Vital Issues Pertaining To Sikh Youth


Vital Issues pertaining to Sikh Youth


SIKH FAITH IS A LIVING RELIGION. The concept of Chardi Kala i.e. the optimist
upward looking attitude of Sikh faith and its followers, is what the believers of this
faith apart from many others. Sikh faith inherently has the characteristics that make it
non-denominational and universal. The first evidence comes from the way in which
Shabad Guru, our Eternal authority has been revealed to us in Sri Guru Granth
Sahib Ji. The divine hymns contained in it, had been compiled not only by Sikh
prophets but also by the Saints and Sufis belonging to other Asian faiths. Northern
India where Sikhism originated and then saw its further progress and maturation,
under the guidance of succeeding Ten Gurus, is the land where majority of Sikhs
had lived since then. While Sikhs constitute less than two percent of the total
population of India, their robust and outward life style makes them look larger than
life. Ask any body and it becomes apparent that Sikhs look more predominant than
their true numbers in almost all spheres of life.
New Horizon:
In keeping with their forward-looking attitude and motivation for future success,
they were the first to explore new horizons in and out of their country of origin. No
hurdles or risks in their way could ever stop them. They gained success in whatever
they did. If one looks at the history of the arrival of the Sikhs in the Western world,
one can not help but be amazed to realize that, despite their meager numbers, Sikhs
were the pioneers amongst the Indians who took the initiative to explore North
America. Earliest Sikhs arrived in the land of opportunity in 1880 and, since that
time, their journey has been laden with discrimination, pain, adventure and hurdles,
as well as great success.
Many of us, the parents, who are born and raised in India, were influenced by the
majority faith and culture of India, i.e. Hinduism. This has incipiently blinded us to
differentiate between the true dictums of our faith from the religio-cultural traditions
of Indian culture and Hinduism in which we, the parents, lived during our formative
years. Over a period of time, instead of understanding the real spiritual message
contained in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, we started believing in practices that were
mired in rituals emanating from Brahaminical faith that are at odds with the true
spiritual guidance provided to us by Guru Nanak and the succeeding Gurus.
Young Hopefuls:
The second generations of Sikhs who, in USA rightly call themselves American
Sikhs, have become a force to reckon with. As their name implies, they are Sikhs but
at the same time they are Americans. Therefore it is but natural that they will not act,
behave, live or practice the faith in the same hypocritical style in which their
immigrant parents did - and indeed they should not. The inquisitive mind of a young
Sikh born and raised in US culture that never had the opportunity to live in a small
village of Punjab, is genuinely concerned over the apparent disparity of our true
religious dictates and our actions that lack fundamental Sikh religious basis. This is
so because culture and traditions of a community are primarily „country-dependent, with modifying effects from majority. However, faiths on the other hand know no
Illiterate Raagis:
The big problem, which has always been bothersome, is the lack of properly
trained preachers and Raagis who come to the Western countries from India. I have
yet to find a Sikh preacher whose motto is to serve the faith. Granted that all
“Religious workers” from India do have their obligations to financially support their
families and, as such, need to have a reasonable living, but what troubles me is that
taking care of the financial needs ultimately turns into their full time job. The
preaching of true faith takes a back seat in their minds. They avoid discussing
the issues that need emphasis such as dignity of maintaining full hair and
turban. They do so to avoid the wrath of so-called pseudo-leaders of our
Gurdwaras, who act as their masters but themselves don’t believe in the
fundamental principles of Sikh faiths. When we ask our children being raised
here to learn the Sikh faith from recently imported „home-grown‟ raagis or preachers,
from India who are absolutely devoid of knowledge of this culture or language, and
may also lack true perspectives of the faith they were supposed to preach, it is
bound to lead to disaster. Coming from small villages of Punjab, these poor souls
hardly understand the issues of young American Sikhs and, as such, cannot be in a
position to connect with the Sikh youth growing here. They keep themselves
concerned with the recently arrived old generation immigrant population. As time
passes, they start playing the game of same petty politics of Punjab that they were
used to, while at home. Their sole purpose becomes to find ways to please their
masters, i.e. Gurdwara leaders by conniving with one against the other.
Cadre of Missionaries:
I personally might not have any solution, but at least if we recognize the problem
in a collective body like this, my purpose would be served. I have been impressed
with what Yogi Harbhajan Singh Khalsa has done by asking some American born
young Sikh boys and girls to live in the boarding school close to the religious places
in India so that they could get training in Sikh ways, Gurdwara etiquettes and Kirtan.
