B.C. Human Rights Tribunal gives Ravidassia gurdwara special protection

A recent decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal highlights some complex clashes within the Sikh community. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismissed a complaint by two members of the Canadian community who were denied membership in a Burnaby gurdwara because of their caste.

But it’s not what you think. The men who were refused membership did not belong to a caste that was historically disadvantaged, but instead, were jats. And the group who did the refusing were the historically discriminated-against Ravidassia.

Gurshinder Sahota and Sohan Shergill said they were discriminated against by the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple because they belong to a higher caste in the traditional system of social ranking than do temple members… The 900 members of the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple belong to the lowest group, Dalits, formerly referred to as “untouchables” and often considered outside the caste system altogether. Sahota and Shergill are from the jat caste, which is traditionally a land-owning class in the Punjab and now makes up much of Metro Vancouver’s Sikh community. [link]

Vancouver’s Ravidassia community celebrated the decision, affirming their right to protection from the greater Sikh community.

The decision, released this week, was hailed as an affirmation of temple members’ right to gather as a “minority within a minority,” said spokesman Jai Birdi. “Since the decision has come out, the members are feeling quite empowered by it,” he said. “They’re feeling that this really reinforces their ability to come together as a marginalized community from India to talk about their heritage and historical unresolved issues and come up with some strategies for moving forward.” He added that the complainants are welcome to attend the temple’s religious ceremonies and social programs. [link]

Considering the treatment that the Ravidassi community has historically been meted, I understand that they might feel threatened by other castes, even in Canada, where shades of caste discrimination surface when it comes to matters of marriage, or treatment at other gurdwaras. But is refusing membership, though allowing entrance to services, really the answer? The responsibility to be inclusive lies on advantaged Sikhs, and this might be a situation where the personal politics of the individuals who wanted membership played a role (can anyone shed more light on this), but instinctively, I would hope for an inclusive attitude from the Ravidassi community as well.

“Our vision is that one day the community’s confidence will increase to the point that they are not feeling oppressed . . . and then there will no longer be a need to restrict membership,” he said. The Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple was formed in 1982 to meet the needs of Dalits who “felt that they weren’t fully welcome in the existing temples,” Birdi said. Members follow the teachings of a 15th-century guru who preached against the caste system. Birdi said temple-goers were worried that if membership was opened to non-Dalits, it would defeat the purpose of the organization. [link]

Part of the basis for the Human Rights Tribunal’s decision was jurisdictional, but part was also based on a prior United Native Nations decision, agreeing that membership could be restricted to a minority group in order to promote the group’s welfare.


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28 Responses to “B.C. Human Rights Tribunal gives Ravidassia gurdwara special protection”

  1. Mewa Singh says:

    I, too, have been still trying to wrap my head around this question. I have had limited contact with the Ravidasia community, but have tried increasingly to engage with them more recently.

    Amongst the youth, there are only few differences and most see themselves as wanting to be part of a greater Punjabi Sikh collective. However, their parents (having not grown up in the US and having had very different experiences probably both in Punjab and the US) want their children to not only be proud of but assert their Ravidasia identity as separate than a Sikh identity. It is a fine line because some of their leaders and intelligencia do not believe themselves to be part of the "collective Sikh fold," although there are opinions that differ from this more extreme position as well.

  2. Mewa Singh says:

    I, too, have been still trying to wrap my head around this question. I have had limited contact with the Ravidasia community, but have tried increasingly to engage with them more recently.

    Amongst the youth, there are only few differences and most see themselves as wanting to be part of a greater Punjabi Sikh collective. However, their parents (having not grown up in the US and having had very different experiences probably both in Punjab and the US) want their children to not only be proud of but assert their Ravidasia identity as separate than a Sikh identity. It is a fine line because some of their leaders and intelligencia do not believe themselves to be part of the “collective Sikh fold,” although there are opinions that differ from this more extreme position as well.

  3. Members follow the teachings of a 15th-century guru who preached against the caste system. Birdi said temple-goers were worried that if membership was opened to non-Dalits, it would defeat the purpose of the organization.

    FAIL

  4. Members follow the teachings of a 15th-century guru who preached against the caste system. Birdi said temple-goers were worried that if membership was opened to non-Dalits, it would defeat the purpose of the organization.

