Passing On The BatonT. SHER SINGH
Monday, August 13, 2012
“dukh daaru sukh roag bhayaa …”, we sing everyday while doing paatth. If comfort becomes the malady, sorrow is the antidote!
There is no silver lining to a tragedy such as the Wisconsin tragedy. It puts us through fire. The only consolation is that we’ll emerge a better people, stronger, kinder, more compassionate …
The days since Sunday, August 5 have indeed proved such a trial by fire.
This morning, on the first Monday after all the vigils, I look back and get comfort in one thing specifically: that our young generation has stepped up to the plate and taken on the responsibility of guiding our community forward.
Within hours after the incident began, even while the police were still combing the property for possible accomplices, young Sikh men and women, some still in schools and universities, others in new and budding career paths, had gauged the situation and had done what Sikhs do so well in time of crisis: they set about identifying the larger problem and looking for solutions.
Never before have we at sikhchic.com received so many well written, well-thought-out submissions in such a short time. It looks like we have a whole harvest of writers amongst us. It bodes well for our future.
Starting with the day after the tragedy and for the entire week that followed, we then witnessed a further phenomenon: the articulation of the Sikh perspective in the media by a whole battalion of young Sikh men and women who had all the necessary ingredients that make a good advocate.
Representatives of our stalwart institutions - Saldef, Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs - as well as a whole army of individuals scattered across the country, stepped forward and with extraordinary aplomb and finesse, presented our emotions and reactions, our fears and concerns, our hopes and aspirations, our history and our philosophy, to a world hungering to learn more.
They not only did a great job but they did it like no one has done it better before them. They made us proud and each night we slept well thereafter knowing that the future of Sikhi is in good hands.
There’s been a fly in the ointment, however.
When our spokespersons got into gear on Monday morning - the day after the tragedy struck - their initial hours, crucial hours and valuable air-time, were consumed in correcting and rectifying the badly-presented, garbled, inaccurate, convoluted and inarticulate information ladled out by a handful of self-appointed individuals who had shamelessly stepped before cameras and microphones, ostensibly as our spokespersons.
While we around the world were staggering from the gradually unfolding news from Wisconsin, we were hit in the face with a barrage of inane and inadequate statements being made by these individuals. We looked on in horror, knowing that even our school-going children could have done a better job.
Who were these good souls who had foisted themselves on our airwaves who, though with the best of intentions, I’m sure, were merely pouring salt into our wounds.
One Surinder Singh, dragged in by CNN from Atlanta - because it was easy to do so, CNN headquarters being based in Atlanta, Georgia - could not speak a single sentence of English properly. He mauled our history too as he spluttered through his answers. He said Sikhism was founded in 1699, and that Guru Nanak was born in 1569 - these are but two examples of factual errors he made to the world.
Then there was a Rajwant Singh from Washington, DC, who spoke a little better English, but not much. He too couldn’t carry a sentence too far, or hold a point for too long. He seemed to have come with pre-conceived answers and no matter what the poor CNN interviewer asked, he rattled off his own, irrelevant responses. Ultimately, the interviewer had to switch off the telephone while this man was still mid-sentence because he simply would not shut up for long enough to hear the question!
Then we were afflicted by people claiming to be representatives of a certain World Sikh Council. The “American Chapter”, it was emphasized.
I spoke to one of their directors the other day, trying to fathom the source of their incompetence, and he confirmed that the “Chapter” had no headquarters … it was in “heaven”, he quipped. They’re adept, he said sheepishly, at passing resolutions and drafting press releases ad nauseum, but do little else.
These “representatives” were an embarrassment, by any standards. They made asinine statements about Sikh practices, including how we dispose of our dead. I know they know the right answers and they’re not malintentioned; it’s just that they have not cared to improve their language skills and pick up American idiom. What comes out of their mouths, therefore, is often pure nonsense.
I know they are otherwise educated in their respective professions - none of which involves any skills in public speaking, writing or any form of advocacy - but I wish they knew how much damage they did and do every time they open their mouths before a camera and microphone.
