A Meeting at The Akal Takht DYA SINGH
The Roundtable Open Forum # 108
My peers are always there to warn/advise me that it is NOT the institution which is at fault but those who run it.
After all, the Akal Takht is a lofty institution bestowed upon us by the Sixth Master -- Guru Hargobind Sahib.
Recently, my brother, Principal Gurmukh Singh from the United Kingdom -- he is the Honorary Secretary of the Sikh Council of UK (SCUK) -- had to visit Jathedar Bhai Gurbachan Singh ji as a follow-up to a an earlier meeting with him earlier in the year on a number of issues.
I am afraid that I belong to that vast majority of Sikhs worldwide who believe that the Akal Takht currently does very little to give direction to Sikhs worldwide, except to throw out curly hukamnamas when put under pressure by some organisation or vested interest, often from overseas.
The position of the Akal Takht jathedar too has become a political one and subservient to not only the SGPC but also the Akali Party. So, though Guru Sahib had prescribed an interconnectedness between Miri and Piri, it has now unfortunately become maya based Miri which runs the show.
That is, the tail is wagging the dog. Corruption, greed and subjugation by the politically powerful are now a way of life within our institutions.
In true and traditional style, my brother Gurmukh Singh is from the old guard and wants every effort be made to bring back the Akal Takht to its pristine former glory as the authoritative, independent seat of temporal direction for the Khalsa Panth, independent even of the SGPC, et al.
These are noble efforts and should be strongly supported.
I do see the Akal Takht as the focal point of the panthic miri-piri tradition. It is where all Sikhs, gurdwaras and organisations should converge for panthic unity and continuation of the Sarbat Khalsa tradition. Just the fact that it is there keeps Sikhs very loosely together in their diversity, their 'garam' and 'naram' organisations, their ''kharku” and placid organisations and, of course, gurdwaras, the bastions of Sikhi whether they are Singh Sabhas, Khalsa Darbars, or whatever. It gives us symbolic and practical discipline and holds us together.
So, we have a lofty institution which is, at present, defective.
Gurmukh Singh had three proposals to discuss on behalf of SCUK. I went along as I happened to be in the country. The issues on the table were:
1. Establishing a 'hotline' between Jathedar Sahib and SCUK to discuss and issue guidelines on burning issues which at present are:
a. Inter-racial/religious 'Anand Karaj' ceremonies
b. Same-sex 'Anand Karaj' ceremonies
c. The use of chairs in gurdwaras
2. Raising the profile of the Akal Takht with greater outflow of information, guidelines, etc.
3. The possibility of an international Sikh Council represented by nominated members from the various national gurdwara councils or Sikh councils worldwide which would act as an international arm of the Akal Takht.
The meeting took place at the Secretariat at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar on Wednesday, November 5, 2013. Present were the Jathedar Bhai Gurbachan Singh ji; the Akal Takht Secretary (a paid position), Sardar Bhupinder Singh; one other gentleman who was not introduced; S. Gurmukh Singh from UK; and I loosely representing The Sikh Council of Australia and also saying a few nice things about the Gurdwara Council of Malaysia … councils which will no doubt be represented on a Global Sikh Council if such a move ever comes about.
The Jathedar Sahib was very officious, as he should be, and Secretary Bhupinder Singh seemed to evade every question and seemed to want to make sure that the Akal Takht did not take on any kind of further responsibility. He seemed to be comfortable with a status quo! He is after all, a bureaucrat.
The first major question was: Why does Akal Takht not at least respond to correspondence, at the very least to acknowledge receipt of it.
The answer from the secretary was: "We get so many unsavoury communications that we have decided not to respond!"
In fact the Akal Takht secretariat does not appear to have a proficient bi-lingual secretary or clerk, firstly to translate and provide the Jathedar Sahib with information inflow or respond to correspondence which internationally is mainly in English from the largest pockets of Sikhs abroad - UK, Canada and USA.
To think of a bilingual Jathedar would be too much? The detractors, I suspect, will say that we should all be corresponding in Punjabi anyway!
From previous experience, it will appear that if you want a result from the Akal Takht or the Jathedar, you must show some clout. If a delegation of say five or so amritdhari Sikhs turn up on the doorstep of the Secretariat, they might get some action, otherwise do not expect a response.
On the minor questions of inter-racial and same sex Anand Karaj ceremonies, Bhupinder Singh's retorts were - 'Well, it says in the Rehat Maryada that a Sikh man should only marry a Sikh lady". He felt that both questions were adequately answered by thatI
It was suggested to them that these were burning topics in the western world with the gay lobby being very strong and gaining momentum. Perhaps, the Akal Takht should issue some guidelines - 'Sandesh' based on gurmat, which could help national Sikh representative bodies on making their own decisions. The secretary answered that each national body should perhaps make up their own minds as long as they informed the Akal Takht. Once again, it appears that 'they' are happy if the tail keeps wagging the dog.
