Kids Corner


When Good Men Do Nothing ... Brawl in a New York Gurdwara





The buffoons in our community are at it again.

News reports this week tell us about yet another brawl in a gurdwara, this time in New York.

As we all nurse our distress, disappointment and outrage, we wish to offer our readers two thoughts:

FIRST - please note the proximity to the early June anniversary of the 1984 pogroms in India. We have noted over the years - and we have directed your attention to this fact in earlier postings - the occurence of such an event in the weeks leading up to the June or November anniversaries, which not only (understandably) pervades the news and the public consciousness, but somehow "coincidentally" manages to (each time) snuff the impact of any commemoration around those two crucial dates.

There is no doubt whatsoever that we have our fair share of buffoons in our community. But there is no dearth of evidence that they are provoked or egged on by agents provocateurs in the employ of Indian 'intelligence' operatives - in all major Sikh communities in the diaspora.

We need to be cognizant of this fact at all times, and be ever-vigilant. 

SECOND - we re-publish for you the following article, written and first published in these pages after a similar event occured in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, only four years ago. It is offered to you as some more food for thought, as we once again struggle with the shenanigans of the scoundrels who seem to have taken our gurdwaras hostage.



I have discovered through the years that there are a number of traits that are common to Sikhs everywhere -  of all ages, all nationalities, and even of varying degrees of religious observance.

I believe that there is a list of common likes and dislikes, passions and taboos, that unite us and  -  contrary to popular belief  -  do so, much more than similar commonalities in any other community. While we see ourselves as disunited and fractured, I've had numerous members of other faiths tell me how they envy the sense of unity amongst the Sikhs.

I've had both Jews and Muslims say to me, in as many words, that only if their respective communities could be as united as the Sikhs, they could rule the world! It's all a question of perspective ...

On top of the list of our common passions, for example, is the unique emotional and personal attachment each one of us has with the Darbar Sahib. Similarly, I cannot find any Sikhs who ever waver from the unequivocal commitment to the idea of One God, common to all creation.

Then, there is a list of our common dislikes.

And close to the top of it is one that we share passionately and universally: our utter disdain for those who brawl in the gurdwaras. Young and old, men and women, learned or unsophisticated  -  I know no one who doesn't respond with anger and disgust each time such an incident occurs and we hear about it on the news.

A home-made video of a brawl in Brampton, Canada has been doing the rounds lately. I've seen people seethe at the mere mention of it. My own blood-pressure shoots up every time images of the scene crawl back before my mind's eye. But it's also got me thinking ever since it was first seared on my consciousness by one who, I'm sure, meant well by circulating the short clip over the internet.      

What is it that turns these men  -  they're always all men, aren't they?  -  into boors and ogres? They are sober  -  alcohol is not the excuse in these conflagrations. (This is one time when I'm not sure if that's good news or bad.) They are all on gurdwara premises  -  they couldn't possibly be oblivious of the fact these eruptions usually take place during gurdwara committee meetings.

I can vouch that they are not certifiable imbeciles, because I see some of them at other times or in other situations and they appear to be perfectly normal, functional, responsible citizens. What is it then that turns them into monsters? It's a harsh word; but then, how would you describe what happens when you see these good souls go to a gurdwara looking for spiritual solace, freely offering their time, money and services in seva ... and then... then, you suddenly find them in the thick of a brawl with jooras unravelling, fists and turbans flying in the air?

I have given it a lot of thought because, I must confess, it bothers me to no end. As, I know, it does all of you.

And I have arrived at a conclusion which has surprised me. I began being judgmental and eager to condemn. I have ended up at a point of .... celebration!

I do not say this lightly. And it is not tongue in cheek. While I wince every time I hear of a fight in a gurdwara, while my heart sinks and my chest heaves in despair, I've actually come to see the existence of these conflicts as the ultimate evidence of the miracle of Vaisakhi!

Let me explain...and let me begin, if I may, at the beginning.

