alter the sovereign status of the Sri Akal Takht Sahib irretrievably in the near future and will have involuntarily ended the controversy of the question 'whose jurisdiction runs at the Sri Akal Takht Sahib?'
It is important to debate these issues before a major step such as compromising the sovereignty of Sri Akal Takht Sahib is taken. Please read the accompanying relevant material taken from the World Heritage Site documents.
We request a public forum to be held on the subject
Advantages and Implications
What is World Heritage Status This is a list set up by UNESCO of cultural and natural sites around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity and needing protection and preservation.
Cultural heritage refers to monuments, groups of buildings and properties with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value.
What is the advantage It increases public awareness of the site and entails responsibility upon the government and citizens to preserve the property with highest standards of preservations. This usually leads to a rise in the protection and conservation. The State party receives expert advice for preservation and in some cases financial assistance.
Witness84 response : The Harimandir Sahib is already the most known site for the Sikhs and tourists to India . It has been maintained to the highest standard through the centuries. Furthermore, the Harimandir Sahib was not built as a tourist attraction.
International assistance The international community is attentive to the need to preserve the property and in cases of damage, demands repair to the highest original standards. However it is the State Party's responsibility to provide adequate protection and management for their properties.
Witness84 response : This responsibility will fall into the hands of the Indian Govt; up to now it is with Sikhs.
There is a shared international commitment to preserving the heritage and legacy.
Criteria for inclusion also has
'Whenever necessary for the proper conservation of a cultural or natural property nominated, an adequate "buffer zone" around a property should be provided and should be afforded the necessary protection.'
Whenever damage occurs, the UNESCO team of preservation experts are at hand to advice and ensure that substandard repair work is not done. Similarly, any new construction will need to be notified and have the approval of the World heritage committee if the property wishes to be retained within the list.
Witness84 response : In terms of the advice, this can readily be bought; it is available and can be institutionalised.
Explaining the advantages
In simple words, the Sri Darbar Sahib has suffered considerable damage from ill thought out improvements by different managements and following destruction by state and other institutions during conflict. Heritage status will impose protection for architecture and workmanship. Moreover, the government will be obliged to ensure that a proper buffer zone exists so that the property is not damaged by car fumes, any industrial waste etc.
The SGPC will no longer be able to hand out repair and other contracts to its preferred contractors. It will have to consult UNESCO for professional expertise.
Witness84 response : The issue of internal mismanagement within Sikhs cannot and should not be resolved by handing responsibility to an external institution. It makes the community look inadequate and demoralizes a community if it cannot deal with its own mismanagements. An internal crisis within a family is not resolved by giving permanent control to an external person.
The Buffer zone should be demanded by the Sikhs regardless of heritage status. The Punjab government's are led by Sikhs. The government has a responsibility to ensure people's taxes are used for their benefit without demanding control over their lives or institutions.
Moreover the status imposes on the government
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and2 situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention .
The people who have pushed for this inclusion are concerned that the SGPC has not maintained the workmanship that was started from the times of the Gurus. This will act as an external compulsion upon both the SGPC and Indian government to preserve the original design features. One of the advantages cited by its promoters is that status will restrict the Indian government from attacking Sri Darbar Sahib again. It will also ensure that 'other' countries, meaning Pakistan , will not attack Sri Darbar Sahib in the event of a war with India .
Witness84 response : This would seem to be spurious: the government of India does not have a department that is looking for an excuse to attack Sri Darbar Sahib. If ever there was to be a challenge from within Darbar Sahib, heritage status will not stop the Indian Govt from dealing with it by force. However, Heritage status responsibility will empower India to stop Sikhs gathering as Sarbat Khalsa in Darbar Sahib complex and restrict its intended functions. India can interfere in internal activities on the pretext of ensuring protection.
As for Pakistan not attacking it, in the previous wars between India and Pakistan , Pakistan has resisted from attacking Sikh religious institutions. Moreover, it maintains Sikh religious institutions in Pakistan despite previous wars. The Disadvantage
The main disadvantages could be:
1 The Sovereignty issue:
In the list of sites already granted heritage status, no seat of sovereignty has either applied or listed. For instance Buckingham Palace , White House, Rashtarpatti Bhavan and so on.
