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The Thief Who Stole From The Gurdwara Coffers:
The Roundtable Open Forum # 87

by GURUCHARANJIT SINGH LAMBA

 

 

 

I am a janitorial worker at a gurdwara in India. The other day, I made the grievous mistake of stealing from the golak: I took one rupee (appprox. 2 cents U.S.). 

[A golak  is the locked receptacle sitting in front of the palki and Guru Granth Sahib in a gurdwara, where you pay obeisance. Any monetary offering you make there is done by dropping it into the golak.]

I am at a loss as to why I did it, and how I convinced myself I needed to do it. There are no excuses that justify it ... that I am poor and underpaid, that my children are starving, nothing makes it right.

I instantly realized that this was a sin and cannot be justified by any means.

But I had done it. And I was now a prisoner of my crime.

A congregant saw me do it. I was caught red-handed. 

Alarm bells were sounded and committee members arrived on the scene. 

My pleadings, my prayers, tears rolling down my cheeks, my folded hands, my plea for my kids, my job, my request for forgiveness, my future and so on, to the committee members ... none were able to soften their toughened attitude.

I realized how helpless a poor person can be when confined and in the custody of all powerful.

Then came the moment of instant justice.

First, they brought in a slate-board and chalked an inscription on it in Punjabi: "Mein Golak-Chor Haa(n)" - "I am a golak thief".

I was made to hold it in front of me.

Later, I was handed over to the police. 

I lost my job.

My children, unattended at our home, pondering over their mother's fate, wait and wail.

I confess that indeed my mind prompted me to commit this crime. The committee has, in its wisdom, decided to give me physical punishment. These days the jails are also called reformation centres. I wish, instead, I had been taken before the sadh sangat and given an opportunity to repent, to sit with them to listen katha-kirtan, and assisted me in cleansing my soul ...

But this was not to be.

The saakhis tell us: Guru Nanak had reformed Bhumia Chor and Guru Hargobind had reformed Bhai Bidhi Chand by bringing them to the sangat and washing away their sins through naam-simran and the support and compassion and forgiveness and blessings of the sangat.

 

THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM - # 87

How would you have handled this situation, if you were a "committee member"?

Or simply a member of the sangat.

Do we pay our gurdwara staff enough? The cleaning staff? The bhais? The kirtan jathas? The parcharaks?

There have been a number of reported instances of some bhais stealing from the golak. How should they be handled?

And the committee members who "steal" from the golak, or knowingly misuse or misapply the funds. How should they be treated?

And our jathedars and SGPC and DSGMC members who misappropriate funds for political and/or personal uses? 

 

[Edited for sikhchic.com]

February 28, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: Gurpreet Singh (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), February 28, 2012, 7:13 AM.

Aren't we all thieves? We should not encourage such activity by not addressing the matter, but handing her over to the police, considering the circumstances, was not justified. In such instances, they should only be given religious punishment and a chance to reform. After all, it's the sangat's money and we are talking about the Guru's home. Let's be real. Our gurdwara committee members must stop acting like dictators and wielding cruel "sentences". We as Sikhs cry about injustice, but we do the same with our servants ... example, this story!

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), February 28, 2012, 7:20 AM.

This is a tricky one! I understand that uncontrollable anger and gratuitous violence is the absolute norm in India, especially with thieves where they are usually beaten to serious injury or even death! But as human beings, we know and understand that where there is money, there is always temptation to steal! So, forgiveness, education and help should be the only way for us! Otherwise we will be the very same people who surround us - no religion, faith or compassion for their fellow beings! On a slightly different note: the poverty I'm personally experiencing on visits to Punjab is staggering! I feel for the 'poor souls' who ask for help, yet I'm told by Locals NOT to give money as they are lying and it's a form of a scam! So you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't!

3: Simon (London, United Kingdom), February 28, 2012, 7:49 AM.

Guru Gobind Singh is well known to have given monetary assistance to any needy one that came to his court. The Guru now is Guru Granth Sahib, so who is now responsible for distribution of the Guru's parshad, charity or even to listen to the destitute?

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), February 28, 2012, 8:12 AM.

The anguish this piece has caused is beyond description. Where is the 'dekh key undith kitaa' that we parrot daily in the ardaas? Reminds me of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables where Jean Valjean is sentenced to prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry children. We have not learned any lesson from the saakhis of Bhumia Chor and Bhai Bidhi Chand. The whole bunch of self-righteous committee of that gurdwara are 'tankhaeeyaas' and 'masands', and qualify to have slates around their own necks for their shameful actions.

5: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.), February 28, 2012, 9:07 AM.

In my personal opinion, there should not be any golak in any gurduara. People can continue to save their money and at the end of the month go directly and submit their dasvandh to the treasurer of the gurduara. Make sure that you get a receipt. Golaks facilitate the creation of 'black money' and lower the accountability of the system. Did we have any golak during the Gurus' times?

6: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), February 28, 2012, 10:45 AM.

