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News & Views

Annual Seminar
– Changing Demography of Punjab –

The Annual Seminar of the Institute of Sikh Studies is scheduled for 10th and 11th November, 2007, at Chandigarh. Factors like the following exercise significant influenceon population pattern of the state, and have far reaching social, economic and political implications:-

a Emigration of youth, particularly Sikhs seeking greener pastures abroad.
b Influx of labour (skilled as well as unskilled) from other states.
c Adverse male to female ratio.
d Industrial policy of the state as well as central government.

Leading authorities on the subject are being requested to present paper, highlighting the recent trend, future projections as well as lessons for planners, leaders of political parties, and preparation for the 2011 census. All are invited to attend the seminar. There is no admission fee.

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Standard Translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib

On the persistent demand from the Institute of Sikh Studies to prepare a standard English translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib SGPC has finally constituted a sub-committee of the following scholars vide its Order No 110 dated 25-5-2007:

1. Singh Sahib Giani Joginder Singh Ji Vedanti, Jathedar Sri Akal Takht, Sri Amritsar
2. Singh Sahib Giani Gurbachan Singh, Head Granthi, Sri Darbar Sahib, Sri Amritsar
3. Prof Jodh Singh, Punjabi University, Patiala
4. Giani Harbans Singh, Patiala
5. Dr Balwant Singh, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
6. Giani Bharpur Singh, Ardasia, Sachkhand Sri Harmandir Sahib, Sri Amritsar
7. Dr Kharak Singh, Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh
8. Dr Rattan Singh Jaggi, Punjabi University, Patiala
9. Secretary, Dharam Parchar Committee, SGPC.

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A Unique Workshop-cum-Seminar

   A highly successful residential workshop-cum-seminar was organised by the Satnam Sarb Kalyan Trust (Regd.), for three days at Sri Anandpur Sahib from April 27-29, 2007, hosted by the Takht Kesgarh Sahib. The purpose of this commendable activity was to train the Divinity teachers engaged in spreading Gurmat to the school children for their moral rejuvenation following the path of righteousness.

 Satnam Sarb Kalyan Trust, a registered society, is primarily an NRI-aided forum meant to extend literacy and moral regeneration among the youth, which indirectly fights the growing evils of drugs and despondency among the impressionable youth in the disintegrating educational structure in the state of Punjab. The Trust has adopted more than two hundred and twenty schools in the rural and urban Punjab accounting for approximately 80,000 school-going children by employing about 175 teachers imparting ethical and value based instruction to upgrade the cultural standard of the youth, their moral and principled growth into responsible citizens, and to open to them vistas of professional and educational excellence. It is estimated that by the end of the current financial year, the number of students will rise to more than one lakh.

The Satnam Sarb Kalyan Trust has plans to provide career coaching guidance and financial assistance to the children of 9 th to 12th classes from the current academic year onwards, preparing them for higher academic courses and related careers. An organisation based in USA will be visiting India probably in August, 2007, to provide financial help to poor and needy students, sponsored by the Trust.

It is highly commendable that the Satnam Sarb Kalyan Trust has motivated thousands of children to return to the Sikh fold. Approximately 1400 students under the directions of the Divinity teachers take the amrit pahul each year. The record for the adoption of Keshas to return to Sabat Surat by the children for the past three years is as follows:

2003-4                           3714
2004-5                          3903
2005-6                          3488

The Trust having its office at #1078/2, Sector 39, Chandigarh, (Ph: 0172 2691922), organises Gurmat competitions every year to generate interest among the youth. Career guidance camps are held for classes X to XII to make children aware of career opportunities available to them. Free medical camps and turban tying competitions are the other activities. Emphasis is placed on awareness of drug abuse and environmental control. Painting competitions and gurmat sangeet events are organised. A dozen children along with a tutor are going to the USA and Canada to present sabd kirtan at the gurdwaras there during the month of June, 2007.(Courtesy : Gajindar Singh, #2983, Sector 61, Mohali)

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Sikh American Student in Alabama allowed to Return to School with both Turban and Hair Intact

Washington D.C. – May 15, 2007:  Last week, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization in the country, successfully represented a 15 year old Alabama high school student who was allowed to return to school after being kicked out of Good Hope High School for keeping his hair uncut and wearing his patka – a religiously mandated Sikh head cover.