Here at sikhchic.com, we have received hundreds of e-mails and phone-calls every day, this past week, all wanting to inform or enquire about Wisconsin. Twice as many as those concerned over the shootings were to express their distress over the spectacular failure on the part of these self-appointed representatives of the community to do the very job they had forced their way into.
It is no excuse for any of them to say that they received a call or were asked to appear on the TV or radio shows. If they are educated and in professions, they must know that one of the fundamental criteria of professionalism is to know one’s limitations, and to say ‘no’ when your expertise does not extend to the task at hand.
If any of them believe that they are indeed well-equipped to be our spokesmen, it makes them all the more dangerous for us.
They don’t need to take my word. Please, please speak to others in the community - not to family or friends, but to strangers, with the cover of anonymity - and you’ll be told the truth.
I know some of you. You have many good qualities and do good seva in the community. Surinder Singh, Rajwant Singh, the various representatives of the “World Sikh Council - American Chapter(!)” and a number of others - including the buffoon who, standing outside the Wisconsin Gurdwara, kept on referring to “our Hindu-Sikh community”.
Today, more than ever before, it is time for you to pass on the baton and go home and do the seva you do best: gurdwara, langar, kirtan, etc.
Why today? Because now we do have top-notch spokespersons in our community - some of them are your own children, for heaven’s sake! - and there is no need for amateurs any more.
We as a community from across the diaspora beg you to refrain in the future from jumping into the fray as you have this past week.
The next time there is a crisis - and life being what it is, there’ll always be more, as sure as the seasons come and go - and you’re asked to make a comment, please say ‘no‘; put down the phone, and alert the closest representative of, for example, the Sikh Coalition, or Saldef, or United Sikhs or SikhRI.
Even if one is not readily available, please say ‘NO’. Remember, it is better not to have any response or statement, than to have a bad one!
Conversation about this article
1: B. Singh (Orlando, Florida, USA), August 13, 2012, 10:17 AM.
Thank you for belling the cat! Every person I have spoken to in the community - not only locally in the US or Canada but in UK and Malaysia as well - it's been a common refrain. "Who were these idiots on the telly last Sunday (Aug 5)?" If these people don't shut up, we'll have to get the sangat to start putting pressure on them to clam up. We have to ... they're hurting us in so many ways.
2: Lara (United Kingdom), August 13, 2012, 10:31 AM.
I agree. I think these individuals have done as much harm as the jokers burning the flags in India. So much precious time and energy has been taken up in neutralizing the incoherent and inaccurate drivel that these chaps have disseminated. We HAVE to silence them. Surely, there must be some in their respective congregations who have the wisdom and the courage to confront them and read them the riot act!
3: Amarjit Singh (Virginia, USA), August 13, 2012, 10:52 AM.
Some of these egomaniacs - including the Rajwant Singh you cite - and many more of their ilk, turned up at the vigil outside the White House last night. They ruined the evening; it was an unmitigated disaster. I came home depressed. If I could, I would wring their necks with my own little hands!
4: Baljit Singh Pelia (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), August 13, 2012, 10:58 AM.
As a solution, may I suggest camps at Sikhri or Saldef for representatives from the gurdwaras. Train them in public speaking as well as provide them the material facts of our religion and history - in the proper language and idiom. Prepare them for the anniversary next year. Designate them the spokesperson for the local chapters. The fifth largest religion in the world needs to ORGANIZE itself.
5: M. Kaur (Maryland, U.S.A.), August 13, 2012, 11:14 AM.
It's about time someone addressed this issue. On the one hand we were all shocked and hurt by the violent attack upon our Sikh family at the Oak Creek Gurdwara on August 5, and as we were channel surfing for news updates, all we could see were these self-appointed correspondents for the Sikhs passing on incorrect information. There were two candle night vigils at the Lafayette Park in front of the White House this past week which we attended. The first was organized by our youth with short speeches, to the point, by our young professionals addressing the issue of hate crimes on both Muslims (Joplin Mosque fire) and Sikhs. The second vigil last night, also at the same location, was organized by the youth but got all out of hand and lost its gist. Every Santa, Banta and Bota Singh wanted to speak, even though they couldn't speak the language. One of the speakers couldn't even pronounce the name of the US President ... and so on and on went these useless speeches, all of them repeating what was said by the prior speakers. All in all, it was a sad event, but for the wrong reasons. People were gathered around as if in a mela, not the event it was supposed to be. We seriously need to be more involved and have numbers of our main representatives like the Saldef, Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs on speed dial so they can take the lead since they are trained and are involved with the policy makers and the Law Enforcement agencies.