Stealing is a crime, whether it is a rupee or a million dollars. That being said, without compassion and forgiveness, there is not much humanity left, is there? Have we learned nothing from our Gurus? And we are supposed to be the guardians of the weak? A mistake was made by the person stealing; followed by a travesty of the values of Sikhi by the gurdwara committee.

7: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), February 28, 2012, 10:53 AM.

I wish there was a 'like' button on sikhchic.com. I would have simply pressed the button on comment#4 by S. Sangat Singh ji. Couldn't agree with him more. Did Guru Nanak curse and swear on Sajjan the Thug? Did Guru Ram Das punish Prithi Chand for not delivering Guru Arjan's letters to him? Where is the concept of "chhama" - forgiveness - here? In my opinion, the committee should have, after checking out the facts, done the following: 1) Do ardaas to the Guru along with the guilty person and request the Guru to pardon her and bless her with honesty in the future. 2) Assign some sort of a seva or community service as punishment for her, proportionate to her crime. 3) Finally, pay her enough or adequately as an employee of the Guru's House so that she can provide for her family. To answer the other questions asked in the above forum, no, we do not pay our gurdwara staff enough. I am using anecdotal evidence here but a few years ago, I had heard that the head granthi of the largest gurdwara in North America was paid something like $1500/month. I won't identify the gurdwara here. Can $1500 afford a house and kids' education in today's economy? We should do a comparison with what priests and employees in churches and synagogues are paid? We expect our granthis to be fluent in English and well versed with philosophies of other religions, but are we paying them enough to be motivated to do all this? Are we sponsoring their education in the English language and comparative religion? Will any Sikh born and raised in the diaspora want to become a granthi or a paid raagi in a gurdwara at these minimum wages? We expect our granthis and sevadars to come from Punjab but do everything a religious worker of other faith does. How fair is this? Reforming the gurdwara committees and creating guidelines and bylaws that prevent committee in-fighting, which result in brawls and law suits, is a whole different issue that sikhchic.com should take up as a separate topic of discussion.

8: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), February 28, 2012, 4:29 PM.

If you enter Harmandar Sahib from the clock tower side, on the right hand side of the parkarma is Baba Buddha's baer tree and diagonally opposite, in the corner, is a chhabeel/water-stand known as Bhai Swaayia Singh ji di Chhabeel, established some 100 years ago. One day someone came with a thaila (bag) and picked-up and slipped some 10 to 15 baatay (cups) in the bag and quietly walked away with them. Bhai ji saw him but did not stop him. Instead, he followed him. Once he reached a secluded spot, he addressed him: "Pyarae jio, today there are not enough baatay left behind to serve water after the evening's diwan. Please take half and return the rest for the chhabeel." On hearing this, the fellow fell at Bhai ji's feet and tried to return the lot to him. But Bhai ji insisted that he take half of the lot with him. The fellow who came to steal got stolen himself and became a dedicated sevak and started to serve water, and did so for the rest of his life. On another occasion, someone stole a couple of baatay and was caught by a 'sevak' and produced before Bhai Swaayia Singh, branded a 'chor' (thief). "Na, Bhai, don't call him a chor. Tell me, what would you call the one who contributes these batay?" The man replied: "Daata! (donor)" "And then, if a needy one takes them away, he cannot be a chor." Bhai Swaayia Singh ji made no distinction between a daatta and chor and called them 'sadh sangat'. Sukhmani Sahib has a whole ashtpadi dedicated to this principle. [Reference: Bhai Vir Singh's "Sant Gaatha", p. 99]

9: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), February 28, 2012, 6:23 PM.

Those of us who are quick to judge are quick to falter. Once we know the truth there is usually a guilty feeling and a paradigm shift. If we see someone stealing from the golak we brand them a chor right away but if we know that their kids are dying of hunger or disease we gladly give the wealth away. As a Sikh I have learnt that to remain in 'chardi kalaa', one must have a big heart and this includes learning the Guru-given art of forgiveness.

10: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), February 28, 2012, 9:12 PM.

This is an extremely emotive feature. Hoever, a while back, I was told by acquaintances who live neat the Darbar Sahib complex, that stalks from sweeping brushes (jharroos) were routinely, albeit secretly, being used by some sevadaars to extract cash from golaks in gurdwaras. When I expressed shock that this could go on even at the 'most important place in the Universe', the reply was blunt! "There is no fear of a hell or God or anything ... their (the sevadaar's) attitude is: we'll see when the (karmic) punishment comes." I suppose that is why there is not much sympathy or compassion with the locals.

11: Raj (Canada), February 28, 2012, 9:28 PM.

Typical stupidity, going after and insulting someone who just took a little money to support herself. On the other hand, real golak-chors such as the Badals, Makkars and Tohras get rewarded with leaderships and jathedaaris. Morons ...

12: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), February 28, 2012, 10:40 PM.

Bibek Singh ji - #5: The Gurus always had a golak. It was the poor man's mouth, to ensure that he did not go hungry. That golak has since multiplied million fold, and nurtured into 'Guru ka Langar' and remains unique and unequalled. There is a saying that no one goes hungry in Amritsar. On an average day some 50,000 are fed daily. During Guru Har Rai's time, He used to ask Sikhs to go check that no one went to sleep hungry. That was the Guru's real golak.

