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City goes to Village

Varinder Walia focuses on an effort to help rural students take the qualifying exams for engineering and medical streams.

With a noble mission to offer as good an education in the countryside as available in cities, some Delhi-based Punjabis have launched an ambitious project, Gyan Sewa, in at least 100 villages of Punjab.

As part of the pilot project for the first year, two coaching centres have already been set up in villages—one at Talewal village near Barnala in the Sangrur district and the other at Khadur Sahib village in the Tarn Taran district. Every weekend, subject experts from Delhi teach here students of classes XI and XII and train local teachers. Mr H. S. Phulka, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, says it is their endeavour to enable students of rural areas to qualify for medical and engineering seats.

Patwant Singh, an eminent journalist, is the founder of the Gyan Sewa Trust, while its trustees include Mr H. S. Phulka, Dr G. S. Grewal, Dr Raghbir Singh Basi and Mr Avtar Singh Dhindsa.

According to Dr Maninder Kaur Phoolka, the gap in the quality of education available in the cities and in villages has been widening. As a result, the education level in villages has been going down drastically.

To check this disparity, the Gyan Sewa Trust was formed to set up projects and take quality education (accessible, so far, to students in metros like Delhi only) to the remotest villages of Punjab.

The Trust decided to pick the best possible resources available in Delhi and take these to the villages. To bring students from villages to cities for education would probably have cost less than what it would take to transport the faculty from Delhi to the villages. However, notwithstanding the cost factor, the Trust decided to reach the subject experts from Delhi to villages to spread awareness among villagers and to train their teachers.
One of the first projects this year is of setting up coaching centres in villages to prepare the students for various entrance examinations.

Mr H. S. Phulka says, in big cities, there has been mushrooming of centres that train students exclusively for these examinations.

However, students from villages do not have this privilege, even though they may be more intelligent than city-bred youngsters. They just lack the opportunity to study professionally for professional courses. Instead, they choose ordinary streams like BA and B.Sc.

There are hardly any jobs after plain graduation or postgraduation. This generates a lot of frustration among the rural youth. In the next five years, the trust proposes to set up 100 coaching centres in villages. It also plans to launch campaigns against female foeticide, drug addiction and cruelty towards women.

Villagers from these 100 places would be educated about the disastrous consequences of these evils. (Courtesy : The Tribune, August 8, 2006)


Ludhiana Chapter of the ISC Forges Ahead

International Sikh Confederation has been established with the sole motive of bringing together all those organizations, which are working for the cause of Sikh Community so that a Synergy can be brought about in their working and Sikh Community can progress.

Keeping this in mind the Ludhiana chapter of ISC has established different committees to coordinate such activities.

Dr. Arvinder Singh has been appointed Chairman of Education and Vocational Training Committee and has been directed to constitute his committee by 31st Jan.

There will be short-term plans of 2 years duration each and a long-term plan of vision 2020 for this committee.
Short-term Plan

The 1st short-term plan effective till 30-4-2009 is as follows:

1. To contact & enlist all the organizations in Ludhiana district which are working in the field of education and vocational training.

2. To collect data from District Admn. regarding literacy levels in Ludhiana District, the availability of primary, secondary & technical education.

3. To start non formal education centers in Ludhiana city and villages where there is need. Different Organisations may be approached to sponsor these centers.

4. To enlist the services of voluntary teachers for this literacy drive.

5. To start vocational training course in villages & Ludhiana city as per need of the area and marketability.

6. To evaluate the services being already provided in this sector by Govt & NGOs and to devise methods to improve the quality.

7. To enlist the support of Deptt of Extension Edu, PAU, JSS Ludhiana, NYK and other such agencies to achieve these targets.

