| UK | 16 Sept 2016 | Asia Samachar |
By Hardeep Singh
“Nothing has happened on this level before,” were among the words used to describe troubling events at a Sikh temple in Leamington Spa over the weekend. The normal serene ambience of a gurdwara was replaced, albeit temporarily, by a rather unsavoury stand-off between two opposing groups.
Early on Sunday morning “masked” protesters succeeded in preventing a Sikh wedding ceremony, or Anand Karaj, between a Sikh bride and non-Sikh groom (Hindu) from going ahead. The protesters maintained the ceremony should be reserved for Sikhs only. The temple committee, however, took a different view. Things became unpleasant and the police intervened. On the morning of the incident Warwickshire police confirmed the incident was an escalation of a “local dispute” and said: “Officers are inside the temple to negotiate a peaceful resolution.” The police response, on this occasion, however, was unprecedented.
I suppose given it was the anniversary of 9/11, Britain was, in any case, on high alert. Armed officers and negotiators were swiftly dispatched, and a number of arrests made on “suspicion of aggravated trespass”. No one was hurt. All but one of the weapons confiscated were ceremonial Sikh daggers or kirpans.
Videos of the incident were widely disseminated on WhatsApp and social networks. A group called Sikh Youth Birmingham claimed responsibility on Facebook, posting: “Armed police called to Leamington Gurdwara on 100 peaceful Sikh protesters, who have come to uphold the sanctity of the sacred Anand Karaj.”
This isn’t the first time a dispute over interfaith marriages has occurred among British Sikhs, and regrettably it’s perhaps not the last. The issue presents a deepening schism, which needs to be addressed urgently – opinions are divided, pitching Sikhs of liberal persuasion against those of a traditional mindset.
Let’s be clear – the modus operandi of the men arrested on Sunday needs to be challenged. Although videos indicate the protest was peaceful, I’m not sure covering you’re face is a sensible approach, or one which promotes positive dialogue with one’s elders.
I’ve also noticed that protests of this kind, invariably involve a Sikh bride marrying outside. Sensational headlines, like those suggesting a “sword-wielding gang” had stormed the temple are indeed unhelpful. Nevertheless, it’s incumbent on so-called community leaders, to make sure incidents like this never happen again. It’s wholly bad for all parties involved. Firstly the couple’s wedding day memories will be forever tainted, and it’s not good for a religious group, which is largely celebrated as a model minority. The question is what’s going to be done?
Last August following a spate of similar incidents, attempts were made to formulate a resolution. The Sikh Council set up a “code of conduct” for marriages where a Sikh chooses to marry a non-Sikh. They said marrying non-Sikhs was acceptable, but that marriages shouldn’t be conducted in a temple. Non-Sikhs, the Sikh Council argued could be involved, if they changed their name to include Singh or Kaur. They called for protests, like the one on Sunday, to be called off for six months – so guidelines (which were voluntary) shared with temples could be implemented.
While many of Britain’s 350 or so temples may well have adopted the proposals, it’s now patently obvious some haven’t. Guidelines like these flow from what is known as the Rehat Maryada – a code of conventions approved in 1945 by Sikh scholars in Amritsar, the epicentre of Sikh tradition. They encompass a wide range of areas including births, deaths and marriages. The Rehat Maryada is unequivocal in its guidance: the Anand Karaj is strictly a ceremony for a Sikh couple.
British Sikhs have a responsibility to ensure incidents like Leamington Spa never happen again.
Of course the rules present difficulty for those who choose to hold on to their Sikh heritage while marrying a non-Sikh, or those who just want a flamboyant Indian wedding – like something out of Bend it Like Beckham. However, the significance of the ceremony shouldn’t be underplayed. The Anand Karaj involves four circumambulations of the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures), and with each a bow indicating a firm commitment to Sikh teachings. It should not be reduced to a charade, or mere photo-taking opportunity because it’s a colourful affair.
To prevent a rerun of the weekend’s events, temples must be both transparent and consistent on the issue. This is where things ultimately went so wrong in Leamington Spa. While embracing interfaith couples, temples must offer an alternative – this could, for example, take the form of a blessing from a priest along with readings from the scriptures.
British Sikhs have a responsibility to ensure incidents like Leamington Spa never happen again. We’ve come too far to allow a doctrinal dispute to harm the hard earned respect bequeathed to us by our forefathers. It’s not too late for common sense to prevail.
