Granthis Behaving Badly by Gurmukh Singh It saddens one to read reports ranging from the unbecoming behaviour of the head granthi of Darbar Sahib to a granthi caught watching blue videos! Lewd behaviour of some Sikh religious personnel has been a matter of concern and embarrassment for the Sikh community in recent years. It is no consolation that indecent behaviour by those holding similar positions of community trust in other faith groups is also reported from time to time. For example we hear of church personnel being guilty of sexual assaults on vulnerable young age groups. Sometimes their victims confront them in public years later in adult life. Mandir pujaris have featured in news also. The days of the mahants using gurdwaras for their lecherous activities may have been forgotten, but reports of misconduct by the bhekhdharis in religious garbs continue. Some mattha-tekaao sants are in fact neo-mahants and there are well documented cases against them. However, if they are driven out of one gurdwara, they are warmly welcomed by another in the hands of their shardhalus (disciples). It may be that the victims are more willing to come forward these days, or that something is wrong with our selection and appointment procedures. Most probably, it is a combination of both. In the Sikh diaspora, many granthis are immigrants from India or other countries. Often complete strangers are appointed to this revered position just because they are known to, or related to, a gurdwara committee member. Yet a granthi is responsible for the seva of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji, and is expected to give guidance on Sikh religious issues not only to own community but to visitors to the gurdwara from other faiths as well. These visitors include school children accompanied by their religious education (RE) teachers. Gurdwaras are both, our places of worship and the focal points for our community and social life. Every Sikh greets a gurdwara granthi or gyani with a respectful “Bhai Sahib” and children are brought up to revere them almost next to Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji. In fact like Sri Guru Granth Sahib, some elderly granthis, being Guru-roop Gursikhs, are also called “Baba ji” by children. Men and women of all age groups trust them and seek guidance on matters spiritual, and sometimes even matters relating to social and domestic affairs. Those with anti-Gurmat superstitious leanings also go to them for advice in confidence. Regrettably, often these are women frustrated by domestic problems. They are desperate and vulnerable and are sometimes exploited by hypocrites in religious garbs, even though superstition and related practices are totally condemned by the Guru’s teaching. The sewa of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji is most sacred. That includes the correct (shudh) recitation of Gurbani and the opening (Parkaash) and closing (Sukh-aasan) of Guru ji and the performance of all ceremonies and rites in accordance with Panth approved Sikh Reht Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct). Such closeness to Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji and the Sangats (congregations) requires Gursikhi jeevan (life-style) of the highest standard. Although, there is no formal authorised (ordained) priestly class amongst the Sikhs, Gursikh religious scholars capable of performing all the above mentioned and related gurdwara duties, which may include katha (interpretation of Gurbani) and Kirtan (the singing of Gurbani), have been appointed as granthis. Preference is given to family men and they are given accommodation next to or within gurdwara precincts to remain close to Sri Guru Granth Sahib and be available to the visiting Sangat. They are paid reasonable salaries to meet the costs of their family responsibilities. In fact, fixed salaries should be the preferred method instead of dependence on charrava (donations) from Sangats. I am aware of negotiations between gurdwara parbandhaks and applicants for the position of granthi in this respect. That is demeaning for applicants of the right calibre. I recall that before World War II, in many gurdwaras in the villages of Panjab, voluntary sewa of Granthi was done by highly respected local Gursikhs closely associated with the local community. Their conduct and character was beyond reproach because socially they were part of the local community. However, today, no one would deny the need for well-educated granthis, fully qualified for the range of duties they would be required to undertake in the multicultural and multi-faith environments in which we live. If there is a gurdwara, then there is a need for an attendant full time granthi for the seva of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Only in remote communities would it possible to arrange voluntary seva shared by local Gursikh men and women. Preferably, a granthis should be married householders. Once appointed, they should not be treated as servants of anyone but the Guru. Regrettably, as often happens, changing a gurdwara committee should not mean that a new granthi is appointed by the new parbandhaks. School age children of granthis suffer as a result (and I am speaking from personal experience!) They should be able to afford the facilities commensurate with their high position for living, travelling and bringing up own families. Great granthis, kathakars, parcharaks and raagis have become Sikh household names. Their lives are exemplary and they continue to earn the respect they receive. From own experience, I have had the good fortune to meet and learn from many granthis and parcharaks in Malaya (later Malaysia). These included parcharaks like Giani Phuman Singh, Giani Hari Singh Bilga (both Sikh Missionary Society, Singapore, parcharaks appointed by Gursikh vidvaan Panthic leaders like late Giani Arjan Singh Uppal (later of Slough, UK fame and in own family circle). Giani Naseeb Singh, a great scholar was my own Panjabi teacher in Malaysia. Elsewhere, I have also written about own father, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian (1909 -1975), who, was a renowned Gurbani parcharak in Malaya, invited over as a Panjabi school teacher. I met and remained in touch with Giani Gurdip Singh ji, head granthi for 21 years of Gurdwara Shish Ganj, Delhi who first took over duty as the granthi of Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, UK. I mention some of the above granthis and gianis in own acquaintance who gave so much to the community, sometimes at great cost in terms of their health and family life. They were hardly able to make ends meet so far as their families were concerned but remained devoted to their missionary work and passed on that dedication to own children and others. It may be that the community is now paying the price for neglecting own true Panthic sevadars. With the increase in the number of Gurdwaras in Panjab and in the Sikh diaspora, the practice of appointing paid granthis started. Often these appointments are without much investigation into the background of the candidates. It is not surprising that the character and conduct of those engaged in religious duties is increasingly becoming a matter of concern to the Sikh community. Yet, these are the very people who are supposed to give Gurbani based guidance on morality and character to the Sangats. People should be able to trust them due to their highly respected position as the Guru’s sevadars appointed by the Sangats. In the UK, the need for vetting the qualifications and personal integrity of those serving in gurdwaras, including those arriving from abroad, has been raised from time to time by Sikh representatives interfacing with government agencies. It is time that gurdwara parbadhaks took serious note and make themselves conversant with the legal requirements. The revered position of a granthi should be beyond reproach.