Naujawan Sabha at a crossroads

Opt for status quo in leadership and you risk all that Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia has built over the years, argues JAGDESH SINGH, an active volunteer at the Malaysian-based Sikh youth organisation

| Jagdesh Singh | Opinion | Malaysia | 26 March 2016 | Asia Samachar |


For many of us growing up and maturing into young adults from the 70s, 80s and even 90s, living in Malaysia as Sikhs meant that we had to experience participating in the Annual Gurmat Parchaar Samelan at least once in our lifetimes. So well-known among the youth, the Gurmat camps were simply called the Samelan. Some of us hated it and never went back again. Some loved it and never looked back. Some of us, like me, were indifferent but slowly came back as volunteers later in life because the experiences and lessons learned made sense to us later in life. But there is no doubt that many Sikh children over the past four decades have had something or another to do with the Samelan, and indirectly with Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (Sabha), the organisation that have been organising these Gurmat camps without fail all these years.

If you’ve been attending the Samelans over the years, you would have observed that the number of new faces that participate have never decreased drastically. But together with these new fresh faces every year, there are also the regulars whose parents and grandparents had taken part in the camps. There are at least three generations of families joining these samelans as participants, as volunteers, even as part of the nursery.

SEE ALSO: Naujawan Sabha is broke

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So, you see, the Samelans have an influence over a good many Sikh families in Malaysia, spanning across generations. Hence, you would be hard pressed to find a family that has not heard about the Samelans and Naujawan Sabha. We can debate how strong the influence really is, but SNSM’s outreach certainly goes far across the land. We have not taken into account the visitors from countries within the South East Asia region. These makes the outreach international.

The success is also evident on another front. Some neighboring countries seem to have ‘copy-pasted’ the camp’s template to cater to their own local Sanggats. Thailand, Indonesia and even Australia have adopted and adapted the Samelan template, and even insisted to have the same volunteers from Malaysia to run these camps onsite. The numbers grow as years go by, participants and volunteers alike, organising and running these Samelans in these countries. Add these to the baseline Malaysian Sanggat, and you finally get to see, at a rudimentary level, how big a role Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia plays with organising and running these Gurmat Samelans in these parts of the world.

With my strong, and rather emotional association, with the Sabha, it was rather concerning to read a recent report (at the that the oganisation is broke financially, rendering it unable to finance an annual kirtan programme, awaited eargerly by some in the Sanggat.

This doesn’t spell the end of Sabha in any way, but the smoke where there’s fire could be harmful for its future. With its vast outreach and influence in our Sikh community, a hemorrhaging and broke Sabha would not be able to effectively continue with its mission of spreading the Sikh way of life for Malaysians. Sikhi parchaar (preaching of the Sikh faith) is an integral part of this organisation’s existence. The Samelans and its longevity, its relevance to Sikh Parchaar to the youth, is a testament to the Sabha’s fundamental mission. If there is no Parchaar then there is no Sabha.

Without the funds, there is no Sabha, then there is no Parchaar from Sabha.

In today’s harsh economic environment, every cent counts. Every contribution and donation means more than before. Every monetary assistance from the secular government will be scrutinised.

Whether this monetary concern is true or not, the Sanggat will find out soon enough as the organisation’s leadership committee presents the accounts at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Perhaps an audit will be called upon to scrutinise these accounts as part of the leadership team’s due diligence. Let’s not dwell on the rumors for now. But let’s imagine the implications, plan for the worst, hope for the best.

A new leadership beckons at the next AGM. What this new leadership will inherit will give us a clue on how the next couple of years of Sabha will be charted. If this new leadership inherits a broke Sabha, then we have a broken Sabha that needs fixing. Playing the blame game at this point would only waste us precious time and resources.

But the lessons must be learned, they must be recorded so that we never fall into these pitfalls again. Five decades of growth and we’re back to square one. It is indeed a heartbreaking notion for many a volunteer or sewadar over these years.

SEE ALSO: SNSM AGM: Win back trust, scrutinise Khalsa Land samelan plan

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Mistakes of not being disciplined with our funds are never to be repeated again, not simply because of our disability to pursue our plans to meet the ever relevant (more than it’s ever been) mission of Sabha, but because these funds are contributions from the Sanggat over the years, even decades. Hard earned Dasvands, donations with our own sweat and blood, these funds should be taken even more strictly than any other non-profit organization because it is a sacred pillar of our Sikh way of life. These are the Sanggat’s sincere contribution for the Sabha’s doing of Sewa.

Our collective Sikh conscience demands that we deal with this with the urgency and importance of dealing with the work for our Guru. You simply cannot mess around with this.

The new leadership would be tasked to generate the funds back to a healthy state so that Sabha can get back to doing what it’s meant to do: Sikh Parchaar. But even before that, this new leadership would be tasked to rebuild the credibility that the Sabha has lost should the reports of it being broke are to be true. This is an even bigger Herculean task because this new leadership needs to re-connect back with the Sanggat, the generations of families of outreach that we’ve painstakingly built over the decades. Chances are many of these families would be none the wiser about Sabha’s monetary concerns.

This could be a double edged sword for the new leadership. Reconnecting won’t be tough because there wasn’t any loss of connection in the first place. But imploring to the very same families to contribute and donate funds to Sabha for its survival would be a tough ask if their impressions of Sabha is that it’s not broke at all. After all, Sabha has been quite lavish with their programs over the past few years, the last Samelan being the first inaugural one held in Khalsa Land with air-conditioned Darbaar Sahibs and living quarters. Why would a middle income family donate to a Sabha that could afford this?

SEE ALSO: Are our Gurdwaras Dysfunctional? The Root Causes

SEE ALSO: Managing gurdwara funds transparently, with accountability

So, this new leadership has got their work cut out for them. But more vital to them starting their work after the AGM is for the Sanggat to choose the right leadership team. That is where you and I must play our parts as a responsible autonomy of the Sanggat. Without the Sanggat, there is no Sabha.

Opt for status quo in leadership and you risk all that Sabha has built over the years. The golden age of Samelans and Parchaar will continue to slip away from us.

Choose a leadership that have experiences of some form of Parchaar, be it as a lecturer at the Samelans or a preacher in the local Gurudwara, because the new leadership must go back to the roots of holding Parchaar close to their hearts and their plans for Sabha. Choose a leadership that can relate to the youth of today’s Malaysian Sikhs. Not yesterday’s, not last year’s, not last decade’s.

Choose a leadership who understands the challenges of today’s youth such as drugs, social pressure, and educational failures. Choose a leadership that is media savvy, able to communicate effectively with the youth through social media. Choose a leadership that understands disciplined and controlled fund managing.

Choose a leadership that adheres to the Sikh way of life, which understands the sanctity of the Sanggat at all times.

Choose wisely for the future of Sabha, the future of our Sikh Youth, is now at a crossroads.


Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother. He is also a volunteer editor at Asia Samachar.


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