IN A RATHER poorly-executed attempt to recreate a modern, Sherlock Holmes-style detective in a comic strip, but in a Sikh avatar, India's leading national English daily, Hindustan Times, has ended up rubbing the Sikh community on the wrong side as it depicted the turbaned, bearded detective Maharaja Sikander Singh, not only drinking in a pub but lighting up a cigar pressed firmly between his lips.
Depicting a Sikh smoking has always been anathema to Sikhs, as much as portrayal of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is unacceptable to most Muslims. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has now taken a strong exception to the Hindustan Times' transgressing that very clear line and has asked the newspaper to apologise.
Depicting a Sikh smoking a cigarette or a cigar has always been anathema to Sikhs, just as any pictorial depiction of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is unacceptable to Muslims. The DSGMC has now taken a strong exception to the newspaper transgressing that very clear line.
Many Sikh scholars said it was terrible that the illustrators, the creators of the comic strip, senior editorial staff at this newspaper and the editor, remained either totally ignorant, or were part of the deliberate effort to rile the Sikh community in particular and all Punjabis in general.
In its July 2 edition, in the Brunch section that is part of the Sunday edition of the newspaper, the comic strip, headlined "A Gentleman's Wager," depicted the self-styled Sikh detective Maharaja Sikander Singh being challenged by a pucca sahib "at the Eccentrics Club, London" to guess the professions of three men, a feat the detective pulls off successfully, winning the wager. The scene is set in 1910, London.
But in an effort to probably portray the character as close to Holmes as the executors – Arjun Raj Gaind, the writer, and Vivek Shinde, the illustrator – could manage, they ended up committing what is near blasphemy for the Sikhs: depicting the Sikh detective with not just a glass of liquor, but also lighting a cigar pressed between his lips.
Jagmohan Singh, a Delhi-based lawyer, has filed a notice on behalf of the DSGMC, asking the printers and publishers of the newspaper to apologise and withdraw the objectionable strip.
Another lawyer, Manjit Singh Butalia, has circulated a note on social media, claiming that he has informed authorities at the highest level, including the PMO and Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, besides briefing the Akal Takht jathedar. Till date, the Sikh clergy has not taken up the issue in public.
Neither, for that matter, has any prominent leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal has picked up the gauntlet. That a newspaper, founded by Master Sundar Singh Lyallpuri, founder father of the Akali Movement and the Akali SAD in Punjab, will commit such blasphemy and then remain blatant and obdurate on the issue is what has riled the Sikhs most.
The newspaper depicting the Sikh detective smoking a cigar continues to be freely available to anyone on its website. Subsequent editions issues have not taken any note of protests by the Sikh community.
Many Sikhs will recall that when the Hindustan Times took birth, Mangal Singh Gill (Tehsildar) and Chanchal Singh (Jandiala, Jalandhar, then Jullundur) were in charge of the newspaper while Pt Madan Mohan Malviya and Master Tara Singh were among members of the managing committee.
"Would such a sacrilege ever happen if those at the helm of HT were aware of their own past?" said a senior Sikh scholar. The Hindustan Times media conglomerate is part of the KK Birla group, and is managed by Shobhana Bhartiya, granddaughter of KK Birla.
Some Sikh media sites have taken up cudgels, with the World Sikh News, that fashions itself as 'the future of Sikh media,' calling it a "clear attempt to denigrate the Sikh community" and the Sikh Siyasat reminding that smoking was one of the four prohibited conducts (kurehits) in Sikhism.
Jagmohan Singh, editor of the World Sikh News portal and a well known Sikh intellectual working in the field of civil liberties, human rights and minority concerns, strongly criticised the objectionable graphic but said he was more surprised at the silence of certain organisations which are expected to check such nefarious acts.
"Generally, I would have expected Dal Khalsa, the SGPC, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha or the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Satikaar Samitis to raise their voice. So much so, that even the Sikhs of Delhi have not held any street protest. The community should tell the Indian media that it will not take such insults lying down,” WSN editor Jagmohan Singh told Punjab Today.
The World Sikh News (WSN) reported Butalia as saying, "Everybody knows that in Sikh Religion, use of tobacco is strictly prohibited just as in Islam the meat of pig is prohibited and in Hindu Religion, meat of cow is prohibited.”
In fact, the WSN went so far as to beseech the "Sikh world in general, Sikhs in Delhi in particular...to catch the bull by its horns."
"Even if the Hindustan Times apologises and withdraws the impugned comic strip, they should be made to pay such exemplary damages and the artist, printer and publisher sent to prison so that no one even in their wildest liberties would dare to do such a thing. Otherwise, we will have an Indian version of the French "Charlie Hedbo” here in Delhi," the Sikh portal known for taking up community-related issues said.
The fictional character of the Sikh detective smoking a cigar continues to be freely available to the newspaper's readers on its website. Subsequent issues of Brunch or Hindustan Times have not taken any note of protests by the Sikh community.
In its July 9 edition of the Brunch, a note referred to the objectionable and sacrilegious content and said, "The author, illustrator and editors deeply regret any hurt or offence to the cultural sensitivity and religious sentiment of any community." The "regret” did not mention protests by the Sikhs. Further, compounding the mistake, the Hindustan Times neither removed the blasphemous content from its website nor made any effort to blur the illustration for which it expressed regret.
(Updated with the inclusion of the newspaper’s "regret” in its July 2 edition. The objectionable content is still available on the newspaper’s website. An earlier version of the story had confused Jagmohan Singh, the lawyer, with Jagmohan Singh, the editor of the World Sikh News. The error has since been rectified. – Ed.)
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