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Piara Singh Bhaniara (23 August 1958 – December 30, 2019)[1] also known as Baba Bhaniara (or Bhaniarawala), was a Dalit religious leader from Punjab, India. He established a breakaway Sikh sect in the 1980s, which was opposed by orthodox Sikhs as insulting to their faith. In 2001, his followers published their own holy text Bhavsagar Granth, and allegedly insulted the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib. This sparked violence against Bhaniara's followers. The Punjab government banned Bhavsagar Granth, and arrested and jailed Bhaniara.[2]

Early life

Piara Singh Bhaniara was from the Dhamiana village of Ropar district. He was one of the 7 children of Tulsi Ram, a mason. Before becoming a religious leader, Bhaniara was working in a sericulture farm in Asmanpur village, as a Class IV employee of the Punjab state's horticulture department.[3]

Religious career

Bhaniara's father served as the caretaker of two mazars (mausoleums of religious leaders) located on the outskirts of Dhamiana. After his father's death, Bhaniara became the caretaker of these mazars. He started handing out medicines for various ailments, gaining recognition as a "baba" (holy man) with healing powers. He started to attract a lot of followers, most of whom were Mazhabi Sikhs. The visitors to his dera included the Indian National Congress leader Buta Singh, who was India's Home Minister at that time.[3] Buta Singh visited Bhaniara several times between 1985 and 1995 for healing of his wife Manjit Kaur, who was suffering from several problems of the heart, kidney, skin and lungs.

As Bhaniara's followers grew in numbers (600,000 according to police estimates), a number of politicians started visiting him for his help during elections. These politicians helped him build his 100+ acre dera at Dhamiana.[3]

Conflict with the Sikhs

In 1998, the jathedar of the Sikh religious body Akal Takht ex-communicated Bhaniara, alleging that he was prone to say "nasty" things about Sikhism and its contemporary leaders.[3]

In the summer of 2000, a local gurudwara disallowed one of Bhaniara's followers from carrying the Sikh religious holy book Guru Granth Sahib. This prompted Bhaniara's followers to write their own holy book (granth), resulting in the creation of the Bhavsagar Samunder Amrit Vani. Some Sikhs alleged that Bhavsagar Granth copied several portions from the Guru Granth Sahib, and that Bhaniara insultingly imitated the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh in several photos in the book.[3]

In 2001, Akal Takht summoned Bhaniara, intending to chastise him for his large following. However, Bhaniara rejected the summons, arguing that he had no reason to obey the Akal Takht, because they had excommunicated him three years earlier.[3]

In September 2001, during a religious ceremony organized by Bhaniara's followers, a newly-formed organization called Khalsa Action Force attacked the function, seized the Bhavsagar Granth and burned it. This was followed by several instances of Guru Granth Sahib being burnt in the rural gurudwaras of Punjab. The police arrested and presented before media some young men, who stated that they had burned Guru Granth Sahib at the insistence of Bhaniara.[3]

The arrests sparked off violence against Bhaniara's followers. In October 2001, Bhaniara was arrested under the National Security Act, and charged with several crimes. His followers were put in jail, where they were attacked with acid and knives by people claiming to be Sikhs. Some of Bhaniara's deras were converted into SGPC-administered gurudwaras. No action was taken against those who attacked Bhaniara's followers. Politicians who were associated with Bhaniara were punished by Akal Takht; many of them disavowed Bhaniara and asked for greater punishment to Bhaniara and his followers.[3]

The Parkash Singh Badal-led Punjab government banned Bhavsagar Granth and confiscated all its copies, arresting those who were found in possession of these copies. The print copy was probably destroyed by the police.[3] A 3-member SGPC committee published a 48-page report listing various acts of sacrilege committed by Bhaniara's followers. It also indicted several politicians for patronising Bhaniara: these included Buta Singh, Joginder Singh Maan, Amrik Singh Aliwal, Gurdev Singh Badal, and Kewal Badal. It also blamed several Nihang leaders for propagating Bhaniara's cult.[4]

In 2003, a man named Gopal Singh attempted to stab Bhaniara, when he was in Ambala to appear in the court in connection with his alleged involvement with the alleged burning of the copies of Guru Granth Sahib.

After release

Bhaniara was released in 2003, but the District Magistrate of Ropar banned his entry into the Ropar district, thus preventing him from visiting his dera at Dhamiana. Bhaniara and his followers successfully challenged this ban in the court. The local administration ordered him not to organize large gatherings, but despite this, a large number of his followers continued visiting him on his birthday (23 August). There has been no further violence between Bhaniara's followers and the Sikhs, although in 2004, there were protests by Sikh organisations, when a gurudwara allowed Bhaniara's followers to carry a copy of Guru Granth Sahib.[4] A member of Babbar Khalsa, Gurdeep Singh Rana was arrested for trying to assassinate Bhaniara using a bomb in January 2005.

References

  1. ^ Service, Tribune News. "Controversial Dera head Piara Singh Bhaniara Wala dies at 61". Tribuneindia News Service. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Controversial self-proclaimed god man Baba Piara Singh Bhaniara Wala dead". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Meeta & Rajivlochan 2007, p. 1911.
  4. ^ a b Meeta & Rajivlochan 2007, p. 1912.

Bibliography