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If I were the President of SGPC

Col Avtar Singh

When we were children studying at school, the teacher gave us an essay to write titled “If I were the ……”. To my mind it was an excellent way to help students develop their imagination and then be able to communicate about it by putting it on paper.

So, here I am trying to do the same again, after retirement and in the last years of my life.

Why have I chosen this topic? Because this is the most important post for the Sikhs today but which unfortunately is not doing or is unable to do, what it should be doing.
SGPC was established in 1925 with the specific object of managing the Sikh Gurdwaras efficiently as per Sikh Rehat and propagation of Sikhism. Sharomni Akali Dal (SAD) was formed to be its political wing to safeguard the interests of the Panth Khalsa. How things have changed is well known to everyone. Today the President of SGPC is picked up by President of SAD, and SAD has forsaken the Panthic interests in return for political power.

SGPC has to again pick up the responsibility towards long range protection of Khalsa Panth from within and without.

Still, there are few issues I would immediately concentrate on:

1. Convert all SGPC run Khalsa schools into private schools, so we can recruit Sabat Surat Role Model Sikhs as staff and make education in Sikhism compulsory for students.

2. Establish a full fledged training college for training of Granthis to man the gurdwaras in villages and towns.

3. Establish a Gurmat Sangeet training Academy, for training of Kirtani Jathas who can sing gurshabad as per the specified ragas and not on film tunes.

4. Make rules for selection and appointment of Jathedars of Takhats, their tenure and impeachment, if necessary, rather than today’s arbitrary method.

5. Stop this practice of Akhand Paths in absentia. Discourage this wrong practice of paid paths without anyone listening, through information and Gurmat education.

6. Establish a “Sikh History Research Institute” for credible research on our history before it is too late and its distortion cannot be checked or rebuffed.

7. Establish a training programme for Sewadars of historical Gurdwaras in basic Sikh ethos, lives of Gurus and Sikh history. It should place special emphasis on humility, politeness, service with a smile and communication skills. Some must also be trained to speak fluently in English.

Education
A child’s learning process is highly dependent on four sources:
(a) Parents
(b) School
(c) Observation of surroundings – Role models
(d) Other Institutions
Unfortunately, a Sikh child today is deprived of all of the above stated sources for information on the religion he/she is born in.

Parents have no time in today’s busy life and themselves know nothing about it except supporting beards and turbans. More so in the villages where 70 percent of Sikh population lives. They do occasionally some karam kands. Some of them also trim their beards and mothers have cut / bobbed their hair.

The Khalsa schools offer no help. There is little or nothing taught about Sikhism or Sikh history for the child to know or feel proud about. Ignorance, both at the staff and students level is the order of the day.

There are No Role Models. Most of the Sants / Sadhs he sees/ comes across are fake and money minded. Sikh leadership including that of important religious institutions has been relentlessly pursuing their political and personal ambitions and in the process has not hesitated to cast aside all and everything what Sikhism is about.

The last hope was Sikh religious center, Sikh Gurdwara. Here again the Granthi ji is unfortunately of no help. He picked up this job because he could do nothing better and was a failure all around, exceptions apart.

No wonder Sikh children are going away in hordes from the religion they were fortunate enough to have been born in, and which by all accounts is the most modern, logical and universal religion.

Parents
It is too late and difficult to do anything at the parent level today. What they should been helped to learn when they were children, was denied to them. Circumstances also played their part. The community was badly mauled by the partition and was busy settling itself economically and socially as refugees. Sikh leaders neglected the Sikh Values Education.

They were rightly busy finding a place for the community in the new order where old promises made had been betrayed and the community had been asked to find a place in whatever little was offered or they could pick up by their own efforts.

Khalsa School
The first and foremost item is education of Sikh children. There are many so-called Khalsa Schools being run by SGPC today, but they are schools and not Khalsa schools.

When I was a student at the Khalsa High School at Nankana Sahib, all our teachers were Sabat Surat Gursikhs who were also personal examples of religious and ethical living.

Prithipal Singh Olympian Hockey player (son of master Wadhawa Singh Ji), Air Marshal M S Bawa (his father was the Civil Surgeon) and Brig Virk were my class fellows. The school started with a morning prayer (Shabad singing by students by turn followed by Ardas again by students).

In addition to the normal education, we also had a compulsory period daily in Sikhism, consisted of Gurbani recitation (were made to remember it by heart as you advanced to higher classes), lives of Sikh Gurus and their teachings and Sikh history. For Sikh students, it was necessary to pass in the subject. What I want to emphasize is that religious education was part and parcel of the school daily program. Lest any one should think that the educational results were not satisfactory, our school student mostly stood first in the district in the Punjab University Matric examination.

