An Open Letter to Sikh Council UK... T. SHER SINGH
And to All Others Who Wish to Lead or Represent The Sikh Community
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Dear Members & Supporters of the “Sikh Council UK”:
I’ve been following the dialogue triggered by the excellent article by S. Gurmukh Singh on your Council, which was posted on sikhchic.com recently, and wish to address some of the issues raised therein.
I want to begin by saying that I laud the goals and objectives stated by the Council as theirs, and agree that such an organization is sorely needed in every nation where Sikhs reside today.
There is nothing more or better I would like to see in this context than to have such an organization succeed and be off and running forthwith.
It is with these sentiments uppermost in my mind that I’ve penned the following thoughts for your consideration. They aren’t organized … they’ve been precipitated by the back-and-forth I’ve observed through the comments posted on S. Gurmukh Singh ji’s article.
Also, a caveat! I do not present them to you as tablets brought down from the Mount. Please feel free to reject them at will, some or all of them. I have no vested interest in any of them, other than the intense desire to see organizations such as yours flourish.
All I ask for, however, is that you give these points some sober and quiet, independent and objective thought, that’s all. Flay me, if you will, for things you think I am wrong in, but first, please ruminate on them long and hard before you decide to put me on the rack.
1 Your Council aspires to be an umbrella organization that represents not only all Sikh-Britons but all Sikh-Brit organizations. In other words, you aim to be our collective best-foot-forward.
That requires you, I would suggest, to inculcate our credal principles and enshrine our fundamental values in both form and substance, before you step out into the sunlight.
These are principles which you begin with, not aim to end up with. It is not good enough to say that you have posted them in your constitution, if they remain nowhere to be seen in practice.
2 You want to be an umbrella organization. Therefore, you have to convince the community that you represent ALL its constituent elements. Not by saying you do, but by actually doing it.
3 Your organization’s public face is represented by your Board of Jathedars. Without knowing too much about them or more than what you and your representatives have revealed so far, my reading is that they represent no more than 5% of the community. Probably far less … you’ll see what I mean, in a few minutes.
But let’s me explain briefly by starting the arithmetic:
You have no women on the Board. That means it represents no more than 50% of all Sikh-Britons.
You have no representation of those who are not keshadhari. That reduces the percentage further: it means your Board represents no more 10 - 25% of all Sikh-Britons.
You yourself state that all on the Board have to be amritdhari. That, I’m afraid, reduces the figure further, to the point that, I would guess, your Board represents no more than 5% of all Sikh-Britons.
I could go on further, but I’ll let you do the full arithmetic, once you‘ve read the rest of this letter.
Now, you might say that you simply cannot have a representative of every constituency on your Board, that it is a logistical impossibility. True. But not being able to represent all is no excuse to represent none.
You have 16 members on your Board. That’s an unusually large group and there is no reason why you cannot have all major constituencies represented, if you insist on having 16 of them.
4 It is no use telling us that this Board has no power.
First of all, that in itself rings alarm bells. It means that they are a mere front, a façade, and that the real ’power’ resides in a secret clique.
Why do I say ’secret’? Because your site is coy about disclosing any information about any other player. That means it’s secret.
Some of the correspondents have let out a trickle of information, a name here, a name there, of persons involved with the Council. Why not put all the info, in great detail, on the site itself?
When you don’t, it suggests only one thing: you’re hiding something, or that you have an agenda you do not wish to disclose.
You shouldn’t be surprised over the scepticism expressed by some of the readers. I am surprised that you are.
5 CONSTITUENCIES: Let me explain in greater detail what I mean by this term.
A caveat, though, before I start. I’ll be stating things that need to be done that are crass and embarrassing. But they need to be done. The fact that all our institutions routinely do not do them makes it necessary for me to spell some of them out in crude terms. If you observe the steps properly, they’ll become redundant and can be relegated to the garbage-heap of history.
5A First and foremost, all of your senior levels - executive, honorary, advisory, administrative, voluntary or paid - must consist of 50% women.
I was shocked to hear one of the commentators say that you can’t find competent women.
Are you kidding?
I suggest that the reality today is quite the opposite. It is far more easy to find educated, sophisticated, mature, level-headed women in our community than men, I can tell you from my world-wide experience in the last 40 years.
