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Controversial How Moderate Are The Moderates? (editorial By Gurpreet Singh)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
How moderate are the moderates? Gurpreet Singh writes from Vancouver


AS the election of the Khalsa Deewan Society, the oldest Sikh temple in Vancouver draws closer, the conservative Sikh youth slate is gearing up to give a fight to the incumbent moderates. Encouraged by the victory in the Surrey Sikh Temple election which the moderates have lost to the conservatives, they are now eyeing for victory in Vancouver.

Thanks to the divisions within the moderate Sikh leaders, the Sikh youth slate with the support of the fundamentalists, who are high on religion convictions wrested control over the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple in Surrey last year. However, the moderates have not drawn any lessons from this defeat and continue to fight among themselves on trivial issues. Their mission to defeat the separatist and ultra religious forces has ended long ago. Whereas, the disunity is one thing that the moderates need to address the overall thinking of the so called liberal Sikh leadership has also deviated from the real moderate outlook.

The moderate Sikhs is a group of the Sikh leaders that is considered secular than the fundamentalists who not only continue to fight for a theocratic Khalistan but also wish to impose a conservative religious environment in the Canadian gurdwaras. Since 1906, when the Khalsa Deewan Society was established, the gurdwaras allowed the community meal or langar to be served on tables and chairs. The practice is in sharp contrast to the one in the traditional gurdwaras of India where the langar is served to the devotees sitting cross legged on the floor. The fundamentalist Sikh leadership that started asserting itself when the pro Khalistan movement was at its peak later challenged this practice. An edict was issued by the Sikh clergy in India that ordered the moderates to reverse the modern practice of serving langar to the traditional practice. Some moderate leaders, who had defied the edict, were ostracized and a battle on the langar issue ensued in BC.

Though the moderates continued to challenge the fundamentalists on the langar issue their general outlook on other issues such as human rights, social justice and equality remained regressive despite whole hearted support from the progressive forces that were opposed to religious bigotry.​
After all, continued opposition to the traditional practice of serving langar on the floor alone would not have paid them dividends for ever, especially when the children of the moderate Sikh leaders are mostly inclined to join the mainstream compared to the conservative Sikhs who have encouraged their kids to stick to the roots. On top of it, the moderation of the liberal Sikh leaders remained limited to the langar issue.

Ironically, the Sikh youth slate has a better understanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights. It is not a coincidence that some prominent religious conservative Sikhs have not opposed the civil same sex marriages, while the prominent moderate leaders, like the former president of the Surrey Sikh Temple , Balwant Singh Gill had vehemently criticized homosexuality. On the contrary, the World Sikh Organization leader, Gian Singh Sandhu was open to the idea of teaching homosexuality in the schools of Surrey though he considered it as ``unnatural’’ at a personal level.

In the Surrey election, the moderates did not field a single female candidate whereas the Sikh youth slate had three women candidates. Besides, the moderates have not done anything significant to involve the members of the so called low caste communities in accordance with the tenets of Sikhism in their temple bodies. All this reflect their limitations in handling sensitive issues such as gender equality or women empowerment and eradication of caste system in the Sikh community.

Their pro establishment approach is also in contrast with the progressive and revolutionary approach of the early Sikh leaders of Vancouver . Though they were religious Sikhs who sported long hair and turbans compared to the moderates, who are mostly clean shaven they were very secular and had encouraged activism in the community. They had fought against the institutional racism and discriminatory laws that not only prevented the immigrants from bringing their families but also the right to vote. However, the current moderate leadership has remained indifferent towards similar challenges and rather enjoys rubbing shoulders with the powerful people representing the elite.​



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