Should Sikhs Be Punished For Sacrilege?

The debate about sacrilege in Sikhism — and what the appropriate punishment for such conduct is — has heated up again after some incidents in the past few years.

The lynching of a man Saturday for allegedly trying to desecrate the Guru Granth Sahib at the Golden Temple adds to what has been a long-simmering controversy.

The concept of beadbi or sacrilege in Sikhism emanates largely from the fact that Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib to be a living Guru.

For all incidents of sacrilege in Punjab, police invoke Sections 295 and 295A of the IPC. The punishment is two years’ imprisonment in the case of Section 295, which involves destruction, damage to or defiling of a “place of worship”, or “any object held sacred”.

Section 295A provides for three years of imprisonment for the “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens”.

In the wake of criticism for the sacrilege incidents of 2015, the then Akali-BJP government passed a bill in the state assembly that amended the IPC. This amendment added Section 295AA, which would invite life imprisonment for sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib.

But the bill did not receive the assent of the President, and was returned by the Union Home Ministry on the grounds that it was against the secular spirit of the Constitution of India.

In 2018, when Captain Amarinder Singh was chief minister, the amendment was again passed by the assembly, and it covered holy books of all religions, to tide over the objection raised by the home ministry. But this bill, too, was never enacted.