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Dr Kharak Singh and I

Gurcharan Singh

After retirement in early 1993, when I was living in Sector 15-B, I came to know of Institute of Sikh Studies and once met Dr Kharak Singh in a meeting held in our neighbourhood. Regular contacts however started when I moved to my own home in Phase 4 Mohali in late 1994.

Some of the memories which linger in my mind because of association with him are given below. This is in no way an account of his activities in the Institute of Sikh Studies and an assessment of his entire personality.

Dr Sahib’s office/home was at a walking distance and I frequently made visits to him for any sewa connected with the Institute. He would always receive courteously with a smile and handshake and make one feel at ease, offering a cup of tea. Leaving aside work in hand, he would answer your questions, or if discussions on some topic were already on, ask you to join. His knowledge on Sikhism and Sikh history was very wide and any time keen interest in and dedication to Panthic affairs could be felt immediately When free, he would continue his editorial job giving finishing touches to articles received or letters dictated in connection with the journal Abstracts of Sikh Studies. Day in and day out he was thus busy early morning till late in the evening, except when on tour or attending a meeting.

First I took up proof-reading of articles received and then other assistance to him in editing work assigned to me. In the process, I became aware of variety of topics dealt with and also met many scholars who used to drop in. I also studied the background, aims and objectives of the Institute, its members and various activities, viz, publications, seminars, meetings, etc

Those days, Harjot Oberoi’s book “Construction of Religious Boundaries” was much in talk. Articles were coming in from various scholars who were rebutting his statements made in the book. Oberoi had opined that Singh Sabha Movement made rigid religious boundaries for Sikhs as against earlier easy going beliefs in rural gods and Hindu rituals. Our views were that Singh Sabha did not create any views of its own, it simply brought out Sikh beliefs as per Guru Granth Sahib free from forms, garbs, omens and rituals. Later, the Institute published our views as “Invasion of Religious Boundaries” edited by Dr J S Mann and others.

After this, the major task was preparation of the book Sikhism: Its Philosophy and History. Lot of work had been done by Late S Daljit Singh. Dr Kharak Singh continued compiling further articles and gave the book a final shape. Its proof reading, final editing was a big job.

This is a monumental work of encyclopaedic proportions. Dr Sahib recognized my humble effort by a mention in the Introduction.

While final reading, he would always give a touch himself to make it a piece of excellent quality. That was something to be emulated.

While I was at such jobs, Dr Kharak Singh encouraged me to start writing – anything, articles abstracts, reviews – for the journal. My first contribution was a review of S Narinder Singh’s book ‘Canadian Sikhs’ published in the Jan-Mar 1996 issue of the Abstracts of Sikh Studies.’ This effort was appreciated. Henceforth book reviews became my pet field. Dr Sahib would suggest a book, or I would choose one and then be on the job; my method was to give a summary of contents and give comments wherever required. This has continued till date. Since then I have given nearly forty reviews, abstracts, and a few articles, which were published in the Abstracts of Sikh Studies.

In late 1996, I had to make a private trip to USA. Then I was not even a formal member, but Dr Kharak Singh trusted me and gave me free hand to speak on behalf of the Institute regarding its work and publications. I took some copies of Sikhism - Its Philosophy and History and a few copies of Abstracts. Some more were sent by Dr J S Mann from California. During my visits to gurdwaras around Washington DC, I took permission of Dr Rajwant Singh, then head of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation and spoke about the Institute of Sikh Studies for a few minutes. During tea break, I displayed the publications and persuaded many of the sangat to buy Sikhism – Its History and Philosophy and become subscribers of the Abstracts . I received good response. During this period, an exellent book on World Religions by John Bowker came to my notice This had a chapter on Sikhism very well-written. With the permission of Dr Kharak Singh over the phone, I obtained a free copy from publishers and wrote a review. This was published in the issue of Abstracts Jan- Mar 98. At that time in many seminars I was made in-charge of display and sale of Publications. This gave me opportunity to speak to customers about contents and merits of each book and do a bit of marketing to sell them.

