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Institutional Failure in Punjab With Respect to Sikh Education

Principal Jagdish Singh

The history of denominational education among the Sikhs is not an old one. It was a little more than a hundred years, when formal education among the Sikhs took a shape. Before the advent of the British in Punjab there used to be indigenous education in the form of Gurmukhi school. Pathshalas and Madrasas. Lietner who surveyed the indigenous education before annexation of Punjab has stated that there were a number of Gurmukhi schools in Amritsar. He has given details of such institutions in every district.

The only place where the Sikh Sardars could sit and join heads to face the situation posed by the invaders was the Akal Takht. They felt solaced by paying obeisance at Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh occupied Lahore and was anointed Maharaja in 1799. He devoted his attention to expand his boundaries after conquering Lahore and in a very short period was successful in raising a big empire of which we are proud of today. The later part of his reign was a period of consolidation of his empire, Sikh thought and culture. Some quoted instances of his period show that he intended to introduce English education but was not successful.

The post-Maharaja Ranjit Singh period had at its heels depression amongst the Sikhs. The Christian missionaries had set up schools to act as conduits for conversion. The Arya samajists and Muslims followed suit and set up their own schools. When four Sikh students of Mission School Amritsar expressed their desire to get their hair shorn and embrace Christianity, a group of Sikhs raised a voice of protest urging upon the Sikhs the desirability to organise themselves. The result was Singh Sabha Movement. The objectives of the movement were :-

1. To revive the glory and the piety of Sikhism.
2. To publish historical and religious books and tracts on Sikh religion.
3. To publish magazines in Punjabi language to propagate scientific knowledge.
4. To prepare and strengthen mentally the wavering Sikhs, to adhere to the Sikh faith which their forefathers had embraced.
5. To increase the interest of the British Govt. in the Sikhs to help them grow politically, educationally, socially and economically.

In order to achieve these objectives, Sikh schools were established at various places in Punjab. The members of the Managements and Teachers had a burning desire of service and commitment. They were disciplined and their only aim was upliftment of the community through ‘quality’ education. They were men of word and deed. In spite of many hurdles, they kept the identity of the Sikhs intact. They had no vested interests and as such no rivalries.

Education then linked the students with the rich Sikh cultural heritage. The results were encouraging. The students produced by the Sikh institutions were of integrity and high character. Later they successfully shaped the Sikh community politically, socially, economically and religiously.

In the post-partition period, there was rapid growth of schools. The Government opened schools in urban and rural areas in which education was free. The result was the influx of students to the Government schools. The Managements expressed their inability to run such Schools and handed them over to the Government.

After some time, the quality of education in Govt. schools deteriorated because of the apathy of teachers, resulting in the opening of English medium Sikh schools on the pattern of Christian schools. In 1967, the privately managed recognised schools were brought under Delhi-pattern grant-in-aid. The salaries of members of the staff were brought at par with their counterparts in Govt. schools. Later the colleges were also brought under 95% grant-in-aid. Since the teachers got 95% salaries from the Govt., the hold of the managements thinned down and quality of Education deteriorated further. The parents who were dissatisfied, shifted their children to Public Schools having English as medium of instruction. There was a spurt in the schools, affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education or ICSE. In the present day Sikh Educational Institutions, the basic principles of Sikhism are no where found, however, exceptions are always there. It is felt at all levels that the present Sikh institutions are not playing the role in maintaining desired standards expected of them. The major role, the Sikh institutions, expected to play are the propagation of Punjabi language, keeping the Sikh identity intact and act as centres Sikh faith.

The use of Punjabi, in Sikh Institutions, if not hated, is disliked. Not to talk of students, even the teachers prefer, not to use it in class rooms and they are disinterestedly interested in accepting it as a mother tongue. They cannot read it and while writing, mix it with Hindi.

Punjabi is not taught properly in institutions and therefore does not enjoy the status, other languages enjoy. Even, it is not accepted as a medium of instruction in non Government schools in Punjab. It is looked down upon as a language of the uncultured. Some call it the language of the village folk only. The affluent Sikhs do not converse with their children in Punjabi. Children speaking in Punjabi are scolded in Sikh public schools. Readership in Punjabi is decreasing day by day, forcing the publishers to print the books only in hundreds. The Punjabi newspapers and journals remain unsold on the stalls. Punjabi books in the libraries remain untouched and so unused. One can rarely find a book on science and technology in Punjabi. The books printed by Punjabi Language Department, are gathering dust in stores and are rarely reprinted. This is a condition of Punjabi language in our institutions. Those who can not read Punjabi in Gurmukhi script can not read Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Our institutions, as such have belied the aspirations of the torch bearers of the Singh Sabha Movement.