Hardeep Singh is a freelance journalist and tweets @singhtwo2. The original report, entitled ‘Mixed faith marriages should be banned in Sikh temples’, appeared at IB Times on 13 Sept 2016. You can view it here.
[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]
The Internet and the Sikh Marriage (Asia Samachar, 10 Sept 2016)
Mixed marriages in gurduaras (Asia Samachar, 21 Aug 2016)
Marriage counselling, youth empowerment courses in Ipoh (Asia Samachar, 28 July 2016)
Roles and functions of a gurdwara (Asia Samachar, 11 Dec 2015)
READERS SHARED THESE COMMENTS AT THE ASIA SAMACHAR FACEBOOK PAGE:
Mohan Singh: The Rehat Maryada spells out clearly the code of conduct of a Sikh. But most Sikhs nowadays consume liquor, some tobacco and drugs. Some are clean shaven some trim their beards. Most girls have cut their hair and plucked their eyebrows. In these cases is Rehat Maryada NOT applicable. Why the hypocracy!!!!!
Gupz Chauhan: As a kid growing up in sikhism … i was always thought that our gurus never discriminated … infact they fought for the rights of other religions … and was always proud that the religion i grew up in never discriminated and was a symbol of peace, righteousness and unity. It puzzles me to wonder why would sikhs today try to change the teachings given to us by our 10 gurus … who was it that said its wrong for 2 being to wed in the presence of god. I believe the term Ek Omkar sums it up !!!
Caroline E K Sandhu: I don’t think mixed couples would choose to marry in a gurdwara unless they had respect for the Sikh religion and culture. I feel it was quite mean-spirited of those protestors to disrupt that young couple’s wedding. They could’ve put their point of view across in a different manner and at a different time. Covering their faces whilst protesting shows they lack the courage of their convictions. Very disappointing behaviour in my opinion.
Dave Singh Sandhu: Who gives a damn about anand karaj nowadays. Its more for video shooting show only. No respect at all. There is more ego in it then the nimrata/humbleness our guruji taught us. Its a glamour show of attire etc. Open it up to all at least the Gurudwara can record a good collection.
Ninda Nkd: If we chase them away, there is the church or mosque opening their doors to them. Very unkind to disrupt a marriage ceremony. Those who want to be spiritual warriors, remember, you are not God. Soul equals Soul. Who are we to discriminate.
Jas mail Singh: Marriages are written in the heavens. Personally i don’t see anything wrong for anyone to get married before the Guru even if one is not seen to be a Sikh. Gurdwara is open to all as long as the maryada is followed,
Inderjit Kaur: Agree.. Let’s not be fanatical!.. The 4 doors of Harmandir sahib open in 4 directions to all of the human race.
Rattan Singh: We are not even preventing ppl of different faiths from consuming guru da langar but we are trying to kill our own. ….We cannot change an eloping generation. We need to change our mindsets.
READERS SHARED THEWSE COMMENTS AT THE ASIA SAMACHAR FACEBOOK PAGE:
Savinder Manjit Randhawa: Don’t be ultra fanatic please.God’s house of worship should be open to all faiths.Please do not forget our Sikh teachings by our Gurus.
Ranjit Gill: The gurduwaras are always open to all faiths. For worship….The issue here is inter- religious marriage. No one can stop a civil ceremony. But shouldn’t there be guidelines for the role of gurduwaras in such unions? And if guidelines have been issued, why can’t they be adhered to?
Savinder Manjit Randhawa: I personally feel that if one party is a Sikh then the Anand karaj should be allowed.Please bear in mind each one is entitled to his or her opinion and the opinion doesn’t make a person less religious or it doesn’t mean the person has no respect for the Gurdwara.
Ranjit Gill: I understand what you mean but it is important to also understand that gurdwaras do not run on personal preferences, they run on what is decided by a governing body. An inter- religious couple can have the Anand Karaj ceremony in their home. No one can stop them. It is not compulsory to do it in the gurdwara. So why does the gurdwara have to be dragged into this?
The real issue is simple. Inter-religious couples want validation from society. This may stem from insecurities about their own decisions or choices. If they were secure in their decision to get married, they would go ahead and have have a ceremony where it is allowed for them do so instead of literally forcing their life choices upon us.
