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Sikh Preacher Determined To Keep Speaking

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Source: Sikh preacher determined to keep speaking - thestar.com

The irony of his situation doesn’t escape Darshan Singh.

For four years, from 1986 to 1990, he was to the world’s Sikhs what the Pope is to Catholics: the faith’s chief priest, in a leadership group of five. Less than four months ago, the religious leader was excommunicated from the faith by the current head priests.

The move was unbelievable, Singh said in Punjabi, “especially since I’ve said nothing wrong.”

That happened in January. Since then, he has been greeted by large protests against his presence as he visited temples in India, England, Norway, Switzerland and Germany.

But there was no violence until Friday in Brampton, when a crowd of about 150 protesters gathered outside the Sikh Lehar Centre, where Singh was supposed to give a lecture. The management cancelled the talk, but a scuffle broke out and three people were injured, including the centre’s president.

The incident has become a swirling controversy among Sikhs; it’s been reported in all Punjabi language newspapers, and has been the sole topic of conversation — and heated arguments — on Punjabi radio shows and at other temples.

Singh, the man at the centre of the storm, is sitting in the living room of his north Brampton home, his white beard falling past his chest. Half-a-dozen guests mill around in the house — they are there to check how he’s doing.

He’s slightly rattled. “There should have never been any violence… it gives Sikhs a bad name,” said Singh. “Listen carefully to what I am saying and then decide.”

Singh, a fiery preacher, is known for generating controversy. For some years, he and some Sikh scholars have maintained that the Dasam Granth, the tenth holy book of the Sikhs, was not written by the gurus who founded the religion. They say it’s inconsistent with the gurus’ other teachings.

Portions of the book have not been fully accepted by some Sikhs. However, most Sikh groups accept it in its entirety.

The book encourages people to use intoxicants, degrades women and says there should be no sexual boundaries in a society, said Singh. “You just have to read the book and you’ll know it’s not what the gurus preached,” he said.

Singh’s newest controversy started at a Sikh temple in New York, where he was preaching in early November. He is accused of concocting a story linking Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, with a prostitute.

The preacher denies it. “The video that was sent to the head priests (in India) was manipulated. I would never do anything like that,” he said.

Singh was summoned by the Sikh high priests in Amritsar, India. He says he went there to explain everything in public but “they wanted it behind closed doors. I couldn’t agree to that and I returned.”

He was banished days later.

Gurbachan Singh, the present head priest, told media then that Singh was excommunicated because “he failed to accept punishment for religious misconduct.”

It means Sikhs can’t talk to him or associate with him. Singh is also barred from attending Sikh religious ceremonies.

Some Sikh temples, like the one at Brampton, defied that order and invited him.

“I never thought this (violence) would happen,” said Singh. He says he was getting dressed to go to the temple on Friday evening when officers from Peel Region police knocked on his door and explained the situation.

Singh, who has been called names and has received death threats, isn’t scared and plans to go to temples where he is invited. “I know some people don’t agree with me and what I say, but there are many who want to hear what I have to say.”

The preacher is much in demand and has to be booked months in advance. Singh, who lives in Toronto for six months and in Amritsar for the other six, travels so extensively that he needs a new passport every year or so.

But since the controversy exploded, the family doesn’t let him travel or be alone. Not even if he’s going for a walk with his grand kids in the quiet north Brampton neighborhood. “We don’t want to take any chances,” said Davinder Pal Singh, his son.

The storm hasn’t passed yet, said Balraj Deol, editor of Khabarnama, a Punjabi weekly newspaper published from Brampton.

“The clash has brought out in the open the animosity between the various temples,” he said. There are more than a dozen Sikh temples in the Toronto area. “This has also divided the community and that will be tough to bridge.”


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