The First Global Sikh Civil Rights Conference — Part II

I. Introduction

My last post, which addressed the First Global Sikh Civil Rights Conference held by the non-profit group United Sikhs, generated significant discussion. In an attempt to re-focus and reinvigorate that discussion, I wish to first clarify what the post was not about — it was not intended to serve as an indictment of the United Sikhs’ work overall, to criticize specific projects or initiatives other than the conference, or to compare their efforts to that of other Sikh organizations with greater financial resources. Some of the comments did touch on these subjects, though this was not my intention.

My sole interest was and remains the manner in which the United Sikhs decided, on its own, to describe the conference and the report to the public, including necessarily the Sikh members of it. I wrote that it was “the United Sikhs characterizations of the conference and report” that I found problematic. Regrettably, the comments to my post — some made spiritedly by United Sikhs Director Mejindarpaul Kaur and others working for or affiliated with the United Sikhs — have done little to assuage my earlier concerns.

II. Publius

I did not attend the conference. This does not, by any means however, disqualify me from commenting on the conference and/or report. I did not know or hear about the conference until I read the United Sikhs press release via Google News. The argument that “one has to be there” would mean that the op-ed pages of our finest newspapers would be blank. David Broder, for example, does not visit the Oval Office before he comments on presidential acts. I imagine very few of us have worked at GM, but I’d wager that most have strong opinions on the bailout.

More importantly, I am a Sikh who read the United Sikhs’ representations regarding the conference and report. I am a Sikh on whose behalf the United Sikhs ostensibly works. I am a Sikh who has been present at a United Sikhs presentation at a gurdwara and, there, was asked to donate funds to them. I am a Sikh who is implicated by the statement that that Sikhs Agree on a Global Civil Rights Agenda, which can be reasonably interpreted to mean that I — along with the Sikh community at large — consented to a particular global civil rights platform. (Indeed, this may have been the exact interpretation sought by the United Sikhs.)

I have a sufficient stake in this issue because I am a recipient of their press release, I have been specifically asked to give funds to this organization, and I apparently agreed to some civil rights agenda. Any Sikh, I believe, has a reasonable basis to comment on the United Sikhs’ conference and report, as the United Sikhs has intentionally publicized them to the world and has claimed to be speaking for all Sikhs. The United Sikhs cannot, on one hand, publicly assert that it is speaking for all Sikhs and then, on the other, suggest that it’s immune from criticism from the very people they claim to be helping.

Another set of comments ask what I have done to further the panth. I did not know there was a requisite amount of work I had to do in order to have a voice on matters that squarely concern my people, or that there was a threshold of seva only above which I could challenge the very people who claim to work for me. (Given the breadth of the United Sikhs’ work, it is unclear whether anyone has the credentials to criticize them.) Moreover, knowledge of the contributions, however modest or significant, that I have made towards the improvement of the panth is a matter that I have elected to reserve for my conscience. I’d rather not issue a public disclosure detailing my Sikh-related activities, especially not to determine if some commenters deem my service to be sufficient to participate in a discussion of Sikh issues.

III. The Langar Hall

The comments also contain the argument that because I write anonymously that somehow my words are affected as a result. Anonymous blogging is not only an integral part of blogging, but is a hallmark of American substantive expression. Anonymous speech is firmly protected by the First Amendment and was the way in which three of America’s most distinguished minds — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — urged the States to ratify the Constitution in the Federalist Papers. (“Publius”, coincidentally enough, is the pseudonym they adopted.) To contend that writing lacks merit unless it is accompanied by an identity is to deny the force and brilliance of one of the greatest collection of documents on governance or democracy ever produced by man. In any event, this site has established an institutional policy to have each blogger write under a pseudonym so that readers will focus on the content of the posts rather than the names under which the posts appear. If you favor blogs where writers have “real” names, unfortunately we cannot satisfy that preference.

