| Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 20 Nov 2015 | Asia Samachar |
By Asia Samachar| INTERVIEW | MALAYSIA |
Your actions are said to be politically motivated? This was one of the questions posed in this second and last part of the interview with MGC president Jagir Singh. “This is not true. My stand is based on issues,” he tells Asia Samachar. We also asked him how he keeps fit.
Tomorrow (21 Nov 2015), MGC delegates will converge in Kuala Lumpur for its annual meeting.
Asia Samachar: In one sentence, what does MGC stand for?
Jagir: As a leader and provider of guidance to the gurdwaras in promoting the Sikh religion, Sikh culture, and providing assistance and leadership in putting forward their requests and needs.
Who should represent Sikhs to the Government? How do you balance with the need to work with other Sikhs organisations?
It needs to be balance according to the issues involved. For example, when it comes to the beadbi of SGGS [in Punjab], like other societies, we had issued a statement of being hurt by the action. We joined the other Sikh bodies to submit a memorandum top the Government of India through the Indian High Commission.
On funding from Government, each society puts up its own proposal to the government. Societies make individual representation. Each society has to justify itself, what they want.
Do you work with other organisations?
We always work together. It is not possible to amalgamate all these societies. Major bodies like Naujawan Sabha [Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia, or SNSM], Khalsa Diwan Malaysia (KDM) are doing good job in their own areas. MGC is dealing with religious matters, Naujawan Sabha on youth, Khalsa Diwan on [Punjabi] education, and Coalition [Coalition of Malaysian SIkh Organsations, CMSO] has its own areas.
Can they work better together?
Individually, all should improve themselves. They can also improve cooperation on issues.
We notice that MGC is still lagging when it comes to using the social media. Why is that so?
We agree that we’re behind the curve. We have a committee looking at it. Our website is now being updated.
MGC had been vocal in national matters like the Allah issue. Why? Does it not hurt the Sikh representation to the Government?
In our country, the laws will apply to all Muslims and non-Muslims, not just Christians like in the Allah issue. The state enactments under Shariah Enacment Section 9 states that non-Muslims cannot use the words defined there. This applies for all the nine states except for Malacca, Sabah, Sarawak, Penang. Non-Muslims here include Sikhs.
The Allah matter was dicussed at an earlier AGM which unanimously endorsed the MGC to be an intervener. It was an AGM decision. We are not a party to the suit but to safeguard our interests.
On issues which affects our religious rights, if you are quiet, you will be bound by the decisions.
Some feel that MGC should not be in the forefront in such issues as it would hurt its relationship with the authorities. Your comments.
I feel this is incorrect. As president of MCCBHD, all statements on interfaith are usually signed by all the five representatives of the five faiths. The government is aware that these are based on issues to safeguard our rights. The government is appreciative of it as we are doing it through the proper channel.
Hence, we are part o fhte JPNIN [Jabatan Perpaduan Negara dan Integrasi Nasional or Department for National Unity and Integration] to resolve the Allah and hudud issues. If there was any concern on part of the government, the MGC president would not have been appointed to these government bodies, and allocation would also not have come through. The goverment appreciates your championing of issues through legal and proper means.
You did some work on hudud. What was the concern here?
The MGC is part of the interfaith council [Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism or MCCBCHST]. The council realised that hudud law was being actively canvassed to be implemented in the country. We lacked information on its implications on the non-Muslims. So, the task was given to myself as president of the council to come out with a booklet that can distributed to all. If hudud were to be implemented – hudud is stated to be divine law and the highest law of the country, according to those who are pushing for it – one cannot question, and you simply have to accept it. It makes the Federal Constitution immaterial. It took me one month of research to come up with a 35-page booklet which answers all the questions with regards to hudud.
If implement, hudud will be destroy the basic structure of the Constitution. It will have serious consequences to the non-Muslims. They are known as protectorates under hudud, not equal citizens. Where a crime involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, the problem will become acute as the non-Muslim cannot become a witness in a Shariah court. They are now trying to allow it, but in hudud per se, you can’t.
The booklet was released in June 2014. Thousands of copies were distributed to churches and other non-Muslim places of worship. It is a main source of reference on this issue.
Can you tell us something about gurdwaras in Malaysia and MGC membership?
Malaysia has 118 gurdwaras which are operational. Some are in remote areas. In Sibu (Sarawak),it has become dysfunctional as there are no Sikh families there. We are tyring to see what we can do about it. Some people have been going down [to Sibu] monthly to perform programmes.
How many gurdwaras are members?
MGC has 108 gurdwaras which are members.
Which gurdwaras are not members?
The 10 [that are not members of MGC] are very small gurdwaras. Tatt Khalsa is the only major gurdwara not a member. It functions as an institution. The reasons are historical.
What about the youth and the gurdwara?
There an issue of attracting the youth to join gurdwara committees and activities. At one regional seminars with granthis, they told us that the youth are eager at the earlier stage. When they get married and start getting busy with their careers, they become reluctant to be sevadars. One granthi shared a story about the khazanchi (treasurer) at his gurdwara. He was a professional, an accountant. After his first kid was born, he was struggling to find time for his seva. So, you only have the young and elderly coming forward.
