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Single Parents in Malaysia Organize

by DHEER SINGH

 

15th October, 2007 was a historical day for Sikh women from all over Malaysia. Fifty brave Sikh single parent women gathered at the Lotus restaurant in Ipoh, for the first meeting of the Sikh Single Women Parent Association. To lend support to this formation, there were also several other Sikh women present.

It was heartening to note that for the first time, single parents in the community had decided to come forward and take their affairs into their own hands. President Amarjeet Kaur, a single parent herself and a young graduate educator, addressed those present. In her speech, she thanked the YSS ("Yayasan Strategik Sosial"  -  Social Strategic Foundation) and Mrs. Jasmine Adaickalam for motivating them to form this organization.

The women under the able presidency of Mrs Amarjeet Kaur, supported by UPSO (Union of Perak Sikh Organizations) began compiling data and information on the Sikh single parents in Perak State.

From within the Ipoh area alone, 114 women came forward to register themselves. We visited some of these women to see for ourselves their plight and lend moral support in the upbringing of their families. Out of these 114 families registered, we have visited 37 single parent households. Each household consists of an average of four persons. Some of these single parent households also have extended families of old parents who need help and medical intervention.

The youngest widow is 19 years old and with a child. The oldest widow is a 62-year-old grandmother. Her daughter absconded by leaving her four children with her. We have cases of young unwed mothers, as well. We also discovered complete families in distress, involving four households, which have a total of 16 children. Out of these 16 children, four are orphans. These particular groups are in dire straits and require immediate relief.

Having visited the houses of these Sikh single parents, it became evident that there exists a sizeable number of women who are living in difficult and rigorous conditions in the upbringing of relatively young children. This in itself is a good cause for the formation of an association, as such a group can support and lessen the plight of these women.

In her speech, Mrs. Amarjeet Kaur noted that Mrs. Jasmine from the YSS had also given a touching and emotional talk on women's empowerment to about sixty women in August of this year, at which time she also encouraged them to set up a forum for single parents to address their plight and issues.

At the end of the two hours, the women got together and elected their committee, which is supervised by Dr. Sarjeet Singh Sidhu and myself. The constitution of the Sikh Single Parent Association was unveiled.

These women will definitely be a shining example for the community to emulate, and working together with the YSS will also strengthen them further.

October 29, 2007

Conversation about this article

1: M. Kaur (U.S.A.), October 29, 2007, 10:36 AM.

This is a heartbreaking article. I wonder what kind of program is offered by the local government to help these families financially and emotionally. The young women involved in these situations with children and caring for the elderly do need a lot support and hopefully this organization can cater to their needs, and prepare and equip these women to be self sufficient. Kudos for the Sikh Single Parent Association; may they win this battle in Chardi Kala.

2: Jagdeep Singh (London, England), October 29, 2007, 3:33 PM.

We need organisations like this in Britain too. What do you think the chances are of Gurdwaras using money from Guru ki Golak to help fund organisations like this? Not very good, I bet. Too important to have more marble and gold plated decorations in the Gurdwara in the UK, and have fights and disputes over trivial things. My heart and thoughts and best wishes are with Sardarni Amarjeet Kaur and all others involved in this programme in Malaysia. We need to help the most vulnerable amongst us. At the very minimum, helping to put Sikh women in this situation in touch with each other will be an enormous emotional boost, so that they can make friends and speak to people in the same situation as they are in.

3: Baljeet Kaur (New Zealand), October 30, 2007, 1:38 AM.

Absolutely correct. Perhaps the Gurdwara comittee/mgt should be funding these organisations for the women and children, who are always victims. Indeed we need such organisations in other countries as well to help the needy and people need to communicate with others to relieve the stress they are in.

4: Brijinder Khurana (Delhi, India), October 30, 2007, 1:39 AM.

Frst of all, I would like to congratulate the organisers of this group and wish all of them success. Being from a far place, I don't know how to help them, but my best wishes and prayers are with them. They are doing a marvellous job. Such forums are urgently needed everywhere.

5: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), October 30, 2007, 5:08 AM.

Excellent initiative - to be admired and emulated worlwide. But don't forget that there are dedicated single fathers as well that deserve to be counted as parents and need support. A great initiative.

6: Ravinder Kaur (Canada), October 30, 2007, 6:19 AM.

It is a shame that it is not in the interest of the gurdwaras to assist in this social issue. Several years ago, a desi Women's Center tried to go into the gurdwara and let the sangat know of their services and the so-called gurdwara committee kicked them out and banned their entry. I also would like to congratulate this group and I agree with the previous comments: we do need more organizations like these, around the world.

7: Ruby Kaur (Oxford, England), October 30, 2007, 8:53 AM.

Ravinder Kaur, your description of the reaction of the Gurdwara committee in Canada when a Women's Center approached them is profoundly depressing, but sadly, unsurprising. I personally know of similar things happening in the U.K. And what it tells us of the attitudes of our central Sikh institutions towards helping vulnerable women is even more depressing.

8: Tejwant (U.S.A.), October 30, 2007, 11:26 AM.

This wonderful article shows how far we as a Sikh community have come and it is merely the first milestone on this issue. Sikhi is not a living-in-a-closet way of life. Sikhi is based on freedom and freedom can only be obtained when we create awareness, realization, acknowledgement, acceptance and understanding of the mals that affect us in our community. Once we do that, then only can we call ourselves Sikhs. Hence, this is a great first step in breaking the shackles of tribal taboos. Many more are ahead of us, provided we do not bury our heads in the sand again. The SGPC should take these initiatives and spend the money in opening these kinds of things rather than buying more high-chairs to perch on. I hope each and every gurdwara adopts some kind of program like this the world over. This is true seva.