Some in the comments section have also suggested that The Langar Hall, its writers, and myself, are part of a Sikh Coalition conspiracy to disparage the “competition,” including United Sikhs. Nothing could be further from the truth. This site was created, simply, as an online forum for the discussion of Sikh-related issues from a Sikh point of view. Not once have I sensed from the other writers that there was any agenda or site-wide purpose other than the one just described. (It is ironic that people are complaining that they don’t know who I am and, at the same time, are saying I am pro-Sikh Coalition.) This site has been operational for over a year, and in reviewing our past posts I haven’t detected any undue negative attention paid towards the United Sikhs in that time. If, as some charge, there was an objective to undermine United Sikhs, wouldn’t it have materialized itself sooner and more frequently? It hasn’t because there is no such objective.

The comments that perhaps gave me most pause were the ones that claimed that the post has soured them on the site. I post without prior approval or review. Whatever one may think negatively of me should not visited on my brothers and sisters on The Langar Hall. Ignore me, that’s fine; but don’t sweepingly condemn the other writers.

IV. Remaining Issues

The post was based primarily on the press release and links contained therein — the very information that the United Sikhs distributed to the public. I did not claim to know the “ins” and “outs” of the conference and report, which is why I expressly asked readers to provide “clarifying information”. This request was graciously responded to in the comments.

As to the comments themselves, they reveal that Amardeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition was invited and attended some portion of the conference. This is the type of “clarifying information” that was sought and which is helpful because, as I previously noted, “[t]here is no indication from the press release or the report that any of the major Sikh civil rights organizations in North America, such as the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, were in attendance or even invited.”

Even so, the comments also have indicated that other organizations were involved tangentially rather than as part of a good faith decisionmaking effort. For example, Amardeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition was in attendance and spoke, but the Sikh Coalition is conspicuously absent from the list of participating organizations that Mejindarpaul Kaur kindly furnished. To equate attendance and remarks with meaningful participation, when there is a finite list of “participating Organizations and Gurdwaras,” is disingenuous at best. Moreover, the comments also reveal that organizations were invited at the last minute, days before the event was to take place, leading an invitee himself to opine that “[s]uch a last-minute invitation just seems like a second thought rather than any true partnership.” These invites are indicative of poor planning at best, and a Seinfeldian “unvitation” at worse.

The process of the report also seems to be a source of contention. It appears that the 65-page report was not the product of any “group think” but was prepared before the conference itself. Indeed, the press release indicates that the report was “presented” at the conference, not that it was developed during the course of the conference. The report itself states that the authors of the report — the apparent constitutents of the global Sikh civil rights report — were six Sikhs: Jaspreet Singh, Gurminder Singh, Gurpreet Singh, Dhani Ram Sapkota, Gurbachan Singh, Hardayal Singh, Dr. Inderjeet Singh. That the report prepared by six people is a fact that, on its own, shows it was not “global” in nature or representative of all Sikhs.

What was developed at the conference was not the report but a set of declarations and recommendations. At the conference, eight people — Dr IJ Singh, Inni Kaur, Gurparkash Singh, Manjyot Kaur, Balwinder Kaur, Casey Armstrong, Gurbachan Singh and Harpreet Singh — established a list of five civil rights issues. 170 people wrote recommendations for three hours for these “predetermined” issues. The eight then considered the recommendations and formulated them for the adoption by the delegates. This hardly seems sufficient to constitute “a large section of the Global Sikh community,” let alone one that is able to speak for all Sikhs.

That said, the limited procedural mechanism for the conference does not mean the recommendations themselves are necessarily limited in wisdom. There are a couple of recommendations — which are captured in the power-point-type document — that are especially promising: amending Art. 25 of the Indian Constitution, which we at TLH discussed this month, and creating incentives to attract a new generation of granthis, the inadequacy of whom I addressed in these online pages. But, still troubling is the self-serving recommendation of having an international Sikh organization. In numbered-paragraph 3 of Mejindarpaul Kaur’s first comment, she admits that the United Sikhs is the one organization that has to step up on the international front because no others have. The United Sikhs apparently has its “mandate.”

