Nishaan – The Sikh Society Network

Guest blogged byNaujawani Sardar

321314_116006055172592_115613338545197_82003_1811328298_n.jpgThere has been a lot of talk about the SGPC elections recently, even over on our blog. And it got me thinking about a whole range of things from ‘selection vs. election’ to Sikh bodies outside of Punjab. My life in Sikh circles has been positively fascinating for over two decades now, but one of the things I have found most difficult to deal with has been the tension that arises around Sikh representative bodies. Before you stop reading, I’m not going to write about the SGPC – although what I’m writing about could quite easily fit the world of any organisation that represents Sikhs, and specifically those who have had to face false accusations.

“Nishaan is a new organisation consisting of university Sikh Societies across London and the South East of England. It is created on the principle of for the students by the students.”

That is taken directly from the biography of ‘Nishaan‘ – a body of university students at institutions in London who have been collaborating and working closely together for the last year. In actual fact some amongst this group of students and this movement itself began in earnest four years ago when one particular University Sikh society at Imperial College London established an annual meal and gathering of Sikh socs from around the capital; they called the event ‘Collaborations’. Following that, students looked to ‘collaborate’ more often, but in reality it didn’t work efficiently because communication was poor, organisation was overly dependent on single individuals and the age-old division of jatha-affiliation reared its head.

Coincidentally, over the last few years I began to take a greater interest in what was occurring at University Sikh societies – provoked in to doing so by a shocking review of what a typical event was like (it was actually much worse!) In the three years since, I along with a few others have been liaising with students offering them guidance and support, all the time slowly edging towards a place in which Sikh socs can not only achieve the goals that students in higher education should hope to aim for, but that will also be able to take all university Sikh students along with them. We reached a stage over the summer where informal meetings and connections would no longer satisfy the appetites of the now hungry and vociferous students who are leading the way down this path and they voiced their desire for formalisation of their collective. I (along with the few other advisors) agreed to maintain our position offering support and guidance, but from now on in the shape of a panel that would oversee the decisions and activities that the new ‘Nishaan’ would look to implement. A rosy situation, the average punter would have thought, but I know better than this from Sikhdom.

In the few weeks since Nishaan has begun to rear its head publicly (on Facebook for the most part) a number of aggressive, sometimes anonymous insinuations have begun to appear. Apparently, everyone from SAD to MI6 is behind setting up this collective; the ideals that are being promoted range from Sanatanism to Missionary College teaching; and, the end goal is to indoctrinate the thousands of university Sikh society students in London each year with a corrupt Sikh idealism. The attacks are quite tame so far, but then it is early days. Having been involved with the collective for a few years now and to the contrary of what has been said in some circles, I have been very proud of the achievements these students have made:

  • invite all faiths to inter-University events, not just South Asian societies;
  • ensure each Sikh society within the collective is focused only on Sikh activities, not as a dual Sikh-Punjabi society;
  • document annually the society’s activities in a free-to-read published report.

Each university Sikh society has also shared 2011-2012 diary dates a month ago so as not to clash with one another and to forward-plan events. These are small steps, but ones that are missing today in even the largest UK Gurdware and charitable bodies. The students should take great credit for reaching this point, but as they recognise themselves, they still have a long way to go. What they don’t need right now is baseless accusations – claims that are made in a time warp, for a decade ago whilst this Sardar was still at University, something of a war did rage for control of London Sikh societies between nefarious individuals and questionable bodies. But to assume that those same individuals are here present today and that those same bodies are behind Nishaan is disrespectful to both myself and the other individuals who have given their time to helping guide these students. Everything that has been done to date is in line with Sikh thought and principles, and more over with the approval of far-wiser Sikhs than we.

And then there is the accusation that this is a division from the existing university Sikh body – British Organisation of Sikh Students (BOSS). Let’s make one thing clear: it’s not. Each of the University Sikh societies that comprise Nishaan continues to be a part of BOSS and have not ‘set-up anew’. There is no Nishaan vs. BOSS debate to be had here. London Sikh societies wanting to work together so closely based on the unique, geographical proximity of the dozen or so universities in Englands capital city will promote greater cohesion and success for those Sikh societies – something that BOSS welcome. It is only natural that some individuals will feel threatened by the emergence of Nishaan, but having spoken to a senior sevadar at BOSS earlier this summer, I am proud to say it won’t be them.

Whoever those are attacking Nishaan, they are nothing new. Perhaps a day will come in the future when reasoned, structured criticisms of Sikh representative bodies aside, baseless attacks by one Sikh on another body of Sikhs will no longer appear; when factional sniping at opponents will be replaced with healthy debate; and, when agenda-driven propaganda wars will not be fought within our small fold. Until then, we’ll keep repairing the broken windows and Ill watch the turbaned individual escape into the shadows with a deep sigh of sadness.


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16 Responses to “Nishaan – The Sikh Society Network”

  1. Blighty Singh says:

    Good luck with getting the different university Sikh Societies in London to 'collaborate' with each other. You're gonna need plenty of luck. See the problem is that London is too much of a mega city. There's 25 different huge universities….each with it's own long tradition…..and each in competition with each other…..with a deep rivalry with each other that borders on deep hatred if not mistrust. On top of that you've got another 60 smaller universities offering degrees. You will never….I repeat NEVER, get those different Sikh societies to collaborate with each other. Sikh brotherhood is important but its not enough to wipe away centuries of rivalry and one upmanship.

  2. JooKaySingh says:

    Haha @Blighty. Where on earth did you get that from? What is this "deep hatred and mistrust" you speak of? Most of the students that are/will be part of Nishaan are of the 18-22 age bracket; they most likely will have chosen their university when they were 17 or 18, based on their preferred subjects. I highly doubt a Sikh undergraduate from UCL will hate his or her counterpart from LSE because of some event that happened 150 years ago; I don't think they'll even care!

    Luckily, most Sikh students tend to attend the big 10-15 London universities, so it should be easier to network. The other 60 "smaller" universities may have the odd Sikh student – I doubt Nishaan will even be considering them at this stage.

  3. Damn Blighty, you gotta be one of the most unique Sikhs on the whole planet! You went to either Kingston, Thames Valley or South Bank AND you listened to Leonard Cohen lectures… hell you must have been lonely!

  4. jasmeet says:

    "Coincidentally, over the last few years I began to take a greater interest in what was occurring at University Sikh societies – provoked in to doing so by a shocking review of what a typical event was like (it was actually much worse!) In the three years since, I along with a few others have been liaising with students offering them guidance and support, all the time slowly edging towards a place in which Sikh socs can not only achieve the goals that students in higher education should hope to aim for, but that will also be able to take all university Sikh students along with them. We reached a stage over the summer where informal meetings and connections would no longer satisfy the appetites of the now hungry and vociferous students who are leading the way down this path and they voiced their desire for formalisation of their collective. I (along with the few other advisors) agreed to maintain our position offering support and guidance, but from now on in the shape of a panel that would oversee the decisions and activities that the new ‘Nishaan’ would look to implement. A rosy situation, the average punter would have thought, but I know better than this from Sikhdom." >>> LOL

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