| Letter | Singapore | 23 March 2016 | Asia Samachar |
The Ipoh Wada Gurdwara issue – fighting over the 24 Ringgit membership for 2 years, which provides the right to vote and to be elected to run the Gurdwara – sounds very petty compared to what we have here in Singapore.
In today’s Singapore, elitism has become a feature of the Gurdwaras where only those who have deep pockets can run the Gurdwaras. At the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB), which includes the Central Sikh Temple, the Silat Road Gurdwara and the Sikh Centre, life membership is charged at a staggering S$2,350. Some of us are totally against this ridiculous fees and hence are not members there. Admittedly, other Gurdwaras in Singapore have more reasonable membership fees, ranging between $251 to $501.
Back to CSGB, there is a debate on some varying levels about their enormous fees. On the one hand, CSGB allows potential members to pay this staggering sum in installments, allowing them to convince people, mainly from their own social circles, to buy the membership. They term the $2,350 as DONATION, rather than FEES, to be life members of the Gurdwara.
But those who disagree with the amount feel that only those who have the money will be able to join and those who can’t afford, even in installments, will be left out of the collective decision making in matters of the CSGB Gurdwaras. And this is possibly one of the reasons why some Sikhs avoid the community and coming to gurdwara, as they don’t have a stake and a say in the Gurdwara.
Mind you, Singapore is an expensive place to live in for those who are not earning well, with some having even to take up two jobs to make ends meet. To provide a clearer indication, the default minimum wage in Singapore, using the Progressive Wage Model set by the government for some sectors, including cleaners and security guards, is $1000. The CSGB membership fees are thus 2.5 times such a person’s monthly salary.
Needless to say, if you are a Sikh in Singapore and working as a security guard and a cleaner or in any other such lowly-paid occupation, you are unlikely to be eligible to vote in or stand for the running of the Central Sikh Temple and the Silat Road Gurdwara.
Without singling out any particular Gurdwara, I remember during the 80’s & 90’s, Gurdwara Committee members would take the effort to go house to house, to seek yearly graee, (donations to help with the running of the Gurdwara for the year). After receiving stern feedback on what they are doing wrong in the Gurdwara, whatever small sums our grandparents and parents could dig out for Guru’s House, was then given to the committee, and the committee would accept them gracefully and humbly with some words of advice and encouraging words to keep up the good work, along with the chaa and snacks prepared for them. In turn, the committee used to enquire about the family’s well-being and how us kids were doing in school. If we needed any help in cash or kind, which would almost always be refused by the host family, the committee members would offer to help.
Through this grassroots approach, there was still a connection between the Sangat (congregation), from all segments of society, and the Gurdwara and its Committee. Everyone knew everyone, and knew what was happening in the Gurdwara.
Today, in the name of progress and better educated people in the community, the concept of Sangat is downgraded to that of a follower, rather than a part of a collective decision-maker. That, too, is filtered and restricted to a selected few, who can afford membership fees and are educated enough to know how to use the Constitutions in the Gurdwaras to skirt around problems and issues which the committees run into.
Langgar was once featured in the Singapore Tourism Board’s fliers at the airport (around 2001-02), informing tourists that besides other things, they could go visit a gurdwara to have a nicely prepared hot vegetarian meal 24 hours a day, all year round, learn about the Sikh religion and enjoy the multi-racial and ethnicity of Singapore – a source of pride for many Singaporean Sikhs. But that is not the case anymore due to reasons we may never know about. But one factor that can be attributed to this is that to cut down the costs of running the Gurdwara, Langgar had to be reduced to only a few hours a day. Some may quote the National Environment Agency’s rules, which stipulates that food should be consumed within four hours of preparation, after which, it needs to be disposed for hygiene reasons. These excuses do not justify the act of not making langgar more available in a day, as all that needs to be done is to serve simple food.
I started off by saying that the RM24 in Ipoh was a petty issue compared to the S$2350 in Singapore. But sometimes money politics, whatever the value, is still a problem as it will always divide the community, wherever it may be. Nevertheless, we have to work within the law of the land and ensure that our Guru’s laid out principles and teachings are not eroded in the process.
FATEH SINGH, Singapore
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