By Gurmukh Singh OBE | OPINION |
A visiting Jathedar of Sri Takht Sahib gives Sikhs abroad the opportunity to raise the most urgent issues facing them. These would be the topics which require Sri Akal Takht Sahib guidance. They would relate to Sikh engagement with the national government and inter-jathebandi disagreements which require re-statement of Gurbani and Sikh Reht Maryada (SRM) guidance.
We hope the recent visit to the UK by Acting Jathedar Sri Akal Takht Sahib, Giani Harpreet Singh ji, was well used by UK Sikhs.
One urgent issue raised at his meeting with the Sikh Missionary Society UK was the question of Sikh ethnicity tick box in the Census and other forms.
As discussed in this column over the years and also explained in full page advertisements in the Panjab Times, ethnicity as defined in UK law equates to qaumi identity. Sikhs are a religion and, in the UK also qualify for the compulsory ethnic category.
Regrettably, religion is an optional question in the Census and cannot be used for accurate count or monitoring to address equal opportunities policy by thousands of public bodies. Sikhs have not been allocated a tick box in own right.
Sri Akal Takht Sahib can clarify this issue regarding Sikh qaumi identity in accordance with Sikh history and tradition and as it relates to the UK situation.
This priority issue for UK Sikhs is an example of the type of topics which have been raised with visiting Jathedars over the years.
Yet, there are many reasons why those who raise even the most pressing matters with the incumbent Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib have doubts about any positive outcome. These doubts are based on negative experience over many decades. The whole environment in which the Jathedar moves should inspire confidence in the Jathedar and the secretariat which supports him.
The general questions raised are: What sort of briefing is Jathedar Sahib provided when he goes on trips abroad? Is he made aware of State-Sikh engagement issues and the grassroots Sikh organisations taking up those issues? How well are Sikhs organised and how effective are they in engaging governments of the countries they live in? What is their level of understanding and adherence to Gurbani and Sikh Reht Maryada, and their willingness to seek Sri Akal Takht Sahib guidance? Is he aware of inter-jathebandi issues? These are just some starting questions for which he should have balanced and neutral briefing before his trip.
When abroad, he should be accompanied by a well-educated personal assistant (PA) who should take note of issues raised and actions agreed. He should be able to advise regarding unexpected questions and situations. The Jathedar should have facilities and personal security commensurate with his position.
Ideally, five tiar-bar-tiar Singhs should accompany him during every tour. In addition, he should have the necessary theo-temporal level of understanding of Sikh and global issues.
We need effective processes and systems which ensure continual two-way communication between Sri Akal Takht Sahib and diaspora Sikhs. Only then can 21st challenges be met and the diverse global Sikh community held together through One Granth and one Sikh Reht Maryada, as one Panth.
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. See here.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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