 Earlier this Spring, while researching religion on the internet, Mr Tommy DeForest came across the Sikh faith, and immediately felt an affinity for the faith. After reading more about the religion, Mr DeForest started to keep his hair uncut and wear a make-shift head covering. Upon trying to attend classes at Good Hope High School, Mr DeForest was turned away at the campus gates and told that he would not be allowed on campus with his long hair. Mr DeForest was also subjected to repeated disciplinary punishment and finally suspended for his resolve to freely practice his faith.

A meeting was subsequently arranged between the DeForest Family and the school administration. At this meeting, Principal Anita Kilpatrick and the Superintendent for Education of Cullman County Hank Allen, adamantly supported their decision to deny Mr DeForest from practicing his faith freely while attending public school. Additionally at this meeting, the suspension was extended indefinitely – effectively denying Mr. DeForest the right to public education simply due to his religious affiliation and forcing him to choose between his faith and an education.

 Mr. DeForest contacted SALDEF with his concerns surrounding his ability to freely practice his faith, as guaranteed by the Freedom of Religious Expression principle within the United States Constitution. Mr. DeForest and his family were put in contact with local Alabama Sikh American community activist Rajinder Singh Mehta who provided Tommy with a patka and kara (steel bracelet), both mandated Sikh articles of faith.
 “For a public school in our Nation to essentially tell a child to check his faith at the door and to force the student to choose between receiving an education and practicing their faith is a tragic violation of the principles that our country was founded on,”  stated SALDEF Managing Director Kavneet Singh. “This type of action is completely inexcusable and counter to the rich diversity found in the South and across the country.”

 SALDEF is pleased that Tommy DeForest has been allowed back in school while maintaining the articles of the Sikh faith. We thank the school and district administration for working with SALDEF to resolve this situation satisfactorily. SALDEF is hopeful that faculty and administration of schools across the United States will take steps to understand and inform themselves of the diversity of religious practices among their student populations, so instances like this will not happen in the future.  (Courtesy : Navjeet Singh c/o SALDEF (USA) <navjeetWsaldef.org>)

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It won't Lead to Idol Worship – Sardar Simranjit Singh

I have read with deep interest your report, "SGPC drops move to buy Duleep Singh's bust" (“Tribune Impact”, April 15, 2007), in which your reporter says that due to the influence of The Tribune, the SGPC will not bid at the auction where Maharaja Duleep Singh’s bust is up for sale. Your paper has said that the SGPC has agreed that if the bust is purchased it would amount to idol worship which is prohibited in the Sikh religion.

I offer to disagree with this illiterate, misleading and unhistoric approach to the Sikh religion. In the Sikh religion, we are prohibited from making idols of our Gurus and the holy Guru Granth Sahib, and also the worshipping of their pictures and photographs.

Maharaja Duleep Singh is a historic figure in Sikh history who is the legal link to the principle of Sikh sovereignty, because in 1849 after the annexation of Punjab by the British the Anglo-Sikh Treaty says that the sovereignty of the Sikhs will be restored after the then minor Maharaja Duleep Singh comes of age. The British cheated the Sikhs of their sovereignty as when Maharaja Duleep Singh became a major, they in trespass of this treaty obligation did not restore our sovereignty. Therefore, constitutionally and legally as per this Anglo-Sikh Treaty, the Sikh sovereignty lay under suspension and was not abrogated ever, even till 1947 when the British handed over power to Pakistan and India.