6: Karam Singh (Washington, DC, USA), August 13, 2012, 11:47 AM.
The damage continues. I went to both "events" yesterday - at the Lincoln Monument and outside the White House. They were both disgraceful - a lot of good people had turned up, at least at the vigil (not more than a handful at the other!) but the events were hijacked and marred by the organizers and the sub-standard speakers they put in front of us. I think the first item on our list of priorities should be to silence these well-intentioned idiots in our oommunity, even if it means publicly shaming them, hounding them, even writing to the White House or other agencies about them and telling the bureaucrats that they DO NOT represent us, nor do they have any mandate from us. H-E-L-P, somebody! O Lord, deliver us from this evil as well! Can our own institutions - Coalition, United, Saldef - help in this?
7: Jespal Brar (Lodi, California, U.S.A.), August 13, 2012, 11:52 AM.
My words exactly on Facebook regarding the coverage on Fox - "My only peeve with this is, the Sikh who is explaining the Sikh rites on Fox is not the right person for this job. He has a poor command of the English language and is miscommunicating the metaphysics of the religion. Another tragedy because this could have been a great chance to communicate who we are and about the religion."
8: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), August 13, 2012, 12:02 PM.
That's funny, M. Kaur's comments represent a pattern of behaviour, as the same thing happened here in Toronto. Sikh youth had organized a candlelight vigil and all the gurdwaras had said that they would support it and send buses of sangat to attend. Two days before the vigil (to be held in a suburban park), the gurdwaras decided to pull out their support and do their own thing and hold another vigil at the "more prestigious" city hall. The Sikh youth candelight vigil was beautiful and very spiritual, and befitting the occasion. We listened to beautiful kirtan and just three speeches of solidarity from Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders. There were no speeches by anyone else, not even the Mayor or politicians that attended. The downtown vigil though lacked any spirituality and was nothing but an exercise in politics and the vigil spokesman that was interviewed on the nightly TV news story could barely speak English. Some things change, and some things never seem to.
9: Onkar Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), August 13, 2012, 1:14 PM.
The story goes that when the original founders of the Singh Sabha Movement finished their inaugural meeting during which they had resolved to proceed with the project, they stood up and did an ardaas, invoking Waheguru's blessings on the venture. When they sat down, one of them suddenly exclaimed,"Oh no, I think we've made a mistake!" The others looked at him anxiously. He explained: "We've started a movement called 'Singh Sabha' - a Congress of Lions. An error! When have you heard of two lions, leave alone more, conferring with each other on anything? There's one, and only one, lion in each forest. More than one, and you have a problem on your hands." All nodded in agreement, but reluctantly concluded, after some thought that they would do nothing to change the name, having already done an ardaas and invoked God's blessings. "It's His headache now!" Well, that's exactly what we have now: every scraggly runt feels he is not only a Singh, a lion, but the LION KING! And they all want to roar.
10: J.S. (USA), August 13, 2012, 1:51 PM.
My wish is for the disease of wanting/ competing to be seen/ recognized, instead of serving, to be wiped out in our generation. This is a dangerous trait: hungering for recognition, fame, influence, power, even wealth. Wisconsin's sangat has put a mirror to every single sangat in the world. Is your local sangat that well informed to come across that intelligent and rooted in Sikhi? On the other hand, I was very uplifted to see Sikhs who are not seeking fame, power from all areas and stepping up to do remarkable things in their circle. Sikhi is grassroots-based. Our Gurus made an effort to turn a stranger into a person by getting to know them - not reach them via PR. Champions like Fauja Singh and others have done what they have done simply on their own, in their life, and whatever effect came from it happened as a natural result. I hope our organizations continue to mature into being ones that are community facing, grass roots oriented and not so much in the tent. Collaboration and co-operation is the real challenge of Sikhi, getting something done with people you might not agree with, or be competing with is vital. If we can't do it ourselves, we'll be beating ourselves. The biggest impact Sikhs can make is being on a path of service and compassion to the world, one stranger at a time. This starts with first learning who we are as Sikhs and speaking only from gurbani, and not an interpretation. Gurbani is the only universal uniter amongst Sikhs and less than 5% are conversant in it.