Some commenters posit that I am “hating” on the United Sikhs. I did and am doing no such thing. Pointing out positives from the recommendations belies that suggestion. Moreover, I specifically prefaced my previous comments by stating that:

I respect the United Sikhs work, most notably its humanitarian efforts. I also appreciate its interest in developing a set of broad Sikh civil rights issues and recommendations on how to tackle those very issues. The Report itself contains a wealth of information on the Sikh experience in many different countries, most of which are often overlooked in discussions of the Sikh diaspora. The breadth of the report is impressive; a lot of effort seems to have been put into its publication.

I did find one fundamental aspect of the United Sikhs’ efforts troublesome — its “characterization” of the conference and report. That is the main point of the initial post and of my continuing concern with respect to the United Sikhs’ press release. It gives the reader — importantly the non-Sikh reader — the impression that the conference speaks for all Sikhs. The United Sikhs has created, perhaps unabashedly, that very impression. It is not only factually inaccurate because, as Prem notes, “no Sikh organisation should claim to speak for or on behalf of all Sikhs. At the most, they can say that they reflect the concerns of some or many Sikhs[.]” It is also indicative of an organizational ego that goes against the very principles of modesty and humility that is central to the Sikh belief system. The United Sikhs attempted to do something for the benefit of the panth, and that should be — and has been — acknowledged. But, in writing the press release the way the United Sikhs did, the organization did a disservice to other Sikhs, like myself and others in the comments to the original post, who do not appreciate its overreaching.

Such overreaching is not confined to United Sikhs. As also noted in the comments, the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF engage in unnecessary boasting about being the “largest” Sikh civil rights organizations. Such boasting should cease and does not represent the best in Sikh character.

I therefore make this humble request — for organizations, including the United Sikhs, to be mindful of how it is characterizing its efforts, to eliminate the appearance of any boasting, and to refrain from suggesting that it speaks on behalf of the whole Sikh community.

Some allege that these type of posts should not be written because they are critical; but good faith introspection and discussion facilitate the improvement of the panth; I believe the statements and activities of Sikh organizations will be better without such boasting. I also believe its better for us to resolve issues “in the family” rather than be exposed to the light of day by non-Sikhs, where the damage to our collective credibility will be more severe.

V. Conclusion

In this post, I have acknowledged that the Sikh Coalition was invited and that I did not attend the conference. I hope, in the same spirit of honesty and openness, the United Sikhs can acknowledge that the language it used in describing the conference and the report in the press release was unreasonably broad.

Mejindarpaul Kaur is clearly passionate about her work and her sense of responsibility to Sikh calls for assistance is admirable. She should understand that others have a commensurate desire to ensure proper accountability of Sikh organizations. To the extent that the United Sikhs, or any other Sikh entity, tries to overreach or claim to speak for all Sikhs when it doesn’t, I feel duty-bound to use this blog as a forum to push back against such overreaching and to keep it within the confines of reason.


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12 Responses to “The First Global Sikh Civil Rights Conference — Part II”

  1. Concerned says:

    I think if the product/output of the conference is valid, why question its overreach?

    I didn't see any discussion that anybody disagrees with the conference or the declaration and recommendations. I think they were for the betterment of all. Even if there was one about a global organization, to setup a new organization, then its not self serving (It might even suggest that United Sihks in not filling that role).

    It is my opinion, that we want the world to take us seriously and address our concerns, we need to stand on a common platform so we can make our voices heard. Governments, organizations, elected officials, etc. only care to hear you if you have numbers (votes). If we let the world know that we don't agree on anything, they will ignore us. If we all stand behind a cause collectively, it will be heard. There is power in numbers, no?

    Old punjabi adage says 1 + 1 make 11.

