Walking with the Sikhs of Today
A Review by Dr Hardev Singh Virk*
Author: Sukhmandar Singh Ph.D. , Dean University of Santa Clara, California, USA.
Publisher: SANBUN Publishers, New Delhi;
Price Rs.195.00, US$9.95, pages 104, 2021
Sukhmandar Singh is a well known personality among the Sikh Diaspora. He has got his Doctorate in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley and presently occupying the Chair of Dean, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California. In the Preface, author introduces his book as follows: “These articles are from an engineer’s analytical point of view. Different issues related to Sikhs, Sikhi and Punjab have been dealt with head on. Lack of theological and historical depth is there, but the attempt was to get to the point and call a spade a spade”.
This hundred page book is divided into 18 Chapters covering different themes concerning Sikh issues and Punjab state. In Chapter 1, “Betrayal of Guru Granth Sahib by Sikhs”, the author regrets the Sikh faiture to recognize that Guru Granth Sahib being the unique scripture of the world capable of providing peace and harmony to the entire humanity. He blames the Sikhs for this failure: “But Sikhs who are the custodian of Guru Granth Sahib have no peace or harmony among themselves. Why? Paper tries to examine the causes”. Thus the author concludes: “The Sikhs have focused more on worshipping Guru Granth Sahib than following its message. The Sikhs are fundamentally flawed, in certain aspects, in understanding the Sikh philosophy/doctrine as enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib and thus have betrayed their own Guru”. The author has used Gurbani quotes to bring home the essence of message to be delivered.
Chapter 3 is focused on the Sikh failure on achieving Excellence in Education by the Sikhs. Author has narrated success stories and cited examples from Jewish and Hindu communities for sake of comparison. The Sikh community is spending Crores of Rupees for religious celebrations but ignoring field of Education & Technology. He suggests a creation of “Education Fund” for promotion of Education and Research among the Sikh community. He laments that Sikh institutions run by SGPC & DSGPC are no match with the Hindu DAV, Thapar or DMC run institutions in India.
Chapter 4 is the longest and most comprehensive in its description of life and work by Sant Teja Singh during his six years (1906-12) of stay in North America. According to the author, “Sant Teja Singh made outstanding contributions for the cause of spreading the glorious teachings of Guru Nanak across the world throughout his life. A young, brilliant but a dedicated Sikh, he did pioneering work in educating Americans and Canadians about Sikhism and establishing Gurdwaras in Victoria (Canada) and Stockton (California)”. Recently, I reviewed the 800 pages book “Life of a Gurmukh: Sant Teja Singh” authored by Khem Singh Gill and published by Khalsa Diwan Society, New Westminster, BC, Canada. Sukhmandar Singh has done full justice to the contributions of Sant Teja Singh in his essay covering all aspects of Sant Teja Singh’s life and work done in UK, USA and Canada. I think the author has researched all available archival sources to prepare this essay. For example, a quote from Vancouver newspaper illustrates the “Mystery and Power of Teja Singh”: “The professor showed himself to be a man of profound erudition with a marvellous grasp of the principles of European civilization and intimate knowledge of oriental philosophy. He expounded the principles of true political economy…. White men and white women are remembered among his warmest admirers”. I consider this essay as the BEST TRIBUTE to Sant Teja Singh. It sums up the history of early Sikh migrants, Gadar movement and establishment of early Sikh Gurdwaras in North America.
In Chapter 5, a critical analysis is made of contribution of Sikh Chairs and Anne Murphy’s Thesis. In the last paragraph of this Chapter, the author sums up his views as follows: “Insensitivity shown by works of Sikh Studies Chairs and more recently by Anne Murphy’s thesis towards the treasured traditions and doctrine, message of Sikhism and Sikh identity are deeply regrettable and are beyond what the principle of Academic Freedom allows”.
There are thirteen more essays covering the remaining half volume of the book. It seems the author wants to cover all the topics under the sky concerning Sikhi, Punjab, Sikh Identity and related issues. The author is highly critical of election process in vogue for membership of SGPC and other Gurdwaras in India and abroad leading to unsavoury situations. The element of elections in Sikh religious bodies was a British game plan to keep the Sikhs entangled in local politics. The author is in favour of collective leadership in the Panth: “The Khalsa Raj during Maharaja Ranjit Singh had its foundations on the collective wisdom provided by Hari Singh Nalwa, Akali Phoola Singh, and Sham Singh Attariwala; they were always consulted and their advice followed. And hence a Great Kingdom with Sikh principles was established”.
There are three Chapters (9, 12 & 14) devoted to crisis situation in Punjab. Author suggests some remedies to cure the situation. The issues under discussion are lack of employment for the Punjabi youth; consumption of liquor and other drugs; growth of vulgarity in the entertainment industry; falling levels of underground water table and the impending desertification of Punjab; and inability of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to find solution to Punjab agriculture crisis. To dislodge the “Corrupt Power System in Punjab”, the author has suggested to implement an eight point programme: “Economy; Youth and Voters; Entrepreneurship; Farmers; Education; and Police; Health; and Awareness among the masses”. I wonder if the bureaucrats and politicians of Punjab will care to read these suggestions of the learned author; the chances of implementation are very fine in my view.
There are three more Chapters (10, 11 & 15) related to problems of Sikh Identity in diaspora. Last year, Rajwant Singh (SCORE: Sikh Council on Religion & Education) and Bicky Singh (Sikh Lens) were actively involved in creating awareness about Sikhi through Films and Seminars during 550th Guru Nanak anniversary celebrations. The author has referred to challenges faced by the Sikhs due to head gear (Turban) and by the Sikh youth due to keeping Joora in high schools.
In the last Chapter, the author writes about “Turbans and Beards & The Sikhs”. It represents his contribution as President of Sikh Council of North America in the service of Sikh community. This document was prepared as an introduction to Sikhs and their religion and a brief history of their migration to North America.
I appreciate the concern of Sukhmandar Singh regarding the welfare of Punjab and its people. This shows his commitment to the cause of Sikhi. His views may look somewhat radical but they are in keeping with the Sikhi spirit. I wish a Punjabi version of the book is published for wider circulation of his views among the rural population of Punjab.
It is my duty as a Reviewer to pinpoint the discrepancies in this write up. I blame both the publisher and the author for not editing this volume properly at the printing stage. The text has many howlers, spelling mistakes and other jarring notes of composition. Hope, the author will revise the text for the forthcoming edition.