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Revival of the Sikh ethos – A BluePrint

Gajindar Singh*

The Singh Sabha wave generated in the last decades of the Ninteenth Century caught the imagination of the entire community and brought awareness and active participation of the common Sikhs all over the country till the thirties of the Twentieth Century. It kindled honesty and sincerity in the leaders who led the mass movement to cleanse the system of the anti-Sikh thoughts and practices, culminating in the glorious gurdwara reforms and formation of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. It was a popular movement which fired the aspirations of the Sikhs individually and on the whole, and inspired them to make exemplary sacrifices by thousands of common people of all ages, regions and professions. Unfortunately, the involvement of the common Sikhs dwindled into a false euphoria about it being a permanent solution.

The past seventy years or so posed challenges of the severest kind for the Sikh community as the settlement brought about by the British Government for the sustenance of the tiny minority like the Sikhs, by preferential treatment in the military and reservation policy in the civil services, was undone by the successor governments in free India. The community faced two holocausts in the Twentieth Century of a magnitude comparable to the holocausts of the eighteenth century, firstly in 1947-48 when India celebrated the so-called peaceful and non-violent withdrawal of the British regime and (in 1984, when thousands of Sikhs were butchered in the massacre abetted by the state and the majority community in the stage-managed pogrom in the wake of assassination of the then Prime Minister Mrs Indra Gandhi. It was preceded by the desecration of Darbar Sahib and other Sikh shrines. It required a steely frame to absorb the shocks, both physical and psychological to remain morally steadfast.

Throughout this period in post Singh Sabha reforms, the community was caught on the wrong foot, engrossed in a wave of consumerism and easy life standards to the total neglect of spiritual values. For more than sixty years, our rural masses considered it unnecessary to pass on the spiritual and moral standards to their pampered children who forgot the spiritual values and found refuge in drugs and alcoholism and squandered money without attaining proper education and expertise to withstand competitive edge or the traditional one-up-manship in Sikh pride.

Today we find the community in a state of confusion and bafflement requiring immediate redressal of the problem, to rekindle optimism in their spirit and positive steps to reoccupy their lost glory.

Resources
There are so many gurdwaras being constructed on a lavish scale. Let us learn a lesson from the old Hindu architectural wonders, now preserved as ruins or the disused churches in the west which are being offered for sale for non-religious usage. Unless the community prides itself in superiority of its doctrine and has willing adherents, raising of lofty monuments has no purpose. Money and resources are being misutilised and misdirected to the disadvantage of the Sikh interests. There is no dearth of funds being handled without imagination and proper thought.

Time and Period
A blueprint must have a period for its implementation and a step-by-step charter to achieve its set goals. A period of twenty years can be safely marked for its fructification.

Gurdwaras
Gurdwaras were promoted by the Gurus as the central pivot of all activity, for prayers, education, physical exercises, martial training and cultural activities. Gurdwaras must be developed to become centers of all construction activities. Fancy structures are not important to spend our resources on. Funds should, instead, be utilised for upgrading of the quality of service, on the appointment of more qualified scholars as priests with mission and urge to serve, to uplift their members of the sangat, to be more socially involved with the community welfare and induction of the Sikh values among elders as well as the youth. The most impressionable age is of small children, who must be attracted to the gurdwara with following facilities:

- Spiritual and historical knowledge. Libraries to be created and seminars to be arranged.
- Provision of gymnasia, where the youth can get physical training and use their time in building healthy bodies and minds. The major deficiency lies in neglect of games and tournaments in villages. Money spent on these facilities will yield a crop of enthusiastic Sikhs. Obviously, the matter has not received the attention of the SGPC which is handing over the job to traditional Babas who collect money without proper accounts or a planned manner. This does not put any financial burden on the SGPC – a short-sighted gain but destroying many things of heritage value.

Priests
The enlightened priest must maintain statistics of the Sikh population of his area, the occupation and expertise of the members to be utilised for the common benefit of his community, standard of spiritual awakening and amritpan and a programme. He must preach against superstitions and discourage rites like the akhand path recited on cash basis. The priest must become an adviser and a close friend commanding communal respect. He could solve most of the problems stemming from ignorance and illiteracy. In turn, guidelines must be laid down for adequate emoluments to the gurdwara staff by the local sangat to attract capable scholars ensuring respectable social status to the priest and his staff

Sunday Schools
The children must be attracted to the Sunday schools with gadgets like computers, screening of historical accounts with the help of slides, which could benefit all. The priest may also train the young children in music lessons, handicrafts and other skills. The results can be imagined compared to the present emphasis on earning more money by recital of paths, and free rations collected in the name of langar with very little salary and no respect.
The strengthening of the village gurdwara will bring back life revolving round the gurdwara and Sikh values.

Village Schools
Regular schools are either non-functional at present or are ill equipped. There are no regular premises, not even a boundary wall resulting in animals loitering around, and without essential facilities like toilets and drinking water. The teachers are not available, are not regular or serious in duties and without missionary zeal. Missionary zeal is possible by giving them esteem and making their position financially attractive.

There was a time during the Singh Sabha movement of the early twenties when the emphasis was rightly placed on education and setting up of Khalsa Schools even when the Sikh population was meagre. Those schools had teachers with a mission and zeal to propagate values of Sikhism. Compared to the DAV Schools and the madrasas in the mosques, the Khalsa Schools had better educational standards and even the non-Sikhs preferred them. The students proudly proclaimed their superiority by praising their alma maters. Majority of these schools were lost to Pakistan. The zeal of the annual educational conferences organised by the Chief Khalsa Diwan is now a thing of the past. The SGPC- run schools are rudderless in the absence of strict inspections by educationists and experts. Nor is there a minimum standard prescribed in the management of Khalsa Schools. Today, DAV Schools are preferred by Sikh children where they also receive biased religious instructions, weaning them away from their Sikh roots. So, new schools at the primary, middle and high school should be established with the surplus gurdwara funds.
Control and Management

It is required essentially to put the house in order, to set standards for the principals and teachers of Khalsa Schools to not only make them profit earning units but to impart quality education with all the emphasis on Sikh values. Teachers who are deficient in observing Sikh standards must be replaced. There should be a constituted authority to regularly inspect Khalsa Schools and upgrade them.

Each large village or a group of nearby villages must be persuaded to establish Khalsa Schools with suitable buildings and facilities and dedicated teaching staff, which in itself will yield jobs for the youth and provide the much-needed spiritual guidance to the people for education and moral development of the youth. Funds may be locally raised for the sake of better future for their own children and by persuading the Babas to donate monetary contributions towards educational activities instead of wasteful expenditure of millions on gurdwara structures. Our Babas’ energies may be diverted to establish schools, colleges, hospitals, polytechnics and industrial units to provide knowledge and jobs to our youth and create further wealth for progress of the community.

A central Education Fund is the need of the hour which may periodically review the functioning of the Khalsa Schools, give financial assistance as and when required and gradually create necessary infra-structure with facilities like libraries, laboratories, and to select students on merit basis for training for competitive courses. Such a powerful body will command respect of all institutions and the community at large. We must utilise our ragi jathas and the influence of Sant Babas to organise special collection drives. Our village gurdwaras could be given targets to contribute apportioned funds to the Central Education Fund. It will help the youth to get trained for the selection tests of the best professions according to their capability. To look towards the government for solving our rural problems and to upgrade our children will be a wild goose chase.

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