    FAIL

  5. Suki says:

    It is a fine line because some of their leaders and intelligencia do not believe themselves to be part of the “collective Sikh fold,”

    Can you really blame them.

    I can't believe nobody wants to talk about this issue here. I wonder why that is. Is it cause most here come from a jatt background and don't want to admit that there are problems of racism in our community.

  6. Suki says:

    It is a fine line because some of their leaders and intelligencia do not believe themselves to be part of the collective Sikh fold,

    Can you really blame them.

    I can’t believe nobody wants to talk about this issue here. I wonder why that is. Is it cause most here come from a jatt background and don’t want to admit that there are problems of racism in our community.

  7. ranvir says:

    What sikhism is all about is taking down the barriers that existed within a community in India. It started out with a good principle with the establishment of Punj piaras from a wide spectrum of the community – without any regard to high and low. In the old days during the growth period of the sikh religion, emphasis was placed on congregation and the idea was to promote goodwill among people of good faith and believers in the oneness of a universal God. As the strength of the community grew even after passing through some very difficult times during the Muslim and English era the Gurdwaras begin to emerge like political and business centres of controlling the sikh sangat. Therefore the managerial portion of the administration is beginning to drift away from the sikh principles. In principle there is no need for separate Gurdwaras for any kind of sikhs, as long as they believe and respect the teachings of Shri Guru Granth Sahib. The current state of affairs from Austraia to Punjab,India appear to have been carried on to give the entire sikh community a bad name. The participants on both sides of the fence do not represent the principles of either one of the parties and should be held responsible for their actions and dealt with accordingly with the laws of the land.

  8. ranvir says:

    What sikhism is all about is taking down the barriers that existed within a community in India. It started out with a good principle with the establishment of Punj piaras from a wide spectrum of the community – without any regard to high and low. In the old days during the growth period of the sikh religion, emphasis was placed on congregation and the idea was to promote goodwill among people of good faith and believers in the oneness of a universal God. As the strength of the community grew even after passing through some very difficult times during the Muslim and English era the Gurdwaras begin to emerge like political and business centres of controlling the sikh sangat. Therefore the managerial portion of the administration is beginning to drift away from the sikh principles. In principle there is no need for separate Gurdwaras for any kind of sikhs, as long as they believe and respect the teachings of Shri Guru Granth Sahib. The current state of affairs from Austraia to Punjab,India appear to have been carried on to give the entire sikh community a bad name. The participants on both sides of the fence do not represent the principles of either one of the parties and should be held responsible for their actions and dealt with accordingly with the laws of the land.

  9. parminder singh says:

    THE SIKHISM WAS FOUNDED ON VERY PRINCIPLE OF EQALITY AND ONENESS OF GOD.BUT IN LAST 100 YEARS THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF SIKHISM LOST AND NOW EXIST IN ONLY THEORY.THE SIKHISM COMPLETELY FAILED ON PRACTICAL GROUNDS TO ABOLISH CASTISM IN SIKHS.THIS IS ONE OF THE IMPORTANT REASON WHY SIKHISM IS FACING NEGATIVE GROWTH.I AM AMAZED TO SEE SOME SIKH SCHOLARS BOASTING OF ABSENCE OF CASTISM IN PUNJAB AND RAPID GROWTH OF SIKHISM.THE KILLING OF SAINT OF RAVIDASIA SACT FURTHER DEEPENED DIVISION AMONG DIFFERENT SECTIONS OF SIKH COMMUNITY .THIS ALSO SHOWED HOW SIKHISM IS BEING RUN BY ILLITERATE RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHO DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF DEBATE(SAVWAD) IN SIKHISM.THE GREED TO CONTROL OVER GURUDWARA BY SO CALLED UPPER CAST SIKHISM IS NOT NEW PHENOMENON.EVERYBODY KNOW WHY MASTER TARA SINGH(SO CALLED SIKH SCHOLAR ) REFUSED THE PROPOSAL OF MASS CONVERSION OF DALIT TO SIKHISM BY DR B.R AMBEDKAR.HE FEARED THAT IF IT HAPPENED, THE SO CALLED UPPER CAST SIKHS WOULD BE CONVERTED TO MINORITY IN PUNJAB AND THEIR CONTROL OVER GURUDWARA COMMITTIES WOULD LOST.THE RECENT EVENTS(UNFORTUNATE ) LIKE REMOVAL OF SHRI GRANTH SAHIB FROM GURUDWARA OF RAVIDASIA SACT(ITALY) AND REFUSAL OF MEMBERSHIP SHOWS WALL OF DIVISION HAS GROWN HIGHER .THIS CAST DIVISION WILL FURTHER PROMOTE DERAWAD IN PUNJAB.SO I THINK THS IS ONE OF THE THE MOST IMPORTANT THREAT TO VERY EXISTANCE OF SIKHISM.

