Whos afraid of the Big Bad Sikh?

sjgurdwara.jpgTwo articles over the weekend got me thinking. Ill get to them soon enough. Be patient!

The issues arent new. I remember back to the late 1990s, when the community here in the Bay Area was moving to build the new San Jose Gurdwara. The Evergreen community protested and raised the typical objections traffic, architecture that doesnt fit into the community, and sometimes the undesirable neighbors argument.

Wherever Sikhs try to build something, these three arguments follow. The latest case..Southall?

Yes really, in Southall, England. Neighborhood groups are up in arms. Pitchforks are raised we must stop this monstrosity.

Despite the fact that the ‘controversial’ Khalsa school was granted all requisite permissions in 2007 and is meant to be open for Sikhs and children of all other faiths in the community, neighborhood residents protested. Unfortunately this case is not new and nor will it be exceptional. Wherever Sikhs seek to settle and create institutions, so shall follow litigation and attempts to block them.

However, such opposition is far from surprising. A recent survey in Canada revealed much deeper attitudes about Sikhs. An anonymous survey of 1000 Canadians showed that British Columbians, home to large numbers of Sikhs, tend to be even more antagonistic towards Sikhs than others. Here are some tidbits:

Even as Canada becomes dramatically more multi-faith through immigration, only 28 per cent of Canadians tell pollsters they approve of Islam, for example. Just 30 per cent approve of Sikhism.

Meanwhile, 26 per cent of Canadians think Sikhism promotes violence — as do 30 per cent of the people of B.C., the province where almost half of the country’s more than 300,000 Sikhs live.

On some level, it is easy to dismiss such reports and feelings as prejudice. And largely it is. However, in a large way the onus falls to us as well. I know many will cry out its the media! Jodha, you dont understand Kim Bolan is out to get us. Its the media!

Now I know Kim Bolans agenda and pay no attention to her. However, how much do we add? Like Chris Rock said, I dont worry about the media fighting and getting melas cancelled, I worry about other apnay!

My fellow langa(w)r-iter suggested going green; another suggested a human rights committee. Here is my suggestion relevancy! Can we make our Gurdwaras relevant not just to Sikhs (yes, even this point is debatable, if this is even occuring), but also to the surrounding community? Instead of another gold dome, can we make a computer lab and have classes teaching English, helping make resumes, have a daycare? No, I dont expect our committees to do such things, they have enough on their plate can we do it? We have the power to counter media images; instead of pouting, can we move our community forward. Others are beginning. What are we waiting for?


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22 Responses to “Whos afraid of the Big Bad Sikh?”

  1. Harinder says:

    This is an age old problem .Same comment I heard from my fiend in Mohali who could not understand why SIKHS were opening so many Gurudwaras?

    Gurudwara is a place where we make contact with GOD.

    Computers labs are business of universities and colleges and industries.It is all about money and power.

    If we are promoting an atheist state then we dont need Gurdwaras but since the need for GOD is so deeply ingrained into homo- spaiens it will be difficult to do without GOD and his home on earth ( Gurudwaras, Churches ,Temples Mosques,etc etc)

  2. Harinder says:

    This is an age old problem .Same comment I heard from my fiend in Mohali who could not understand why SIKHS were opening so many Gurudwaras?
    Gurudwara is a place where we make contact with GOD.
    Computers labs are business of universities and colleges and industries.It is all about money and power.
    If we are promoting an atheist state then we dont need Gurdwaras but since the need for GOD is so deeply ingrained into homo- spaiens it will be difficult to do without GOD and his home on earth ( Gurudwaras, Churches ,Temples Mosques,etc etc)

  3. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    Computers labs are business of universities and colleges and industries.It is all about money and power.

    The Gurus also attached Sarovars to Gurdwaras to provide free water for the desert-like conditions of 17th century Punjab, attached Serrais for travelers, attached schools, and provided 'bast' for all those that sought shelter (maybe even victims of domestic violence?). So now with those historic examples, your comments don't really make much sense.

  4. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    Computers labs are business of universities and colleges and industries.It is all about money and power.