The central belief in Sikhi is that there can be no spiritual progress if we do not begin the journey by accepting that all people are equal. Wealth, beauty, birth, lineage, education, wisdom, knowledge, age, power ... nothing gives one person an edge over another. The spiritual realm is one of pure, unadulterated democracy where worldly merits and qualifications count for nothing; Grace and surrender are all that matter.

It is a democracy like no other. It isn't like the classic Greek variety, which ignored the rights of women, slaves, and anyone who wasn't ethnically Greek! True, the fount of Western civilization was a democracy of sorts, but it worked for only a fraction of the population. Some democracy.

It isn't like the American version either. The Great Beacon of Freedom had somehow managed to get by through much of its history with the Big Lie that the exclusion of women, slaves, aboriginal nations, non-Christians, etc, etc from the normal privileges of society did not in any way take away from the concept of Equality for All.

Sikh democracy is the ultimate manifestation of this idea, in that it remains the purest form of it to date in human history.

Especially when it comes to matters spiritual, no compromises were made. Even wisdom,  knowledge and education  -  areas that have been given great importance otherwise  -  do not get you brownie points on the road to salvation. The unlettered fool, even the imbecile, has no less a claim to God than the sage or the scholar.

            Any mortal, educated or unlettered,

            Whose mind dwells with the Lord,

            Shall be granted the Supreme Dignity.

                                                            GGS, M5, 197:18

So, you don't have to have a degree to graduate across the portals of Grace. You don't need to be bright and articulate. Or sensible. Logical. Rational. Comely. Presentable. Or even social.

And the same rules apply to every stage of that journey.

That is, if you want to do seva, the honour and privilege of serving others is not reserved  for only those who meet certain social standards. Thieves and murderers  -  and I'm merely using extreme examples to make the point  -  have the same right to serve langar and receive the shoes of devotees as the most pious amongst us. Remember Sajjan the Thug? Kauda the Cannibal? And Banda the Mendicant?

This is assuming that all other requirements of law and human decency are met, of course.        

All have access to langar, and to every form of seva. And all have equal opportunity in the service of gurdwaras, including in the running of the latter. The management of places of worship in our community, again, is not reserved for the learned and the pious.

True, the learned and the pious too have equal rights.

But here's what's happens in the real world.

People like you and me  ... those who have had the good fortune of  benefiting from education, those of us who have become "professionals", those who have "clean" jobs and those who enjoy vocations ... and vacations!  .... we have no time left anymore for seva in the gurdwara. We do our obligatory obescience on Sunday mornings, and we take the family along on gurparabs and hang around for langar, but that's it.

When was the last time we helped cook or serve langar? Swept the floors or cleaned the washrooms? Or did shoe-seva?

We probably did complain the other day at the party about the unclean washrooms, or the boring program in the gurdwara. But we no longer have the time, or the inclination, to dirty our hands. Certainly, we think it is beneath ourselves to even accept a position on the gurdwara committees. We have come up with so many good reasons to not do all those tasks, but we have assumed that others will step in and do the needful.

And they do.

Remember what Guru Gobind Singh had promised to do?

He vowed to turn sparrows into hawks.

Transform jackals into lions.

Infuse every man and woman with the power of savaa-lakh, a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand!

And He kept his promise. You're looking for the proof? Go to a gurdwara today and it'll stare you in the face.

While the doctors and the lawyers, the accountants and the bankers, the engineers and the entrepreneurs, have all turned into Sunday-morning Sikhs, it is the taxi-drivers and the factory-workers  -  please forgive me, for I am generalizing in each list, not to insult anybody, but merely to make a point  -  who have taken on tasks that have to be performed in the gurdwaras. The langar has to be cooked, whether you and I turn up on Friday night or not; the dishes have to be washed on Sunday afternoon, even when you and I have to head home for the matinee ...

The foot-soldiers are ever-ready, and they do all the seva that is needed, and they do it to the best of their ability.

It is true: some of us with all the skills that we are fortunate to have acquired, all the insight and all the knowledge, could certainly do a "better" job. But the fact of the matter is that we are not there. Period.

