Gurcharan Singh | Opinion | 5 July 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Have your agendas as you will like them but do it together under one name.
It took me a lot of courage and motivation to pen this down. To start with, I am not knowledgeable enough in Sikhi. I struggled to come to terms with the many possibilities or rather consequences of my writing this piece. It was for the sheer sake of progress that I decided to finally put my thoughts on paper – with Waheguru Ji’s mercy and blessing.
We, Sikhs in Malaysia, are a qaum that takes pride in who were are. We take efforts to ensure that Sikhi flourishes. We try to help other Sikhs in what ever way possible. Granted, we have done so much and so much more is being done on a daily basis. Some do it with lots of publicity, others quietly. Sikh-related organisations strive to fulfill their objectives. I bow in respect to the efforts undertaken by our sewadars (volunteers). I truly am humbled by the efforts done and the sewa they undertake.
I believe we can achieve so much more if we are more focussed and plan in a concerted manner. If a Sikh has a problem regarding any issue, where should he or she go? See another Sikh or see someone through a Sikh brother or sister and hope to get some solution to the problem. Some will go to a Sikh organisation, either known to them or others, that could be approached to help. Some will try their local Gurdwara. But many also complain that their Gurdwara is not doing enough to address issues, other than organise congregation from time to time. Where will a single mother with problematic kids go to ask for help? Where do children from poor families who want to pursue further studies go for help. Where do they seek information? Where do we go to seek legal redress or ask advice on legal matters?
We have many organisations which seem to be doing, more or less, the same thing. Are they really different? The objective at the end of the day will be to help Sikhs.
Let me give an illustration. Recently there were reports that some Sikh students were not allowed to spot their moustache and beard in schools. There was an exsiting Ministry of Education (MOE) circular but there were some loopholes in it. It allowed the Sikh students to wear the Kara but kept the old ruling on not allowing moustache and beard. Looks like it was overlooked by those who coordinated with the MOE to allow Kara in schools.
Let us see how we handled this issue. The issue was in the newspaper as well as the social media. At that point, I asked: Who is taking up this matter with the Ministry? Many organisations started making some noise concerning the issue. Some took it to the media. Even the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) expressed that it was not happy that Sikh children in Malaysian schools are not allowed to keep moustache and beard.
I waited for some news on which organisation will be handling this issue and their approach. Some had even went up to see the Minister/Deputy Minister of Education and assured that something was being done.
I was somewhat perplexed at the way we handled such an issue. I also cannot help but question if there was a proper and clear method of addressing such issues.
FEDERATION OF SIKH SOCIETIES
Let us do a bit of imagining at this juncture. There is a problem about schools adhering strictly to the effective circular and not allowing Sikh students to keep their moustache and beard. The incident is reported to the Sikhs ‘complaints bureau’. This bureau comes under a ‘Federation of Sikh Societies Malaysia’. The problem is picked up with the bureau directing it to the relevant body within the federation to take further action. The Federation makes a statement to the Sikhs that the said complaint is received and action is being taken. This is relayed through the Federation’s channel (be it a website and Facebook page) and other media. The body under the Federation takes the necessary measure and goes to the right channel to address this issue. The problem is discussed and the solution is agreed and then relayed to the Panth.
So what is the specialty of this Federation? What does it do? It is a federation of Sikh organisations in Malaysia? There could be various sections and the organisations are clearly given their standard operating procedures (SOPs) to what area they have to take charge of regarding the Sikhs. We can have a unit taking care of youth development, a welfare wing taking care of the homeless and poor families, an education development section in charge of education and development of students, a career guidance unit helping Sikhs to choose their career paths and various other sections, a legal bureau to take care of legal or constitutional matters, an economic unit to help Sikhs with business matters and so forth.
So, what will be the basis of planning by these various organisations or sections under the Federation in their particular areas?
Oh! This is the tough one. Do we have some kind of a ‘Blueprint for Sikhs in Malaysia’? Do we have a comprehensive plan for Sikhs in Malaysia for the next 5 years or 10 years? We might have it but where is it? Who has it? What is it about?
Maybe we have it but is it fragmented within the various Sikh organisations. If you are good at planning and have some foresight, you are likely to have one for your organisation but if you are waiting for issues to rise and then think of an action, then you are acting reactively and probably lack this part of foresight wisdom. But how do we go about having a blueprint that covers all the aspects? Well, to an extent, we have now all aspects being covered by many organisations.