Similarly, one could consider opening Sikh seminaries in USA, based on Catholic
model, where interested young boys and girls with inclination towards Sikh faith
could be admitted with financially attractive scholarships and job security and be
trained as career Sikh religious workers. I am fully cognizant of the fact that, as per
our faith, a priestly class is not to be encouraged but to prepare service-oriented
Sikh youths of America who could serve the Sikh cause in a humble way, should be
English is no Bar:
We should all be aware of the fact that our Gurus did not hesitate in preaching in
the local dialect of the community whereever they went. So what is wrong if the
young Sikhs born and raised here in USA are taught in the language of the land. I
am certainly not saying that one should ignore Punjabi. Without doubt our religious
scripture could only be truly understood in the language in which it was originally
written. However it certainly should not be made into such a sticky point that we end
up depriving our next generation of Gurbani. It will not be out of place for me to
mention that the people who question the use of English side by side with Punjabi, here in Gurdwaras for teaching Sikh way of life to children, are the ones who
themselves have lost touch with Punjabi in the state of Punjab. Go to any city of
Punjab and it becomes obvious that Punjabi has been relegated to second position.
So-called “gentry” of Punjab feels insulted to get their children admitted to the
schools where the first language of instruction happens to be Punjabi. They get a
perverse sense of pleasure when their children talk in Hindi or English even at home.
Additionally, those of you who tune to Zee T.V. news in Punjabi might have noticed
that when a reporter puts a question to a Sikh or Punjabi in Punjab, the response is
delivered in Hindi, and that includes the ministers of any government. It seems to me
that they feel a peculiar shame while talking in Punjabi.
Gun Battles for Gurdwaras?
The other issue that, unfortunately, has plagued our religious institutions is the
management of Gurdwaras. We some how carry this notion that Gurdwara must be
managed through democratic set up. But, unfortunately, our concept of the
democracy is limited to vote casting for the purpose of holding on to the positions of
Presidents or Vice-Presidents. People who have absolutely no religious background,
and whose only interest is to show up in Gurdwara at the Langar time to spend time
in gossip, should not be given the authority to run our religious places. I have been
part and parcel of the operational needs of Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Phoenix,
Arizona, since almost its inception. I would not stand here and say that we do not
have similar problems, but at least we do not have the kind of fighting and gun
battles that are usually seen in many Gurdwaras at times of elections. As they say in
our vernacular: “If there is no bamboo, there will be no flute”. Simply stated, it means
that if there are no positions to fight for, there would be no fights. Again, it is so
because only a few persons have the responsibility for its operational needs.
However this model is not perfect and is not without problems.
Mistaken Identity:
Up until 9-11, the identity of a Sikh was relatively a non-issue. Sikhs were in a
deep slumber. Many amongst those who do not maintain beards and turbans really
were not bothered by the dilemma in which Sikhs maintaining their full identity found
themselves. If we dissect this issue further there are two major concerns that pertain
to the identity crisis for the Sikhs. One is external and other internal. Externally the
threat to our lives and harassment in our daily lives have become a reality. Many
Sikhs are being confused with Middle Eastern Arabs, and a couple of Sikhs have
even lost their lives. The external threat gives an easy exit to a weak minded Sikh
who is at the edge. Lot of work is being done by concerned Sikhs who have taken
upon themselves to involve fully in the social issue of the community they live in,
thus highlighting the faith and identity. But still a lot is left to be done.
Becoming part of inter-faith organizations would be something which each and
every young informed Sikh should consider. It is through such social organizations
that we could let the people of other faiths know about Sikhs so that myths and
„mistaken identity‟ of a Sikh could be washed away from the minds of Westerners at
large. Taking part in homeless dinners and other social events related to diversity,
will highlight our identity. The issue we must talk about is: “The turban in this country
is only worn by Sikhs and none others and 99% of the turban wearing people in this
country are Sikhs.” I would not be talking about these issues had I personally not
been part of these activities. The results of such activities became so obvious to us in Phoenix that, while traveling to Washington DC last December to meet with some
Senate members after the unfortunate death of Balbir Singh, the airport security
pleasantly surprised me by saying that they have seen me talk at various social
events and they understood very well who Sikhs were. It was at a time when turbans
and beards were giving them jitters.
“Self-Destruct” Sikhs
Though we cannot belittle the external threats, yet I see a big problem in internal
thought-process and actions of many Sikhs. The danger and consequences of this
internal threat are far too serious. I have often noted that when a Sikh abandons the
Sikh identity, he tries subtly to influence other friends and relatives to do the same.
Not only does he influence friends and colleagues negatively, rather he tries to give
impression that the turban wearing Sikhs are orthodox and backward, somewhat
akin to the Mullahs in Islam and Sadhus of Hindu faith, whose jobs only pertain to
the religious affairs contrary to the modern look of non-conforming Sikh. Quite often
my American friends have asked this question: “Does your beard and turban signify
that you are a Sikh religious priest because majority people of your faith do not have
turban and beard”. This is a very unfortunate development. Some years ago, my son
while a medical student was sitting in Langar’s Pangat and was addressed as
„Gyaniji‟ by a non turban wearing Sikh. The poor boy didn‟t even know why has he
been so addressed?