The indifference of Punjabi teachers in making Punjabi language difficult by Sanskritisting it has also weaned away the students community from opting it as a subject. They prefer Sanskrit or Hindi languages to score better marks and as such ignore Punjabi. In the School Board Examinations, the number of candidates opting Punjabi is decreasing every year.

The uncontrolled Punjabi channels are playing havoc with the Sikh youth. Their impact is seen in all cultural programmes of Sikh institutions. Instead of high-lighting the Sikh cultural heritage, the programmes are full of vulgarity in the name of modernisation.

There is crisis of identity prevailing in the Sikh educational institutions. One can see in our institution, the Sikh boys without hair, turbans, beards and iron karas. If some have beards, they are trimmed. The Sikh teachers are also seen in the same form. The girls are bobbed. They don’t wear Karas. They don’t use Singh or Kaur after their names. The sub castes are preferred to Singh or Kaur. Similarly the players use caps as head gears, the youth follow them because they are their role models.

The Sikh writers are playing havoc with Sikh identity. Only a few use Singh or Kaur while majority are satisfied without these words bestowed upon us by Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji. The Sikh singers, the musicians and the actors also prefer not to look like Singhs.

The Sikh teachers have forgotten the role they are expected to play. Their commitment is lacking. They have become professionals.

The position of Managements, in most of the institutions is unsatisfactory. Politics has crept in them leading to groupism, bickerings and open conflicts. The cases of many institutions are pending in law courts. The academic level of the members of managements is much below the level of teaching staff. Selfishness has superseded selflessness, thus defeating the very aim for which these institutions were created by the forefathers under the inspiration of the Singh Sabha Movement.

The Institutional failure of Sikh Education has to be seen in its social context. It may be noted that teaching of divinity is found totally wanting in Sikh institutions. During the struggle for Independence, the guardians of Sikhism and the teachers working in the institutions were dedicated to the cause of religion. They infused discipline among the students through teaching divinity to enable them to maintain the canons of Sikhism as well as religious heights.

As for the present situation, in almost every Sikh educational institution, divinity is totally neglected, if at all something is done in this respect, it is nothing but lip-service offered by the institutions as a face-saving device. It is only the religion which teaches discipline. If discipline is lost everything is lost in an institution. By sidelining divinity the Sikhs have sidelined their own existence in the present educational world. The members of the managements, the teachers and students attend religious functions formally. There is no religious atmosphere. The big days are not celebrated seriously. If at all divinity is taught in some institutions, it is not taken seriously. There are hardly any provisions of divinity teachers in the budgets of the Sikh institutions. Some institutions keep divinity teachers but they are paid far less than other subject teachers. This makes them look superfluous. The Heads feel shy to speak on Sikh religion or teach the subject themselves. The results are before the society. Total indiscipline. Total lawlessness.

There is complete academic chaos at present. There is no standard Sikh institution to guide the youth. The parents are worried. They are unable to get guidance from anywhere. The new courses and various advertisements appearing in the news papers regarding study abroad are confusing the Sikh youth. They are attracted by their glamour and get exploited at home and sometimes land in jails in foreign countries. The Sikh youth has lost faith in the elders and this is the greatest tragedy to day.

The elders are engrossed in their own affairs in this materialistic world. The parents have no time for the children, therefore, they feel bewildered both at home and outside. They also see bleak future, therefore, are engulfed in depression and suffer from various psychological problems. This leads them to the use of drugs for solace.
The Sikh schools are almost extinct in villages. Their condition is far from satisfactory in towns. The condition of Sikh colleges in urban areas is better, as far as enrolment is concerned. The over all scenario is depressing. The academic standards and internal administration can’t be said to be excellent.

Presently, the quality education is commercialised and therefore; has become very expensive. It is beyond the reach of the lower strata of Sikh population to send their children to public schools. The government schools are only in name. The division between the haves and have not’s is further dividing the Sikh society which is not in the interest of Sikh religion. This division will create further problems which are not desirable. The Sikh society at large is quiet on this issue. The time is running out fast and it may not be possible later to control it effectively.

More so, there is no collective thinking of the Sikh intelligentsia as to what to do in the circumstances when the world is taking leaps in the field of scientific technology. Specialisation in all fields is needed today because the best are only acceptable to the society. The Sikh society, no doubt has men of superior calibre. They can be nobel laureates, if given an opportunity to work. The Sikh institutions played their role very sincerely and effectively in the past and we had men who outshone others in all walks of life. What has gone wrong with them today ? Can’t a group of intellectuals take lead in bringing the Sikh Institutions under one umbrella with a minimum programme to guide them with all what is needed by the educational institutions in today’s world ? The educational institutions should also feel that they have at their back a strong organisation at the global level. If we succeed in bringing the institutions under one banner, most of the ills will be over and we may not have to think of their failures in future, rather take pride in their marvellous achievements. Unity is needed at all levels.



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