8. To promote the use of Punjabi language in all spheres of life.

9. To provide scholarship to deserving students for higher education.

Long-Term Plan: Vision 2020
To make the Sikh community in particular and Punjab as a whole a leading state in the field of Education and Knowledge resources, the ISC plans to do the following:

1. To start 5 centres of excellence in education in different corners of Ludhiana District where primary & secondary education will be provided on a non profit basis, irrespective of caste, creed and economic status. These centres will serve as good foundation for the future of our community.

2. To start 5 centres of technical training in Ludhiana District where students can choose the trade they want to specialise in.

3. To start 5 career guidance centres where coaching for various competitive exams can also be provided.


California Education Board Votes to Remove Sikh Image from Texts

March 8, 2007 Sacramento — The state Board of Education voted Thursday to ask a publisher to remove from a seventh-grade history textbook a picture of a Sikh religious leader that many followers said was offensive and inaccurate. (Courtesy : New York Times, March 8, 2007)


The Spirit of Seva

Last month, while traveling to Pune with my daughter, I strained my leg muscle in the coach and by the time our train arrived, I was not in position to move even a yard. The retiring rooms at the station were full. Just then, a Sikh gentleman who had observed us came up and suggested that we move to the nearby gurdwara in the Camp area. Within a few minutes, he arrived with an autorickshaw and gave the driver directions, and us, his contact number.

The gurdwara authorities immediately allotted a room to us and I was taken to the hospital run by their trust. After giving first aid, the doctor guided us for further treatment in the nearby nursing home and within two days’ stay at the gurdwara, I improved considerably and was in position to recommence my journey.

I have often read about the Sikh community’s noble acts of service without any consideration of caste, religion or faith, especially when natural calamities hit and leave trails of human devastation. It seemed as if they felt that service to humanity was divinely ordained and the guiding path to reach God. This time I had experienced it myself in everyday life. The serene ambience at the Gurdwara was also very soothing for me.

As an Indian living in India, where people practice different faiths I have a chance to know something about all religions.

It is a fact that all religions preach selfless service to humanity. Lord Krishna says in the Gita, “Dear Arjuna, there is no fall for him either here or hereafter who works for the good of others.” Prophet Mohammed says, “That man is a Muslim who works for the happiness and benefit of God’s creatures.” Similarly, the Bible says God loves him who is in the service of His children. But when it comes to practice, there are not enough of us who can match the spirit of our Sikh brethren. Where does the difference lie? Is it a talisman passed on to them by their Gurus? (Courtesy : Hindustantimes, February 15, 2007)


Santa Banta Jokes

The IOSS welcomes the stand taken by “Sikh Media and Culture Watch, Mumbai,” on ‘Sikh jokes’ as reported by Hindustan Times of March 09, 2007 ( published below):

The Sikh community has finally spoken up against the onslaught of Sardar jokes. The immediate provocation is a booklet on Santa Banta SMS jokes, in circulation in Mumbai. The booklet cover has two Sikhs – Santa in a pink turban and Banta in a blue one.

“We have no problem with the use of the names Santa and Banta, but here they are clearly portrayed to be Sardars,” said Jasmeet Singh, a member of the Sikh Media and Culture Watch that has complained to the Maharashtra Minorities Commission.

In a memorandum it submitted to the minorities’ panel on Wednesday, the Sikh group said such acts were “deeply humiliating” and should be considered racist.

A member of the group had stumbled upon the pocket sized booklet, published by Ideas, at Rasik Book House in Matunga in Mumbai, which is the sole distributor of the Rs. 25/- booklet. The protesters have objected to jokes such as : “What will a Sardar do with a Xerox copy? Check with the original.” We want the publishers to be taken to task. It is better late than never. There are blatant references to Sikhs and Sardars. There has to be an end to this,” said Swarnjeet Bajaj, another member of the group. “Today the booklet is circulating in Mumbai, soon it will spread across the world. There are enough jokes on the net already.” 