We all are too familiar with the situations where non-conforming Sikh owners of
small businesses would discourage turban-wearing Sikhs from seeking jobs in their
enterprises. I know of several examples when turban-wearing newly-arrived Sikhs
had been asked to have their turbans taken-off and beards shaved off prior to
seeking jobs in their businesses. The very people who were to protect and help
those in need are the ones who try hard to convince those with the turban and
beards to let go of their form. Similarly, modern day young Sikh girls are showing
tremendous aversion for the turbaned Sikh boys. They want “clean shaven Sikhs” as
their life partners. Open any Indian newspaper, here and in India, or internet web
sites for matrimonial, and you would be hard pressed to find entries where Sikh girls
would opt for alliance with a turbaned or bearded Sikhs. The word “clean shaven”
appearing in Sikh vocabulary sends a shock wave through my spine. Does this
mean that those of us who try to maintain our identity are unclean? Naturally, if Sikh
youth with beard and turban would not find matches of their likings they are bound to
shun their identity. Additionally I hardly find a Sikh girl now-a-days who would not cut
her hair to give it a smooth shape. This is a very unfortunate trend and the Sikh
youth needs to ponder over this matter seriously.
Timid Parents:
More often than not, many Sikh parents in Western countries are routinely cutting
hair of their young toddlers prior to admitting them to school. These poor little souls
are not even given a chance to decide for themselves. I have often heard from Sikh
children that they wanted to maintain their full hair, but it is their parents who would
not want them to have the full form. The excuse given by such parents is that the
development of the child cannot be proper and balanced. On the other hand, my
experience with my children has been somewhat different. Being unique makes
them stand out and gives them an incentive to do well at school. They know that
they have to prove their worth and they seem to work hard to become successful much more than others. Had all the Sikhs who migrated to this country and their
children maintained their form, each and every school in US today would have seen
Sikh boys and girls on their rolls and then this ignorance and loneliness would have
Bollywood Perversions:
Now let us move to another issue that has been haunting me personally for quite
some times. This refers to Bollywood industry. Unfortunately the movie industry in
India is doing the biggest disservice to the turban-wearing Sikhs now-a-days. For
example, just look at new movies from Bollywood where Sikhs are frequently shown
with caps made in the form of turbans worn by actors who have partially trimmed
beards, on their partially shaven heads, performing the roles that should have been
taken by Sikhs. We often see these pseudo-Sikhs performing “Mata Da Jagran” and
other rituals of dominant culture at their homes, rather than the Sikh services. The
scenes of Gurdwara are often shown where the style of Kirtan is subtly changed to
Bhajan form in which audience would be moving and clapping hands such as
happens in Mandir. Bowing and praying in front of pictures of the Gurus in the style
of Hindu faith instead of Guru Granth sahib Ji is something unacceptable in the Sikh
doctrine, but the influence of Bollywood cinema has totally masked this thought
process. One might ask: does it really matter? I think it does. My concern is that
these trifle issues would slowly and steadily creep into Sikh way of life permanently,
over a period of time, and the lines of differentiation between the two would be
blurred, thus chipping away at our unique identity.
Those of you who have seen popular movie “Gadar” might remember that the
hero at times is shown to be a turbaned Sikh, and the next minute his beard and
head is shaven making it appear as if it were of no consequence to a Sikh. How
painful it was when being questioned about his affinity for hair, vs. love for his
country, this actor in Sikh character responded that cutting hair is not a big deal to
him but to talk bad about India would not be acceptable to him! What was the need
to make him choose one out of the two equally important issues? Does that mean
that one can not be a Sikh and Indian at the same time? The movie could have
worked without such dialogue. In another recently released movie “Shaheed”, Sardar
Bhagat Singh‟s sister while combing his hair suggests to him to cut his hair as they
were too long. His response: “I will do it but at a time when the entire Sikh nation
would feel proud of my act of cutting hair”! Now tell me how could an entire Sikh
nation feel proud about a Sikh cutting his hair? Where do we stand when these kinds
of films are produced by none-other than Sikhs? There are countless such examples
both on small screen, and in the movies, day in and day out. The purpose of
bombarding audiences with three movies on Bhagat Singh recently had a hidden
agenda. I believe they wanted to “brain wash” the Sikh youth with a message that if
Bhagat Singh could cut his hair for the sake of country, it is OK for others to do so.
Timing of such a message, in their point of view, was appropriate, especially when
we notice progressive erosions of Sikh values amongst our Sikh youth.