    Your intention of resolving it in the family is good. But you just put this out on the World Wide Web. And if i'm right, that means everybody, Sikhs and non-Sikhs, can now see that Sikhs can't agree on anything. Perhaps we should have a close-door meeting. Once its out there, everybody can see it. Just as somebody pulled out an old erroneous article? To which the site didn't even publish the response. As you can see that if we put something out there that is not based on facts, the resources used on trying to correct it is very wasteful.

    How can we all agree on something? Do we expect all Sikhs to get together once a year so they can vote on concerns being addressed by organizations? (getting everybody to agree on something is just a dream)

    Should we have an elected body to represent us? Isn't SGPC elected by Sikhs? Nobody is happy with them.

    What do we do?

  2. Concerned says:

    I think if the product/output of the conference is valid, why question its overreach?

    I didn’t see any discussion that anybody disagrees with the conference or the declaration and recommendations. I think they were for the betterment of all. Even if there was one about a global organization, to setup a new organization, then its not self serving (It might even suggest that United Sihks in not filling that role).

    It is my opinion, that we want the world to take us seriously and address our concerns, we need to stand on a common platform so we can make our voices heard. Governments, organizations, elected officials, etc. only care to hear you if you have numbers (votes). If we let the world know that we don’t agree on anything, they will ignore us. If we all stand behind a cause collectively, it will be heard. There is power in numbers, no?

    Old punjabi adage says 1 + 1 make 11.

    Your intention of resolving it in the family is good. But you just put this out on the World Wide Web. And if i’m right, that means everybody, Sikhs and non-Sikhs, can now see that Sikhs can’t agree on anything. Perhaps we should have a close-door meeting. Once its out there, everybody can see it. Just as somebody pulled out an old erroneous article? To which the site didn’t even publish the response. As you can see that if we put something out there that is not based on facts, the resources used on trying to correct it is very wasteful.

    How can we all agree on something? Do we expect all Sikhs to get together once a year so they can vote on concerns being addressed by organizations? (getting everybody to agree on something is just a dream)

    Should we have an elected body to represent us? Isn’t SGPC elected by Sikhs? Nobody is happy with them.

    What do we do?

  3. Navneet says:

    My dear friend, you spent soo much time in pin pointing the shortcome of the conference but failed to get the basic information of the conference. You got the final press release and spent enormous time to criticize but couldn't get the any of initial press releases describing the program, time and venue.

    [AGill = Navneet. 'Sock-puppeting' is NOT allowed in The Langar Hall. Trying to create the impression of greater public approval through multiple handles is disingenuous. This is your first and ONLY warning. Next time, you will be banned….Admin Singh]

  4. Navneet says:

    My dear friend, you spent soo much time in pin pointing the shortcome of the conference but failed to get the basic information of the conference. You got the final press release and spent enormous time to criticize but couldn’t get the any of initial press releases describing the program, time and venue.

    [AGill = Navneet. ‘Sock-puppeting’ is NOT allowed in The Langar Hall. Trying to create the impression of greater public approval through multiple handles is disingenuous. This is your first and ONLY warning. Next time, you will be banned….Admin Singh]

  5. Kuldip Singh says:

    What a fine reflection you have provided, Publius! I find your effort to be admirable and you should continue to take on Sikh organizations, whether United Sikh, Sikh Coalition or SALDEF, when they forget that they represent only a subset of all Sikhs. The issue surrounding representation is a major one. As Sikhs we should work toward creating a forum where large sections of Sikhs may be represented. Wasn't that the idea behind the conception of the Sarbat Khalsa? Given that the Panth can no longer gather at the Akal Takht because of its large number and the political uncertainty that arises from its precarious relationship with the Indian state, the Panth urgently needs a forum that fills this need. This is an important issue that cannot be solved until we admit that no single organization can create a "global" agenda for the Sikhs, and therefore we need to evolve new institutions and forums that would be representative of large section of Sikhs.