11: R. Singh (Canada), August 13, 2012, 1:57 PM.
Yes, they all roared, on TV and we are still figuring out why our ears are ringing. It is our particular misfortune that we have equated material success and financial status as qualifications for spokespeople. We are in the era of visual media. Those few moments can make a lasting impression. One thing that is coming through is that, as a community, we still tolerate spokespersons who cannot speak the language, nor have the idiom to address the mainstream, but allow them to represent us. It is time to demand better from people who may be great in their fields, but total failures in public relations, accept their limitations and step down. This reminds me the time there was a post 9/11 multi-religious function in Ottawa, where everyone else was prepared to deliver eulogies for the deceased, conveying their attitudes towards such eventualities, while our representative walked up and just recited the ardaas, entirely missing the context and the opportunity to put forth the Sikh perspective.
12: Gagan Singh (Palo Alto, California, USA), August 13, 2012, 3:13 PM.
As I witnessed the events unfold on CNN on Sunday morning, I was appalled at the lack of Sikh spokespersons in the media. It was then that a loose coalition of us Sikhs on twitter heckled CNN to call someone from the Sikh Coalition or SALDEF. Which worked. This activity though did bring us tweeple (people who use twitter) into highlight as Sikhs. People started asking us questions about Sikhs. We made our best attempts in sending media queries to the right sources, but in the end we all will be quoted somehow or the other as Sikhs. So I would like to amend your last statement: If you are asked to comment publicly as a Sikh representative, please say "no" and forward them to the right people. As individuals on social media you might get into the spotlight, so make sure your posts and comments are educated ones and in the Guru's light.
13: Kirtan Kaur (New York, USA), August 13, 2012, 3:30 PM.
It is our own fault, entirely. These egotistical fools have been plaguing us for decades and we have done nothing about it. Enough is enough. This past week has shown us how much damage they do in how little time. I suggest we go all out to weed them out. Let's shame them publicly each time they go public on our behalf, and keep on doing so until they go home and behave like decent Sikhs. Each of has a role to play in outing them. If we all take our role seriously, they'll have no choice but to run.
14: M. Kaur (Maryland, U.S.A.), August 13, 2012, 3:40 PM.
R. Singh ji: a very good suggestion about getting these bozos stepping down. But, do you think any of them will make a conscious decision to do so? We need to move our well spoken/ educated, trained, public-speaking professionals forward. Only then do we stand a chance to win this battle. We need to have these professionals manning crises centers for our community. They need to work together globally, not only to address our crises but to educate and inform the diaspora, especially our youth. It seems like everyone around us is evolving except these individuals who refuse to learn the language, the idiom and the culture of the societies in which they live and from which they get so much.
15: J.S. (USA), August 13, 2012, 4:38 PM.
Some very nice points here. Glad I am not alone. @R Singh: I once heard we get the leaders we deserve (by what we demand). @Gagan Singh: Their interviews were much better. Having media experience, the gap before they showed up shows how we have to improve the reactiveness of organizations and pro-actively maintaining such links and engage with other stories affecting our entire human family, which doesn't happen often enough. @M.Kaur: Gurdwaras have in many ways been made less effective, being run by committees instead of people who 'get it'. Sikhi to me has always been a meritocracty before a democracy. When Vaisakhi happened, did the sangat vote? We need to find an evolved way to meet the needs between the operational and executive capacity of our organizations. Everyone tries to be everything, to everyone, and ends up being nothing to anyone except being seen and looking important. I am at a loss for what has injured the self-esteem of these people so much that such pursuits of the spotlight are required.
