In UK, fight for control over gurdwaras reaches top court

LONDON (TIP): The UK Supreme Court on Wednesday was due to begin two-day hearing on a petition whether a Punjab-based Sikh leader is the “rightful head” of two gurdwaras in Birmingham and High Wycombe. Sant Baba Jeet Singh, who has never been to the UK, claims to be the rightful controller of the two shrines.

He claims to have even the right to sell them and remove their funds from the country. “Some are calling Baba Jeet a cult leader. My clients certainly reject him as having any authority or say over their lives,” said Paul Ridge, who represents caretakers of the High Wycombe Gurdwara. “They simply want nothing to do with him and reject entirely his claim that they should follow him, his direction or his teaching.”

The two gurdwaras were established in 1987 and 1993 for the advancement of the Sikh religion under the spiritual guidance of Sant Baba Gian Singh. The trust documents set up for them also refer to “his successor”. But there has been no agreed successor after his death. No mechanism exists for saying who the successor is or should be. Baba Jeet Singh claims to be the rightful successor.

But the British Sikh community does not agree with him. Ridge said despite such clear rejection, they are faced with having this man imposed on them by the court as a successor. “It would be absurd for the courts to tell this congregation who they should follow. If the Maharaj succeeds he will be empowered to strip the assets of the charities,” he said. “He would have power to compel a sale of the gurdwaras over the heads of each congregation and have the proceeds of sale and any other assets stripped out of the UK.”

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