On the question of an International Sikh Council comprising of appointed members from local representative bodies, the instant response was - 'tuseen karo, ussee(n) tuhaday naal haa(n)'. “You do it -- we’re right there with you!” In other words - don't ask us to take on the responsibility!
And so it went on.
Gurmukh Singh and I trying very hard to constructively urge the Jathedar and the secretary to be more pro-active, and the secretary, especially, telling us - 'we do not want to take up any more work than we have to' - which to me, seemed to be very little anyway!
They do have good tea though, if I have not mentioned that already!
Secretary Bhupinder Singh was more responsive the next day when Gurmukh Singh spoke to him on the phone. It appeared that the 'staff' would respond, the secretary said, if a concerted international effort is made to make the Akal Takht more relevant.
The age-old chicken-and-egg story, if you ask me.
In conclusion, it appears that the Jathedar Sahib is there only for a short term and a political appointee and knows full well that he cannot do much. The employees are happy picking up their fat pay-cheques regularly and doing the minimum or practically nothing at all.
I know that we Sikhs should think positively about our institutions and I do wish sincerely that Gurmukh Singh and the Sikh Council succeed in making the Akal Takht more relevant, but the way things are right now ...
I also do believe that every effort should be made to make Akal Takht more relevant as our supreme body rather than attempting to create parallel international supreme councils with impressive names to replace the Akal Takht or run in competition.
So, perhaps we should keep stirring, as the Sikh Council of UK is attempting to do, rather than shaking or throwing it into total insignificance by mere condemnation.
Will the Akal Takht truly represent all Sikhs worldwide again? That, at present appears only to be a distant dream but then, dreams can always be turned to reality.
THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 108
We invite our readers to respond to the above by posting your comments, thoughts and opinions herein below.
[Edited for sikhchic.com]
November 18, 2013
Conversation about this article
1: Jasbeer Singh (India), November 18, 2013, 9:01 AM.
We have everything in place, all that is required for a religion and/or community to grow in all the directions/ways - except the right people at these places to properly represent and promote Sikhi. Is it difficult to promote Sikhi in the rest of the world if it's not flourishing in this land? I believe it is not. We have to come out of our homes like Baba Nanak did. We're not doing it Guru Nanak's way.
2: Balbir Kaur (New Hampshire, USA), November 18, 2013, 12:45 PM.
I don't know if I should laugh or cry. And these good souls want to set up an office in North America?
3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 18, 2013, 1:39 PM.
Dya Singh ji: You did mention the recent meeting you attended the other day, and now I see the picture of the Jathedar Sahib pontifically seated to dispense the 'hukamnamas's wished by his employers.
4: Harman Singh (California, USA), November 18, 2013, 1:56 PM.
The problem largely is that today's Sikh youth have completely unplugged themselves from the Akal Takht because, other than issuing trite hukumnamas, it does little to address the social, ideological and spiritual concerns of Sikhs worldwide. It is unfortunate that its sphere of influence has shrunk to banning a Bollywood movie here or there. I wish it was staffed by educated, democratic individuals and the world would pay heed to its goings-on, just like all of the world's news channels were transfixed on a chimney for 3 days to see if white or black smoke emanated from it.
5: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), November 18, 2013, 4:56 PM.
Modern day mahants. Guru Gobind Singh cleaned house and got rid of them but they are back. The institution bestowed to us by the Gurus is Guru Granth and Guru Khalsa Panth. The organization with the authority to issue hukamnamas either locally, regionally or internationally is the Guru Khalsa Panth. We don't have popes, priests, vaticans, meccas or ayatollahs. How refreshing.
6: Rup Singh (Canada.), November 18, 2013, 6:22 PM.
I think the Sikh leaders and how Sikh institutions and gurdwaras are being run, is a reflection of the Sikhs in general. Sikhs are so divided, many follow deras and fake babey and still say they are Sikh. Even the Khalsa is divided along the lines of taksals, or who and from where they took Amrit. So can the Sikhs unite and only be Sikhs of Guru Granth Sahib as commanded by Guru Gobind Singh and take their institutions back, and more importantly raise Sikh values and morals to the level at which they should be? The Akal Takht was built by Guru Hargobind and hukamnamas and edicts have been given from there ever since. The concept of Miri and Piri is an integral part of Sikhi and the Jathedar must represent that or he is just an employee enjoying the perks and making a pay-cheque. We all know the sad state of affairs of the Jathedar and the SGPC. Commentator #5 suggests only the Guru Khalsa Panth has the right to issue hukamnamas. With all due respect, who are these people, where are they, where are they from and who elected them to do so for 30 millions Sikhs?
