In light of the Nanak Shah Fakir controversy, the Akal Takht has formed a 21-member censor body that will review any content related to Sikhism before screening. The Takht has ruled that it is ‘mandatory’ for filmmakers to get its approval.
But can the Takht really make such ‘mandatory’ rules?
The Akal Takht is the highest temporal authority of Sikhism, and is located in the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab.
The Akal Takht is believed to have been built by the sixth Guru – Guru Hargobind Singh – as a body that would govern and dispense justice to all disputes of Sikhs.
Today, the head of the Akal Takht, or the Jathedar, is appointed by the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee ie SGPC. The SGPC is the highest Sikh administrative body that governs several schools and gurudwaras. The Akal Takht now falls under the ambit of the SGPC, along with two other Takhts.
The practice of democratically resolving issues related to Sikhism dates back to 1708, when the last guru – Guru Gobind Singh – advocated the compilation of the Adi Granth, the Holy Scriptures which would serve as the highest authority of the office of the Guru.
Any misinterpretation or dispute relating to the scriptures had to be settled by the entire community, which would gather behind their elected representatives in annual or bi-annual meetings and pass unanimous resolutions.
These resolutions were called gurmatas, and were binding on all Sikhs. Both political and non-political decisions were taken in this manner by the Akal Takht till 1809, when Maharaja Ranjit Singh declined the Akal Takht the authority to issue political gurmatas.
Subsequently, all non-political issues relating to the interpretation and the rules of conduct of Sikhism are governed by the Akal Takht. The decisions taken by the Takht are now called hukamnamas and are considered mandatory for all Sikhs.