  6. Kuldip Singh says:

    What a fine reflection you have provided, Publius! I find your effort to be admirable and you should continue to take on Sikh organizations, whether United Sikh, Sikh Coalition or SALDEF, when they forget that they represent only a subset of all Sikhs. The issue surrounding representation is a major one. As Sikhs we should work toward creating a forum where large sections of Sikhs may be represented. Wasn’t that the idea behind the conception of the Sarbat Khalsa? Given that the Panth can no longer gather at the Akal Takht because of its large number and the political uncertainty that arises from its precarious relationship with the Indian state, the Panth urgently needs a forum that fills this need. This is an important issue that cannot be solved until we admit that no single organization can create a “global” agenda for the Sikhs, and therefore we need to evolve new institutions and forums that would be representative of large section of Sikhs.

  7. Navneet says:

    "Why have you banned me? I have been active on this forum. Uncle Amardeep Gill saw the ridiculous post from publius and the comments underneath from my home pc network and derived his conclusion. Isn't he entitled to make his own comment ? Can you please explain your policy and take your comment out?

  8. Navneet says:

    “Why have you banned me? I have been active on this forum. Uncle Amardeep Gill saw the ridiculous post from publius and the comments underneath from my home pc network and derived his conclusion. Isn’t he entitled to make his own comment ? Can you please explain your policy and take your comment out?

  9. Publius says:

    Concerned, you wrote: "if the product/output of the conference is valid, why question its overreach?"

    The ends don't justify the means, particularly given how the "ends" have been construed by United Sikhs itself. The "global" report, which was authored by six people, does not appear to be the product or output of any collective decisionmaking. It is global in the limited sense that it addresses the Sikh diaspora in different nations, but is not global in the sense seemingly urged by United Sikhs – that it represents a global Sikh community effort. Similarly, the recommendations were said to be "global" in nature but, as noted, they do not speak for all Sikhs.

    To the extent that the recommendations reflect the views only of those in attendance, I would agree they are "valid"; to the extent they are said to be part of some global "group think", they are not.

    In addition, you write, "I didn’t see any discussion that anybody disagrees with the conference or the declaration and recommendations." I paid as much attention to the recommendations in my initial post as United Sikhs did in its own press release. It is interesting that the recommendations were seemingly the real product of the conference, but they were not summarized in the press release. It is therefore unreasonable to expect me to ignore the actual content of the press release and instead focus on what was essentially buried within a link to the press release.

    Finally, with respect to writing on this subject on the Internet, I hope you share my view that it is better for us to resolve this matter on a principally Sikh web site than for a non-Sikh to expose United Sikhs on a non-Sikh web site.

  10. Publius says:

    Concerned, you wrote: “if the product/output of the conference is valid, why question its overreach?”

    The ends don’t justify the means, particularly given how the “ends” have been construed by United Sikhs itself. The “global” report, which was authored by six people, does not appear to be the product or output of any collective decisionmaking. It is global in the limited sense that it addresses the Sikh diaspora in different nations, but is not global in the sense seemingly urged by United Sikhs – that it represents a global Sikh community effort. Similarly, the recommendations were said to be “global” in nature but, as noted, they do not speak for all Sikhs.

    To the extent that the recommendations reflect the views only of those in attendance, I would agree they are “valid”; to the extent they are said to be part of some global “group think”, they are not.

    In addition, you write, “I didnt see any discussion that anybody disagrees with the conference or the declaration and recommendations.” I paid as much attention to the recommendations in my initial post as United Sikhs did in its own press release. It is interesting that the recommendations were seemingly the real product of the conference, but they were not summarized in the press release. It is therefore unreasonable to expect me to ignore the actual content of the press release and instead focus on what was essentially buried within a link to the press release.

    Finally, with respect to writing on this subject on the Internet, I hope you share my view that it is better for us to resolve this matter on a principally Sikh web site than for a non-Sikh to expose United Sikhs on a non-Sikh web site.

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