Shame On You! JAYDEEP SINGH BHATIA
An Open Letter To Gurdwara Committees:
Roundtable Open Forum # 159
Dear Gurdwara Committees,
To put it bluntly, you’re killing Sikhism in America.
On Sunday, January 10, a video capturing a dramatic fight at the Turlock Gurdwara in California went viral. The images of men and women shouting, punching and even hitting each other with weapons, present a scene of utter chaos. Unfortunately, this sort of scene has become all too familiar in gurdwaras across the world.
I don’t know the reason behind the fight. Nor am I familiar with the petty nuances of Gurdwara politics. And frankly, I don’t care.
What I do care about is the detrimental impact the conflict in Turlock, and other conflicts like it, have on the next generation of Sikhs in America. When you participate in this sort of needless violence, it does irreparable damage to the long term future of Sikhs in the country. In order for any religious community to sustain itself, it must assimilate its youth. This youth must be proud of its identity. This youth should have a basic understanding of the major principles of its faith. And most importantly, this youth must take an active interest in the preservation of the faith.
Instead, these sorts of fights have the opposite effect. Because for me, and thousands of other Sikh youth, this sort of violence, pettiness and chaos is a major turn off from the faith itself.
I’d like to clarify that I am not a particularly religious person. I am not overly familiar with gurbani. And I’m no scholar of the faith. However, there are some fundamental aspects of the Sikh identity I cherish. These include a commitment to philanthropy, the inclusion of other faiths and dedication to equality. I, and the thousands of other youth like me, all probably fall in this general category. We may not completely understand the historical significance of gurbani, but we align ourselves with these tenants. And I’d argue this is why young Sikh men and women still continue to take an interest in their religion. These are things we understand. These are things we pride ourselves on.
However, when we see scenes of shameful violence like what happened in Turlock, we distance ourselves from these institutions of faith. This, in turn, is producing a generation of uninterested, and apathetic Sikhs. We don’t want to get tangled in politics, so we simply stop showing up. The difference between Sikhism, and other major Abrahamic faiths operating in this country, has been Sikhism’s lack of contemporary adaptation. There is a clear disconnect from the young men and women who are supposed to carry the torch of Sikhi, and those who currently operate its institutions. This divide is more than cultural. It’s a fundamental difference in how we view the religion. While you’ve become entrenched in pursuit of your own petty politics, you’ve managed to marginalize and push away those same people who are supposed to fill your ranks.
You, and committees like yourself, have created a toxic environment within our religious institutions. Gurdwaras are meant to be places of serenity, introspection and peace. Instead, you, and whatever ridiculous politics you subscribe to, have shamefully devolved them into the subject of viral fight videos. You may dismiss this letter as some ignorant American kid who knows nothing about the faith. That may be true. But I can tell you this:
If this continues, the hollow chambers of Gurdwara halls, all over the world, will be filled with nothing more than the sounds of your needless arguing.
Shame on you.
* * * * *
ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 159
We invite our readers to respond to the concerns raised by the author, by posting their comments below.
January 16, 2015
Conversation about this article
1: Harnam Singh (Washington, DC, USA ), January 13, 2016, 7:58 AM.
This is something I simply cannot fathom: people professing religious faith and passion fighting amongst themselves. I can see Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and others doing it -- though they too have no excuse for it, if they truly follow the teachings of their respective Elders -- but Sikhs!? Ours is a simple and straight-forward path of spirituality, sans dogma and feigned certainty and blind rigidity. How can we, how do we get into such gurdwara conflicts? The answer maybe lies in the fact that those who get on these committees first leave their minds and their hearts and their Sikhi outside the door ... Shameful, indeed!
2: Kiran Kaur (New Mexico, USA), January 13, 2016, 8:06 AM.