In 1947, India was partitioned on communal grounds as the Muslims argued that since the British displaced Muslim rule, they were legally and morally bound to hand over that power to them. Similarly, the British did not follow the legal principle by which the Sikhs had a better and stronger claim to sovereign power. As per the 1849 Anglo-Sikh Treaty, when the British left India in1947 they were legally and morally bound to restore the sovereignty of the Sikhs which they never abrogated. But in the case of the Muslims, in 1857 it was annulled and abrogated.

After 1947, the Sikh leadership not being satisfied with the promises which the Hindu-led Congress party made to them prior to 1947, its two representatives in the Constituent Assembly, Hukum Singh and Bhupinder Singh Mann (my uncle), did not sign the Indian Constitution of 1950. Therefore, the Sikhs have not lost their constitutional and legal claim to political sovereignty after their empire was suspended in1849. As such, Maharaja Duleep Singh is a very important figure in Sikh history who is a political and not a divine personality.

Therefore, it is only the SGPC authorities who have a lack of education and religious background who fell for The Tribune story and agreed to in not bidding for this precious artefact. Purchasing Maharaja Duleep Singh’s bust will, in no way, lead to idol worship. If so, then by the same logic all the statues of Master Tara Singh, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and other Sikh personalities are also examples of idol worship and should be destroyed! I depreciate this ignorant fanaticism creeping into Sikhism just like the Taliban destroyed all Buddhist history in the caves of Afghanistan when it came to power there in the 1990’s.