For heaven’s sake, there’s a Sikh woman, Nikki Haley, who is being touted to run for President of the Unites States of America in 2016. Yes, it’s true: she doesn’t call herself Sikh anymore. You know why? Because we as a community have denied our women a seat at the table, and simply will not let them participate fully in the running of our community affairs, that's why.
It takes me 5 seconds to come up with a handful of names of women who could lead us out of the mess we are in. You, with more time and resources, should have no difficulty in finding a whole army of them.
The Singh Twins in your own back-yard: Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh. Valarie Kaur. Mallika Kaur, Gunisha Kaur …
Please, please, please do not ever insult our women - and our community the world over - by ever repeating the fallacy that we don’t have enough competent women amongst us.
So, the first thing you do if you want to be given the mandate to represent the community is to bring in, not a token woman, or a few, but 50% of your key personnel. If you go by merit alone, I suspect you’ll find it easier to find the right women rather than the right men, believe me.
5B The next major fault-line you need to address is over ‘keshadhari’ and ‘non-keshadhari’ Sikhs.
We simply cannot evade responsibility for all the neglect and negligence we have contributed to as a community to date. The fact is that all our problems today are the direct products of our failure to meet the needs of the community until now, including in the present continuum. These problems won’t go away by sheer denial. We need to face them “like a man” - as the expression of yore goes. That is, headlong.
The fact of life is that a substantial portion of our community is no longer keshadhari. They are still Sikhs and they MUST be included in all that we do, especially as we move forward bravely into our future.
Just as merely being keshadhari is no qualification to run an organization, merely being a non-keshadhari Sikh shouldn’t automatically disqualify you, if you meet the other criteria.
If you keep on discarding those who don’t meet your high standards, you’ll soon find yourself standing alone.
Every level of decision-making, not to mention the actual delivery of services, MUST include the non-keshadhari half of our community, with no ifs and buts.
The only exceptions I would agree with wholeheartedly is, a) we never move away from, or dilute the ideals and goals as enunciated in the Guru Granth Sahib and the Rehat Maryada, and b) the organization should be led at the top by the very crème de la crème of our community - educated, sophisticated, articulate, smart, honest, clean men and women who are also amritdhari.
But, remember, the last criterion is not to replace the rest: it is only one of the pre-requisites!
5C I feel ashamed for having to address the next fault-line in our community, but I feel compelled to, because it plagues us like a cancer.
The Hindu practice of caste has crept into the most uneducated, unsophisticated or naïve segments of our population, and which is now being passed on to the younger generations as inherited givens. Our young, though free of the ignorance and superstition that burdened some of us in the past, are not equipped to question what they’ve been born into.
Hence, all the more reason our institutions need to make sure they do not side-step this issue. It is central to being a Sikh, not a tangential issue.
Certainly, our institutions must correct their own practices before they open their doors, not list it as one of the many goals they wish to address in the unknown future.
It is obvious that your Council is not only cognizant of this issue but has bravely taken it on, headlong. I’m impressed that in your list of Board of Directors, not one has demeaned himself by appending a silly caste name.
But I do note that many of your apologists - some of them are your most articulate voices - do continue to sport caste names. Not a good idea, if you are out to transform our community for the better and to put our best foot forward.
I must hasten to add that their usage of these demeaning appendages may be innocent, that many have merely inherited them.
Not a problem. The Council must begin by educating its own members, workers and volunteers as to the origin and import of caste-name usage and apprise them of the fact that Hindu society historically required its lower castes to always identify themselves with these last names. That once we are Sikh, we’ve all been promoted to the highest, most esteemed and honourable level known to man. No longer do you need to display your “low-caste” antecedents because you now belong to a community where all are equal.
So, here’s where I’m going:
Our community is divided into these silly groupings of jutt and khuttri, ramgharia and bhatra, sodhi and bedi. Certainly, there is a major divide between jutts and non-jutts - (as I stated earlier, I apologise for this crass and crude discussion, but I need to bring it forward because no one else will.)