The minorities’ commission has decided to send a letter to the Mumbai police commissioner, asking him to book the culprits under Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code. “This section deals with hurting religious sentiments with deliberate and malicious intent,” said Dr Abraham Mathai, vice chairman of the commission. The publishers of the booklet could not be contacted. (Courtesy: e-mail by Gurpreet Singh, member IOSS>


Turban Issue

The IOSS views with dismay the apathy of the Indian Government in not solving the “Turban issue” in France. Despite the  assurances given by various Government officials, including the Prime Minister, Ministers, Chairman of the minorities commission, etc., that the Sikhs would be accommodated in French schools  without compromising their identity, nothing has been achieved till date – as is evident from the Indian Government affidavit filed in the court, where they have gone to the extent of washing their hands off this case by stating that the Sikh community should tackle this by itself “under the gambit of law.” 

This deplorable act has been further compounded by the inaction of the Sikh leaders /Sikh organizations based in India – who have shown little or no interest in this very serious matter. Issuing of letters /statements in the media without follow up action and no end result seem to have become the “convenient” way out.

While long-term solution to this problem should be worked out, in the short-term, these Sikh students should be provided with scholarships and opportunities by the Sikh community to pursue their education in other countries so that their formative years are not wasted.

It is appealed to the Sikh community to impress upon the GOI /Government officials to deal with this on an urgent basis.

It is further appealed that Sikhs worldwide should show solidarity and protest against French interests – wherever they can.


Post Election (2007) Point to Ponder

Sikhs have voted for known anti-Sikh Political party – Congress. BJP known anti-minority party responsible for Punjab’s trifurcation has voted Akali Dal to power.

How this new realignment will affect Punjab in general and Gurdwara management in particular, needs attention / study. (Personal views of Bhai Ashok Singh)


Monty beats Castro for Best Beard Award

London, December 28. England may have lost the battle for the Ashes to arch-rivals Australia, but Monty Panesar has a reason to celebrate after the left-arm spinner edged out ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Archbishop of Canterbury and Inzamam-ul Haq, among others, to win the Beard of the Year 2006 Award.
The Beard Liberation Front (BLF), an informal network of beard wearers, said in a press note that Panesar has finished on top, narrowly beating Castro.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and veteran trade union leader Paul Mackney were tied for the third place after a vote of BLF supporters for the hirsute person who has made the most impact on public life in 2006.

Other nominees for this year’s award included author Bill Bryson, broadcaster Bill Frindall, politician George Galloway, journalist Christopher Howse, broadcaster Brian Perkins, author Terry Pratchett, broadcaster Tom Robinson, Stilton cheesemaker Richard Rowlett, actor Ricky Tomlinson, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and musician Robert Wyatt.

Panesar, first Sikh player to don England jersey, has been a front-runner for the award right from the beginning and BLF organiser Keith Flett told BBC Radio Northampton that it was combination of facial hair and on-field heroics which tilted the scale in the spinner’s favour.

“He may have a beard for slightly different reasons, but at the end of the day it’s still a beard, and it’s a magnificent beard,” Mr Flett reasoned.

Incidentally, Andrew Flintoff had won the inaugural edition of the award back in 2004 and was declared joint winner, along with Paul Mackney, last year for his gingery-blond designer stubble.

Fighting a lost Ashes battle in Australia, Flintoff did not feature in the nominations this year as his “beard has declined during 2006,” according to the BLF statement.

The Beard of the Year Award is a prize awarded in December of each year in the UK by the BLF to acknowledge someone in the public eye whohas created positive publicity for the wearing of beards. (Courtesy : The Tribune, December 29, 2006)


Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,
In the editorial for the issue of Oct-Dec 2006/538 NS of Abstracts of Sikh Studies, you have mentioned to have a Standard English translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) as one of the two immediate tasks to be taken up. I am full of appreciation for the same since I feel that it is absolutely needed. But I feel there is going to be a big problem to realize it. This is due to non-availability of a standard interpretation of SGGS in Gurmukhi from which a translation in English could be made. Here it is to be noted that interpretation of SGGS can not be standardized since Gurbani is the word of Lord who is perfect and it is written, compiled and edited by the Guru who was also perfect. Hence, for its interpretation also the man has to be a prefect one. Gurbani itself enlightens in Sukhmani that one gets the enlightenment according to the intellect bestowed by God; due to this there has to be variation in the interpretation of Gurbani depending on the level of intellect of the person engaged in the task. Gurbani further emphasizes the point as thus:

A rare one can contemplate Gurbani if he is a Gurmukh. This bani is of the supreme Master and with this one obtains the dwelling within his own home. ||40||935
Here Gurmukh means a perfect person having the illumination of God within.
bwxI ibrlau bIcwrsI jy ko gurmuiK hoie ]
ieh bwxI mhw purK kI inj Gir vwsw hoie ]40] {pMnw

In view of above it may not be possible to have a perfect version of its interpretation from which it has to be translated into English unless Gurmukhs are associated with the task. This limitation, you yourself have pointed out in your writing that interpretations made by Bhai Sahib Bhai Vir Singh and Bhai Sahib Dr Sahib Singh, the two great and giant Sikh scholars and also both being Gurmukhs, do not match. In view of this, endeavour should be made to produce a version which could be called a base lined version which may be open to be improved subsequently as and when interpretations are made by the highly spiritually elevated souls. However, if a standardized version, without making it perfect, is produced, it will block the way forever for a better and a true version to come in future.

Tarsem Singh


Dear Editor,

I am very grateful to you for publishing my letter on the subject : Translation of Guru Granth Sahib in English, published in AOSS (Vol IX, Issue 1) Jan-March, 2007, pages 126-27.

There are few glaring typographical errors which defeated the sanctity of my comments particularly in spelling mistakes and of punctuation marks of J/e', fJe', of Guru Granth Sahib ji which should be:

1. Para 2 line 7 of page 126 :
i. J/ezeko, in place of J/ezeko |
ii. J/e', fJe' in place of J/e, fJe
2. Para 2 line 2 of page 127
i. full in place of all
ii. intricate techniques in place of intricate teachings
3. Para 5 line 3 of page 127
i. poBs in place of posB

My house address is #600, instead of #200.

I shall be obliged if these corrections are published in the next issue of AOSS to maintain the sanctity of words of Gurbani in true spirit.

Yours sincerely
Inderjit Singh
#600, Phase 2, Mohali


Excellent Work

Dear Editor,

First of all accept my heartiest congratulations on your monumental work of Gur Panth Parkash. Everybody knows it is the primary source of Sikh history. Due to its chaste Punjabi language, only a few scholars could read it. But you have done a wonderful job to translate it into a very simple English to be understood by a layman without changing its rhythm in original. And the sone te suhaga is that now this work is available in three script in one book – Punjabi, Roman and English. Some Punjabi people cannot read Punjabi language, a transliteration is a great help for them to understand. I think it is a new addition to the Institute of Sikh Studies’ achievements. I have discussed with some of my friends here in USA about the contents of the book. They are very much interested to read it.

I also congratulate the Institute of Sikh Studies for its new website. The old one was an incomplete website, which disappointed the visitors. It is now updated with new Abstracts. Also, a few other Institute’s publications are also available on the site and are very user friendly. I, therefore, request that the other books published by the Institute may also be posted on the new website.

With deep regards
Dr Dilpreet Singh


Deras and Sikh Society

Dear Editor,
Our impressions about Sant Babas and their deras are mostly based on hearsay or news items in TV or newspapers. I have not come across any serious research paper or publication giving what lifestyle they have, what they teach, and what influence they have on Sikh society. It will be a good idea to interview some devotees to have first hand impression.