And, it is from amongst the foot-soldiers that the management committee is chosen, inevitably. They may lack some skills, but there is no lack of self-esteem or self-confidence. Remember the Promise? Each one is a hawk, a lion, and a virtual savaa-lakh!

Guru Gobind Singh never undertook to transform all Sikhs into geniuses or managers or diplomats. Instead, he made them all equals  -  for he had set out to level the playing field.

Now that these chaps  -  with what we claim are limited skills  -  are left to run the gurdwaras, guess what? The usual problems arise.

True, they have no training in team-work. No management expertise. No art of diplomacy.

And, when a dispute arises, no one has ever taught them conflict resolution. Other than what they learnt on the streets of Phagwara. So they raise their voices, they throw back the chairs, they threaten, they scream ... and sometimes, fists fly. Sometimes, it gets even worse.

Here's the miracle I see in it:

This is the only religion in the world today where people fight to get in, to do seva, and then they fight to stay ... to do seva  ... and they fight because they think no one has a greater right than each one of them to do seva. While every other place of worship is struggling with numbers  -  lack of it, that is  -  gurdwaras keep on multiplying and expanding. All on the basis of seva.

It is truly unfortunate to see these scenes erupt in gurdwaras, but they do represent true democracy at work. Just as we have left the running of our nations mostly in the hands of those who aren't the best qualified  -  and look at the fine mess we've got ourselves into!  -   we have also left the running of our gurdwaras in the hands of those who have the least managerial skills.

And yet, we continue to blame the sevadars, not ourselves.

The miracle of Vaisakhi is that we have been handed down incredible and unprecedented gifts. But, like all things good and beautiful, each is double-edged, like the khanda. We use it properly, it remains a boon. We neglect it, it turns against us.

The Guru can take us, like the proverbial horse, to the water, but he can't make ...


[First published under the title, THE FIGHT CLUB, on February 18, 2007. Re-published on April 27, 2011.

Conversation about this article

1: Taj (Brampton, Canada), February 21, 2007, 10:39 AM.

I agree. While some may bristle at the argument, T. Sher Singh has outlined what many of us are thinking and feeling. Lack of soft skills is an issue in our community. And those that may possess these skills are not willing to put in the time necessary to help gurdwaras run in a more professional manner - myself included. Sikhs are the envy of a number of groups because of our perceived unity, hard-working character and resourcefulness. This has translated into financial success which, among other things, enables us to build gurdwaras... there are 5 in operation within minutes from my house! But the politics is discouraging. Does every disagreement have to result in a new gurdwara? I don't know that this will change any time soon. Besides, I don't know any second generation Sikh-Canadians willing to wrestle for such a "position of influence"! Thanks for the admonition, Mr. Singh. Your generalizations have some big kernels of truth. I need to get to a gurdwara and do some seva, just like I did when my taxi-driving dad and factory-working mom once made me!

2: Gurpreet Singh Sumra (Brampton, Canada), February 21, 2007, 10:44 AM.

Those who do sewa in the Gurdwara, I hope they serve their parents the same way at home. Also, I wonder if, once they leave the Gurdwara, they stop their car for a new immigrant (Sikh or otherwise) like me who is waiting for a bus in -20 temperature, and offer him a ride. True sewa of the Guru is to follow his teachings 24/7 and make the world a better place to live in for everyone.

3: Gurumustuk Singh (Espanola, USA), February 21, 2007, 7:58 PM.

I have heard and seen videos of these types of brawls...but have never known the cause. I never thought they related to wanting to do seva. Most of the fights like this I have heard about were political in nature. Generally when people have such strong views and built-up anger, it can spark like two pieces of flint...and ignite in flames. It would be interesting to know if there is a common theme (reason) why these types of fights come up in Gurdwaras. I for one would like to know why (details).

4: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), February 21, 2007, 10:00 PM.

Sikhs are human - we all have issues from our past, our childhood and so on. Some of us don't feel loved enough. I think that even though it may not be pleasant, surely it must be healthy to see negative expressions of anger/resentment/ego, etc in gurdwaras, rather than anywhere else. At least these expressions are honest and in the company of the best of counsellors - the Sangat and the Guru. All is good, I would say.

