Who has the right to Sikh representation?

Who has the right to represents the Sikhs? is a question which has caused much controversy and division in the community for decades....even middle ranking civil servants can decide who the Sikh representatives are! - GURMUKH SINGH

Gurmel Singh Kandola (seated, with tie) at the Sikh Missionary Society UK talk – Photo: SEWA UK
By Gurmukh Singh OBE | OPINION |

The above was one of the main questions at a presentation and discussion organised by the Sikh Missionary Society UK on 14 July, 2018, under the general heading State of the Panth: Learning from experience. This time the spotlight was on the personal experience and vision of Sardar Gurmel Singh Kandola MBE, ex-Secretary General of the Sikh Council UK.

The neutral environment of the Sikh Missionary Society UK, which has served our missionary/educational needs since 1969, and the presence of dedicated Society sevadars, was the right setting for such a presentation and discussion. [Most deservingly, S Gurmel Singh was honoured by the Society with a siropa and a plaque.]

Who has the right to represents the Sikhs? is a question which has caused much controversy and division in the community for decades. This unresolved issue has been exploited by politicians and governments. Recent communications relating to Sikh representations show how even middle ranking civil servants can decide who the Sikh representatives are! There are new boys on the block, more articulate, less conversant with Sikhi, minus full Sikh identity sometimes, and closer to the office-bound civil servants to give ready advice about Sikh/Sikhi issues. This advice, selectively or conveniently sought, can then become the basis for briefs to ministers and government policy. (The so called, Sikh surveys is a related topic for another time).

Column space does not allow a fuller discussion but I am content to summarise some points made at the Sikh Missionary Society event. Identifying as a Sikh means representing oneself and the whole Sikh community at the same time, the opinion of any Sikh individual becomes as valid as any other (Dr Jasjit Singh of Leeds University). According to Harmander Singh of Sikhs in England, the pertinent point is the question, who is a Sikh? He believes that the Sikh Reht Maryada is the Sikh Guide and clearly defines a Sikh. That is the first and the most important pre-condition for any claims to Sikh representation.

The other important pre-conditions relate to openness and accountability. There should be continual feedback to those represented and timely advice should be sought before returning to the talks or the negotiating table. S. Gurmel Singh quoted the historical example of S. Baldev Singh during the tripartite independence talks in 1947. The future of the Sikhs was decided by Baldev Singh acting almost on his own.

There are other issues about the nature of Sikh organisations claiming Sikh representation. Subject to their aims and objectives, are they inclusive or more like exclusive clubs? Do they promote teamworking which brings in diverse skills? Is there succession planning and effective delegation to ensure experience building and training of younger members. The mix of age groups, men-women balance, ease with which changes can be made at the top etc all these factors are relevant to any claims to community representation.

Today, when the Sikh community faces so many challenges to Sikh ideology, institutions and identity, above are the sort of questions we need to ask of those representing us. Otherwise, Sikh future will not be decided by Sikhs (as defined by the Sikh Reht Maryada).

Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: sewauk2005@yahoo.co.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



Once Again: Predictions of Sikhism dying! (Asia Samachar, 7 July 2018)

Procedure & panel for settling gurdwara disputes (Asia Samachar, 16 June 2018)


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  1. @Dato Dr. B. S. Bains

    Sat Sri Akaal, you have pointed out many valid points about the rocky position Sikhism is in now and mainly for the future generations perceive this religion as. Yes we are organised in terms of our institutions.

    The guru, the granth, and the gurdwara form a kind of trifecta which shares the same power and authority. Together they constitute the nexus of Sikh religion and social institution. That by itself shows how organised we are which is rarely seen in other major religions. They are so integrated that without any one of them Sikh religion and society can never be conceived.

    These institutions do not in any way overlap or contradict rather they compliment the significance of one an other. Unlike in the Islam teachings there are numerous contradictions where science and history is concerned. There’s a verse in the Quran (27:61) claims “the earth is fixed and does not move” but comparing to Guru Nanak’s rendering in this matter “the entire universe is on the move, in Lord’s fear is the sun and in Lord’s fear is the moon. They move myriads of miles without an end.” (SGGS: p. 464) just goes to prove how matured we already are as a religion.

    As far as eating meat, wearing turban, or even having to sit on chairs or on the floor during langgar is something trivial everyday feud because that falls into the category “code of conduct” of a Sikh individual and they varies from one person to another depending on his/her pure, pious and spiritual inner life. Even Guru Nanak Dev Ji has describe by “refraining from meat, you don’t get to God” in the maas maas kar moorakh jhagde line. Guru Ji had an understanding time would change and society would change too.

    To comment on the last line where who has the power gets to bend the principles is true in today’s generation and we are starting to see more of it. Sadly that can’t be stopped since they see themselves as a governing body and what they say goes (at least that’s what they think). But ultimately it’s up to us as a Sikh to believe what is right in par with our only Guru. The Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

    Good day.

  2. a very complex topic has been touched by Sardar Gurmukh Singh OBE, Sikh Missionary Society UK. The topic cannot be answered and if some one does answer, it will still stay at the tip of an iceberg. In actual fact let’s ask questions to ourselves.
    1. Are we organised?
    2. If the answer is YES, then how are we different from the rest Islam or Christians.
    3. The question again, are these major religion organised too?
    4. They are organised by virtue of countries adopting a particular religion as their official religion.
    5. Question again, is Sikhism being made an official religion of any country? not even a state in India officially declares Sikhism as their official religion.
    6. We are spread out and separated among by turban and non-turban Sikhs. Among them, who practices the tenants of the religion? the one with turban or the one without?
    7. We can’t even regulate and come to terms on simple matters like, whether to eat meat or be vegetarians? whether to sit on floor or sit on tables and chairs for langgar?
    8. Whether the Nishan sahib is Orange (kesri) or Blue?
    9. The generation is getting so confused.
    10 the only constant and our strong factor is SGGS. Since it cannot command uniformity there are presentation in many many forms each justifying righteousness. Again is the wisdom not only meant for a particular race or creed. It is for mankind.
    12. The Amrit (beptism) conductors, who are they the 5 Pyare? what kind of background they come from. Are they consistent? in their behavior in person? is it an authentic method of performing Beptism?

    The only thing that is constant is the Doctrine in SGGS. That we can be proud of. What we cannot do, is to institutionalize the doctrine. But what we have successfully institutionalized is the system that is set the way to place SGGS, cloth it and revere it. Bow by bribing and placing a meager dollar in-front of it. This again is ritual.
    So where are we heading? The missionaries has to answer this. Again it would be a relative answer subject to debate.
    In short there is no holistic representation of this so called religion Sikhism. Who ever is in power the religion gets bend a bit to suit the environment of the respective Sikh chief of the time, in a particular situation. In many countries they are dominated by the non-turban Sikh gentlemen except for Canada and some European Countries.

    The answer still hangs!!!