So, if you, the Sikh Council, want to be an umbrella organization and represent all Sikh-Britons, you must ensure that your group of decision-makers - certainly your Board of Jathedars - must have a balanced number of jutts and non-jutts.
BUT - you have to do it with finesse and show some class in doing it. No appointment or selection should be such that it represents, or is designated, as a caste constituency. It must be done quietly, privately, so that the result is achieved, but not through creating any acrimony.
The test will be that no one should be able to point to your Council ever and scoff it off as a ’khuttri-dominated”, or a “jutt-run” group.
Achieve this, and you’ll be well on your way to being a true umbrella organization.
Don’t do it, and you’re dead in the water.
5D There are other constituencies, other fault-lines. None, like those above, need to be written down as requirements in the constitution. The mere reference to any of them demeans us - just as I feel unclean even talking about them. What we need is a handful of elders - the real wise and enlightened ones - to keep and eye on the configuration of each board, each committee, to make sure that things never go askew.
- Just as it is important to represent 2nd and 3rd generation Sikh-Britons, it is equally important for you to consciously include the 1st generation … especially those who have recently got off the boat.
- The young must be liberally represented. Not only as volunteers, but also in the decision-making and policy levels.
- We need professionals, but the unlettered ones have an equal say in Sikhdom. Having a group running the show, consisting only of professionals or degree-holders is as bad as having only the uneducated ones at the helm, as many gurdwaras do today. Lawyers, for example, are fundamental to the success of this organization, but taxi-drivers, for example, are no less important and need to be heard.
- You in the UK know best your other fault-lines. For example, and I may be wrong, you may want to make sure there is no pre-dominance of Londoners, and that even smaller or rural or remote communities are at the table, not as tokens but as equal players. How about Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, as opposed to England?
6 Moving on to other essentials:
I am in total agreement with those who point to the absolute necessity for ALL senior members to be really well articulate in both written and spoken English. Not just street English, but top-notch language skills.
Some of you may have followed the American political conventions held in Tampa and Charlotte during the last two weeks.
Notice the Hispanic representatives? Notice how they were the best orators? How they spoke even better than their “mainstream” counterparts?
Guess what? They were so good that everyone everywhere has been citing some of them as possible contenders to run for President of the country in the future.
Obama became President against super-human odds, not because of his good looks. Check out google and all that’s been written about his language skills!
Use that as the bench-mark.
No, don’t give me sermons on how important it is to know Punjabi and to promote it. Let’s not get silly: I’m not asking that people write and speak English and ignore Punjabi. They need to do it all.
Notice how the Hispanic delegates in Tampa and Charlotte spoke perfect English and spoke perfect Spanish? It’s as simple as that.
If you don’t realize the importance of this issue, you might as well go home and concentrate on your day jobs and forget about representing the community. Please, please, please.
7 You need some paid staff.
A paid Executive Director. Who has an MBA and a law degree. He/she must not be a relative of anyone on any board or committee of the Council.
He/she should be paid well - if possible, higher than the market rate.
You need to give her (I’ll stick to one gender from now on) a well-paid and competent staff.
They must have a professional office, far from any gurdwara premises, if you know what I mean.
You claim to have so many institutional members. Well, prove it! If they are your true members, you should have lots of money in your coffers to do this.
If you don’t, then you are but a shell and are going nowhere in a hurry.
* * * * *
I could go on and on, but I won’t.
If you take all of the steps I’ve listed above - and who knows, you may already have - you’ll be able to figure out the rest on your own.
I have no personal or vested interest in any of the organizations - yours or any others - but I would give an arm and a leg to see you be successful, trust me. I know none of the players personally, and have no bias for or against.
More importantly, if you don’t like any or all that I‘ve had to say, don’t label me your enemy, as you have hastily done with all those who have asked difficult questions arising from S. Gurmukh Singh ji’s article.
It may be true that they have vested interests in opposing you. But you are your own worst enemy if you don’t answer the questions fully and honestly, those that have been asked and those that will always be asked as long as you stand in public life.
So far, I notice that you haven’t answered the questions, and not provided the information being sought. Information that you should have posted on the very first day you went public.
Transparency is indeed difficult, but nothing is worse than keeping things in the dark - there is no future in it.
Finally, I wish you Godspeed.