Look around the so-called Khalsa schools today. Most of the staff and in many cases the principal are ghona and even smoke in school. There is no compulsory period of Sikh religion and in some cases there is no teaching at all.

So, the need of the hour is to reconstruct these schools into proper Khalsa Schools. If need be, make them minority private schools. Forget about the Government grant. Forgo it and make Sikh religious education an integral part of all Khalsa schools.

We may have to recruit new teachers (sabat surat) with commitment and under today’s circumstances all teachers, both old and new, should be given 3-6 months paid exposure to Sikhism, Sikh ethics and Sikh history. Specially trained “ Giani Ji” would be required for each school. The concentrated effort should be at the Primary/ High/ Higher Secondary school levels.

When SGPC was formed, only a part of the golak offerings were for the SGPC. Half was to be kept and spent locally for education, medical and dharam parchar.

Looking at the same, every historical Gurdwara should have a Khalsa High School attached to it. Every village should have a Khalsa Primary School, a cluster of villages a Khalsa High School and every important town a Khalsa Higher Secondary School.

Even at the College level, I remember Khalsa College Amritsar in 1948 (S Jodh Singh ji was the Principal and S Narinjan Singh and S Joginder Singh taught Chemistry) had a period on Sikhism, though passing the subject was not compulsory in the University Exam.

The point I am trying to make is that we have to reintroduce Sikh religious education at the school level.

Khalsa Colleges are important. We should reduce the number of Professional colleges (Medical, Engineering, etc) to run under SGPC. They are very expensive to run and are more a Govt responsibility. The few professional colleges we have, should be run as private colleges, where Sikhi Sarup is compulsory for teachers, and students for their admission and throughout stay at the college. There should be no giving in on this basic issue.

Training of Granthi jis
The next item needing immediate attention is to have suitably trained Granthi ji for the village Gurdwara. I have come to realize that the weakest link today is “Gurdwara Granthi ji.” I met people from the villages who tell me that the village gurdwara either did not have any Granthi ji or if there was one he was as ignorant about Gurbani and Gurmat as themselves. They only thing they did was morning and evening path and Masia and Sangrand day celebration.

A recent case where a village gurdwara Granthi ji did ardas for inauguration/opening of a barer shop in the village speaks volumes for the state of affairs.

In my opinion, the primary responsibility of the SGPC was to ensure high quality education and training of Sikh Gurdwara Granthis and Sikh Missionaries. Instead, SGPC has concentrated its efforts more in opening of Medical and Engineering Colleges. A vote catching gesture. In the process, we have failed to man our key religious institution, the Gurdwara, by knowledgeable, pious and role model Sikhs. Preaching by example has taken a big hit in Sikhism in the last few decades.

One of the reasons is so-called Sikh religious leaders’ involvement in gaining and retaining political power at the cost of basic community spiritual needs.

Hence, SGPC needs to open enough new and generously fund existing Sikh Missionary Colleges to train young aspiring students in correct reading of Sikh scripture, its correct interpretation (without mangharath sakhis), Sikh theology, Sikh beliefs, ethics and values, Rehat Maryada, lives of Gurus and Sikh history. They should also have knowledge of Kirtan and should be able to sing shabads. A four year course after Higher Secondary School is suggested. The students must also be taught communication and delivery. After training, these trained Granthi jis should be posted to a cluster of villages/town gurdwaras and, where needed, be financially supported for three years.

A key subject will be humility, piety and personal living as a Gursikh. Preaching by example and be a role model for all in the village is a key characteristic which will need to be emphasized throughout their training.

An advanced course, for additional two years, after few years in the field after basic course, is suggested for those aspiring to go abroad. Advanced course students should also be required to become fluent in one national or international language.

This will be an investment worth making rather than marbling the Gurdwaras. These Granthis should be trained at SGPC expense and each village / town Gurdwara should have trained Granthi ji.

In my humble opinion, the increase in Derawad and personal guruship has happened due to lack of well informed and inspiring Granthis at the local gurdwaras.

Gurmat Kirtan
A Gurmat Sangeet (Kirtan) Academy must also be functioning to train Kirtanias. We have too many so-called kirtani jathas moving around who sing shabads either fitted into film tunes or other popular tunes. In the process, they distort Gurbani to fit in the tunes, thus distorting the emphasis and sometime the meaning of the shabad.