5: Dr Jaspal Singh Mayell (Stamford, CT, USA), February 21, 2007, 10:30 PM.

Fights in Gurdwaras cannot be justified under any circumstances. Difference of opinion is normal. But not actual fights. This creates the worst possible effect on all people, Sikhs and non-Sikhs. I feel that the main reason for these fights is that there is no forum for dialogue in Gurdwaras. (I do not mean during the regular Sunday service.) There should be a time set aside where anybody can put forth his/her point of view. Management can accept or reject it, giving whatever reasons they may have. As long as their response is logical. If someone asks a question in writing, it must be replied in writing by the management. Finally: I was recently going through an interview of Khushwant Singh done by Jagpal Singh Tiwana in 2004 in New Delhi. Khushwant Singh's concluding statement was: DO NOT FIGHT IN GURDWARAS. That says it all.

6: Prabhu Singh Khalsa (Española, New Mexico, USA), March 01, 2007, 2:11 PM.

Very well written article! Very interesting points. It's great to see the hand of God in such challenges. To Gurumustuk Singh Ji, my opinion is that some misguided Sikhs fight because they've turned our beautiful Dharma (living truth) into a religion (preferring dogma to dharma). They'd rather dogmatically follow their beliefs and rehat and argue with others, than to live and love their beliefs and rehat, and accept the same for others.

7: Dr Parmjit Singh (Hamilton, Canada), March 15, 2007, 9:22 PM.

Do you think that Gurudwaras, or any religious institution, would function better if they were in the hands of accountants, lawyers, PhDs or diplomats? As long as humans are under the sway of uncontrolled emotions and undisciplined minds, and have not understood the very basics of spiritual existence, they will make a mess wherever they go. People with degrees and education are doing the same thing as done by the less-educated. The only difference is that the educated have learnt how to conceal their misdeeds under the guise of professional attire, manners and other pretensions. Let us not forget that most of the problems we face in this world are caused, for the most part, by the so-called educated and intellectuals. They are busy creating the 'higher-order' mess while others are busy doing the 'lower-order' mess. So what is the difference? Fights in gurudwara are no different from fights at home. The same persons are involved, only the location is different. If we want our gurudwaras to be free from violence, we need to teach people how to transform their emotions into something productive. The mere reading of scriptures does not do much. Unless the Teachings are understood and applied, words will remain just words. Otherwise, priests in various religions would be the most enlightened ones. In conclusion, unless there is a transformation in our civic and spiritual consciousness, there'll be no end to the fighting.

8: Akashdeep Singh (Portland, USA), July 03, 2007, 3:25 PM.

I agree with the comments posted by Gurpreet Singh. Often, I get surprised by people's change of behavior when they step in and out of a Gurdwara. The moment they step in, they appear so religious from their gestures, behavior and language. Once they are out and into their day-to-day lives, they are different. Makes me wonder: do they think Akaal is only in the Gurdwara? People spend a few hours over the weekend in a Gurdwara and think they have done their religious bit. How about the rest, the much larger part of their lives? The true self of a person emerges when no one is watching. I feel I need to try and be the same 24/7, not just in the Gurdwara.

9: H. Uppal (Toronto, Canada), August 01, 2007, 3:05 PM.

No matter why, violence is not justifiable.

10: Jaspreet Singh (U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 11:49 AM.

They aren't fighting to do seva. Most of the fights are about controlling the money being donated to gurdwaras or trying to hold sway over the community by being "in power" at the gurdwara. The rest of the world doesn't care until the buffoons create a major incident and hit the news.

11: Hardeep  (British Columbia, Canada), April 27, 2011, 1:18 PM.

Thank you for this article; it is a perspective that I have not before taken into consideration. A few months ago, I attended a lecture on the Gurdwara as presented by the Sikh Research Institute. A point that stood out for me was that the Gurdwaras have been hijacked by first generation male Sikhs and this is certainly true for Vancouver. The underlying point was that if change was desired by me, ownership of my local gurdwaras by myself and other groups (2nd-3rd generation, female, young and old) is crucial. Thus, your criticism of the general population's lack of involvement is on point. However, I disagree that the arguments in the gurdwaras are about a person or groups desiring to do seva. In my local gurdwaras, the arguments seem to be about power and money. Therefore, no, the violence is not justified.