I had the opportunity to speak to some organisations recently. To my surprise, fantastic efforts are being done by these organisations, albeit in silos.
Some are taking care of 50 poor and needy families each and others up to more than a 100 families. But how many are being taken care of in total? Well, that’s not important, or is it? We can say individually that 50 families are being taken care by each of us but can we also say 500 families are being taken care of in a concerted effort and the database is clear and up to date? How do we get to that point?
Is this an impossible dream? I am not the only ‘mad’ one here. A line from John Lennon’s famous song ‘Imagine’ comes to mind – “You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one”. There are so many successful Sikhs out there who might have the same thoughts; or rather I pray they do! I am sure we all want to see a clear planning on the future of our Sikhs in this country. We also want to see clear methods of tackling issues.
We have some problem with Sikhs converting to Christianity and we all jump, again in our own spot. Some make the reactive move to tackle the issue at hand. Fingers start pointing at all directions and we all feel sad of the state of affairs. The heat of the moment gathers some concerned individuals or organisations to sit and talk about the problem. But what happens next? We then find the alleged culprit behind this act and some form of action is taken. We might get to see the ending of the saga or just get distorted somewhere in the midst of it. So, all is well until we get some problem and then inevitably its time to come together for a common cause, normally in the form of a common enemy. What about the other times when things are going alright?
Another beautiful blessing we have got is in the form of our beautiful Gurdwaras. We are experts in renovating and building gurdwaras. We talk no less than millions nowadays when it comes to upgrading gurdwaras. One dear Sikh brother was on a donation drive. He told me the gurdwara fund needs a few millions to extend and renovate the existing gurdwara. I did my little part and whispered in his ears: “Please do something for the poor families and students in the area too.” He assured me that they have been thinking about it.
Are all Gurdwaras helping the society, beyond the efforts of holding prayers and getting the Sangat to sit and pray together? Do we approach the Gurdwara when we have our kids having good results but no financial means to go for further studies? Do we approach the Gurdwara for counseling help, both for us and kids? Do we approach the Gurdwara to help our kids with their studies and career guidance? Do we approach Gurdwara to help us when we have no shelter on our heads and nothing on the plate? What might be a good model for the functions of a Gurdwara? I cannot answer all these questions and I hope you can.
AGENDA, POSITION, EKTA
I think I have said what I think about and hopefully many of these concerns are also in the minds of others amongst us. No one else perhaps can have the Federation and lead it but the existing leaders of the existing organisations. No one is as steadfast as what many of you are doing and no one perhaps wants to take your position away from you. What we probably want is one voice and one vision – EKTA. Keep your positions and the sewa you are doing but come together in a unified federation or a big umbrella that has all aspects of the Sikhs qaum covered. We probably can speak with one voice and relay our aspirations to the powers that be if we think we need to get that help – after all the Sikhs have been paying as much taxes as others in this country and we deserve our bit.
Is it necessary for Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM), for instance, to get the views and help of Sikhs to plan a school on Khalsa Land [the land owned by SNSM in Kuala Kubu Bharu, Selangor] and do it as an effort by Sabha alone or is it good to have a school in the blueprint of the Sikhs and the Sabha is given the lead to do it? What about having a university in the future?
We take it in good faith and with utmost respect that none of you leaders of the organisations want to work alone without the help of others but you perhaps just cannot help it. We might have different ideals and we surely have strong egos. That is not necessarily bad but it could hinder progress as a whole. Have your agendas as you will like them but do it together under one name. I reiterate that we are doing great individually but there is also some truth in synergy where your current one plus another’s one could potentially equal three. Whatever said and done, at the end of the day, it is for the sole aim of panthic sewa.
With my hands folded and my head bowed to your great sewa, let us move together to plan things for the future and ensure we achieve more than what we are getting now.
Am I just a dreamer like thousands of Sikhs who are silent out there or have I drifted out of reality and context? With God’s will, we shall see the way if we seriously take it as a joint responsibility. I pen off here with a beautiful quote I saw this morning – The best time to start was yesterday, the next best time is now.
[Gurcharan Singh is an educationist who feels strongly the need to unify Sikh organisations in Malaysia]