By Gurmukh Singh OBE | PANJAB TIMES | OPINION |
The UK Government has invited the Sikhs to be represented around one Sikh Roundtable. This call through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) reminds us of past Sikh experience with Government officials.
Firstly, on the Sikh side, despite many UK Sikh successes, one nationwide Sikh Roundtable is an objective yet to be fully achieved. The recent Kirpan exemption in the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB) has brought out the best and worst in this respect. It is a success claimed separately by many organisations. Some worked tirelessly behind the scenes because Kirpanis inseparable from the Sikh theo-temporal (piri-miri) tradition. However, the exaggerated claims to this success by some to the exclusion of others, showed a lack of community (ਕੌਮੀ) spirit which should celebrate collective success.
Next, we have the perennial problem of official ignorance about Sikh organisations. A recent Sikh Missionary Society UK communication in response to the MHCLG invitation to apply for a place around the Sikh Roundtable reads: The bias seems to be towards selection of individuals with personal ambition by the department instead of nominations by reputable and well established nationwide Sikh organisations.
The risk of course is repetition of the failure of the government to engage with the Sikh community in any meaningful way at grassroots level. The result over the decades has been the continual Sikh struggle to secure even basic religio-cultural rights as a distinct community. That is due to official preference to work with those who toe the establishment line and are prepared to compromise Sikhi religious needs and just aspirations. Regrettably, paper organisations promoting individuals claiming to be Sikhs with hardly any knowledge of Sikh ideology, institution and identity continue to be promoted.
Officials need to do more research and should not assume that the communities they deal with have the resources to organise themselves like Government departments. Community volunteers and social activists (sevadars) are usually humble people and most are not interested in pushing themselves forward with wild claims to community representation.
Past experience is that self-promoting individuals form doubtful organisations, are usually articulate and get themselves selected to sit at Sikh-Government talks as Sikh representatives. It is doubtful sometimes if some even subscribe to the definition of a Sikh in accordance with the Sikh Reht Maryada.
As recent events show, there is internal resistance to acknowledge the significant contribution of other Sikh organisations while promoting own. To quote from a recent communication: rather than work to support each other and add value, there are some in our community who spend countless hours to undermine good work for momentary gain or with a hope they can jostle interest from the political hierarchy ‘..we seem to now be attacking the very base of our newly found power.’
One outstanding achievement has been the election of two talented Sikh Members of Parliament who continue to promote Sikh issues in the House of Commons and through the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs which includes many MPs. They exemplify the positive Sikh contribution to the British way of life. They should be supported while well-educated young Sikhs encouraged to follow in their footsteps.
Finally, a Government Sikh Roundtable will only work if the Sikhs themselves are prepared to sit around one table!
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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