Conversation about this article
1: Jungveer Singh (Los Angeles, California, USA), September 09, 2012, 11:39 AM.
Wow! What a splendid blueprint! It should be complusory reading for every Sikh anywhere, especially ones who are in public life, advocating for or representing us. Heartfelt thanks for this extraordinary document.
2: Harleen Kaur (London, United Kingdom), September 09, 2012, 11:41 AM.
Like it or hate it, this ought to be necessary reading.
3: Harnek Singh (Glasgow, Scotland), September 09, 2012, 11:45 AM.
These are basic Sikh principles. Why do we have to tell these "first rules" to those who aspire to lead us? I agree with Jungveer and Harleen: it should be like the Gideon Bible - in the bed-side drawer of every Sikh home. Hope the Sikh Council pays heed to it ... because I want it to succeed!
4: H. Singh (London, United Kingdom), September 09, 2012, 11:58 AM.
A good article. I couldn't agree more, particularly on the representation by women. Furthermore, this group needs to canvass opinions about issues they address. We need intelligent canvassing based on Sikh principles and not jumping onto popular bandwagons. Let's start with the issue of changing the 'rule' on females not being permitted to do kirtan at Harmandar Sahib. Let's have a sensible discussion on gay marriage. And so on and so forth.
5: Simran Singh (United Kingdom), September 09, 2012, 2:43 PM.
A wonderful antidote to the inherent issues that ail the Sikh Council. Ultimately any organization is judged by its personnel. Alas, the Sikh Council is too closely linked to those who have monopolized Sikh issues in the UK since 1984 - and not done us a great job. They have totally failed but insist on hijacking all that is comes up new. For over 27 years they have propagated the same theories and practices despite the fact they have no skills or vision or following. The cardinal sin of the Sikh Council's well wishers has been to try and appease these people by including them rather than to adopt a radical departure from their failed past. It is for this reason that, sadly, Sher Singh's honest prescription will never be even discussed by them, let alone adopted. I may sound like a cynic and how I wish I was proven wrong but hard experience tells us all otherwise.
6: H. S. Vir (London, United Kingdom), September 09, 2012, 4:57 PM.
Very true. if you, the Sikh Council, want to be an umbrella organization and represent all Sikh-Britons, you must ensure that your group of decision-makers - including your Board of Jathedars - must have a balanced number of all segments of the community. You simply can't be run by one small clique and claim to represent the whole community.
7: Virinder Singh (Holmdel, New Jersey, USA), September 09, 2012, 6:43 PM.
Sher Singh - a shooting star in the Sikh night sky. Follow his path quickly and well ...
8: Bikranjit Singh (New Delhi, India), September 10, 2012, 4:11 AM.
Your site says you have 51 people on your Executive Committee and your Board of Jathedars will ultimately be increased to 21. You're a classic case of "more chiefs than Indians," aren't you? With this massive institution you claim to have, you don't seem to have a single full-time employee or staff member. Looks like you are no more than a paper tiger. I thought you guys in the West were behaving better than what's going on here in this country!
9: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), September 10, 2012, 6:41 AM.
I wrote about the Sikh Council UK as I understand its nature and purpose. The need of such an assembly is there, but we have seen from the constructive advice given in good faith, that unless fairly substantial improvements are made, the initiative may bite the dust! Grateful to Sardar T. Sher Singh ji for most helpful suggestions which I sincerely hope will be taken on board. Also, the future of nationwide organizations lies in team-building at the top, which brings together diverse professional level skills.
10: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 10, 2012, 1:42 PM.
Great letter! If one is in it for money or fame, forget it! What we need is passion and truth and competence, and Sikhs who live, breathe and respect the teachings of the Guru and not their egos.
11: Tejinder Pal Singh (Houston, Texas, USA), September 10, 2012, 2:36 PM.
I disagree with you on the need to have different constituencies represented on the Sikh Council. I believe the Khalsa can represent the interests of all Sikhs. But I agree with you completely on language and the other requirements you have outlined, for such an organization to be successful.
12: Tejinder Pal Singh (Houston, Texas, USA), September 10, 2012, 2:50 PM.