  10. parminder singh says:

    THE SIKHISM WAS FOUNDED ON VERY PRINCIPLE OF EQALITY AND ONENESS OF GOD.BUT IN LAST 100 YEARS THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF SIKHISM LOST AND NOW EXIST IN ONLY THEORY.THE SIKHISM COMPLETELY FAILED ON PRACTICAL GROUNDS TO ABOLISH CASTISM IN SIKHS.THIS IS ONE OF THE IMPORTANT REASON WHY SIKHISM IS FACING NEGATIVE GROWTH.I AM AMAZED TO SEE SOME SIKH SCHOLARS BOASTING OF ABSENCE OF CASTISM IN PUNJAB AND RAPID GROWTH OF SIKHISM.THE KILLING OF SAINT OF RAVIDASIA SACT FURTHER DEEPENED DIVISION AMONG DIFFERENT SECTIONS OF SIKH COMMUNITY .THIS ALSO SHOWED HOW SIKHISM IS BEING RUN BY ILLITERATE RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHO DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF DEBATE(SAVWAD) IN SIKHISM.THE GREED TO CONTROL OVER GURUDWARA BY SO CALLED UPPER CAST SIKHISM IS NOT NEW PHENOMENON.EVERYBODY KNOW WHY MASTER TARA SINGH(SO CALLED SIKH SCHOLAR ) REFUSED THE PROPOSAL OF MASS CONVERSION OF DALIT TO SIKHISM BY DR B.R AMBEDKAR.HE FEARED THAT IF IT HAPPENED, THE SO CALLED UPPER CAST SIKHS WOULD BE CONVERTED TO MINORITY IN PUNJAB AND THEIR CONTROL OVER GURUDWARA COMMITTIES WOULD LOST.THE RECENT EVENTS(UNFORTUNATE ) LIKE REMOVAL OF SHRI GRANTH SAHIB FROM GURUDWARA OF RAVIDASIA SACT(ITALY) AND REFUSAL OF MEMBERSHIP SHOWS WALL OF DIVISION HAS GROWN HIGHER .THIS CAST DIVISION WILL FURTHER PROMOTE DERAWAD IN PUNJAB.SO I THINK THS IS ONE OF THE THE MOST IMPORTANT THREAT TO VERY EXISTANCE OF SIKHISM.

  11. Simran says:

    I heard some-one honorable say it that "the Sikhs are known to be invincible because the 10 Living Gurus blessed them with all their might by living exactly how they want them to live. However, only Sikhs can/will destroy Sikhs."

    The popular saying goes "Je Sardar, Sardar nu na marey. Eh quam kade na harey."

    We as so called "Sikhs" are disgracing the word "Sikh" and making our ten perfect Gurus look bad at the same time. But we feel proud to be a Jat, Ravidasia, Bhapa, Ramgarhia…Sikh.

    We are insulting our 10 Gurus embodiment and our spiritual treasure Guru Granth Sahib by using the Living Guru in the form of a Granth as means to hate.

    Guru's lifestyle is about love, inclusion, service, utmost humility and living the message at any cost. Living the message to our last breath at any cost.

    Besides caste, we divide ourselves further into belonging to certain organizations, jathas, sant deras, and maintain a holier than thou attitude because we are a Sikh.

    We forget neither Harmandar Sahib nor the Guru Granth Sahib are our property. We are a mere temporary blessed care-takers or custodians. We are not bound by the Punjabi language limitation or the geographic boundaries of Punjab.

    A Sikh would be ashamed of himself if he made his Guru some-one pointed a finger at his Guru due to his failings.

    Remember Baba Atal Rai anyone?

