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Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone

by I.J. SINGH

 

 

Today I seek my readers' indulgence in highlighting a tale that baffles me.

An editorial-cum-report in the Sher-e-Panjab on what would normally be a forgettable matter in Texas, caught my attention.  This is a New York weekly reporting on matters impacting Sikhs (particularly in the diaspora), Punjab and India - roughly in that order. 

The report in question is from current issue dated October 8, 2010, in which the Editor, Baldev Singh Grewal, writes of a gurdwara in Texas. Let me briefly summarize the gist in English.

A man from an unnamed town in Texas forwarded Sher-e-Panjab a letter from the Management Committee of the local gurdwara banning the man, his aged parents and his small, minor children - indeed his entire family - from the gurdwara.

The ostensible reason: the man's younger brother was carrying on an illicit affair with the wife of a management Committee official.

I am relying on the account in Sher-e-Panjab for the veracity of the events.

Assuming it to be true, it is an age-old tawdry tale, possibly dating from our pre-human ancestors, even before the beginning of humanity. Grewal raised some very fine and nuanced issues that deserve exploration.

In response, the gurdwara managers assert that their intent was only to punish the guilty man and never the whole family. But the letter addressed to him included in the ban all adults living at that address. In a further explanation, the management clarified that the young children in that family would be allowed to attend the gurdwara.

The problem remains: How are the minor children expected to attend without the adults?

In a final twist, the official whose wife has stepped out of her marital vows is asked by the gurdwara to file for divorce.

This is obviously an illicit affair between two consenting adults and in this society it's not illegal. It is quite understandable that the gurdwara and the community would not look favorably on this matter, but can or should a gurdwara unilaterally take on the power and authority of a judicial system?

If the offending man and his family are banned from the gurdwara, why not the offending woman and her family including the gurdwara official?  When asked to clarify, the managers further compound their folly by stating that if the cuckolded husband didn't divorce his wife he, too, will be banned from the gurdwara.

I should point out that I know of at least one other example in a different town where a currently serving senior gurdwara official has for the past several years separated from his wife and children and continues to live fairly openly with his paramour. He does not seem to have divorced his wife and, I suppose, continues to meet his financial obligations but there has been no notice taken by the colleagues in gurdwara management.

Are gurdwaras, temples and churches only for perfect people? I hope not or these places of worship, no matter the religion, would remain utterly empty. Have we not heard of the injunction against casting the first stone for no one is perfect?

Have we not heard Guru Nanak proclaim: "Hum nahi(n( changay buraa nahi(n) koye" ?

Gurdwaras are by principle, history and traditions, open to all - Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.  The managers do not sit in judgment of an individual.  It is only when people seek positions in management that one may put their lives under a microscope.

If places of worship are academies for character building and communities, then one does not banish a poor student from the school.

Yes, communities have the prerogative to shun or even excommunicate an individual. Along with this goes the obligation to counsel, advise and assist the straying members of the flock.

What they do not have is the power to banish people from the gurdwara. 

Such behavior of a couple as we see here is not new nor is it going to disappear tomorrow.  Our character flaws will appear and continue to reappear as long as we live. And we need not, indeed should not, overlook them

But only the talibanesque jump to such arbitrary justice as if they are the custodians of truth, virtue, learning and tradition.  And the Taliban - an insult to the meaning of their name that stems from the scholarly tradition of a Talib - are now busy around their world stoning women for the sin of adultery.

They don't belong in Sikhi.

From a reading of the "facts" that are currently available, it seems to me that the attitudes of "Talibanism" - sexism, capricious and arbitrary judgment - are widespread and well beyond the borders of Islam and seem to finding a home in Sikhism. Let's not overlook or excuse the lamentable stupidity of the gurdwara management just because they are in Texas ... Texan politics, as everyone knows, is in a class by itself.

How hopelessly muddled is our current internal system of conflict resolution?  You be the judge.

I started this column hoping to find clarity and sense but they seem both elusive and illusive at this time.

 

ijsingh99@gmail.com                                                   

October 11, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India), October 11, 2010, 6:48 AM.

Gurdwaras should be more understanding of human failings, and forgiving too.

2: Taran (London, United Kingdom), October 11, 2010, 1:16 PM.

This is what bothers me. All our so-called community leaders (or 'Panth de Sevaadar') have tainted characters. But instead of being honest, they form this gang of members where they start meting out judgments and edicts to others. This should not happen. These corrupt gurdwara officials must be sacked!

3: Dr..Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 11, 2010, 9:07 PM.

Separation of Church (in this matter a Gurdwara) and State is one of the fundamental pillars on which U.S. (in fact, in many other like-minded nations) governance was established. As well, the govt. has no business in our bedrooms. The actions of the gurdwara committee are not only illegal as per prevailing laws of the land, but also it seems such actions may not be appropriate according to Sikh traditions and customs (as they relate to functions of the running of a gurdwara). I will leave the latter to be judged by scholars in this field. This, however, shouldn't be construed as support infidelity - it is an important issue on it's own.

4: R. Singh (Canada), October 11, 2010, 10:04 PM.

Gurdwaras are for those who need solace and learning, for the lost and confused, for the scared and fearful - shunning anyone for being a sinner is not the function of the gurdwara.

5: D. J. Singh (U.S.A.), October 14, 2010, 3:25 PM.

Guru Nanak laid the foundation of ethics and morality in Sikhism by emphasizing that "Even greater than Truth is Truthful living." Guru Arjan condemned adultery with the following words, "The lustful, lecherous man desires many women, and he never stops peeking into the homes of others. Day after day, he commits adultery, again and again, and then he regrets his actions; he wastes away in misery and greed." [GGS:672]. The question raised by this essay is: Should we be held accountable for our moral decisions and actions? And once moral accountability is secured, is there any due process in Sikhism? Is the Sikh Rehat Maryada valid? Is it time to make some amendments? Who decides? A few or the collective majority? Did Guru Gobind bless the Punj Pyare (any five Sikhs who abide by the Guru's teachings) to decide such issues? Should each one of us diligently search the hymns in Granth Sahib for our answers?

6: Kam Singh (London, England), October 15, 2010, 3:19 AM.

Some Sikhs carry the backwardness of Indian culture with them to their new countries. It is why so many young Sikhs find themselves alienated from Sikhism.

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