| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 20 Nov 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Delegates of the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) will converge in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow (21 Nov 2015) for its annual meeting. Asia Samachar interviewed MGC president Jagir Singh to find out more about what the organisation has been doing. Jagir, as a representative from MGC, was the immediate past president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST). He is now its vice president. This is the first of a two part series.
ASIA SAMACHAR: MGC is having its AGM soon. Do share what are the major successes of the MGC over the years.
JAGIR: When I came on board in 2005, the office was non-operational. The presidents were from outstation. We then employed a manager and office was opened daily. It has been going on till today. We now have two full time staff.
Without a building, your own house, we would not play a proper role. This four storey headquarter was bought for RM950,000 in 2009.
The MGC buidling today is housing our administration office, a conference room, a library, a bani gutka room upstairs, a seminar room and a stay place for granthis. The ground floor is rented [to a boutique] and the Gurmat Sangeet Academy occupies one floor on a token rent.
Today, the MGC leadership is in the office Mon-Fridays, in the evenings. I’m here most evenings.
Regular projects were carried out. We have Sikhi parchaar seminars, regional meetings for gurdwaras, liason with government bodies to make MGC effective.
Seeing the need for legal aid and convertion cases coming towards MGC, a legal affairs committee was set up in 2007. The following year, in reponse to the need of gurdwaras – we regularly receive queries on thec SRM – we had establised a MGC Reglious Affairs Committe.
Then, to coordinate activities for the ladies, MGC Ladies Satsang was set up. They coordinated lady satsangs. This made MGC coherent and move in proper structured way.
Profile of MGC has been raised and recognised by the goverment as a body to deal with when Sikh representation is concerned. The president of MGC has been appointed, since 2013, as a member of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) tasked to come out with proposals to enhance unity. This is under PMO, chaired by Tan Sri Samsuddin Osman. We report to the Prime Minister. We have come up with suggestions to make hate speeches illegal.
I’m also on the interfaith council appointed by the government under JPNIN [Jabatan Perpaduan Negara dan Integrasi Nasional or
Department for National Unity and Integration]. Here discussions take place on national issue. I represent the non-Muslims for the MCCBCHST.
MGC HISTORY, OBJECTIVES
AS: What is the background of MGC?
JAGIR: It was set up in 1988. The moves started in 1983 when the interfaith organisation was formed. It was called the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism [now known as Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism or MCCBCHST]. Lawyer Joginder Singh and Harcharan Singh from Sentul were some of the early Sikhs involved in the interfaith council.
Initially, Sikhs were involved in the interfaith council through the Khalsa Diwan Malaysia (KDM) or the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM). MGC was formed to represent the gurdwaras and the Sikh community.
What it the main objective of MGC?
One of the objectives is to promote, preserve and maintain Sikh religion, Sikh idenity, Sikh culture and Sikh heritage. It is also to coordinate and promote religous activities and maryada in gurdwaras according to Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM). It is also to look after the interest of the Sikh commuity as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, and to protect the independence of the gurdwaras.
It also represents the Sikh commuity of Malaysia on matters relating to the constitution, including relgious matters. This is as per the MGC constitution.
To sum it up, our main objective is to carry out Sikhi parchaars, protect the Sikh religion and to ensure the rights of Sikhs are protected in accordance with the constitution.
Protect the Sikh religion? Can you give us an example?
Let me share with you a recent example. In August 2015, the MCCBCHST was called by Ministry of Federal Territories to discuss a draft law that proposed to control non-Mulsim places of worship.
They wanted all these places of worship to register with ROS [Registrar of Societies]. The proposed law also wanted to state that non-Mulism places of worship buildings cannot have Islamic culture, cannot be more than three storey high and cannot be in areas where Muslism are the majority. The meeting was chaired by the deputy minister Datuk Dr Loga Balan.
Initially, the law is meant for the Federal Terrotory (FT), Putrajaya and Labuan. The meeting was told that the law would later be extended to the rest of the country.
This area is my pet subject. I told the deputy minister that the proposal for all religious places to be register with the ROS is ultra virus under Article 11(3) of the Federal Constitutuion which states that each religion has the right to regulate its own affairs. There is no requirement for any registration for places of worship under this article. The only restrcition is Article 11(5) where the Minister of Home Affairs can impose restriction in view of security and social order. Here, this is clearly not applicable.
I told the meeting that even during the Emergency, under Article 150 (6A), all fundamentals liberties can be suspended except the right to religion. The constitution says you cannot suspend Article 11 which is right to religion.
This entrenchment of religious rights will come to naught if we are forced to register with ROS. They then become the sole regulator. They are given wide powers, including to deregister a society. In elections, they will decide who is the winner.
It happened to one gurdwara in Kuala Lumpur some years ago. In Serdang, the gurdwara committee had some issues and went to the ROS. The gurdwara committee was degistered. As a consequence,
they appealed. Otherwise, the property would have gone to the Official Assignee. If that happens, it would be mean, more or less, that the ROS would take over your religious place. These are the severe consequences.
The deputy minister agreed to set up a sub-committee to look into the matter.
There was a follow-up meeting on 4 Sept 2015. ROS and ministry officials were present. From non-Muslim side, we had one representative from the Taoist group and myself.
I presented the case. I submitted that what should be done is to create a non-Muslim affairs department at the Federal level first, and then cascade it down to the states. The proposed non-Muslim department has to be set up under the Article 11(3) of the Federal Constitution. In that way, you cannot deregister any place of worship and their welfare will be looked after.
I was able to get a concession from the ROS officer that in the event a Jabatan Agama Bukan Islam is created, the non-Mulsim places of worship can be transfered to the body. This means that the ROS will release them. We will take up this matter. Such matters take time, it can take up as long as two years.
