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Everybody Seems to Want 'Unity'.
What's With This Unity Thing Anyway?






What’s with this 'unity’ thing?

Everywhere I turn, the excuse Sikhs give for their failures and shortcomings is the lament that we are not united.

“If only we were united …!” 

It’s a blanket justification used by many to hide personal laziness - both intellectual and physical. And cover their cowardice, or incompetence, or just a basic lack of passion, commitment or even talent and skills.


You think Christians, the largest religious grouping in the world today, are united?

The other day I came across a document, produced by a Christian Church, which cites 41,000 Christian denominations that exist today. That’s the exact number they have come up with through their own research.

“If only we were united ….!” they cry.


There are as many Jewish groups as there are individuals in the community, many within the community will tell you. Those on one end of the spectrum won’t even speak to those at the other end. Some would rather kill the others than be caught dead in the same room with them.

Muslims? It began with Sunni and Shia. Now you have a thousand splinters.

Buddhists? Have you ever been to South-East Asia? There’s a whole world of variations … more shades of saffron than you can imagine.

Hindus? Well, each of the billion of them seems to have a very personal deity, some of them not even dead yet. Each has a personal animal, vermin, plant, rock, planet or politician to worship. The only thing that appears to unite them all today is greed.


I don’t know, but I keep on coming across people from every faith imaginable who tell me: “If only we were as united as the Sikhs, we could …!”

The first time this happened was when I was about 10 years old, and it was the Hindu editor of The Indian Nation newspaper saying that to me in Patna ... yes, to a 10-year-old! The last time I heard it said, in identical terms, was from a Jewish Rabbi in Toronto not too long ago.

The world sees us as united, stuck together like glue. We are universally envied for this unity. We are resented us for this very unity.

They look at our small numbers, and they take note of how we have as many as 14 gurdwaras in Toronto alone, for example. And each is attended by thousands every Sunday. And every evening too. Across the road, Christian churches - belonging to the majority religion of the land - get visits from a few dozen each for an hour on Sunday mornings, and then they are neatly locked up for the rest of the week.

And each member of the Sikh congregations seems to be gainfully employed. All look far more affluent than the national average.

Others who see us marvel how we fight for our rights relentlessly … until we win.

There’s never been a time I can remember when some nitwit somewhere didn’t come up with, “No, you can’t wear a turban here, because … you know, because, well, because we never have …!”

Or one of a million variations of this remarkable observation.

And each time we have won, even if it meant going all the way to the Supreme Courts.

Even while our billion detractors in India beat themselves in a frenzy, crying, “No, don’t, No, don’t, they are violent people!” we have used due process, democratic and legal avenues, and never violence, more efficiently than anyone else around. And, we've always won. Even if it took years and millions of dollars. Even when the power of the state opposed us, or the weight of the mob.

“If only we were as united as you are …” they tell me.

They can’t figure out how we dare to wear our turban crowns in every land, on every street, in every corridor of power and influence, and do it with a smile and a swagger, while Christians hide their crosses under their shirts when it becomes unfashionable or inconvenient to do so. Hindus have chopped off their chotis, and drink their urine only in private, and fawn before the lingam only behind closed doors. Jews hide their names and their yarmulkes when identity does not work in their favour.

But Sikhs … well, Sikhs do turban tying demonstrations out in the open, in public squares. And competitions where Sikh mothers of little children - undeterred by hate crimes - bring them in and demand that they be taught to tie a dastaar like a prince! Truly, in this day and age, I've seen nothing braver and daring than such mothers of tender-age boys.

So, what’s this unity thing that everyone keeps clamouring about?

Are you united within your family, at home? Do each one of you see eye to eye?

Do all of your friends and loved ones even vote for the same political party? Do you know of any group that does?

I thought one of the strengths of our community is that we have leaders of every political persuasiony. As a community we are not a monolith - thank God! After all, we are encouraged to think for ourselves. Being human, not lemmings, we have divergences of opinion. Vive la difference!

So, does that make us not united?

I think unity, as envisaged in a thoughtless way, is - like peace - a pipe dream.

It ain’t gonna happen.

Not the way most people think of it. Not here, nor there. Not with us, nor with any other grouping within the homo sapiens

But I know what you want, what you’re looking for.

And THAT is going to happen, not by muttering over and over again “Let’s have Unity!”, but by getting off our butts and doing what we would like others to do.

You think we should make an epic movie on Ranjit Singh?

Put a bundle of money on the table - any amount, even $10,000, if you can’t afford more - and see how it multiplies. Add the yeast of personal action, and by the next morning, it’ll be a loaf of bread a hundred times the original size!

You want to counter the propaganda spewed out by goons hired by India’s corrupt politicians? Put your money where your mouth is!

You lament the loss of our heritage and culture? Start supporting Sikh writers, playwrights, dancers, filmmakers, journalists, TV & radio programmes …

You are being discriminated at work? Help build our advocacy institutions!

THIS is unity!

It’s not a train that will choo-choo into town one day and bring in the militia.

Unity is within each one of us to discover. Once we unite the miri and piri within ourselves, all other unity will follow.  

Next time you're looking for unity outside you and around you, remember, unity is not a first step or a tool ... it is an end product.

And, it begins with YOU and ME.


First published on June 29, 2012. Re-published on July 1, 2018

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 29, 2012, 7:24 AM.

In Sikhi, the unity we need to strive for at all times is our personal and spiritual unity with the Guru's teachings ... the rest follows naturally.