13: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), March 01, 2012, 2:39 PM.

This is an eyewitness account of Munshi Mehr Din, a well known calligraphist of saintly disposition in Amritsar. He was a friend of Bhai Vir Singh, and this was related to him when Bhai Sahib had gone to offer his condolences at the death of Munshi ji's daughter. The incident is recorded in Bhai Vir Singh's "Sant Gaatha." ... "Munshi Mehr Din's village was Jagdian in district Amritsar where he grew up and went to school. There was a gurdwara known as Sant Bhai Nihal Singh's dera, and equally loved by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. School children on the way home would often stop there and were rewarded with kheer, karaah parshad and langar, all of which was served most lovingly by Sant ji himself. He would also tell them that there is only one Father - Waheguru - and we are all His children. On one occasion some thieves broke into the dera by breaching the back wall and stole some 50 rupees. The sevadaars, knowing Sant ji, did not report the theft to the police, and started to repair the damaged wall, when, by chance Baba ji happened to pass by, and the full story spilled out. He stopped the repairs and told them: "Waheguru. Waheguru, don't plug that hole. He was a needy one who came and was perhaps too shy to come in the day time. If you plug that hole, the poor fellow will have to break in again. Just put an earthen cover over the hole so that he can easily remove it and enter, if and when he needs to enter. It all belongs to the sadh sangat - they donate it all, and they can take it away as they please." Sant ji passed away around 1910.

14: Dr..Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 02, 2012, 6:03 AM.

All I can utter is "Boy, oh boy" - we should all look in the mirror first and ponder over our own actions before we go on to inflict any type of judgement on the actions of others.

15: Jespal Singh (Lodi, California, U.S.A.), March 03, 2012, 11:20 PM.

Who among us is a saint to be able to judge others? 'dekh key unditth keetaa', is part of our ardaas and does mean something. Our Gurus showed the way. Hopefully, we can learn.

16: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), March 05, 2012, 7:30 AM.

The decision by the committee to get the police involved was unforgivably stupid. The committee should have listened to the poor woman, given her a stern warning and let her go back to her family. Then the committee should have reviewed the salaries of its sevadaars. To show compassion, one has to behave compassionately. Gurdwara committee members will be accountable for their stupid and careless attitude. Mental stress can cause people to commit unthinking, unexpected acts - such people need help, not punishment.

17: Harinder (United Kingdom), March 09, 2012, 3:41 AM.

It's sad that all we can do is express our sentiments. The point is: we should act on such incidents - in this case, making the committee aware of our (sangat) views and assisting the poor lady out of jail. I feel helpless!

18: Brijinder Kaur Khurana (Delhi, India), June 04, 2012, 10:34 AM.

After noting the contents of the above discussion, I think it is a very harsh step being taken by the Gurdwara committee. If the lady has stolen a rupee or any amount, the reason should be asked and discussed within the sangat. It is very objectionable that for a mistake or petty crime, that person is being punished twice over. Firstly, she was humiliated by photographing her with the slate proclaiming that she is a golak thief. Then, even after a sincere apology, she was handed over to the police. What is this? Our constitution has laid down certain rules and it is very clear that for one crime, one should be punished once only. Do we know how honest these committee people are? Are they doing justice with the money the sangat is offering? Do they publish any account statements so that everything is clear in front of sangat that the money is being utilized properly and for the benefit of the community? Are these committee heads working for the benefit of the old and the helpless? We don't know the answers. In our faith, we believe that Waheguru will punish the guilty. Considering the circumstances, the committee members should have warrned the woman and assigned her some task to make amends.

19: Harminder Singh (Patiala, Punjab), October 15, 2012, 11:21 PM.

I just got introduced to sikhchic.com for the first time and read this article. I really felt pity for the committee members for their action towards that lady. It's true that the lady made a mistake but in my sincere views it was not a crime. I am not referring to our Gurus or the other instances in history which are described quite nicely in the above comments. Let us review the present scenario. These so-called gurdwara committee members are the biggest traitors themselves. They handed over that lady for stealing 1 rupee to the police but they never looked at themselves. A few years ago, I read a news-item about a paatthi sitting behind Guru Granth Sahib and watching porn on his mobile. Then, a few months ago, there was this report of a sevadar putting a camera in the ladies' bathroom in the accommodation for travelers, on the gurdwara premises. If you ask these traitors for ardaas they will seek for money from you. You organize akhand paatth at your home and these paatthis and committee members will ask for all the offerings in addition to their fees. I may sound frantic over here but these so called gurdwara managment committee have completely commercialized our religion. Shame on those people who silently observed unparliamentary behaviour with that lady only for stealing 1 rupee but the same people will bow down in front of all these corrupt and criminal babas in Punjab. No one will raise his/her voice against them. In my views what that lady did was not a crime. I do not agree with her unlawful ways but when you see your children starving, are you left with any option?

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 87 "









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