12: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 27, 2011, 1:23 PM.

Fights in the gurdwara are the most unfortunate thing in our community. This is also common in some of our Toronto gurdwaras. Positions of power and the golak may be the root cause. Some of our community friends wanted to open up a gurdwara close to Canada's Wonderland north of the city, but one of the members received a threatening call, and the idea was dropped.

13: Sonu Singh (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), April 27, 2011, 1:55 PM.

Very well-written article. However, I must say that some of our so-called sevadars serving on the committee are only in it for the money.

14: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 4:00 PM.

Yes, it's about the money in my gurdwara as well. It's not just the taxi drivers and construction workers. Doctors, lawyers and businessmen resort to pushing and shoving each other in the divan hall and langar hall. It's a sad sight.

15: Baljit Singh Pelia (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), April 27, 2011, 9:26 PM.

Having lived in the Los Angeles area since 1984, I have witnessed many altercations at the gurdwaras. Some have been heated and many violent, all had vulgarity of the highest level in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and the sangat which included children, mothers and sisters. Always it has resulted in a new gurdwara and so now we have about seven gurdwaras. Yet there is not one big enough for major gurpurabs, so we have to lease the convention centre or some college campus facility. Each gurdwara is politically affiliated to the political parties or sants back in India. So anytime someone from these parties shows up, mostly in the summer months to escape the heat in Punjab, he is felicitated in the particular gurdwara of his affiliation or under control of that party. One can easily tell the party or affliation from their clothes or turban style and color. One thing universal in most gurdwaras is that no subject or matter that is not pleasing to Hindustan is open for discussion. Subjects like Indira Gandhi's army assault on the Darbar Sahib to deflect the Anandpur Sahib resolution and gain Hindu votes by labelling Khalsas as terrorists; 1984 Sikh massacres all over India, Punjab's water rights, Anandpur Sahib resolution, and so on are strictly forbidden. This policy has been largely successful in wiping out the memories of these issues and so the dates of these calamities go by every year without much notice. Each gurdwara has a coterie of committee members under the leadership of an individual that has suddenly accumulated some fortune (suspect) and essentially has the personality of a gunda. You never see this guy perform any seva or anything constructive or beneficial to the sangat or gurdwara, ever. The only time you see this guy and his henchmen is when you want to do something that is good for the Sikh panth cause or for the rehat maryada of the gurdwara and panth or bring up the above mentioned subjects. Then these guys challenge the person or the few that are trying to do something good in the gurdwara, mostly violently. Propaganda and disinformation follows and slowly the sangat and the true sevadars return to keep the gurdwara going, but all have been taught a lesson to toe the line or else. Many will lose faith and that is the intent. Most of us blame and pacify ourselves like you have in this analogy (I ask your forgiveness) since there isn't much else we can or are willing to do anyway.

16: Raj (Canada), April 27, 2011, 10:32 PM.

You don't have to go to a gurdwara to learn and live Sikhi. As an organized religion, even we Sikhs have fallen into the same pit where other world religions are rotting. The prime example is SGPC, where "bipran ki reet" is openly practiced now. Example: if you offer Rs. 500, they give you "saropa". There was an attempt to re-direct it by Baba Nand Singh to eliminate money offerings, even for making langar and for building of gurdwara. We need to go back to our roots, "ghar ghar hovey dharamsaal". Answers are there, we just have to approach gurbani honestly.

17: G.C. Singh (U.S.A.), April 28, 2011, 12:42 AM.