The next meeting was on 1 Oct, this time chaired by Dr Loga Balan. Here, all views were presented.It was agreed to suspend this new ruling for the time being. I had given an undertaking that I will put up a paper to the Minister of National Unity. I have spoken to the minister to take up the issue at the Cabinet level. Logabalan, in that meeting, gave an undertaking that he would request the minister to support our proposal to set up the department.
In next few weeks, the paper will be submitted to the ministry.
Any other examples of MGC protecting the Sikh religion?
We have also been involved in assisting Sikhs who have want to convert out of Islam. Some cases have to go to the Shariah Court.
MAIN CONCERNS: SIKHI, GRANTHI, MARYADA
What were the main activities of the MGC in the past few years?
Dharam parchar [preaching of the Sikh faith], managing entry of granthis and musicians, and handling gurdwara affairs. MGC has been able to register 100% approval to bring in granthis and musicians. We have assisted in gurdwara matters like the Kuala Kerai gurdwara [in Kelantan] which was destroyed in a flood. The renovation is almost complete. We are working closely with them.
On 28 Oct 2015, a MGC delegation along with officials from Gurdwara Sahib Kota Bharu, met the Mentri Besar Kelantan. We presented to the MB [i.e akin to chief minister of the state] a paper to lease the land occupied by the gurdwara. At the moment, it is not even TOL [temporary occupying license]. The late MB Nik Aziz gave a TOL for three yeas. Since 2004, they have been occupying without even a TOL. The meeting was fruitful. The MB gave an undertaking to solve the matter. They have asked the committee to submit relevant documents to be tabled at the exco.
We also held regional meeting for Pahang gurdwaras and a seminar on Sikhi on Ipoh, Perak.
What has the MGC done for Sikhi parchaar?
For Sikhi parchaar, we have been bringing jathas (groups) regularly. These jathas are sent throughout the country. We also organise seminars for granthis on the rehat maryada every two to three years once. This is to ensure they observe the correct SRM. The next one is in 2016.
SEE ALSO: Engage youth on what matters to them – MGC seminar tells Sikh gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 23 Aug 2015)
What are the major concerns of the MGC at the moment?
Granthis is one of them. Many of them are not qualified. They are mostly in smaller gurdwaras which are unable to pay anything above a few hundred ringgit. Qualified granthis would ask for a minumum of RM1,500. The smaller gurdwaras take on granthis not properly qualified.
These granthis recruited come with their own training and rehat maryada understanding. We overcome this by making it compulsory for them to be interviewed by the MGC. They are given a rehat maryada copy to be followed.
Does it work?
To a certain extent. Now, we propose to have a pool of granthis on standby. We did this some seven years ago. We will advertise in India and have a master list of those eligible. We will share the list with the gurdwaras. This is in the pipeline for next year.
A paper has been put up to the Ministry of Home Affairs and we hope to to get a favourable reply soon. We have asked for two main considerations. First, granthis presently are given a maxiumum of three year work permit permission, to be renewed annually. We want to increase it to five years.
We are also asking for the age limit for granthis and Sikh musicians to be brought down to 30 years from present 40 years. Third, we have asked that family members (wife and children below 21 years old) are allowed to accompany the husband for the duration of the service. The families will bring about stability.
What are the obstacles?
We have put up such memorandums in the past but to no avail. Their reasons: this applies across the board to all faiths, not just Sikhs. Also, they fear the younger ones will create issues. Our last memorandum to the Minister of Home Affairs was sent in Oct 2013.
What are the challenges to get granthis to abide by the standard practices as stipulated by the SRM?
Many granthis are not qualified and are from the deras. Being from deras, they observe different maryadas. We overcome this by having seminar on SRM. They are given a copy to follow. We educate the committee members themselves so that they can check on the granthis. We have also distributed the SRM booklet, audio CDs and DVDs on SRM.
The granthis may not turn up for the seminars?
Generally, the granthis do turn up as we coordinate the seminars by liasing with the gurdwara thorugh our office. Committees, more or less, do let them to go. The last time, three years ago, 60 granthis attended.
Have you seen results when dealing with gurdwaras on maryada matters?
You must remember, each gurdwara is a like society itself. They have their own committee.
Over years, a lot of good has come out of our activities. From my obsevation, 95% [of the gurdwaras] are following the SRM. They may not follow completely, but they do not have many glaring, obvious non-compliance. For example, we don’t have kirtan and paath going on simultaneously at akhand paths. This used to happen earlier, but not anymore. The awareness has also extended to programmes at homes. In the past, the babas will have akhand path and kirtan together. We had witnessed many cases. But the numbers have decreased. People are aware of these issues now.
It was part of a campaign in past few years. It was done through educating granthis, educating the parbandhaks, and the sangat.
Is it easy to deal with those who insist on following their different maryadas?
It’s not easy to deal with some of them. They can be hot-headed, especially the younger ones.
What is the latest on the SGGS Satkaar Committee held after the Moshi-Moshi issue?
There are concerns on the proper protocol to be observed when the SGGS is taken to the homes. These will be overcomed by the Satkaar Committee chaired by Dr Karminder Singh. Dr Karminder and Dr Harvey [former SNSM jathedar Harvinder Singh] have held two meetings with the societies concerned. They have come out with a draft guideline. This draft guidelines will be followed by gurdwaras. It wil be tabled before all the societies. It was scheduled for October, but was postponed as the committee chairman had to undergo a surgery. We hope to have the meeting in December.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWO
MGC passionately protects religious rights of Sikhs, others in Malaysia (Asia Samachar, 19 Nov 2015)