7: Kuldip Singh (Patiala, Punjab), November 18, 2013, 11:29 PM.
I belong to the school of thought that accepts the leadership of the Akal Takht without question. I also believe without doubt or equivocation that the Almighty is indeed All Mighty.
8: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), November 19, 2013, 2:30 AM.
On the whole, in his typically outspoken style, Dya Singh has given a balanced account of our meeting with Gyani Gurbachan Singh ji. A couple of corrections: I have never held any office in any gurdwara or Sikh organisation, but worked with many by invitation as an adviser. The issues of "interfaith" (nothing to do with race!) and "gay" marriages as "Anand Karaj", were raised only as examples of matters which need clarification and further practical guidance to gurdwaras. New issues to do with advances in science referred to us by Western media and universities, were raised. S. Bhupinder Singh from the Akal Takht secretariat was actually less negative than Dya Singh makes him out to be - I was even sympathetic to some of his arguments. No excuse; but these are our institutions and we cannot abandon them. The need is to build trust and regular working level relationship (not "hotline"!) and two way flow of information between gurdwaras and established Sikh organisations, and Akal Takht Sahib. The ground reality is that we have a long way to go; but the bottom line is that if global Sikhs did not have one reference (focal) point of our Sikhi miri-piri tradition, then we would have to invent one! But then Akal Takht Sahib is already there as a powerful symbol of Sikh miri-piri tradition. Diaspora Sikhs now have sufficient resources and influence to manage reform of our central institutions from local sangat level upwards.
9: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), November 19, 2013, 4:25 AM.
Bias in Sikh managing bodies is visible. It divides them, enabling today's political setups to exploit and further the plight of the Sikh masses. It's not official but it is often heard by the visitor to Amritsar that he will not easily find a room in the SGPC guest houses if he is from Delhi. The divide is visible with DSGPC and SGPC foul-mouthing each other to appease their political partners. As the coming to power shifts, efforts are instantly initiated to dislodge employees and members, irrespective of their political aloofness. We are our own worst enemy. It is rightly pointed out that both institutions have being hijacked by political interests and it servers the office bearers to keep their affiliations in good humor. Political partnerships serve to keep them negatively engaged against each other. This has drained the entire community, and the best talent, brains and all those with good social and religious intentions have been isolated and side lined like the grass under a huge tree without sunshine. Once the individual's self-desire is met, every thing else becomes dispensable and secondary for him. Nonetheless the community should continue to strive for achieving what is essential and good for the panth, hence the effort of all those that make such efforts, inspite of hitting the wall repeatedly, is laudable and must be supported. I only wish that what is preached by the political, social and religious elite must also be practiced, else we may again be advised to forget what all we have been through by our very own prominent community members. As a remedy let us try to have the best of Sikhi practiced by ourselves which should bond our community and bring Chardi Kala.
10: K.S.D. (Mumbai, India), November 19, 2013, 6:12 AM.
This is a very wierd article. As far as my understanding about the panth goes, we are ordered to follow the Guru Granth Sahib and not jump like a dog when any person says so. Guru Gobind Singh freed us from this dependance on other mortals and ordered us to listen to the immortal wisdom of the Guru Granth Sahib. Of course, every one is entitled to his or her own opinion. And, I believe, if you want to be treated like a dog, then it's your own choice.
11: R Singh (Canada), November 19, 2013, 7:54 AM.
Knowing fully well the jathedar has no clout and is merely an appointee of the current rulers, it is futile to keep complaining. We have our manifesto in our hands, the Guru Granth Sahib. I am sure five informed Sikhs can be found in most pats of our globe, to sit and discuss and advise how to navigate our new horizons in an evolving universe. KSD #10 has a valid point.
12: Jagbir Singh Khalsa (Birmingham, United Kingdom), November 19, 2013, 8:56 AM.
In 2009 I've met both Gurbachan Singh and the Jathedhar of Hazoor Sahib on two different occasions. They were both individuals flanked by heavily armed body guards. I am talking submachine guns. My thought was: These are supposed to be fearless, hateless (nirbhao, nirvair) gursikhs we have to look up to? Fact is: these are politicians. Nothing more, nothing less. Our Gurus left us without an ordained priesthood - with good reason.
13: Gobinder Singh (USA), November 19, 2013, 4:59 PM.