Also, I want to mention that an organization such as the Sikh Council is needed in all countries because keshadhari Sikhs face unique challenges. Therefore, I believe it is not necessary for non-keshadhari Sikhs to have direct representation on such a body.
13: Karam Singh (Oregon, USA), September 10, 2012, 5:06 PM.
Tejinder Pal ji: The fallacy of your position is revealed by the very facts in the case of the Sikh Council as it stands today. It has 16 jathedars, all amritdhari - according to their own claims. Yet, they are afraid to disclose any details about the qualifications - age, education, experience, etc - of this group. In the absence of non-disclosure, one can only conclude that there's something not right. So, I would argue, simply having one criteria - being a Khalsa male - does not and will not work. It's the sole criteria being used today for the jathedars in India - not wisdom, not scholarship, not public service, not integrity, not life experience, not modernity, and see how it has left us dangling in limbo. We need to think things out thoroughly before we form opinions on such issues which have far-reaching import. If you read T. Sher Singh's letter carefully, you'll find he has covered your concerns as well as the needs of all Sikhs.
14: Simon (London, United Kingdom), September 11, 2012, 5:38 AM.
Let's learn from history: the Misl system started because there was a need for co-operative representation, worked well until there were eleven Misls who often feuded amongst themselves. Delhi was occupied by the Sikhs countless times. Whether it was pride, greed or lack of mutual respect for each other, none were able to take the helm and lead the Sikhs to the next level. Instead, they went back to their day jobs. Ranjit showed the difference between a single organization versus a fragmented one. Why make the same mistake? Now is the time to create an International council and have representation in every country based on demographics. Guru Gobind Singh showed us the way. Have Punj Pyarey at every level, why have 21 or any other number?
15: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), September 12, 2012, 1:00 PM.
The question is how do you bring diverse gurdwaras - yes, very diverse, although claiming to be doors to the same Guru - jathebandis, forums and networks claiming UK Sikh representation, around one table? If I gave the impression in my article that a new "organization" was being set up, then it is my fault. Take a snap shot of the current ground realities of gurdwaras and organizations, and then plot a line from A (present position) to B (the ideal, the blue-print being suggested). That is the approach. Success will continue to depend on participation so that there is no inbuilt bias towards any one faction.
16: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), September 12, 2012, 4:02 PM.
Why should anyone wish to "lead or represent the Sikh Community" except to feed ego-centricity (haumai)? Why not let the "lead" and "representation" emerge from the bottom upwards approach? - the topic of my article. The whole problem with all organizations in the field today, without exception, is that they are claiming to "lead and represent"! They do NOT.
17: Simran Singh (United Kingdom), September 13, 2012, 4:52 AM.
I must take exception to the last entry. Many Sikh bodies just work in their field of interest/expertise. They do not make any claims to represent the community. Khalsa aid, Sikh Missionary Socirty, Maharajah Duleep Singh Trust, Sikh Educational Council, The Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail, come to mind. The problem is with those, mainly variations of ISYF, that try to muscle in. The truth is that the Khalistan agenda-driven groups are utter failures so they now try to encroach on the work of these special single-focus organizations.
18: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), September 15, 2012, 8:44 AM.
Quite right, S. Simran Singh. I just assumed that as the heading is "all those who wish to lead and represent", that we are talking about those type of organizations. With the exception of the "Sikh Education Council" - I have not heard of it - I have worked closely with the others you have mentioned. Ravinder Singh of Khalsa Aid and Harbinder Singh Rana are colleagues I have much regard for them. These are "seva" organizations and do not claim to "lead" or "represent".
19: Jodh Singh Arora (USA), September 20, 2012, 9:45 AM.
This is the best I have seen for saving Sikhism from spurious practices. Keeping large segments of our population out renders the resulting leadership dangerous. Keep on, Sher ji, on behalf of all of us. This applies equally in the USA and Canada, as well as in the rest of the diaspora.
20: Bhai Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, USA), September 22, 2012, 1:54 AM.
Sardar Sher Singh should be complimented for opening the public debate where others can join and express their views. It is a crucial time for analyses of what various pockets of the Sikh Panth are doing or thinking to do. Let the wider community find space and energy to enter the national debates in the name of our living Guru.