Most gurdwaras have youth wings. Over the years, we have noticed divisions [as in splits] in some gurdwaras. You have youth divisions alligned to the various organisations. This can, at times, create divisions among the youth.
We see the necessity of empowering the youth. We had put up a project paper to the government on this which was approved. The government [via SEDIC] has just provided MGC a funding of RM80,600 for the project, and another RM62,000 for a project on counselling. Dr Karminder Singh and Dr Harvinder Singh are working out on the syllabus for the youth programme. The programmes will be crarried out in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, Georgetown and Negeri Sembilan.
Should this not be undetaken by SNSM [Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia]?
We are tackling this issue by working through the gurdwaras. We want to work with the gurdwaras. It is not taking over the Naujawan Sabha function, but rather an addition to what they are doing. Gurdwaras are well placed to identify the youth. We know their poverty level. Otherwise, we fully support Naujawan Sabha in all their programmes. That is why we don’t have a youth wing in MGC. For youth matters, we liase with the Naujawan Sabha.
What are the criteria to become committee members of gurdwaras?
Some gurdwara constitutions state that office bearers must be keshadhari [those who maintain unshorn and beard], some are silent on the matter. The MGC feels that the main office bearers should at least be keshadhari. At times, in smaller gurdwaras, the rule is relaxed. The council cannot enforce, it depends on the local sanggat.
What kind of control does MGC have over gurdwara governance? Some suggest that MGC has been unable to have full control of gurdwaras because of weak governance and leadership qualities.
Gurdwaras are registered bodies, mostly with the ROS [Registrar of Societies], some as trusts and some with the income tax department. These gurdwaras have their own rules and constitutions, and election is done by the local sanggat. MGC leadership only has supervisory role on religious matters. In administration, it has no say. The committee elected is an independent body. Therefore, it is not a question of weak governance, but we are dealing with independent gurdwaras, which are registered bodies in themselves. We can only advise the leadership.
What is the relevance of MGC to the ordinary Sikh?
MGC plays a leaderhsip and coordinating role with the gurdwaras whereby a standard Sikh rehat maryada (SRM) has been introduced in all gurdwaras. We follow-up with regular discussions with gurdwaras on its implementation and queries they may have. Questions are raised here. At a regional meeting in Pahang in August 2015, for example, one delegate asked whether it was compulsory to put a chola for the nishan sahib and on its colour.
We are able to settle disputes in gurdwaras by consensus. In Raub (Pahang) a few years ago, there was an election dispute. We were invited to conduct the elections. We did it and both parties accepted the results.
We don’t get involved in the administration of local gurdwaras.
Without guidance, all gurdwaras would be on their own, following their own maryada. We are fortunate in having one council for all gurdwaras.
We understand that there is a potential challenge for the position of president at the next AGM?
Challenge is provided for the in the constitution. On my part, I’m offering myself for the leadership for the last term. I have informed the exco that this is to provide continuity and bring in new profesional leaders.
There are some unfinished projects which I hope, if given the mandate, to carry out.
We have the marriage counselling course and youth empowerement project. These are important courses for the community. The marriage counseling is crucial as there are many broken homes amongst Sikhs. These are government funded projects, we have to carry them out effectively.
I also intend to carry out the national seminar for the granthis in 2016 and for the parbhandhaks (committee members) in 2017.
We also want to overcome organisational weakness in MGC. The national istri satsang is playing a good role by unitung istri satsang of all gurdwaras. But due to some structural defect, it is not as effective as envisaged. I propose to make it a dynamic force by setting up a legal trust for the istri satsang. It will be a legal entity but without any drawbacks of having to have elections. It will be a legal entitty under the MGC.
I also want to carry out Sikhi parchar on a more structured basis.
We also want to maintain 100% approval rate success for bringing in granthis. Last year, we made 16 applications, all were approved. To fulfill the need for granthis for gurdwaras, we will carry out recruitment execises in India to have a standby of 100 applications.
We also intend to start a daswand fund to help the needy. MGC proposes to set up a daswand fund. After getting the approval from the MGC Religious Committee, gurdwaras will be pulled in to collect donations from members for a central daswand fund to be used for the empowerement of the gurdwaras and the welfare of the poor.
We also promise to deliver on our earlier promise to provide a dedicated, honest and transparent leadership. We have always been transparent. When we travel for MGC work, we pay for our expenses. We do not claim from the MGC. The same for food and lodging. We have never claimed for any of these. The auditors have been told from the beginning to perform proper audit.
Your actions are said to be politically motivated?
This is not true. My stand is based on issues. I work regularly with the Federal government. They recognise my contribution, as you can see I’m on the various panels. MGC has been getting the biggest funding [for Sikh NGOs] from Federal government. My statements are in accordance to the rule of law and constitution. As presdent of the interfaith council, we make our stands in accordance with the constitution. I’ve never joined any political party.
How do you keep fit?
I jog, almost daily, at night.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
MGC passionately protects religious rights of Sikhs, others in Malaysia (Asia Samachar, 19 Nov 2015)
Lessons for today from 1984: Interview with Hari Singh (Asia Samachar, 13 Nov 2015)