The reason is that such institutions potentially face danger from man made damage resulting from conflicts. By submitting an application for such status, the institution is effectively stating that the property does not have seat of sovereignty. For instance, for Buckingham Palace to be included, the Queen will have to be resident elsewhere as she is the head of state.
For the Sri Darbar Sahib complex , this will mean, the Sri Akal Takht Sahib is no longer the seat of sovereignty of the Panth but just another building with cultural functions. While this may suit the Indian State and many 'modern' Sikhs, it may not be agreeable to the Sikhs in general.
2. The Jurisdiction issue:
The second deeper and complex question concerns Sri Harimandir Sahib itself. Philosophically, the Sri Darbar Sahib complex is instituted so that no manmade agency has assumption of power of jurisdiction over Sri Harimandir Sahib except Akal Purakh.
Does this submission conflict with this arrangement in anyway?
These questions arise from the criteria set and requirements of the Heritage listing:
Firstly - The state is required to take the appropriate legal, scientific, technical, administrative and financial measures necessary for the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and rehabilitation of this heritage.
The question is what does 'legal and administrative' measures imply here for the Sri Akal Takht and indeed for Sri Harimandir Sahib as they will have to be put under the jurisdiction of the Indian State ?
Under the "Juridical data" section of the nomination form, "States Parties should provide, in addition to the legal texts protecting the property being nominated, an explanation of the way in which these laws actually operate. This requires the state government to show how it -
1 exercises jurisdiction over the site
2 what mechanisms are in place
3 How do they operate
If the Indian Government claims that it has legal statutes in place to ensure its juridical management in the Sri Darbar Sahib complex, this brings into question the sovereignty of Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Since the application is approved by the Sikhs and promoted by SGPC, any statements made by the state party, i.e. India will be considered to be the official position of the Sikhs henceforth.
A further question arises - Will the Akal Takht under the jurisdiction of India be subject to its regulatory controls?
The Heritage Status further requires -
"that states have adequate legal and/or traditional protection and management mechanisms to ensure the conservation of the nominated cultural properties or cultural landscapes. The existence of protective legislation at the national, provincial or municipal level and/or a well-established contractual or traditional protection as well as of adequate management and/or planning control mechanisms is therefore essential and, as is clearly indicated in the following paragraph, must be stated clearly on the nomination form. Assurances of the effective implementation of these laws and/or contractual and/or traditional protection as well as of these management mechanisms are also expected."
Further questions on management for the Heritage status also require responses to the following
Protective measures and means of implementing them
Agency / agencies with management authority
Level at which management is exercised (e.g., on site, regionally) and name and address of responsible person for contact purposes
Responses to these questions are extremely important as they can bind Sri Darbar Sahib to Indian jurisdiction. If there are problems in future, or concerns, the Indian State can bypass the SGPC and install its own management structures. The Sikhs will be at a loss having given that authority to the State through this document.
The Heritage Committee shall have the power to list Heritage sites in Danger where there is
" Potential Danger - The property is faced with threats which could have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics. Such threats are, for example:
. Modification of juridical status of the property diminishing the degree of its protection;
. Outbreak or threat of armed conflict;"
Furthermore it requires:
"Where the intrinsic qualities of a property nominated are threatened by action of man and yet meet the criteria and the conditions of authenticity or integrity set out in paragraphs 24 and 44, an action plan outlining the corrective measures required should be submitted with the nomination file. Should the corrective measures submitted by the nominating State not be taken within the time proposed by the State, the property will be considered by the Committee for delisting in accordance with the procedure adopted by the Committee"
Generally this would mean dangers such as fumes from cars etc. However, this can also mean threat of a political nature. By having jurisdiction over the management of the property, the Government would naturally be considered to take such measures that will prevent such a movement to take place.