What is idol worship in Sikhism? Idol worship is like what the SGPC has done by placing a model of Darbar Sahib at the International Rajasansi Airport at Amritsar and the printing and display of our Gurus’ pictures and photographs. (Courtesy : The Tribune, April 22, 2007)

~~~

Panthic Convention, DSGMC

A Report on the Panthic Convention sponsored by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), held at Master Tara Singh Auditorium of Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College, Delhi University on May 26, 2007.

The undersigned along with Sardar Gurpreet Singh attended the seminar on behalf of the ISC and IOSS. It was indeed a memorable convention to participate. It seemed as though the entire Sikh Panth had converged there. Jathedar Akal Takht, along with Jathedars of Takht Damdama Sahib, Kesgarh Sahib and Patna Sahib, Chiefs of the Damdami Taksal, the Sant Samaj, the Chief Khalsa Diwan, the Singh Sabhas’ and Sikh Youth Federations participated in the Seminar. A large number of intellectuals from India and abroad were also present.

This convention happened to coincide with the Dera Sacha Sauda controversy. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as the occasion provided an opportunity to the Sikhs for self-introspection. Besides addressing Panthic concerns, the speakers sought to analyse the reasons as to why the Dalit Sikhs were being influenced by the Dera culture and were moving away from the Sikh Panth. Failures and lapses of the leadership and the community were discussed and remedial measures were suggested.

Jathedar Trilochan Singh suggested constituting a 20 member Parchar Committee in all the villages of Punjab, including five Ramdasia and Mazbi Sikhs.

Jathedars of Damdama Sahib and Patna Sahib noted that clean shaven (mona) Sikhs, contrary to the general impression, had not deviated from the Sikhs ethos, as many of them were found leading the fight against the Dera Sacha Sauda. They stressed the need to bring them back into the Sikh form.

Sardar Manjit Singh Calcutta suggested that a Standard English translation of Guru Granth Sahib should be made. He further suggested the International Sikh Confederation and Institute of Sikh Studies offered their services for carrying out this project.

Jathedar Panjoli discussed the problems facing rural Punjab with special reference to poverty, ill health and poor state of education. Some speakers suggested that the Christian role model could be adopted to address the issues of poverty and health. The problems of rural indebtedness and suicides by farmers were also highlighted by some of the speakers.

Speaker after speaker dwelt on the dire need of restructuring the Sikh institutions so that they could reach out to the underprivileged and the poorer sections of the Sikh society.

The proceedings of the seminar went off very smoothly. The arrangements were flawless. DSGMC deserves our heartiest congratulations.

It was heartening to see that the Sikh Panth had stopped reminiscing about the past and was giving futuristic directions. It was like a light at the end of the tunnel. One could see a glimpse of the glory of the institution of Gurmatta in operation.

The Convention concluded with the following resolutions, which were unanimously passed :

The Preamble
The Sikhs from all over the world came to the conclusion that there was political interference in the working of their religious bodies.

Irreligious elements have infuriated and are interfering in the managing committees of Khalsa Schools and Colleges. There is irresponsibility and laxity of teaching religion by the faculty. Panthic religious leaders felt very deeply disturbed about this, but were completely helpless.

The Rashtrya Sewak Sangh and other allied bodies were challenging the distinct independent identity of the Sikh people. A sense of helplessness and frustration have begun to creep into the Sikh Youth, who are drifting. This largely representative Panthic gathering ask the entire Sikh leadership to restructure and revamp their policies, programs, and set their goals afresh, so that they could render the services they were meant to deliver.

For giving this strategy shape, the convention announces the following resolutions:


Resolutions
Resolutions passed on 26th May, 2007 at
Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College, Delhi University.

1. All Gurdwaras should be converted into centers of Human and social welfare centred in spirituality and with Sikh value systems. Proper interpretation and propagation of scriptures should be given top priority. Sikh Panthic organizations and Gurdwaras should make use both of print and electronic media to preach Sikh value systems and history, using modern terminology.

2. Sikh education institutions should ensure a very high standard of teaching, combining both the old and new systems. So that Sikh youth are well versed with the modern world and also conversant with their historical heritage.

3. The ill effects of hollow showing and unnecessary expenditure on social and religious functions has brought a great decline amongst the Sikhs. The use of drugs and intoxicants has proved a curse too. Female foeticide is another black mark. We should make an effort to address all these problems.

4. Forgetting the great sacrifices made by Sikhs for this country and humanity at large – the Indian media has adopted a very negative role viz-a-viz the Sikhs. We invite the Sikh Panth to develop their own information technology and electronic media and Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee should give a lead in this direction.

5. The Panthic organizations that have come into existence after a great historic struggle are showing a downward slide and lacking the will to check the situation. We invite the Sikh representatives and institutions for working to restructure and reform this trend. They should deliberate over these problems seriously and make efforts to find suitable solutions. We appeal to Sikhs world over to evolve such a leadership which can both inspire them and act as their ideologues. So that they can face the challenges in the true Khalsa spirit.

6. In their religious affairs the Sikh Panth has never tolerated government interfere. Nor will it do so in the future. Sikhs have always solved their problems using their own value systems in the Sikh Sangat. The Panth is fully capable of handling its own affairs.
(Courtesy : A Report by Bibi Baljit Kaur)

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Letters to Editor

International Sikh Confederation

Dear Editor,

Please accept my heartiest congratulations on the excellent work being done by the ISC. I was very heartened to read about the seminar and its findings on the state of Education in Punjab. It is an eye opener. Is it possible to have a full copy of the seminar proceedings and the report?

I have a few suggestions for your consideration:

1. When I was a student at the Khalsa High School at Nankana Sahib, all our teachers were Sabat  Surat  Sikhs with utmost dedication to the cause of teaching. Each one was a role model in integrity, sincerity, and uprightness. We had a compulsory period in Sikh studies every day. You were not promoted to the next class if you failed in it. I do hope that the institutions established under the Sikh Education Fund would keep this in mind.

2. It would be much easier if the ISC was to establish a branch in each country say USA, Canada, UK and others and have these sub offices registered as Charitable Institutions for “Sikh Children Education and Development Fund” in each country as per the local requirement. This charitable status would encourage many to donate for the noble cause.

3. I also understand that any funds collected abroad can only be sent to an organization in India after Reserve Bank of India’s permission under FERA. Rules might have changed but it must be got clarified and all loose ends tied up.

4. Another area needing immediate attention is use of Press media in Punjab and Delhi to expose this sorry state of affairs and utter lack of interest in the field of Education by the Punjab Govt. District-wise reports (appearing say weekly) with the names of villages and towns schools highlighting their dismal performance and reasons thereof, i.e., lack of staff, unqualified staff, lack of facilities, etc., should be brought in the limelight. Politicians and Bureaucrats are both very sensitive to adverse publicity.

5. The aim should be to shame the local MPs and MLAs and compel them to spend part of their discretionary development grants to improve the standards of education in their constituencies, in addition to putting normal pressure on the Government.

6. An area about which I find no mention, is establishment of a Sikh Missionary College of highest standards, with the purpose of training knowledgeable village / town gurdwara granthis with deep understanding of Gurbani and Sikh history. These gurdwara Granthis should help prepare the young Sikhs’ psyche towards excelling in whatever they choose to do in life, towards an ethical and truthful living in tune with Guru Granth Sahib teachings. The granthi has to be a role model for the Sikhs in the village on all counts. To me this is the most urgent and critical need of the day for the Sikhs in Punjab.

Wishing you the best in this noble cause.

Sincerely yours,
Col Avtar Singh (retd)
2339 - 68 Corporate Drive 
Scarborough, Ontario – M1H 3H3 Canada.