S. Dya Singh ji: With all respect, I put the blame squarely on Sikh Councils/ groups, gurdwara committees of the West for causing even more damage and rift whether inadvertently or intentionally. These are heated issues and cannot be decided unilaterally by Jathedar of the Akal Takht nor should he be asked to do so. Sikh groups of the West have started using the jathedar as a tool for their own interests and it has already done enough damage. What if the jathedar decides to issue yet another hukamnama and ban inter-racial, inter-religious marriages? Are we in any condition to accept it? Sikhs get married every day with people opf other faiths. If some are acceptable, then why not others? Same sex marriage? These are loaded questions and they require very delicate approach and input from global Sikh groups. Running to the jathedar, fully aware that he is a mere puppet in the hands of a local political party of Punjab, and seeking his directives is not in our best interest. They do not have the means or an understanding of Sikh issues in the global context. The better approach would be to coordinate within local bodies in the country and come up with a consensus. The 'Tables and Chairs' issue, for example, was completely unnecessary and did not warrant violence and division which occurred in the US and Canada. The jathedar should have never been involved in this case. Additionally, we need to ensure that the position of the jathedar itself is independent enough to be able to provide any guidance for the Sikh Panth. I am afraid, currently, that's not the case!
14: Dr K Singh Jhita (Kent, United Kingdom), November 20, 2013, 8:17 AM.
Veer Gurmukh Singh ji and Veer daya singh ji. I have written to the Akal Takht on many occasions but failed to get an answer on similar issues. As chair for the Medway Gurdwara Council, I was denied direct questioning on jathedar's arrival to inaugurate the Gravesend Gurdwara. Your efforts are commendable and I feel that external pressure may cause the general body to reform the Akal Takht. The jathedar has said the same thing on past occasions ... that the UK Council should take action and inform the Takht Sahib. Keep up the good work. I would be more than delighted to take part in this.
15: Harinder (Punjab), November 20, 2013, 9:53 AM.
I think Sikhs in different countries of the world must set up their national councils. These can then send feed back to Amritsar's Akal Takht. Which in turn should keep a central record of activities of Sikhs in different countries. As for the burning questions occupying the Sikhs in different parts of the world, the sangat of that country or society can sit together and take decisions which are best suited to their needs. No two countries are alike. To get a universal response on each local issue is asking for the impossible. May Waheguru bless all of you living outside India who are working hard at carrying the universal message of Guru Granth Sahib to all.
16: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), November 20, 2013, 1:18 PM.
I read S. Gobinder Singh's views #13 with appreciation. In fact, the Sikh Council UK briefing, and the Jathedar Sahib himself, touched on some of these points. Dr K Singh Jhita #14 would have read my debriefing to the Council reported in a UK weekly (also at my blog http://www.sewauk.blogspot.co.uk/). Our purpose is to first establish mutual trust and an effective two-way consultation at a working level. Much management upwards will be required and is expected! The question of "marriage" is in the context of "Anand Karaj before the Guru Granth Sahib". I am only too well aware of the sensitivities.
17: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), November 21, 2013, 6:47 AM.
Ultimately it is all about money! And cushy jobs. The current Akal Takht has failed to do anything worthwhile or any thing more than issuing edicts which are often ill-thought out. In the absence of a functioning body, a true Sikh doesn't need any thing or any body other than the Guru to guide him or her.
18: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), November 21, 2013, 9:10 PM.
Reference # 17: we need to be blunt. Miri-wise practices haves failed in the diaspora countries. If at all, its implementation should remain limited to India. Piri-wise Sikhi reflects the wisdom of the Gurus, which is needed all over the globe. It reveals the gospel of Truth and Oneness through the Gurtu Granth Sahib in their purity. The natives in diaspora countries are beginning to understand Sikhi.
19: Rup Singh (Canada), November 23, 2013, 8:12 PM.
#18: Ajit Singh ji: your comments are quite interesting. Are you suggesting the separation of Miri and Piri? You say Miri, if at all, should remain limited to India for the Sikhs. Did not Guru Hargobind Sahib give the cooncept of Miri and Piri to the Sikhs? Did he not wear the two kirpans of Miri and Piri? Don't the two Nishan Sahibs at Akal Takht represent Miri and Piri? For Sikhs, they have to be together. Temporal power and obligations (Miri) without the guidance of gurbani (Piri) can become a dangerous things. Genocides of minorities in India and other countries prove that. Also a saint without a sword cannot even defend himself, let alone anyone else. In Canada Sikhs are in political power from city councilors to MP's. Some have been provincial and federal ministers as well. Seems odd that a Sikh would suggest to other Sikhs to limit their political involvement, if at all, to India only and not participate in other countries they are living in.