Stop Patka for Adults:
Another style that seems to be taking hold and being popularized by Bollywood
now days, is the use of Patka, or a piece of scarf, by mature Sikh adults in place of a
full regular turban. The use of cap amongst the urbanite Sikhs is also becoming
popular at the expense of a regular turban. Similarly, I have noted another phenomenon here. A saffron scarf, with big Khanda with Golden Temple printed
underneath in front is being popularized for covering the head of so-called clean
shaven Sikhs for use before entering the Gurdwaras. This seems to create an
impression, as if these scarves were approved to be used in place of a Sikh turban
by the management of Golden Temple i.e. SGPC, and it is OK to do so. The point I
wish to make here is that Sikhs of India either have been so brain washed or they
happen to be scared of the main culture to raise their voice. The young American
Sikhs could take a lead and organize some kind of educational awareness in a
systematic way to send a strong message back home that this kind of behavior is not
to be accepted
Wake-up call for SGPC:
Now, let us look at our most important organization that is supposed to take care
of our Gurdwaras and our religious affairs and help disseminate our faiths through
Dharam Prachar. I am referring to SGPC, our most important and at one time
sacred, organization. The dons of our faith in fact are busy fattening their own
pockets and have not done any thing that could help the faith and make us feel
proud. Born in small villages of Punjab and having never been exposed to the world,
they act like frogs in a well, so to speak. For them the Sikh faith is what a Sikh living
in a small village of Punjab thinks. What would be wrong if a few SGPC members
could be chosen from countries other than India or Punjab for that matter? This way
the decisions directly affecting the Sikhs of other countries could be made by the five
high priests keeping in mind the different needs of Sikhs abroad. I would encourage
this august body to find ways to impress upon the geriatric population of this
organization to think again.
We all know that quite often such individuals are chosen for SGPC memberships
who have nothing to do with the faith. Many of them had past history of drinking and
cutting their hair, but they were made candidates just because they would tow the
line of the leadership in power. One of them even told this writer personally, some
twentyfive years ago, that he had just put on this uniform of full hair with a blue
turban, and a Gatra of a sword, at the behest of the Party leader. Once elected, he is
to provide support to the leadership. In turn, he was promised the use of a free car
provided by SGPC. He had nothing to do with Sikh faith as such. Now how can
these kinds of dubious individuals ever inspire the Sikh youth?
Despite the fact that our first Guru emphasized equality for the woman, even now
our women-folk are not allowed to perform the early morning seva at Sri Harmandir
Sahib, a seva that is considered the most sacred by each and every Sikh. I am
talking about the seva that is done at 3 am when the main sanctuary is washed from
inside. A few years ago when an American Sikh Women Jatha went to perform this
seva they were denied this privilege. The explanation given was the silliest one.
These Sikh women were told that the seva can only be done by a person wearing a
Kachhaira and as Kachhaira shows the naked legs of the women, it is not possible to
allow them to do this seva. What a foolish thought! Many of you might be surprised
to know about another painful saga that is unfolding in Punjab. The use of ultrasound
to detect the sex of unborn baby is at a rise in the state of Punjab and amongst the
Sikhs. This is done mostly for one sole purpose i.e. to kill the unborn female fetuses,
a practice in total contrast to the fundamentals of Sikh faith.
Bold Initiatives needed: As far as my information goes, young Sikhs living in Europe seemingly are also
losing this battle. It is no secret to all of us that Sikh girls are being whisked away in
to the fold of Islam in UK in rapidly progressive numbers simply because the young
Muslim boys are being encouraged by their society and parents to marry non-Muslim
girls so as to add to the inventory of Islam. Illiteracy of their first generation
immigrant Sikh parents from Punjab, without true knowledge of Sikh faith, and
having meager resources at their disposal with no time to spare for their children, in
all probability, has some thing to do with this alarming trend.
My fear is that the practice of the true Sikh faith is steadily vanishing from Punjab.
If one were to look at the history, it would not be unrealistic to assume that future
might turn out to be bleak for Sikhs in India, much in the same way it happened to
Buddhism in India. Fortunately, we have the luxury of having some well informed
young Sikhs living and growing in the Western world who not only could influence
the other Sikhs here but could turn around and teach the Sikh youth of India and
else where.
This highly charged and well informed second generation Sikh youth of America
must make efforts to reverse this trend not only here but the world around. It is the
responsibility of the dedicated Sikhs born and raised here in this culture, without
backward pulling strings, to come forward and realign the directions for the right path
for the future generations. Only taking a proactive stance by the Sikh youth of
America will make our faith survive in its truest form in the twentyfirst century. This is
an urgent message and I am fully hopeful and confident that it will be seen in the
same spirit. Nothing could be more inspiring than to take the pieces of thread and
knit them together to help create a strong rope to stem the tide of these unfortunate
developments in Sikh faith here, in India and elsewhere​

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