~~~

 Farmers’ Suicides in Rural Punjab

We reproduce below two letters written by Sardar Inderjit Singh Jaijee, Convenor, Movement Against State Repression, to President of India and President, SGPC, Amritsar on the basis of a comprehensive Survey of Debt Related Suicides, conducted by this organization in the Munak Sub-division of District Sangrur, Punjab for the period 1988-2006 updated to April 2007. The detailed documented data can be collected from Sardar Inderjit Singh, Convenor MASR, House No 1501, Sector 36-D, Chandigarh.

– Editor

1

Dear Dr Kalam

We have frequently written to you as well as your predecessors to call attention to the urgent needs of Punjab’s farmers. Rural suicides are the most drastic symptom of Punjab’s deepening agrarian crisis. It is regrettable that despite the magnitude of this problem neither the Central Government nor the State Government is willing to acknowledge the problem or take corrective measures. Rather the government is deliberately concealing the problem. Punjab ceased being a disturbed area more than a decade ago and there can be no reason for underplaying economic distress and rural suicides.

To date, no district, or even a subdivision has been surveyed comprehensively even for one single year. The MASR survey of Munak Subdivision of district Sangrur is the most complete – it covers all 93 villages in the subdivision – it’s timeframe is 19 years (1988 to 2006) and it includes data not only on the name of the victim but also means of committing suicide, age, landholding, quantum of debt. This census is supported by panchayat affidavits for each case, a methodology now accepted by the National Farmers Commission and recommended to the states.

The late Aman Sidhu who carried out the Munak subdivision survey, covered all 93 villages and collected 1445 cases –1276 which are verified and supported by panchayat affidavits. (Affadavits enclosed.) Many more cases are in process of documentation. Perhaps a hundred odd cases may be unreported. In January and February of 2007, another ten persons committed suicide in Munak Subdivision. These are cases that came to our knowledge incidentally; there may be more. (List enclosed.)

At its programme in Bathinda on September 7, the BKU (Ekta) released the following suicide data (random sample) that it collected using the MASR format:

 

 

The table is clear, but just to illustrate, using one district: According to official districts statistics there are 281 inhabited villages in Bathinda. The BKU (E) team sampled 70 taking all known cases for the period 1990 to 2006. We see that 750 suicides were documented from 70 villages. This means an average of 10.7 suicide victims per village.
Regarding MASR’s Munak Subdivision survey, 1445 suicides for 93 villages of Munak Subdivision gave an average of 15.5 suicides per village. Sangrur has 693 inhabited villages, so 15.5 times 693 equals 10,741 suicide cases for the period 1988 to 2006 in Sangrur district. BKU (E) data works out close to the same figure, so it can safely be said that MASR has not exaggerated the suicide situation. When MASR’s estimates a suicide toll of minimum 40,000 for the entire state over 19 years, it does so on the basis of a much lower presumed per village average on the grounds that not all of Punjab’s 12,400 villages may be as distressed as those in Munak subdivision. An accurate survey might show a higher toll, perhaps up to 60,000 victims.