2: Hardeep Kaur (Canada), June 29, 2012, 11:21 PM.

I think you're right ... I'm one of those people who use the lack of unity as an excuse. This article has made me think a lot deeper. Thank you for sharing this :)

3: Sukhvinder Singh (Walsall, United Kingdom), July 04, 2012, 5:49 AM.

I totally agree. We are obsessed with 'Unity,' but yet cannot explain what we mean. The strength of Sikhi is in its diversity, but with all owing allegiance to Guru Granth Sahib. In the UK and working with organisations throughout the world we have achieved unity by working together on common issues and each respective organisation using their resources to lobby on that issue with a common purpose and goal, yet keeping their organisational identity. For example, the Professor Devinderpal Singh Bhullar case, the case of the Sikh 'hijackers' in Switzerland, Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana case,the Dastaar and airport issue, wearing of the 5Ks, etc.

4: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 07, 2014, 2:03 AM.

Before we fix these minor problems, let's have some practice and start with an average home. The usual refrain when you have company of dear friends and relatives visiting you: "Can you please help and tell my dear husband that he eats and drinks too much? I keep telling him this is bad for his health." Or, "Please tell my wife she is too historical. She remembers all my past mistakes including date, time and place, and, god forbid when she is angry it starts global warming." We will come to kids later on. When you have sorted these minor problems, please train your guns to recent happenings. Two factions went to war in Patna Sahib a while ago, and then, a few days ago, a similar scene in Amritsar when kirpans were freely used. Yes, what's that about the 'unity' thing?

5: Harpal Singh (Sydney, Australia), June 07, 2014, 8:04 PM.

What a wonderful and inspiring read. In addition and as an extension to what Sher Singh has written above about supporting: We need to respect, adequately remunerate our Granthi Singhs and encourage them to instill Guru's message in our gurdwaras, rather than relegating them to mere 'hired help' for the incumbent gurdwara management commitee. We should contribute so that scholars of our faith are well looked after. We should divert most (if not all) of the money that we put in gurdwara golaks towards what Sher Singh is pointing to above. Given the spreading cancer of gurdwara mis-managment, given them our total daswandh is no less than adding fuel to fire.

6: Jasbir Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), June 07, 2014, 11:57 PM.

Thanks for a gentle reminder and by republishing. If only we can understand the gift of 'kirpan' and not flash it against each other. I guess it will involve civility. Can we all be civil?

7: H. Kaur (Canada), June 08, 2014, 8:22 PM.

This is very true. Thanks.

8: Loveleen Singh Saggi (India), June 08, 2014, 11:35 PM.

"Sab Sikhan ko hukam hai Guru manyo Granth" -- When the calling is from the One Guru, it conveys clearly that we are one and we will obey Him.

9: Brig Nawab Singh Heer - Retd (Canada), July 02, 2018, 9:44 AM.

An excellent write up, Sher Singh ji. I have two points to add: One, if we all totally and truly align to Guru Garath Sahib's teachings we will always be united. Two, I will cite one example - recently one group came to a friend of mine who is into media in the Greater Toronto Area ('GTA'). They requested him to use his media forum to give a call to community to boycott Bhai Dhadrianwala who was to visit the GTA. My friend advised them not to do it. They were adamant and had some grievance against the visiting Bhaiji. My friend humbly suggested that they should go back and think about it, then take a Hukamnamah from Guru Granth Sahib. Then come and convey whatever Guru dictates ... he would then entertain their request. Next day when a jatha of 25 came to my friend's house I happened to be visiting him as well. Those humble Sikhs informed my friend very honestly that the Hukamnamah advised them not to oppose anyone visiting the town. They were wise people who with the guidance of the Hukamnamah avoided unwarranted opposition. I am no real fan of any Bhaiji, but I am against any unwanted controversy. I find that if we follow Guru truly, He always shows the way. So let us truly UNITE under HIS guidance.

10: Avtar Singh (India), July 02, 2018, 9:51 AM.

I agree with S. Harpal ji when he says: "Given the spreading cancer of gurdwara mismanagement, giving them our total daswandh is no less than adding fuel to fire." Sardar T Sher Singh ji, I would request you that with various resources at your command, please highlight different areas of unity: Advocacy groups, Sevak jathas helping humanity, war victims, other helping units working across the countries so that the Sikhs and others are able to donate daswands to these groups rather than them donating blindly by putting all of their daswandhs into golaks. Many will come forward if they are ensured that their daswandh is going to the right place and can see the result of their work. Today, for example, I can see the good work being done by a Sikh agency helping the Sikhs of Shillong in north east India. They arranged a group of good advocates from Delhi, and are producing solid results.

11: Ari Singh (Burgas, Bulgaria), July 03, 2018, 8:37 AM.

Unity is a very elusive thing for most communities. Gurdwaras are nuclei of the Sikh community yet we cannot manage them to their full potential as community centres. We have no 'unity' in the popular sense of the word. Neither does anyone else. We fought and died for the British Empire. We could have been the rulers if we had unity.

12: Antarang Kumar (India), July 16, 2018, 4:07 AM.

What a wonderful article this was. Each word in it had absolute truth in it. Today's world is faking unity. Really fascinated by the idea: "Are you united within your family, at home? Do each one of you see eye to eye? Do all of your friends and loved ones even vote for the same political party? Do you know of any group that does?" .... Indeed, these are the parameters of validating unity. Amazing write-up! An eye-opener.

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What's With This Unity Thing Anyway?"

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