When Dr Kharak Singh was member of Dharm Parchar Committee of SGPC, a number of drafts of books to be published used to come. I would read and make comments and recommendations on his behalf whether SGPC should publish them. I particularly remember one book by Dr Balvinderpal Singh on the basis of his thesis on the influence of Sikh way of life on social and economic development of the community.

Subjects suggested by Dr Kharak Singh for annual seminars of the Institute were of topical interest for the Panth and were, therefore, generally adopted unanimously. Because his wide contacts and personal approach to them, there was never a dearth of good speakers.

Once a delegation of Vanjaras came to Chandigarh with their woes: dire poverty, slum-like living conditions, lack of drinking water, little education for their children, and utter neglect by the Panth. On Dr Sahib’s hint, I wrote in news/views ‘Our Forgotten Brethren’ April-June 96 issue of Abstracts. As fate would have it, it attracted notice of a Canadian Sikh Stephen Sanders. He was moved by their plight and offered an amount equivalent of Canadian 20,000 dollars’ provided SGPC provide an equal amount to generate a fund for their welfare. Direct administrative tie up with him could not be agreed, but Sh Tohra, then President SGPC, arranged Rs 15 lacs funds for this purpose. A Trust was created under the Presidentship of retd Justice Harbans Singh, later Dr Kharak Singh. S Mohinder Singh, a member of IOSS took active part to visit and interact with Vanjaras and has done lot of work ( A report was made and given in issue of July-Sep 07 of Abstracts)

Concerned at the trend of apostasy among the Sikh Panth, Dr Sahib's dream was to initiate a Gurmat Chetna Lehar to create awareness among parents, teachers, parcharaks. Two books were specially written, One Apostacy amongs Sikh Youth Its Causes and Cure; the second, a set of guidelines titled ‘Gurmat Chetna Camp Mannual’. A few camps were held at various places which were successful.

He had concern for another Panthic dream of “All India Gurdwara Act.” This was also included in Anandpur Sahib Resolution. A draft was made and discussed inviting suggestions. Unfortunately, some long time associates had u-turn in their thinking and scuttled this initiative. This made him very sad. He used to express his anguish whenever this subject came up.

For some time around 2002, Dr Sahib was requested unanimously to take charge as President of Gurdwara Phase 4, Mohali. He brought about many improvements in account-keeping by introducing computerization and monthly reporting of activities and account statement. He took me as member-in-charge of Gurdwara Library. During his time, membership procedure was streamlined and a number of good books added including SGPC publications which he arranged free with his influence.

For the period since then till I was inducted a formal member, I continued to write review of books for the Abstracts, though I kept away from other activities. International Sikh Confederation (ISC) was also mooted by him for coordination among various institutions of Sikh community. He worked very hard to prepare a constitution, He build up the organization, prepared Lt Gen Kartar Singh to handle this. In the field of education, some dent has been made. In other fields, viz, setting up TV channel, standard translation of Guru Granth Sahib, a lot of exploratory work was done.

Last two seminars were of great bearing on the psyche of the Panth. ‘Akal Takhat’, its historical background, present status and thoughts for future. A number of suggestions came up in papers. Actually, the selection of the Jathedar, support to him by a committee of experts are the crux of the matter.

The last seminar on Demographic Changes in Punjab was also of direct bearing. Large number of migrant labour from eastern states is affecting social, religious, and economic fabric of our society. Scholars from Govt planning Department, Universities and others concerned read a number of papers giving their assessment of the situation.

The subject matter of the seminar for Nov 2008, viz Guru Granth Sahib and Sikh Society was also Dr Kharak Singh’s idea. Unfortunately, he fell ill from which he could not recover. Even during his illness we had a last glimpse of him. S Pritam Singh, (later President of IOSS), S Gajinder Singh and I were answered our greetings and wishes with a nod and okayed our approach about the seminar. It is sad that he could not be with us when the seminar was held. But his guiding spirit will always be with us.

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