    The Gurus also attached Sarovars to Gurdwaras to provide free water for the desert-like conditions of 17th century Punjab, attached Serrais for travelers, attached schools, and provided ‘bast’ for all those that sought shelter (maybe even victims of domestic violence?). So now with those historic examples, your comments don’t really make much sense.

  5. Venki says:

    Jodha,

    These kind of roadblocks are not unique to gurdwaras alone. Hindu temples routinely run into these kind of problems as well. The US and Canada being predominantly Christian countries, there are all kinds of objections raised by parochial local communities to any eastern religious temples.

    Sarovar with a temple is one of the most ancient forms of practice in India. In Tamil the phrase goes as 'Koil(temple), Kulam(pond) illaatha (without) ur (village) illai (not there – nahi hai))'. You can find hundreds of examples of temples with a pond next to it all over India. Shelters in temples is also a very ancient practice going back to Buddhist times and Viharas with accomodations for itinerant monks. If computer classes and such are deemed relevant to the community, gurdwaras can surely step up and provide such services.

  6. Venki says:

    Jodha,

    These kind of roadblocks are not unique to gurdwaras alone. Hindu temples routinely run into these kind of problems as well. The US and Canada being predominantly Christian countries, there are all kinds of objections raised by parochial local communities to any eastern religious temples.

    Sarovar with a temple is one of the most ancient forms of practice in India. In Tamil the phrase goes as ‘Koil(temple), Kulam(pond) illaatha (without) ur (village) illai (not there – nahi hai))’. You can find hundreds of examples of temples with a pond next to it all over India. Shelters in temples is also a very ancient practice going back to Buddhist times and Viharas with accomodations for itinerant monks. If computer classes and such are deemed relevant to the community, gurdwaras can surely step up and provide such services.

  7. Harinder says:

    Jodha given the kind of service u are expecting from Gurdwaras.

    I expect then GURUDWARAS will be providing a wide variety of service required by the devotees for its daily need.

    To name a few Eg :– selling vegetables, railways tickets,airline tickets,milk vending, retail stores,telephone bills ,electricity connections,bakery etc etc .

    Does not make sense to me to get "GOD" involved in all these kind of mundane human activites.

    May be we could try it on a small scale at some Gurdwara and see how it works and if it is a hit with sangat who am I to comment on it?

  8. Harinder says:

    Jodha given the kind of service u are expecting from Gurdwaras.
    I expect then GURUDWARAS will be providing a wide variety of service required by the devotees for its daily need.
    To name a few Eg :– selling vegetables, railways tickets,airline tickets,milk vending, retail stores,telephone bills ,electricity connections,bakery etc etc .
    Does not make sense to me to get “GOD” involved in all these kind of mundane human activites.
    May be we could try it on a small scale at some Gurdwara and see how it works and if it is a hit with sangat who am I to comment on it?

  9. Harvy says:

    Jodha,

    I can see where you are going, but I disagree with the practical conclusions you draw. If the Gurdwara went back to basics and gave the people of it's community peace of mind, the objectives that you highlight would be be achieved. Imagine people coming to a Gurdwara and gaining a higher state of consciousness – wouldn't be many arguments against them or SIkhs then!

    Your reply to Harinder was understandable, but incomplete. The Gurdwara of old did attach schools, serrais, shelters, but that was because those places didn't exist in the number that they do today. I would argue that there is still a place for shelters especially for victims of abuse within the Gurdwara, but computer lab's, schools, nurseries – in the UK at least, these are in abundance. Rather than create what becomes a segregated venue, why not go back to basics and give people peace of mind in a Gurdwara first and foremost?

    I agree with your sentiments and loved reading the post; this is a discussion that is not happening enough. But I think your conclusions are slightly hasty.

  10. Harvy says:

    Jodha,

    I can see where you are going, but I disagree with the practical conclusions you draw. If the Gurdwara went back to basics and gave the people of it’s community peace of mind, the objectives that you highlight would be be achieved. Imagine people coming to a Gurdwara and gaining a higher state of consciousness – wouldn’t be many arguments against them or SIkhs then!