16: Jodh Singh Arora (Jericho, New York, USA), August 13, 2012, 5:23 PM.
T.Sher Singh has succintly brought out the problem but the solution remains an enigma. I have said it repeatedly that Sikhs do not have a think tank. What happened in Wisconsin is a tragedy but there are many, big and small day to day problems that need to be addressed as well. There are many Sikhs who are good at writing, speaking, being professors at colleges, but they do not want to fight elections in gurdwaras; hence, they are not leaders. The worlds of rural and urban Sikhs are far apart. The former are greater in number, strong in fighting but light on ideas. The latter are sharp with pen and tongue, but do not want to dirty their hands. We need to bring all of them together in a single tent and find global solutions.
17: Hari Singh (Pennsylvania, USA), August 13, 2012, 5:36 PM.
Some of these petty self-appointed leaders have obviously heard about the great rallies that have taken place historically at the Lincoln Memorial. So, with their cluttered brains and no-skills, they decided to have one of their own ... on Sunday. Little do they know that having a rally in that vast expanse of property with less than 10,000 attendees will not disturb a fly. Less than a hundred thousand, and you won't even get a mention in the national press. And, if you want to make a real difference, you need to bring out hundreds of thousands. Surely, they've heard of the million-man marches! Yes, they've heard of them, but forgot the "million-man" bit. So some idiot(s) organized a rally there on Sunday. Brought in 60 people ... and declared it a success. What do you do with such people, I ask you?
18: Pritam Singh (Ottawa, Canada), August 13, 2012, 5:53 PM.
The problem lies in the fact that many of these "uneducated educated" manage to escape the filth and mire of India and come to the civilized West, but continue to behave like Indians, as if they're still in India. There must be some way, surely, of cleaning out the Indian-ness from their brains once they're free of that purgatory.
19: Jespal Brar (Lodi, California, U.S.A.), August 13, 2012, 6:23 PM.
Another thing that galled me was that the stage and the area around the ceremony memorializing the Sikh victims was cluttered with so many people, when we had the Governor of Wisconsin and Attorney General Holder there to speak. The program was live nation-wide and via internet had a global audience. It reminded me of the Indian stages where everyone wants a piece of the limelight. There was no sense of dignity regarding the occasion. It seemed like this was some kind of a mela instead of a sombre occasion. As a third generation Sikh born outside of the Indian sub-continent, these aspects of cultural relativism are expected but some of it is in very poor taste.
20: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 13, 2012, 6:31 PM.
These jokers behave exactly like the taliban. This is the issue we should be tackling before anything else: pseudo-macho idiots with testosterone for brains!
21: Jasvir Grewal (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), August 13, 2012, 7:23 PM.
And so it continues. Every Tom, Dick & Harry wanting his 15 minutes of fame on TV. When a dignitary is speaking there is no need for you to swarm him/her. Please step back three feet! To all those folks that host Punjabi shows on radio please take an English course in the evenings (it's free in Canada). When an individual phones in to say "I don't like your community", you should be able to debate him and not be timid. Honestly, if you didn't go to school here (not saying you have to), please take a political or history course. It benefits you so you don't sound like a clown on the airwaves. I don't want to defend your inconsistencies in the morning at the office. Yes, we are now fortunate enough to have these legitimate organizations speaking for us. Please remember most of these individuals have full time jobs and it's a volunteer service they are providing us. I'm truly grateful to them. When do we learn personal responsibility?
22: R.S. Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, U.S.A.), August 13, 2012, 9:09 PM.
Let me add that the "newer articulate representatives" were nowhere to be found in the first few hours of the incident. This created a vacuum that was filled by the pathetic old fogies on national television.
23: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 13, 2012, 9:36 PM.
These new Sikh organizations have truly come of age. The Wisconsin tragedy has shown that the face of Sikhi must be young and educated, not old and barely literate. I am glad to know that I was not the only one who cringed when individuals who were barely able to speak English were being interviewed by major news corporations. Let's face it, these individuals who are self-appointed leaders are the same ones who stand for elections in the gurdwaras. They have not been able to come to terms with their loss of status in the new world and instead flock to the last bastion of traditional power in order to retain some status in their deluded minds. There is a gurdwara here in the Fraser Valley where the old guard was beaten at the elections by a group of youngsters. Until this is replicated all over the diaspora these decrepit fools will continue to utilize Indian style politics. Remove them from the gurdwaras and watch as they disappear into the abyss. It's the only solution.