9: Manjit Kaur (North Potomac, MD, U.S.A.), October 30, 2007, 1:55 PM.

In response to the suggestion that it is not surprising that single mothers have difficulty in getting assistance from a gurdwara: goes to show that the people in charge (usually men) cannot accept this idea, since it shows their own weaknesses to begin with. Amazingly enough, funds can be raised in a single meeting for a new project affiliated with a gurdwara or some bogus sant building a free clinic in India, but needy people in the immediate sangat are easily overlooked because the decision-makers judge them as being undeserving. Every city should have a system set up for emergency situations that rise within the community, in this day and age we are 2nd if not 3rd generation out of India and financially doing well and should be ready to reach out to the less fortunate, since this is where our daswand should be applied. Many other communities have this set up, including the Christian and Jewish communities. As Mr. I.J. Singh mentioned single fathers: well, I know of a handful of single fathers, but usually they are not in this predicament since our society views them differently ...

10: Ruby Kaur (Oxford, England), October 31, 2007, 6:08 AM.

Manjit Kaur, it's not so much that the gurdwara committees and sangat overlook those in their midst, but that they presume that nobody amongst them is in need of support, although that may well be a part of the problem. It's often a general hostility to women's rights and support for vulnerable women generally. I have a friend who works at a refuge for women facing domestic violence. She made a poster written in Punjabi and English outlining the help they provided for those at risk of battering and even death, offered a contact number, and asked to place it on the gurdwara noticeboard. She not only had the poster ripped from her hand, she was verbally abused by committee members - all for trying to help women who face violence. At their worst, I am very sorry to say, by their inaction and lack of support, many gurdwaras are complicit in the oppression of women, when they should be siding with the vulnerable and oppressed.

11: Ruby Kaur (Oxford, England), October 31, 2007, 7:00 AM.

By the way, I also know of gurdwara committees who refused to allow a drugs and narcotics rehabilitation organisation closely linked to a local council social-services agency to place their information on the gurdwara noticeboard or provide them a platform to tell the sangat of their services. They too had produced information and leaflets in Punjabi and English. They did this because they had seen a steady stream of Sikh men and even women with drug addiction problems coming to them for help, so as part of their philosophy of reaching out and helping, they offered themselves to gurdwaras, both for the British born children who may need help, but also for the parents who for cultural reasons may not be able to access resources to enable them to help their children if they were dealing with drug addiction issues. But no, once again, the outrage at the suggestion that Sikhs might have these problems, the denial of the space to those who wish to help, the denial of reality, the denial of a friendly hand, the denial that this problem may affect anyone associated with their community. Better to sweep it under the carpet and deny that Sikhs are affected by social problems that affect everyone else in society. Not every gurdwara is like this; so much in denial and non-progressive and complicit in the stigmatising of those with social, emotional, addiction, or mental health problems. But depressingly, too many are like this. And underneath the veneer, Sikhs, just like every other community in society, face serious problems, and the central institutions of Sikh life are in denial about them.

12: Manjit Kaur (North Potomac, MD, U.S.A.), October 31, 2007, 8:08 AM.

Rubyji, you are right. Again, the underlying theme here is that people in the gurdwaras don't have any appreciation of this issue, or they would rather sweep these problems under the rug, instead of acknowledging there is a problem within our community. They are aware from their own circles of friends/relatives that these issues do exist, but it is always easy to deny rather than face the problems. The committee members of the gurdwaras living in any part of the world are aware of societal issues around domestic violence, but the fear of the unknown allows them to shun anyone trying to help the needy. I speak from experience: I too have tried helping women, only to be frowned upon or judged for myself being single and labeled as "she has destroyed her own home and now she is provoking others". Needless to say, we managed to set up a system for women in need and filtered them into other organizations that were willing to help. As much as our Gurus wanted women to be equal counterparts, we are still struggling for our rights and that too in the place of worship across the world, whether it's to do seva or to seek any form of help/guidance. It's a shame that all the education both genders have acquired in our community hasn't yet been applied to the simple rules that our Gurus have left behind for our guidance for truthful living.

13: Ravinder Kaur (Canada), November 07, 2007, 2:22 PM.

Manjit Kaur and Ruby Kaur, I whole heartedly agree with your perspective. I am a divorced woman and my experience in the community in which I live is that my opinion or assistance does not carry any weight. And, it didn't have any weight when I was single and hoping to make a difference in our community, in which some are more preoccupied with clarifying issues of Sikh Identity. My question is: how about proving first that you are a Sikh, a conscious individual who is concerned about the social issues of our community - a fundamental doctrine that Guru Nanak embodied as a Guru and as a reformist. Perhaps it is not the mandate of the gurdwaras to comment on social issues but they should not deter those organizations who may want to provide education or assistance to the sangat. I am sorry to say that Sikhs in Canada have the reputation of fighting in the gurdwaras for many years now. You cannot blame the media, we gave them a reason. And the reasons for the fights - political, whether to sit on chairs or the ground, etc. ...What could possibly be the solution? It saddens me to see the state of the gurdwaras. I pray that the women in our community can mobilize and come up with a solution that serves everyone's best interest ... Thank you, sikhchic.com, for providing this forum for open and frank discussion.

14: Sevak (Ipoh, Malaysia), March 04, 2008, 3:55 AM.

If you are interested in Sikhi, please visit these websites: www.gurdwarasahibjelapang.co.cc/ and ww.gurdwarasahibjelapang.5u.com/

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