If we can accept their decision to marry as they wish , why cant can’t these couples also show some compromise by accepting the rules set by the governing body of the gurduwaras?
Sanjeet Hundal: Ranjit Gill and what about their children that are mixed ? A marriage helps to give understanding and love from both sides and a chance to mix with both sides. If either side are not welcome that causes division and potentially isolation. Where does that leave the kids ? With half a family ? Doesn’t sound very Sikh to me ….
Ranjit Gill: Sanjeet Hundal, the results of an interfaith couple need to be contemplated by the couple. It is their right to do what they feel is best in the upbringing of their children. No one has denied the children access to the gurdwara for worship.
Savinder Manjit Randhawa: I strongly feel that we should respect the decision a couple has taken.At least remember they have WAHEGURU JI in their thoughts.They Want WAHEGURU JI’S ot aasra before venturing on their new married life.So please do not deprive them.They might decide to stay away if you be so fanatical.We must try and bring them closer and not distance them.REMEMBER WAHEGURU JI’S teachings.
Ranjit Gill: You are absolutely correct in saying that the couple’s decision should be respected. Waheguru Ji is not anyone’s monopoly for sure. No one can deny any couple Waheguru Ji’s blessings. One does not have to be in a gurdwara to obtain blessings because Waheguru Ji is everywhere and He is constantly taking care of us all, whether or not we have asked for his blessings. All I’m saying is that if others can respect the couple’s decision, the couple should also respect the decision of the governing body of the gurdwaras. The couple can get a Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji brought to their home and have someone read the laavan while they do their phere. Fanatical is a strong word and we need to have clear definitions before bestowing labels on anyone. Waheguru Ji has many teaching that have been conveyed to us thorough the Guru Jis. The weakest link is in its interpretation- as people, we wish to interpret these teachings in a way that make us feel good about ourselves.
Gill Aranjit: One question and no offense to anyone.. Does any other religion allow inter faith marriages? What does the maryada say?
Ranjit Gill: Your question is very relevant and welcome. The Sikh rehat Maryada is only relevant to Sikhs. No person or religion has the right to interfere in an interfaith marriage. But the friction is over ‘where’ these marriages should be held. The marriage rites according to any religion are usually appreciated and meaningful to those who profess the religion. The concern is that the non Sikh who is getting married in the gurdwara is only doing it for personal reasons, i.e. to marry their Sikh spouse to be. No one is able to peer into their minds and know if Sikh marriage rites have as profound a meaning to the non Sikhs as it does to the Sikhs. And if the non Sikh does not feel the same way, is that also not a form of beadbi( disrespect) to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji? To avoid this situation which, at present, does not seem to have a remedy, the gurdwaras’ governing bodies have taken this controversial step in what is believed to be in the best interest of the majority. Let us weigh a parallel situation. In a well run democracy, does the government not make policies which are believed to be in the best interest of the majority? Dissent is always expected. If the dissenters feel that they are correct in their views, they need to find a way to form the government in the next general election. If there are Sikhs who disagree with the policies of the gurdwara council, these persons should be encouraged to find a way to be on such councils and implement policies which they believe are in the best interest of the Sikh panth.
Sanjeet Hundal: Ranjit Gill but from your viewpoint the children will know that one of their parents was rejected by the Sikh community. How does that look to the child ?
Savinder Manjit Randhawa: To hell with all this futile argument .Let us personally take it up with WAHEGURU Ji.As long as He knows that we were sincere with our intentions to get His blessings in His house but were rejected due to some people with fanatical ideas we are safe.Let those responsible pay for their ideology and fanatical thinking.
Ranjit Gill: Sanjeet Hundal, I suppose the child has every right to form his/her opinion when they are older/ old enough.
Ranjit Gill: Savinder Manjit Randhawa, everyone here is trying to share their views in respectful and constructive ways. This is not an argument, it is a discourse. It is not futile because it is encouraging everyone to think rationally and decide how they feel about the Rehat Maryada as well as weigh their own personal relationship with Waheguru Ji. I find it odd that you would like to deliver this ‘to hell’. I implore you with the utmost respect due to you- please let us not use harsh terms like ‘to hell’ or ‘fanatical’. We all need to learn to agree to disagree and to do so with pedigree.