| Opinion | 17 March 2015 | Asia Samachar |
A lot has been in the news recently about our local Gurdwara Management Committees (GMC).
Most of the time, we, the Sanggat of a particular Gurdwara, attend the Satsangs, Jormelas and Gurpurab celebrations dressed in our best, look for our favourite spot to sit in and enjoy lots of delicious meals in the langgar hall with family and friends. But how many of us would even know the history of that Gurdwara?
When and how did our ancestors diligently sacrifice their meagre earnings to be pooled in a shared property? It may have seemed to be only a tiny plot then with a wooden building but the commitment in them to have a Gurdwara (doorway to Guru) for their worship united them in a common cause.
Today we have much larger Gurdwaras with many new facilities that are unfortunately taken for granted. Our unspoken heroes who were responsible for providing this inheritance are largely forgotten and thus we have lost some of our history. Hopefully, every Gurdwara Committee will do some research and record the development of that particular Gurdwara. It would make an interesting read indeed.
Have we bothered to know what happens behind the scenes? How is a Gurdwara run? For one, each Gurdwara is registered with the Registrar of Societies and is bound by its rules. This registered society thus has a Constitution under which an executive committee (exco) is elected only by its members. Meetings are periodically conducted and recorded and accounts are maintained for audit purposes.
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Does this mean that once elected, the GMC can do what it wants? No. Every Gurdwara Committee has first and foremost to accept the leadership of the Aad Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji and adhere to the code of conduct as in Sikh Rehat Maryada (SRM) especially in relation to the standardised conventions and religious practices. Gurdwaras are accountable to the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC), a society which is registered as the advisory body for all local gurdwaras, and itself has a constitution. Exco officials also have to deal with local government bodies like the City Council, police and the fire department and make contact with other institutions, for example to get visa for granthis.
So what does a GMC (parbandhak) actually function? Committee members are allotted specific areas for involvement. These include the maintenance and expansion of the premise and also the daily duties and welfare of the staff in their employment. Above all, the sanggat’s welfare has to be looked into with suitable programs, events and celebrations.
Let’s look at the duties of an official in the GMC. First, he or she has to make time away from his family to attend the exco meetings and to dedicatedly look into his responsibilities as allotted. In addition to weekly semagams, a parbandhak may have to plan and make arrangements for important events like Vasakhi celebrations. This means time allocation for speakers, langgar facilities, extra seating space for larger crowds, setting up tents and even parking facilities. All this requires strategy and a great deal of interaction with other stakeholders.
Ensuring the correct relegation of duties for employed staff is obviously vital for the day-to-day functioning of a society and this means close monitoring by the officials. Another concern is related to budgeting which is not easy for any society, more so when cash inflow is subjective to donations! You will agree that fund-raising is the most difficult and often this results in the parbandhak digging into his own pocket!
At times, a parbandhak may be needed to represent the Sikh community in national or international events and thus have to liase with the bodies concerned. As all officials have an unspoken commitment to uphold the good name of the Sikh community, they thus need to be familiar with all protocal procedures, too. So you can see how many “turbans” an official has to don as a member of the Exco.
What dangers can a parbandhak face? Although he is an elected official, some unruly members in the sanggat may harass him with their unsound advice. He can be ridiculed by certain parties who do not agree with his views. Parbandhaks have been known to get anonymous threats from fanatics with their myopic views. There are cases when an official was openly manhandled and sustained bodily injuries too. So not only the security in and around the Gurdwara premise is the area that a parbandhak is in charge of, but he may also have his own life in danger.
Recent events have proven that lunatics and trouble-makers do attempt disruptions in a gurdwara without any respect even for the sanctity of the Guru’s Darbar. A certain group with links to another organisation has gone to the extent of mobilising a crowd to do loud chanting and violating the SRM code of conduct.
This misconduct in the Darbar resulted in an attack on a parcharak and a parbandhak with police action to follow. Innocent members of the local sanggat were denied their right to hear the speaker’s views on SGGS ji by this mob. Instead they became witnesses to a despicable activity – the attack on an elderly scholar – that left many of them shaken and upset, especially as it had insulted their Guru and they were helpless.
An elected GMC’s duty and responsibility in the Gurdwara was literally “highjacked” by an outside group. It succeeded mainly because the parbandhaks had exhibited great restraint in the sacred Darbar Sahib. This is to be lauded as they had not let down their Guru. They had also taken into consideration the safety of the sanggat. But the preplanning by the hooligans was cunningly put into the second phase of action and their demeaning behaviour was indeed a sad day in the history of Malaysian Sikhs.
What rewards can an official expect during his term as a member of the GMC? Definitely not any monetary benefits, in fact he may be generously subsiding for the expenses of the Gurdwara. As a parbandhak, he may need to make tough decisions that can affect his safety and even of his family, but that still falls in his line of duty.
It is the GMC that ensures we have a place for worship and prayer in our multiracial nation. It is this group that plans for our group celebrations and events. We go to our local Gurdwara daily or weekly in full trust that all will be taken care of; the prayers, the langgar, the wedding rites, the kirtanis, the Gurpurab events, etc. Thus we take everything for granted, without a thought of all the voluntary work that is making this possible. From now on, we should remember what Gurbani tells us.
SGGS page 822 (Bilawal M : 5)
ਜੋ ਮਾਨੁਖੁ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਓਹੁ ਤਿਸ ਕੀ ਲਈ ਲਈ ਫੁਨਿ ਜਾਈਐ ॥
Jo Maanukh Maanukh Kee Saevaa Ouhu This Kee Lee Lee Fun Jaaeeai ||
If one human being serves another human being, the one served stands by him.
A Sikh’s service as a member of the GMC is a voluntary service for the community and NOT for power, glory or glamour. Thus it is imperative that we have respect for our Sikh brothers and sisters when they serve as parbandhaks. Let us give them our full support when they embark on this SEWA, a labour of love. Above all, let us as true Sikhs of the Guru stand together with the parbandhaks and prevent any attempt at a repetition of the recent sacrilegious activity by not succumbing to any mob pressure in our Gurdwaras.
SGGS page 26 (Sri Raag M : 1)
ਵਿਚਿ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਸੇਵ ਕਮਾਈਐ ॥ ਤਾ ਦਰਗਹ ਬੈਸਣੁ ਪਾਈਐ ॥
Vich Dhuneeaa Saev Kamaaeeai || Thaa Dharageh Baisan Paaeeai ||
In the midst of this world, do seva, and you shall be given a place of honour in the Court of the Lord.”
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