I have spoken to many of them. The normal response is where can I learn to do Kirtan in Ragas and afford to spend years learning it. I come from a poor family and have taken up this profession to earn my livelihood. I was fortunate to have sweet voice and kirtan in tunes needs about six months to pick up.

Another reason given is “ The sangat likes it”. It is partially true. The sangat has not been exposed to proper Gurmat Kirtan , i.e., singing of the shabad in the ragas as it is entered in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, including the Ghar and Tal. Those who are fortunate enough to listen to it will always swear by it. It has a magical effect because you understand every word of it, being very clear in Raga singing.

Yes, some Sikhs have been turned away from Kirtan in ragas, because their exposure was to singing wherein classical ragas were in the forefront. In Gurmat Kirtan, classical ragas (including musical instruments) though very important take a back seat and assume a supporting role to the gurshabad.

There is a college at Amritsar, run by SGPC but the capacity is very little. We need to re-look at the needs of the community and make suitable amends to ensure proper kirtan at all historical gurdwaras and those kirtani jathas traveling abroad.

Akal Takhat Sahib
Akal Takhat is the only Takhat which was established by Guru Hargobind Sahib ji. The Akal Takhat is an embodiment of truth, fearlessness and fairplay. It was established as one central Sikh authority. Sikhs all over the world, irrespective of their personal affiliations, gladly accept its authority

The other four Takhats though associated with the life of Guru Gobind Singh ji, none was established by him. They all came up under the authority of the Panth, after 1849. The Takhat at Damdama Sahib was established only a decade ago. There is no mention of any other Takhat except Akal Takhat during the Misal period, or even Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time. I have asked many a learned scholars about the need, when, why and under whose authority these other Takhats were established. No one has ever been able to give a satisfactory reply, except that these were established under the authority of the Panth as the need was felt. (I will stand corrected on this). However, it has diluted / taken away the concept of one central core authority on Sikh temporal affairs.

Unfortunately this acceptance is now getting questioned. The Authority and Prestige of this unique institution has suffered in the last three decades. The main reason has been edicts which are seen as less than fair or failing on the scale of truthfulness. Summary dismissal of Jathedars and appointment of politically acceptable and pliable Jathedars has also contributed to this unfortunate development.

The SGPC Act does not authorize SGPC to appoint the Jathedar of Akal Takhat Sahib. It is silent on the issue, which also implies that SGPC has no authority to appoint or dismiss the Jathedar. However, since all the funds are controlled by the SGPC, it has assumed to itself the authority to do so.

Histrorically, the Jathedar has always been appointed by the Sarbat Khalsa. The need of the hour is to frame rules for appointment of and impeachment (if ever the need arises) of the Jathedar. Rules which will ensure selection and appointment of the person who commands all around respect for his piety, uprightness, truthfulness, fearlessness and knowledge.

To start with, a 21 member selection committee consisting of SGPC reps, DSGPC reps, reps from other provinces; key Sikh institutions like IOSS, Chief Khalsa Diwan, jathedars of other Takhats, Taksals, Sant Samajas reps, reps from other countries should be included. (say one each from USA, Canada, UK and Europe, and South East Asia). A QR could also be prepared for the post. Suitable persons could be nominated as candidates for the post by any of the above constituents. All candidates would be screened by the selection committee including background social and financial checks, political affiliations, etc. What I have in mind is like a confirmation hearing of US senate.

Similar procedure should be followed for any perceived wrong doing and eventual impeachment if the need ever arises. The Jathedar should have a fixed tenure of 10 years.

Akhand Paths
In my humble opinion, paying money to have Gurbani read or receiving money to read Gurbani, both are highly incorrect and amount to Gurshabad niradar. There are references in Sri Guru Granth Sahib which support my view point. Gur Shabad as enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the Guru of the Sikh. Anyone who calls himself/herself a Sikh is expected to take direction for his/her daily life from the teachings as enshrined therein. It is stated at many a places in Sri Guru Granth Sahib that reflecting on the one Lord and Gurshabad vichar is of essence. It is this vichar and self reflection in the light of the Gurshabad vichar which will motivate you for commitment to abide by it (man-na) and put in practice Shabad’s teaching (kamana). Gur ki sewa has been defined as Gur Shabad Vichar in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

We all know that one cannot contemplate/discuss on any subject unless one knows about it and understands it thoroughly. This is one area in which we Sikhs are failing today. There are three ways of knowing a subject; reading, listening and observing. Unfortunately, all three have been forsaken and an easy way of paid Akhand Paths (where all self interests converge) has been adopted, sadly with the blessings of those very institutions which should have been decrying the practice. The person feels that by getting the path done (though paid for) he is collecting some religious merit, the pathi singh is happy with the money he gets, the gurdwara management is happy with the increased offerings in the golak and Giani ji is happy to do the ardas for transfer of the “Paths sacha and sucha bhav’ to another person, in return again for money. The situation is exactly as described and decried by Guru Nanak Dev ji in Asa di War.

