Scholar of Many Faiths, RSS Critic: Meet the Akal Takht Jathedar Leading Sikh Pilgrims to Kartarpur

CNN-News18

New Delhi: It's a journey of 4.7 kms, but it's taken 72 years for India and Pakistan to bridge this gap. The inaugural jatha, or group of pilgrims, will make its way to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib and also into history books. The jatha comprises of political stalwarts like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Ministers Harsimrat Kaur and Hardeep Singh Puri. But despite such stalwarts being part of the jatha, the man in charge of leading the Indian delegation is 46-year-old Giani Harpreet Singh.

On Thursday, two days before the historic opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that Singh would be leading the jatha. "The Indian delegation will be led by Giani Harpreet Singh, who is the Jathedar of the Akal Takht."

The Akal Takht, which translates to "The Throne of the Timeless One", is one of the five symbolic seats of power of the Sikh faith. Its Jathedar is the the head of the Takht. While there are five total Jathedars, one for each of the five Takhts, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht is seen as the de facto head of the Sikh faith. The Golden Temple is, after all, the holiest site for followers of the Sikh faith.

Giani Harpreet Singh was born in a village in Punjab's Muktsar district. From a very young age, he started gaining knowledge about the Sikh faith since his father was the granthi or priest of his village Gurudwara. His background drew him to matters of faith and slowly, he rose up the ranks of the Sikh order.

Eventually, he would serve as the Jathedar of not one, but two Takhts. In 2015, he became the Jathedar of Takht Damdama Sahib before becoming the Jathedar of the Akal Takht in 2018 and the age of 45.

But his knowledge of religion is not limited to Sikhism alone. Giani Harpreet Singh is actually a scholar of many faiths. According to a report, he already holds a masters degree in comparative religions and is currently working on a PhD thesis that compares the teachings of the Holy Quran as well as the Guru Granth Sahib.

In the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370, he decided not to stay silent when objectionable and sexist comments were being made against Kashmiri women on social media as well as by politicians. “The kind of commands given by elected representatives on social media against the girls of Kashmir after the removal of special status of the state are not only defamatory but also unforgivable,” he had said, hitting out at several BJP leaders.

He even said it was the duty of the Sikh faith to stand up for Kashmiri women. "Kashmiri women are part of our society. It is our religious duty to defend their honour. Sikhs should come forward to protect the honour of Kashmiri women. It is our duty and it is our history."

He has even been a vocal critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its goal of a Hindu Rashtra. In fact, he went further and called for a ban on the organisation.

"People of all religions and faiths live in India. This is the beauty of India. RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) has said that India will be made a 'Hindu Rashtra'. It is wrong. This is not in the interest of the country," he had said.