I recall seeing a video not too long ago of fists flying between priests in the inner-most sanctum of Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem -- an occurrence, I'm told, which repeats itself at regular intervals. Mind you, not between Jews and Muslims, or Christians and Jews, or Christians and Muslims, but between Christian priests themselves! Go figure. It's heart-breaking. I share your distress, Harnam Singh ji, and yours, Jaydeep Singh ji, when we read about some Sikhs dropping to that level, especially those who are so eager to serve in gurdwaras. We need to address this issue clinically and forcefully, as soon as possible, with zero tolerance for such boorish behavior. Through the sangat ...
3: Jaswinder Kaur (Germany), January 13, 2016, 8:06 AM.
Jaydeep Singh ji, this is not only in America but also in other places, including Germany. The real fight is for golak -- the funds received through offerings. Let's remove it from the reach of these committees and then see how many are so keen to be committee members.
4: Gurdial Singh (United Kingdom), January 13, 2016, 8:26 AM.
There's a special place in Hell specially reserved for these fools. And ... a reminder! ... Hell and Heaven in Sikhism are both experienced in this very world, in this very life, not in the distant hereafter or on a faraway planet.
5: Kaala Singh (Punjab), January 13, 2016, 11:09 AM.
If you are really serious about stopping these gurudwara fights, then don't fill that golak the next time you go the gurdwara.
6: Fatehpal Singh Tarney (Boca Raton, Florida, USA), January 13, 2016, 11:44 AM.
Sigmund Freud wrote about “the narcissism of small differences.” Close-knit communities related in many ways, such as by religion, ethnicity, and language, often engage in aggressive conflict and in ridiculing each other. In the midst of communal solidarity, there is an emotional need, often subconscious, to manifest one's separateness and individuality. The American psychiatrist, Glen Gabbard, discusses a need to find and even exaggerate differences in order to preserve a feeling of “self.” Human beings are imperfect and we Sikhs need Gurbani to counteract these social-psychological tendencies. Gurdwara elections, control of the Golak, and haumai issues are among the main obstacles.
7: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, USA), January 13, 2016, 12:56 PM.
In my mind, this is not an issue of a fundamental difference in how the youth and the previous generation views the Sikh religion. Regardless of the generation, this behavior is totally un-Sikh like. Those who understand the message of Gurbani, unlike the institution managers taken to task by the author, should be the last ones to behave in this manner. Gurbani encourages us to shed our ego and work in the sewa of humanity. How does this behavior reflect that ideal? On the one hand we want to communicate our achievements as a community in this country to the mainstream community and propagate our principles and lives of our Gurus to address the problems of mistaken identity we face in this country from time to time. On the other hand, there are such incidents in the gurdwaras. What message gets communicated to law enforcement and local media agencies about Sikhism when we have these brawls in a gurdwara, where one is supposed to come for sangat and spirituality?
8: Kashmira Singh Mann (Berkshire, United Kingdom), January 13, 2016, 1:56 PM.
Jaydeep Singh is quite correct. This sort of behaviour drives the ordinary worshipper away from the gurdwara. Sadly it happens in every faith and everywhere. I have witnessed this in the UK. Often it is not even about the money. It is about ego and pind politics. People like to gain credit by using the money for prestigious projects, thus messaging their own egos. They also like to use/abuse the money for their supporters instead of the general sangat. These partisan tactics result in gurdwaras being dominated by particular families. Some simple things which could reduce this sort of things need to be looked at: 1) One term presidents. 2) Max two terms on the committee. 3) No two family members on the committee. 4) Independent auditors and election monitors. 5) One third of the votes reserved for the youth. 6) Remember that the sangat is pavitar (pure, innocent) and must hold the ultimate power. 7) Anyone who uses the sort of violence seen in the video must be named, shamed, and barred from participating in any committee or gurdwara work. They can do seva but not in any decision-making work. - Lastly, I think I speak for most Sikhs when I say that the video made me sick and ashamed. Not ashamed to be a Sikh but ashamed that my brothers and sisters had no recognition of the damage they were doing to the community. I have met numerous brothers and sisters who would die of shame if they behaved like that in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.
9: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), January 13, 2016, 3:09 PM.