I can give a gist of what I observed and felt on short visits and infrequent associations with some of them.
My first association was with Sant Niranjan Singh ji who used to visit Lucknow in 60s and 70s. He had a saintly appearance, a polite and soothing conversation, mostly did keertan, many a time at amritvela and gave discourses on gurbani and spiritual life. If there were Hindu devotees in the gathering, he used to quote from Gita also. He discouraged people from touching his feet, but many still did this anyway. When I was posted in Patiala, I visited his dera a few times. Gatherings were smaller, mostly he did keertan and very brief discources. His stress on simran and holy life did influence the devotees.

Once I happened to visit with a friend dera of Baba Virsa Singh in his sprawling farmhouse outside Delhi. Baba ji was inspecting horses in his stable, so we could not have audience with him, though we did have a glimpse from a bit far away. We sat in the congregation. A discourse on some incident of Babbar Khalsa movement was being narrated fiercely by an equally fierce looking person. I believe many devotees, high positioned officials, are associated with the dera. Their views encouraging Dasam Granth are well-known.

During my first visit to USA, a relation took me to dera of Singh Sahib Yogi Harbhajan Singh ji. By chance Brig Hardit Singh had also come, so we were together. He received us courteously. We offered some books by IOSS, which he glanced at casually and passed on to his staff. His wife, Bibi ji, though showed some interest. Yogi ji talked mostly of his association with Presidents, PMs, Church heads, etc., and very little of bani or Sikhi. At dinner time, he passed some harsh comments on Bh Vir Singh ji, which made us sad.

He gave us siropa in the diwan next morning and asked us to see sports followed by langar. Many devotees touched his feet. He was very popular and respected by Gora Sikhs. His followers get up at amritvela, do nitnem and yoga and maintain - disciplined life as Sikhs. His views propagating Kundalini yoga are not in line with Sikh thought, nor is his installing miniature statues of the Gurus around the building. Notwithstanding this, his popularizing Sikh faith in West is commendable.

Another place I visited is worth mentioning. Dodra near Mansa. The head, popularly known as Bauji, was not there for health reasons. The sangat is well known even abroad for stress on Nam simran. Then an annual samagam was being held. Arrangements were modest but adequate. Special features were self help for cleaning toilets. Naam simran at amritvela, then nitnem and keertan. Food, simple dal-roti. Free time was used for informal discussions on simran, spiritual state of devotees and other Sikh topics – no politics, no mundane matters, no backbiting. All by voluntary attitude. Atmosphere of love and devotion overwhelming. People gathered around enlightened individuals to ask questions and listen. No upmanship. I attended some other gatherings in Patiala and now in Mohali. Similar atmosphere prevails. I have listened to audio tapes and read pamphlets on Bauji’s discourses/views; these are highly emotional and sentimental in the love for the Guru, Waheguru, and sangat and one cannot remain untouched. In this holy environ, I got the feeling of all pervading love!

Bh Jasbir Singh Khanewale was known for devotional keertan on a simple tune and for his great philanthropic work of setting up and running the Eye Hospital at Sohana. He was ever busy on constant tours to sangat far and wide for collecting funds for the noble cause. Once I had audience with him for a personal problem which was worrying me. His few soothing words interspersed with Gurbani made me feel at peace – as if the Guru had spoken through him.

Soon after retirement, I came in touch with Baba Iqbal Singh ji of Baru Sahib, and for a year took Sikh History classes for 10+1 class at Chandigarh. His zeal for education for rural boys and girls is to be seen to be believed. It combines general education with Sikh tradition - early rising, nitnem, keertan, awareness of Sikh History, etc. Although he is a retired Director of Agriculture, with his rustic appearance, and soft words everybody feels comfortable with him; he has attracted best talent and devoted team to run his institutions, which are ever expanding. Recently, he has published a book on Sikh principles Sikh Sidhant which on a systematic format gives a gist of Sikh thought. He insists devotees to greet him with Gur Fateh though some still touch his feet.

Gurcharan Singh
# 142, Phase 4, Mohali