    Your reply to Harinder was understandable, but incomplete. The Gurdwara of old did attach schools, serrais, shelters, but that was because those places didn’t exist in the number that they do today. I would argue that there is still a place for shelters especially for victims of abuse within the Gurdwara, but computer lab’s, schools, nurseries – in the UK at least, these are in abundance. Rather than create what becomes a segregated venue, why not go back to basics and give people peace of mind in a Gurdwara first and foremost?

    I agree with your sentiments and loved reading the post; this is a discussion that is not happening enough. But I think your conclusions are slightly hasty.

  11. RP Singh says:

    Good post and good discussion! I am all for making the Gurdwara more relevant and providing services for the local community (Sikh and Non-Sikh) and I don’t feel by doing so we will in any way be compromising the spiritual elements the Gurdwara provides. We should be able to do more two (or more) things at once. Most of my Sikh friends do in fact send their kids to day care programs in churches because of their decent quality and affordable rates. It is unfortunate we cannot come up with a similar program through our Gurwdaras, and offer them to non-Sikhs as well. Maybe this was never an issue for our parent's generation and is something that needs to be implemented through us. Similarly, most of the "soup kitchens" and temporary night shelters for the homeless I've worked with operate through churches. Based on Sikh principles, you would think we would be first to offer such services. It seems we have an issue with our priorities…but damn, those marble floors look nice!

  12. RP Singh says:

    Good post and good discussion! I am all for making the Gurdwara more relevant and providing services for the local community (Sikh and Non-Sikh) and I dont feel by doing so we will in any way be compromising the spiritual elements the Gurdwara provides. We should be able to do more two (or more) things at once. Most of my Sikh friends do in fact send their kids to day care programs in churches because of their decent quality and affordable rates. It is unfortunate we cannot come up with a similar program through our Gurwdaras, and offer them to non-Sikhs as well. Maybe this was never an issue for our parent’s generation and is something that needs to be implemented through us. Similarly, most of the “soup kitchens” and temporary night shelters for the homeless I’ve worked with operate through churches. Based on Sikh principles, you would think we would be first to offer such services. It seems we have an issue with our priorities…but damn, those marble floors look nice!

  13. Jodha says:

    Sorry for the absence. Why in the dharm, where our 6th Guru brought together miri and piri, do we as the descendants of that heritage continue to try to separate them?

    The purpose of the Gurdwara is not just for 'peace of mind' (Harvy) nor is Waheguru absent from the mundane (Harinder). In fact we don't have this dichotomy in the Abrahamic religions – sacred/profane. For us, everything is Waheguru and thus everything is sacred. Yes, Waheguru exists through those interactiosn at the Sabji Mandi. When you act on good faith or cheat another. Those actions are important.

    If our only point was for 'peace of mind', then why the Akal Takht Sahib in the Darbar Sahib complex. The Akal Takht rattles, shakes, and calls for action – the pursuit of justice.

    Venki – thanks for the comparative perspective!

    RP Singh – well said!

  14. Jodha says:

    Sorry for the absence. Why in the dharm, where our 6th Guru brought together miri and piri, do we as the descendants of that heritage continue to try to separate them?

    The purpose of the Gurdwara is not just for ‘peace of mind’ (Harvy) nor is Waheguru absent from the mundane (Harinder). In fact we don’t have this dichotomy in the Abrahamic religions – sacred/profane. For us, everything is Waheguru and thus everything is sacred. Yes, Waheguru exists through those interactiosn at the Sabji Mandi. When you act on good faith or cheat another. Those actions are important.

    If our only point was for ‘peace of mind’, then why the Akal Takht Sahib in the Darbar Sahib complex. The Akal Takht rattles, shakes, and calls for action – the pursuit of justice.

    Venki – thanks for the comparative perspective!

    RP Singh – well said!

  15. Harinder says:

    I feel that GOD will always find it difficult to overcome market forces.

    People who work for lesser cost will always outstrip the religious cohesion u desire.