The dynamic and unique Sikh nation of lions unfortunately is being led by mental-midgets who control our political and religious institutions at all levels. The DNA of corrupt and cowardly Punjab Akali leadership which uses all despicable means to control the SGPC, has been firmly implanted in most diaspora gurdwaras. Just like the Sikh Coalition, SALDEF and United Sikhs, it is time for second and third generation young men and women to come forward and take leadership roles in running these gurdwaras so that such disgraceful scenes can be avoided. We all must incorporate a system of dispute resolution which is community based so that dirty linen is not washed in the courts. Ego and power are some of the reasons for these fights but behind many such planned outbursts and incidents of large scale violence which draws media attention, the usual catalysts are the agents provocateurs heavily funded by Indian government agencies. Answering a parliamentary question in 1986 about the protests by Sikhs abroad against Indian Government's genocidal policies, Minister of State for External Affairs Raghunadan Lal Bhatia said that the Indian Government is already spending Rs. 1000 crores in our "outreach activities" on Sikhs abroad.

18: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), April 28, 2011, 3:02 AM.

Sikhs, like all other human beings, like to show off. There's no point self-congratulating just because there are so many gurdwaras, because see what some of them do there - serve, fight, beg for mercy and more wealth, socialize. Why analyze the human condition so deeply when the Guru had simply said God is in-charge. We too will reap what we sow. Rise in and fall from grace is simply that. Smart Sikhs appreciate how simple, direct and clear the Guru's messages or instructions are. They work, pray and help feed the world - like our Gurus did.

19: Jagbeer Singh Khalsa (Brimingham, United Kingdom), April 28, 2011, 4:35 AM.

It is a very simple relation: When people believe strongly in something, it is being called "Faith". When people of Faith combine it with cultural, political or personal agendas and imprints, it is called "Religion". Our Gurus taught us to follow a Faith. Everything else is cultural or egotistical. If those people call themselves Sikhs, it is up to God, not us, to judge.

20: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), April 28, 2011, 8:22 AM.

I agree with all of you that the key miscreants in these brawls are not there to do seva. But that further underlines the importance of what I'm suggesting: that "good" men and women need to get involved. It is not going to be easy: early on, in each situation, there will be threats of, or actual violence ... because it is now also clear that vested interests rooted in India are behind these power-struggles. Which means we need to work closely with local authorities and slowly, steadily, one by one, weed out the masands. This in itself is the greatest seva we can do for Sikhi today!

21: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), April 28, 2011, 10:00 AM.

T. Sher Singh ji is right. These people are controlling our gurdwaras because the rest of us are not getting involved. In many cases, they do not like to open up membership to new people. If money is the root of the problem then we should stop putting dollars in the golak. I do not want my money going to political parties and babas in India.

22: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 28, 2011, 10:32 AM.

It was painful to watch the video; such elements should go to India in front of Parliament and show their might there, if they have real guts.

23: Aman (California, U.S.A.), April 28, 2011, 1:38 PM.

I agree with Brijinder Singh. We should stop putting money in the golak and see what happens. We will soon see that the so called "sevadars" will all run off. The reason I see that "good" people don't get involved is that none of us want to be beaten up by hooligans dressed as Sikhs. We don't want our families threatened with violence.

24: Sarabjit Singh (Michigan, U.S.A.), April 28, 2011, 6:15 PM.

It is very sad indeed and today in the blink of an eye these images travel over the world and people form impressions, usually negative. (See images of Iranian parliament shouting death slogans to dissidents - are we going to form positive impressions of these politicians?) Difference of opinion is never a reason for violence. One of my suggestions is to have in the gurdwara constitution that any person inciting violent activities will be barred for life from holding any political office. Also this information needs to be shared with other cities (gurdwaras) so if that person moves, then he will be barred from holding any public office in gurdwaras anywhere. We must not tolerate this behavior.

25: Raj (Canada), April 29, 2011, 1:00 AM.

These hooligans are remotely controlled by different interest groups in India. There is a Hindu doctor in a western city in Canada. He used to prescribe "Tylenol 3" to recent immigrant old men who were addicted to opium in India. He would supply them this prescription drug and control them, so he could control election results at the local gurdwara. You can imagine what kind of "sevadars" they would elect. My solution is simple and effective: don't do money offerings. By doing that, you weed out this religio-politican "evil axis" mafia.

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