By Gurmukh Singh OBE | OPINION | PANJAB TIMES |
On 21 February, 2018, there was an attempt to take off the turban (dastaar) of an EcoSikh team member outside the UK Parliament. MP Tanmanjit Singh Dhesi raised the issue in the House of Commons and the Speaker apologized saying that it was a truly appalling incident. He felt a great sense of shame that in our country such an attack could be perpetrated. There was widespread coverage in the media.
On 8 May, during a scuffle inside Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Southall, the dastaar of a parcharak came off. Regrettably, there have been other similar incidents in the UK, and, once again, British Sikhs have scored an own goal. In the meantime, for years, the UK umbrella body, the Sikh Council UK and organisations like the Sikh Federation UK and the Network of Sikh Organisations and others have been trying to impress on the UK and European governments how important and sacred the dastaar is for the Sikhs. That it is an integral part of Sikh religious identity. Sikh charities have been promoting Sikh identity through their tireless work in many countries for years.
Yet, here we are in May 2018 when in a few seconds some misguided people have undone what had been achieved through the hard work of so many.
In the words of the Secretary General of the American Sikh Council, Davinder Singh, These kinds of incidents are particularly damaging when Sikhs and Sikh organizations are working hard to promote Sikhi, including legal protections for the dastar and kakkars, by raising awareness to wider communities we live in the diaspora.
So, this time, the ritualistic condemnation and compromises for the sake of Sikh unity, which usually follow such acts, will not do. While any alleged anti-Gurmat parchar can be challenged through discussion and Panthic procedures, two wrongs, by physically attacking a parcharak, will not make it right in the Guru Darbar. Dastaar is the gift of the Guru, and this sacrilege has brought shame on all concerned. Once again, there has been global coverage and condemnation.
We are long past the 1984 events when such acts were tolerated due to the hurt felt by the community in the wake of the Indian Army attack. In 2018, we need concrete structures to ensure that such acts, if repeated, will be followed by just punishment by the law of the land and through some sort of Panthic discipline. Physical assault is a criminal offence and injuries & physical and psychological can involve large compensations.
The victim carries the mental scar and the offender the guilt, for life. Ardaas, seeking forgiveness before the Guru and the Sangat is a first step towards atonement. The primary responsibility for preventing such incidents lies with the local management and the Sangat.
National level initiative lies with the representatives of gurdwaras and Panthic organisations sitting around the Sikh Council UK table. A disciplinary panel should be set up to deal with such incidents, to agree guidelines for parchaar in Gurdwaras and, if invited, to settle gurdwara disputes. Shameful as this incident is, it does offer an opportunity for Sikh unity through agreed Gurmatt based processes.
This article was first published at Punjab Times. See here.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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