    For eg in farms of Punjab u will seldom see a Punjabi farmer toiling it has been outsourced to workers from UP and Bihar due to the low cost advantage.

    Still inspite of this I Would like u to make a trial run and I wish u a sucess in the venture.

    It will require too much of religious cohesion to motivate own people to work for a lower cost given the magnitude of love Punjabis have for money.

  16. Harinder says:

    I feel that GOD will always find it difficult to overcome market forces.
    People who work for lesser cost will always outstrip the religious cohesion u desire.
    For eg in farms of Punjab u will seldom see a Punjabi farmer toiling it has been outsourced to workers from UP and Bihar due to the low cost advantage.
    Still inspite of this I Would like u to make a trial run and I wish u a sucess in the venture.
    It will require too much of religious cohesion to motivate own people to work for a lower cost given the magnitude of love Punjabis have for money.

  17. Harvy says:

    Jodha, please re-read my second paragraph as I think you have totally missed my point. The Gurdwara offered the facility that your article spoke of because it didn't exist or wasn't accessible to all. Today, in the West certainly, that just isn't the case. I find it strange that you have chosen to ignore that aspect of the thread in your reply.

    Where you have taken the issue is onto the idea that the Gurdwara is not just about peace of mind and you have suggested that I have made a distinction between miri and piri. I never alluded to such a statement. Unless I have misunderstood your comments, you seem to think that peace of mind does not pervade throughout the concept of miri and piri. You reference that the Akal Takht exists somehow in contradiction to the concept of peace of mind! That is in my humble opinion wrong! The justified use of force, the value of standing up and doing the right thing for all humanity, these concepts exist in Sikhi only with peace of mind. We do not fight societies ills without peace of mind, in fact we only do so along the path of Guru Nanak with peace of mind. Otherwise how different are we to the Crusaders of the Abrahamic traditions?

    Dear Jodha I agreed with your sentiments, but not your conclusions; in light of your recent post above, I find myself disagreeing totally. My argument was that for a Gurdwara in the West to establish functional, social services such as computer labs, daycare, gyms or schools, they are enhancing segregation and providing unnecessary, subsidised services when affordable alternatives exist. Please respond directly to the points I have made.

    Perhaps we shall agree to disagree or gradually reach a state of compromise, but this is one of the most important discussions in Sikhi today: what is the role of our Gurdwara and by consequence the collective finances that we as a Sikh community have? Please continue this conversation here.

  18. Harvy says:

    Jodha, please re-read my second paragraph as I think you have totally missed my point. The Gurdwara offered the facility that your article spoke of because it didn’t exist or wasn’t accessible to all. Today, in the West certainly, that just isn’t the case. I find it strange that you have chosen to ignore that aspect of the thread in your reply.

    Where you have taken the issue is onto the idea that the Gurdwara is not just about peace of mind and you have suggested that I have made a distinction between miri and piri. I never alluded to such a statement. Unless I have misunderstood your comments, you seem to think that peace of mind does not pervade throughout the concept of miri and piri. You reference that the Akal Takht exists somehow in contradiction to the concept of peace of mind! That is in my humble opinion wrong! The justified use of force, the value of standing up and doing the right thing for all humanity, these concepts exist in Sikhi only with peace of mind. We do not fight societies ills without peace of mind, in fact we only do so along the path of Guru Nanak with peace of mind. Otherwise how different are we to the Crusaders of the Abrahamic traditions?

    Dear Jodha I agreed with your sentiments, but not your conclusions; in light of your recent post above, I find myself disagreeing totally. My argument was that for a Gurdwara in the West to establish functional, social services such as computer labs, daycare, gyms or schools, they are enhancing segregation and providing unnecessary, subsidised services when affordable alternatives exist. Please respond directly to the points I have made.

    Perhaps we shall agree to disagree or gradually reach a state of compromise, but this is one of the most important discussions in Sikhi today: what is the role of our Gurdwara and by consequence the collective finances that we as a Sikh community have? Please continue this conversation here.