    But we are proud Jat, Ravidasia, Punjabis,… who happen to go to a Gurdwara on occassion to keep the label of a Sikh handy for a religion. This is a serioius personal disgrace of the Guru's Panth and we are proud of it?

  12. Simran says:

    I heard some-one honorable say it that “the Sikhs are known to be invincible because the 10 Living Gurus blessed them with all their might by living exactly how they want them to live. However, only Sikhs can/will destroy Sikhs.”
    The popular saying goes “Je Sardar, Sardar nu na marey. Eh quam kade na harey.”
    We as so called “Sikhs” are disgracing the word “Sikh” and making our ten perfect Gurus look bad at the same time. But we feel proud to be a Jat, Ravidasia, Bhapa, Ramgarhia…Sikh.
    We are insulting our 10 Gurus embodiment and our spiritual treasure Guru Granth Sahib by using the Living Guru in the form of a Granth as means to hate.
    Guru’s lifestyle is about love, inclusion, service, utmost humility and living the message at any cost. Living the message to our last breath at any cost.
    Besides caste, we divide ourselves further into belonging to certain organizations, jathas, sant deras, and maintain a holier than thou attitude because we are a Sikh.
    We forget neither Harmandar Sahib nor the Guru Granth Sahib are our property. We are a mere temporary blessed care-takers or custodians. We are not bound by the Punjabi language limitation or the geographic boundaries of Punjab.
    A Sikh would be ashamed of himself if he made his Guru some-one pointed a finger at his Guru due to his failings.
    Remember Baba Atal Rai anyone?
    But we are proud Jat, Ravidasia, Punjabis,… who happen to go to a Gurdwara on occassion to keep the label of a Sikh handy for a religion. This is a serioius personal disgrace of the Guru’s Panth and we are proud of it?

  13. KDS says:

    THE GREED TO CONTROL OVER GURUDWARA BY SO CALLED UPPER CAST SIKHISM IS NOT NEW PHENOMENON.EVERYBODY KNOW WHY MASTER TARA SINGH(SO CALLED SIKH SCHOLAR ) REFUSED THE PROPOSAL OF MASS CONVERSION OF DALIT TO SIKHISM BY DR B.R AMBEDKAR.

    This is the first time I am hearing that Master tara singh refused

    the propasal of Ambedkar .As far I know Ambedkar himself dropped the idea of converting to sikhism.

  14. KDS says:

    THE GREED TO CONTROL OVER GURUDWARA BY SO CALLED UPPER CAST SIKHISM IS NOT NEW PHENOMENON.EVERYBODY KNOW WHY MASTER TARA SINGH(SO CALLED SIKH SCHOLAR ) REFUSED THE PROPOSAL OF MASS CONVERSION OF DALIT TO SIKHISM BY DR B.R AMBEDKAR.

    This is the first time I am hearing that Master tara singh refused
    the propasal of Ambedkar .As far I know Ambedkar himself dropped the idea of converting to sikhism.

  15. kaidolo says:

    It is very sad to hear and read the comments that we are sikhs. The teaching of Guru Govind Singh is not followed by the sikhs themselves. Man should only have singh as their last name and Kaur for females. If anyone carries their last name then they are hindu's behind the turban. the culprit of all this BS is "Manu" Again if you really know what a Gortra is then its a shame because its a clan system that was created to keep humans at different levels. Bhramins, Shatriya, Vaisnav and Shudra. All this is man made and people still are so stupid to follow this? Jatt means a person who is a farmer. In Canada farmers should be called Jatt's and you will find out real quick who you will be treated. All I can say the INDIAN'S bring their garbage all over.

  16. kaidolo says:

    It is very sad to hear and read the comments that we are sikhs. The teaching of Guru Govind Singh is not followed by the sikhs themselves. Man should only have singh as their last name and Kaur for females. If anyone carries their last name then they are hindu's behind the turban. the culprit of all this BS is "Manu" Again if you really know what a Gortra is then its a shame because its a clan system that was created to keep humans at different levels. Bhramins, Shatriya, Vaisnav and Shudra. All this is man made and people still are so stupid to follow this? Jatt means a person who is a farmer. In Canada farmers should be called Jatt's and you will find out real quick who you will be treated. All I can say the INDIAN'S bring their garbage all over.