I would stop all paid Akhand Paths at Akal Takhat Sahib, and forbid Akhand Path at any other gurdwara without actual physical presence of the family members during the path, not as it is today (empty halls and pathi singh’s reading in his own mouth only). Readymade paths today being offered for bhog ceremony. I will have an education drive to encourage Sikhs to do path themselves and understand the futility of these paid paths. This is pure manmat.

Yes, continuous path of Sri Guru Granth Sahib done by volunteers, shud (accurate) with sehaj (deliberate and at a speed so sangat can understand) and loud enough so it is clearly heard by everybody, without consideration of time; should be available at the Akal Takhat Sahib for the sangat to listen to and understand and for as long as and whenever they can.

Sikh History Research Institute
I will take steps to establish and maintain a credible Sikh History Institute for research in Sikh History. Bulk of our history is recorded in Persian (it being the official language from the time of Guru Nanak in 1469 to the fall of Sikh Kingdom in 1949, nearly 500 years). Hence, there is need to identify and obtain the relevant records and have these translated in both Punjabi and English.

For too long have we neglected this important area with the result our history is being distorted and rewritten by vested interests. Effective rebuttal to wrong statements would also need to be covered.

Dasam Granth
It has become a very sensitive issue. But it can no longer be pushed under the carpet. It is time the Panth faces the issue squarely. Unfortunately, politics and political interests have weighed heavily on this sensitive issue and more we delay it, the worse it will get.

There are three areas involved and this is what I will do in each area:

1. There is and should be NO doubt in anyone’s mind that Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the only living and eternal Guru of the Sikhs. Hence, there cannot be parkash of any other granth alongside Sri Guru Granth Sahib in any gurdwara. Guruship was vested by Shri Guru Gobind Singh ji in Sri Guru Granth Sahib only and he bowed his head to it. We all sing after ardas (Guru Maniou Granth) what was ordained. We must follow it sincerely and persuade others to do it.

2. I will make all efforts to implement 1973 resolution of SGPC declaring (after due studies by Sikh scholars) that Chritro Pakhian is not part of Dasam Granth. This resolution has not been implemented for various reasons. I will arrange for special informative sessions with all those organizations and heads who disagree, with its translation and explanation (presentation by scholars) to those who feel otherwise, to convince them of correctness of the step.

3. Establish an expert committee of Sikh scholars of all shades to critically examine with an open mind the contents of balance of Dasam Granth (minus Chirtro Pakhian and universally agreed Guru’s banis, Jap Sahib, Swayas, Akal Ustat and Khalsa Mehma). Their report should be discussed openly and in the discussion all organizations and heads of taksals, AKJ and like should participate.

Follow Sikh Rehat Maryada
This is an area which again has been festering. There cannot be different maryadas for a Sikh. There are two issues involved. This is what I will do:

1. First issue of importance is for all and everyone who calls himself/herself a Sikh to follow the established Sikh Rehat Maryada as was finalized and promulgated from Sri Akal Takhat Sahib. The Jathedar of Akal Takhat should take immediate cognizance of any non observance of the same. It has this moral responsibility as the Central Sikh Authority and must exercise it. If we Sikhs are saint-soldiers, then first thing required is to follow the established order even if you do not personally agree.

2. Establish a committee to examine and deliberate on the views of others and reasons thereof. Leaving issues unattended for long periods for whatever reasons including political expediency of the ruling party, is damaging the long range interests of the Panth.

De-Politicization of SGPC
SGPC was created as a purely religious organization. Over the period of time, it has become more political than religious. Religion has taken a backseat in its affairs and politics is in the forefront. We all know that pursuit of politics has no morals or ethics. These two qualities are the backbone of any religion. That is why in Sikhism, in the concept of Miri-Piri, it is the Piri which must lead and Miri must follow. That is why Akali Dal was to be under SGPC. Today it is the other way around.

This equation must be corrected. Any member once he is elected as the President of SGPC must sever all connections with the political party. It is like the President of India who gets elected with the help of a party but must sever all connections with the party and rise above party or politics. The same applies to President of SGPC. His primary concern must be management of Sikh Gurdwaras and promotion of Sikhism and Sikh education.

There are many more areas needing attention, but I will stop at it for now..

 

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