  19. Jodha says:

    Harvy,

    You may be right. I read your 'peace of mind' comment as calling for a focus only on the 'spiritual' in a limited sense. Many in our community call for the same pronouncements of many so-called Sants – a focus only on the 'piri' to the complete neglect of 'miri.' I may have misread your comments in this light. Thanks for the corrective and we do seem to agree on much more than I initially thought.

    With regards to various services being offered, each community can define for itself what social services are needed. For some daycare is not affordable. They may have a preference that such services be offered in their language and with their cultural and religious sensitivities in mind. For a working-class community, affordable daycare may be absolutely necessary. For another locale, they may deem computer services need to be offered in the Punjabi language, etc. Affordable alternatives do not always exist and the argument of 'segregation' is a red-herring. You may be right, for a white-collar Sikh community, such services may not be useful. Let the local community decide what it needs and what it does not.

  20. Jodha says:

    Harvy,

    You may be right. I read your ‘peace of mind’ comment as calling for a focus only on the ‘spiritual’ in a limited sense. Many in our community call for the same pronouncements of many so-called Sants – a focus only on the ‘piri’ to the complete neglect of ‘miri.’ I may have misread your comments in this light. Thanks for the corrective and we do seem to agree on much more than I initially thought.

    With regards to various services being offered, each community can define for itself what social services are needed. For some daycare is not affordable. They may have a preference that such services be offered in their language and with their cultural and religious sensitivities in mind. For a working-class community, affordable daycare may be absolutely necessary. For another locale, they may deem computer services need to be offered in the Punjabi language, etc. Affordable alternatives do not always exist and the argument of ‘segregation’ is a red-herring. You may be right, for a white-collar Sikh community, such services may not be useful. Let the local community decide what it needs and what it does not.

  21. Harvy says:

    Thank you for the prompt reply Jodha and for reinterpreting my comments. We do agree in many ways here and that shouldn't be lost in the thread. I echo your comments here when you say above:

    "each community can define for itself what social services are needed"

    This is of immense importance. As the article was based on a news story from the UK (my birthplace) I have been speaking and referring to that in each of my comments. However, I accept that the situation here might not be the same as that in parts of the United States. You are right to suggest that affordable daycare (might I add free health care?) is an absolute necessity in the US and that alternatives might not exist.

    This brings to the fore a very important point which I would think we might also agree on: that each Sikh community should be responsible for making decisions about what facilities and services their local Gurdwara is to provide independently and collectively. You hinted in the initial article at the Golden Dome syndrome which has afflicted each and every Gurdwara especially in the west. I would add to that in the UK the influx of gyms and 'halls' into the Gurdwara set up often costing a huge amount of money, leading to segregation and abuse of the Gurdwara's primary purpose. All too often the Gurdwara's function and service is decided by a small minority or worse still by imitating what another has done elsewhere. This is what desperately needs to change. The school idea in Southall that your article used as an example is a prime case in point. But the detail from that is better left for a different thread.

  22. Harvy says:

    Thank you for the prompt reply Jodha and for reinterpreting my comments. We do agree in many ways here and that shouldn’t be lost in the thread. I echo your comments here when you say above:

    “each community can define for itself what social services are needed”

    This is of immense importance. As the article was based on a news story from the UK (my birthplace) I have been speaking and referring to that in each of my comments. However, I accept that the situation here might not be the same as that in parts of the United States. You are right to suggest that affordable daycare (might I add free health care?) is an absolute necessity in the US and that alternatives might not exist.

    This brings to the fore a very important point which I would think we might also agree on: that each Sikh community should be responsible for making decisions about what facilities and services their local Gurdwara is to provide independently and collectively. You hinted in the initial article at the Golden Dome syndrome which has afflicted each and every Gurdwara especially in the west. I would add to that in the UK the influx of gyms and ‘halls’ into the Gurdwara set up often costing a huge amount of money, leading to segregation and abuse of the Gurdwara’s primary purpose. All too often the Gurdwara’s function and service is decided by a small minority or worse still by imitating what another has done elsewhere. This is what desperately needs to change. The school idea in Southall that your article used as an example is a prime case in point. But the detail from that is better left for a different thread.

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