The management committees of gurdwaras consider themselves to be a special class. They think that by virtue of election through the involvement of attendees (sangat) they have acquired a monopoly on divine knowledge which relates to religious rights and ceremonies. Japji Sahib, Paurri 16: "punch parvaan punch pardhaan ... dargha maan". Their social conscience is not built on the foundation of equality, fraternity and fellowship. According to them, the golak money in a gurdwara includes the activities through engagement of lawyers who will protect the so-called curtailment of rights and liberty of the committees in case of frivolous disputes.
10: Jasbeer Singh (New Delhi, India), January 14, 2016, 2:42 AM.
A big thank you to these guys! I was under the impression that such fools are in India only (that too, mostly in SGPC and DSGMC). But you proved that when it comes to control gurdwara affairs and Guru's golak, the fools remain the same, no matter where they are geographically located. By the way, are these fools relatives of Badal's or Makkar's or related to DSGMC (GK Dal or Sarna Dal)? No matter, but, SGPC should call these and confer them with "Fakar-E-Kaum" and "Shiromani Sewak". Please continue the way you are, your kids will take it to the next level. Since your sangats don't have the courage to throw you fools out.
11: Tony Singh (Canada), January 14, 2016, 7:41 AM.
Well, we Sikhs don't have it too bad in the grand scheme of things. I'd rather have a few temper tantrums at our gurdwaras than the systematic, evil abuse of children by the religious leaders that many Christian churches have experienced. These physical fights will stop as educated people take over gurdwara administrations as they will have too much to lose by engaging in physical altercations. Instead, the fights (and there will continue to be fights; Sikhs are only human and ego-laden like other humans) will just be handled through expensive litigation.
12: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India ), January 14, 2016, 10:24 AM.
I think most of the persons who claim to be leaders, chairman, pradhans of gurdwaras are like highjackers or forceful occupants. What is the need of them in gurdwaras? The sangat is competent to manage gurdwara affairs. Moreover, Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave all importance and reverence to the Punj Pyarey. In Delhi and other cities here in India, gurdwara elections are held just like political elections. Ordinary sangat every where is pained by all this. But the presence and actions of such self-centered people does not mean that the majority of the sangat is participating in their mischief.
13: Raj (Canada), January 14, 2016, 4:59 PM.
Simple solution: take golaks (or money) out of the gurdwaras; you'll have solved the problem not only in these countries, but in India too. Start demanding it now. When gurrh (raw sugar) is open, dirty flies will rush to it.
14: Kashmira Singh Mann (Berkshire, United Kingdom), January 15, 2016, 9:25 AM.
I hear what is being said about golaks but that is not the solution. Sikhism is an active religion. Langar and charity is Sikhism in action. Also, gurdwaras need maintenance; bills have to be paid. Golaks cannot be done away but measures can be put in place to ensure factions cannot manipulate the money for personal glory or enrichment. Golaks being administered by independent people would be a way forward. I am happy to see so many committed Sikhs feel passionate in the running of gurdwaras but they need patience and tolerance and not get embroiled in personal politics. That is why I encourage the points I made in my earlier (#8) posting.
15: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), January 17, 2016, 6:50 PM.
The gurdwaras should be run by volunteers only on an hourly basis, around the clock, armed with nothing but devotion.
16: H. Kaur (Canada), January 18, 2016, 1:04 AM.
Just reading the news headlines about this fight made me cringe. These jackasses give Sikhs a bad name right when have to deal with the racists in the larger community. And the really sad thing, a lot of these jackasses involved in the fighting don't even care if they give Sikhs bad press.
17: Raj (Canada), January 27, 2016, 4:34 PM.
Let me be the devil's advocate. I was visiting Edmonton a few years ago, they have a gurdwara where they never had a fight. Their policy is, anyone can come to the gurdwara, but no particular caste or clan is allowed to be monopolizing running the gurdwara. No promotion of violence or alcohol, etc. It's a peaceful and spiritual place.