Although the evidence is strongly to the contrary, the Punjab government clings to a figure of 2,116 rural sucides for the entire state for period 1988 to 2004. MASR hopes that you will urge the Punjab government to have an accurate census of rural suicides conducted through the gram panchayats and that you will recommend suitable compensatory and debt waiver measures as a first immediate step for the impoverished rural community.

With respects,
Yours sincerely,
Inderjit Singh Jaijee, Convenor
MASR

~~~

2

Dear Sardar Avtar Singh Ji,
Some 75 per cent of Punjab’s Sikh population resides in villages; they have been impoverished to such an extent that they are taking their own lives. Starvation has become a reality in rural Punjab, particularly where families have lost their earning members or have been forced to sell their land to repay usurious and illegal loans to arhtiays. As per the state government’s own report to the Centre (Status Report 2004), more than 80 per cent of those committing suicide are Sikhs.

In just two blocks of Sangrur district, namely, Lehra and Andana, which we have closely monitored for years, about 160 farmers and labourers took their own lives within the short period of 18 months. It is no better in adjoining blocks. Indeed, reports from all over the state reveal an alarming rise in the rural suicide rate; an estimated 3,000-plus kisans and mazdoors take their own lives each year. Left with no means of support after the death of earning members, sometimes other members of the family feel compelled to take the extreme step. Cases of multiple suicides in families are becoming increasingly common. The situation is not going to get better; rather agricultural economists predict rapid collapse of the state’s rural economy. The next three to five years will see one economic shock after another. If only it were a matter of figures and statistics: unfortunately, the transformation will be paid for with human misery. Since 1998, on an average, every village has lost 16 men to suicides.

Farmers are committing suicide under the pressure of loans of as little as a few thousand rupees 6 compare this to the situation of industrialists who owe thousands of crores to the banks yet continue to enjoy every luxury of life as well as the respect of society.

In the times of the Gurus, frequent invasions and natural catastrophes kept village society in a perpetual state of vulnerability. The Gurus’ answer to this was community self-help and sharing –Sangat and Pangat – and their succinct three-point directive: naam japo, kirat karo, wand chakko. It is useless to look to the state for relief; it is the state that has brought us to this pass. The villager’s only source of help is his neighbour. The Gurus intended the institution of langar to bind the community together, reactivating it now will stregthen village solidarity and bring them closer to the Gurus. Those who have must be willing to share the burden of those who have not out of a sense of fellow-feeling and moral obligation was the custom in earlier days.

Today the SGPC controls gurdwaras in Punjab and Haryana areas where economic crisis is most deeply felt. The SGPC is also in a position to influence local village gurdwaras in these states that are not under its direct control. There is scarcely a village in Punjab without a gurdwara. This position of leadership should be used to strongly activate the institution of langar in all gurdwaras to ensure that no hungry person goes away unfed. The SGPC-run gurdwaras should monitor langar activity at strategic gurdwaras per village cluster and provide rations and other assistance for langar

In many families, adults may feel embarrassed to reveal the extent of their poverty by coming for langar, but they will send their children. In a few days, it is likely that the parents will overcome their reticence and themselves come to the gurdwara. The pracharaks should be instructed to encourage the practice of langar and counsel against suicide as an un-Sikh practice.

Emergency measures are required to hold out a bare minimum of survival to village families, as Sikhs, our principle is garib da mooh, guru di golak, in other words, to feed the hungry is the same as making an offering to the Guru. Let the SGPC put this concept into practice by directing all the gurdwaras it manages, and advising others, to offer daily morning and evening langars through kar seva. No one should go hungry. For at least the next two years, please put construction activity on hold and divert the funds to langar.

Yours sincerely,
Inderjit Singh Jaijee,
Convenor

¤

 

ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2007, All rights reserved.