In other words the government could stop a Sarbat Khalsa taking place at Sri Akal Takht Sahib as it could potentially precipitate a political movement. The government could simply remind the Sikhs that they had signed up to the rules of the Heritage Status criteria
The inclusion of a property in the World Heritage List requires the consent of the State concerned. This is a challenge to the Sikhs -
Is Sri Darbar Sahib formally within Indian Territory or is it still an issue of contention?
Does India 's jurisdiction end at the doors of Sri Darbar Sahib or was 1984's reactions all a foolish` mistake by the Sikhs?
Will the Sikhs concede now that Sri Akal Takht is under the jurisdiction of India ?
The Heritage criteria provides a provision for dual jurisdiction -
"The inclusion of a property in the World Heritage List requires the consent of the State concerned. The inclusion of a property situated in a territory, sovereignty or jurisdiction over which is claimed by more than one State shall in no way prejudice the rights of the parties to the dispute".
However no contentious claim has yet been made to UNESCO by any Sikh authority.
By implication the application effectively requires the rationale of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, as intended by the Gurus, to be brought to an end. By default or by intention this will have been done if the application is granted.
In the past the Sikhs have walked into many situations without examining the implications of the documents they agree to for spurious and small promises, only to later regret when grave consequences of their decisions are presented to them. Are the advantages of an international committee to assist preservation of the site worth throwing away the sovereignty of Sri Akal Takht Sahib? Lastly as the application process requires Participation of local people in the nomination process is essential to make them feel a shared responsibility with the State Party in the maintenance of the site.
Has this been done and who are the 'local people' in this case? Isn't it the worldwide Sikh community who need to take part in thi consultation?
Have the owners, i.e. the Sikh community been asked about giving away the Sovereignty of their most important INSTITUTION? Has the Sikh community given SGPC ownership of Sri Darbar Sahib to do as it feels? Responses that have been given in the application for Heritage Status to UNESCO by SGPC include:
1. OwnershipManagement of the site vests in the management committee called the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandik Committee. Possession of Harimandir Sahib is with the community.
2. Legal Status
The SGPC is the statutory body of elected representatives of the Sikhs concerned with the management of sacred Sikh shrines under its care. The ( Punjab ) Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 empowers it to institutionalise and implement this management plan.
3. Protective Measures
The SGPC is acknowledged as the highest authority in religious matters by Sikhs worldwide. It takes decisions which are considered final by all Sikhs.
The government of India regards it [SGPC] as the religious representative of all Sikhs. Indian Courts refer to it on religious matters. Foreign governments recognise it as the custodian of Sikh interests...
The Act provides for government non-interference in Gurdwara management. The Government declared its intention to not interfere with the Gurdwaras, their property or their management.
Here are our questions
If possession lies with the community, why has the community not been consulted? Moreover which community has possession? Just the Sikhs in Punjab or the Sikhs worldwide?
The SGPC is a statutory body. That is effectively a government sanctioned body. How can it represent the Sikhs worldwide since it is under the jurisdiction of India . Does it represent British, Canadian, American and other Sikhs?
As the self proclaimed highest authority in religious matters that claims its decisions are final in religious matters for all Sikhs, has the SGPC, a local body in Punjab, superseded Sri Akal Takht Sahib now. When did this happen? Do the Sikhs know? Is this response factually correct? Will it not create problems for us in future having accepted this and submitted it at the international level.
Where is the documentary evidence of government's intention of non-interference.
Has the government repealed Article 146 of Gurdwara Act: 'The [Central] Government may make rules not inconsistent with the Act to carry out all or any of the purposes of the Act.'
Why does the DC of Amritsar have control over SGPC elections and ensure that Indian Constitution is observed in any decisions, implementing Indian jurisdiction over SGPC affairs.
Among the buildings included in the plan are Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Is it necessary to put Sri Akal Takht Sahib in the application?
We do not know if clarifications were asked by the World Heritage Committee and if so what responses have been made. We further do not know what oral or other statements have been made to ensure protection against possible political campaigns from Sri Akal Takht Sahib.
We have asked if the government can stop Sarbat Khalsa taking place as result of getting heritage status, no response has been provided by SGPC.Previous letters :