24: Gurpreet Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 13, 2012, 10:09 PM.
This story doesn't seem to be about to change any time soon. As mentioned, this was proved by the usual suspects, as depicted on CNN, and also on the day of the funeral service which was also live on CNN and other national networks.
25: I. Singh (Chelmsford, MA, USA), August 13, 2012, 11:45 PM.
Yes - pass the baton. The lap is done, you ran a good run. This is a marathon relay of sorts. So, while you catch your breath, cheer from the sidelines and we'll be inspired and motivated. Sikh tradition and history shines light on this. The Buddha Dal ("The Seniors Band") took care of the families' economic and social needs, they blessed and advised the Taruna Dal ("The Youth Band"). The young looked up to the old and the old were proud of their progeny and wise enough to let them loose on the "enemies".
26: Harpal Singh (Sydney, Australia), August 14, 2012, 8:45 AM.
Living in a different hemisphere, I personally didn't get to see any of these individuals live out their fantasies of being "able" media spokesmen for Sikh-Americans, with little or no concern for the damage they were causing. Human beings however being the same world over must also share similar follies, which is why I can well relate to the article and comments above, given our fare share of so called "community leaders" that we have here in Australia, who are expert in leaving unsightly skid marks every time they open their mouths in their frenzied attempt to grab (by hook or crook) a media moment. No individual or community can ever be prepared in advance for such calamity, however given the wonderful job that sikhchic.com, Sikhri, Sikh Coalition, Saldef ... are doing in your part of the world, surely there is no dearth of able minds/mouths to step up to the occasion, when required. What appears to be missing is a formal dialogue/ agreement amongst all stakeholders (rural and urban Sikhs: #16 Jodh Singh ji) to recognize the need of bringing the best foot forward, as warranted by the occasion/ scenario and then install an organized framework to be able to effectively do so. As Jodh Singh ji has pointed out, both camps have their strength and roles. Neither is more or less important than the other one. As a matter of fact, both are densely intertwined and complementary to each other, or else Sikhi in America, Canada and UK would have never been pronounced to today's level, if either of the two camps was missing. For the sake of common good, both are needed. Both need to recognise and commend each other for their achievments thus far and arrive at a common consensus of putting a system in place that brings the best out of the diaspora, while addressing needs/issues within and those without our Sikh Community and its future.
27: Sukhwant Singh (Perth, Western Australia), August 15, 2012, 9:02 AM.
You are all of course right in condemning the negative demonstration by self-appointed spokespersons. Let's now work out how to reverse the impact with a positive message - and focus on that. Let's leave a lasting light and positive image about Sikhs on the US and world media.
28: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), August 15, 2012, 3:31 PM.
As per the biography of The great Sant Attar Singh Mastuana, the Sant ji, while sending Sant Teja Singh to abroad for getting education, specifically instructed him to refrain from lecturing too much. As per his words in Punjabi: "jisda dil bolan ny karey, oh na boley; jisda na karey, oh boley!" Here in Delhi or India, we sometimes feel so sad when we see the quality of our so-called leaders and the work they do, in spite of the presence of a very large number of educated and dedicated nishkaam gursikhs. If some high ranking official comes to a gurdwara function, each of these "leaders" (may be thirty, forty, fifty, even more) wants to present him or her with a siropa and get photographed with him/ her. When this point is discussed with other gursikhs, the only casual reply is "ithey inj hi haunda hai! This is how they always do it here!" No one even thinks about correcting this strange behaviour. So much so that when we do daily ardass for seva sambhaal of the gurdwaras that have been lost to our nation, now these gurdwaras in our own midst also come in mind. I think there is a verse by Bhai Gurdas also about consequences of having unfit leaders, but the exact verse or vaar currently escapes me. Maybe someone else will remember ...