489. The Man in Blue – The Guru’s Daughters

In Panjab quite a few ‘Sikhs’ have adopted the ‘scan and abort’ method to prevent the birth of daughters. We also still lose girls through honour killings, but there is another less violent way in which we lose girls from the Sikh community.

Most Panjabi parents keep treating their daughters different from their sons. Daughters are asked to make a contribution to running the house. There is nothing wrong with that, but why not put the same discipline on boys ? Many parents leave their boys maximum freedom and impose too much discipline on their daughters.

This has disastrous results. The girls rightly wonder how this behaviour can be justified by parents who are the followers of the Guru who teaches that we are all equal regardless of gender, caste, creed, social status etc. But girls also profit. The discipline that they are used to makes them better students in schools and universities and better performers in the workplace.

The boys fall behind, they are the little gods that V S Naipul writes about even if they are not making any contribution to the household or if they make a mess of their studies. Even in the UK very few of the young men are ‘enlightened’. Their behaviour at home is not much better than what I came across in Panjab. Giving orders to mother and sisters in a rude manner seems quite normal to them.

I have met young Sikh women in the UK and in continental Europe who want to be the Guru’s daughters, who want to live a Gursikh Life, but who are totally fed up with the archaic patriarchal Sikh community, who are still way behind Guru Nanak who was born in 1469.

They want to respect their elders, their fathers, husbands and brothers, all they expect is to be also respected by them. They want freedom and responsibility, they also want space to learn by making their own mistakes.

They have no problem with making a contribution to the household, they love serving others, but they do not want to be servants while the males are the lords and masters. The girls and young women I am talking about are either amritdhari or are working towards it.

They have the guts to wear the Guru’s rúp, the 5 Ks and the dastar, but they are treated without respect and trust. The rules for women that most Panjabi Sikhs want to impose on their wives and daughters have very little to do with Guru’s teachings, they agree with a very archaic and unjust aspect of Panjabi culture.

Why should young women want to join a group where they are treated as second class ? Why is it so difficult to treat girls and women with real respect ? We should start looking for good Sikhs, regardless of age and gender. I am 64 year old and male, but I do not think that old men like me know all and should be the only ones in authority. Why do people think that Sikhs should be social conservatives ?

Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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488.The Man in Blue – Practical Sikhi

I have done a presentation from the stage of the San Bonifacio Gurdwara, trying to explain on what principles a Sikh’s life should be based. These principles are valid for all, regardless whether you are amritdhari, mona or anything in between. Underneath an outline of my presentation.

Guru Granth Sahib – Our Adiapak, our Malik, our Baba
This slide and my comments on the subject earned me a jaikara.

One God – One Humanity

One God : There is no Hindu God, Christian God or Sikh God, There is only One God
One Humanity : women, men; black, brown or white; Hindu, Muslim, Sikh; British, Italian, Panjabi : Ik Parivár. Vahiguru’s children.

Honest Work – Share

Honest Work : You can work on a farm, in a shop, in a government office, in a factory, but a Sikh should always be honest.

Share : Share money, goods, time.

Love God – Open yourself to God’s Love

God is the giver, All we have comes from God, God gives unconditional love. God knows no anger (Nirvair), We are all the brides of God, God is our groom.

If you do not see God in All You will not see God at all

Unfortunately most of the points I raised are not practised by Sikhs, or are even seen as controversial. Guru Gobind Singh’s ‘Guru Granth, Guru Panth’ should be practised by all Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations, but in reality most Gurdwaras are ruled by Sant Babas or dictatorial Pardhans.

I do not deny that there are saints, but the institutional sants in their white clothes, luxury motor cars, big deras and bad manners just do not fit in the Guru Granth/Guru Panth model. ‘Sants’ are rarely humble, although Guru tells us that this is essential for any truly holy person.

I have come across serious Sikhs who believe that we should follow the Hindu multitude of Gods, while many Sikhs do not seem to know what equality means. We do better in the field of honest work and sharing, but at the same time many Sikhs, including initiated ones, follow the ‘modern path’ of ‘more, more, more’ and ‘me, me, me’.

Very few seem to be aware of the loving relationship with God available to all who are even on the first stages of the Guru’s path.

487.The Man in Blue – My trip to Italy

I really enjoyed my recent trip to Italy. I liked the slow but expensive way I chose to travel from Sint-Truiden to Verona. I loved the warm weather, the sangat I met and the amazing number of people amongst the sangat with whom I could actually talk, mostly using English.

I visited the Gurdwaras of San Bonifacio (Verona) and Novellara (Reggio Emillia) and the two Gurdwaras of Pordenone (Venezia). In San Bonifacio the Gurdwara is in an industrial area, near the autostrada and the railway station. In Novellara the Gurdwara is on an industrial estate a good distance away from the town. The two Pordenone Gurdwaras are also not in or near a town or village centre.

In the areas that I visited the sangat does not live concentrated in urban areas as in Surrey (Vancouver), Brampton (Toronto) or Southall (London). They live spread out in villages, towns and cities and there are only regional Gurdwaras. This means that even the big San Bonifacio and Novellara Gurdwaras do not have a daily substantial attendance like in Park Avenue (Southall) or Soho Road (Birmingham).

Why there is a higher percentage of first generation educated Sikhs in the Verona area I do not know. The sangat there seems to be less Jat dominated and less influenced by Taksal, AKJ and Babas. What I said on stage in that Gurdwara would be welcome in the Hounslow Singh Sabha and in the Guru Nanak Prakash Singh Sabha in Bristol, but in very few other UK or Belgian Gurdwaras.

Both Pordenone and San Bonifacio are north of the river Po and near the foothills of the Alps. The economy in these areas seems to be in a better state than in Pegognaga (Mantova) and Novellera, which are both more to the south and across the river Po. I heard more stories there about people being unemployed, wages not being paid on time and about hard physical work for small wages.

I noticed that also in Pegognaga, where I only stayed from Wednesday night to Sunday, and with most of the Saturday spend travelling, people came to me to talk about personal problems. This happened even more in San Bonifacio, where I spent every afternoon/early evening in the Gurdwara from 19 to 28 July and again from 1 August to my departure on the 5th of August.

We badly need pastoral care linked to our Gurdwaras. The pastors need not be Granthis, but a good knowledge of gurmat and of the society the Sikhs are part of is a must.

And then there is the eternal problem of the lack of practice of the One Humanity principle which is at the very root of Guru’s teachings. I am not saying that this problem is worse in Italy than in the UK, Belgium or the Netherlands, but the problem is there. My next column is going to be titled ‘practical Sikhí’, and the one after that will be about ‘Guru’s daughters’.

Stop talking about ‘One Humanity’
Start doing ‘One Humanity’

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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486.The Man in Blue – San Bonifacio (Verona) – Montecchia di Crosara (Verona) – Sint-Truiden (Limburg)

I came back to San Bonifacio from Pegognaga on Sunday evening 31 July and was booked to leave by train from Verona to Sint-Truiden on the evening of 5 August.

I stayed three nights in the Gurdwara, the second night disturbed by the heat, the mosquitoes and the 3 am arrival of the 10 young men strong Jatha of Duisburg (Germany) based Bhai Ranjit Singh. The third night I slept even less as there was a short-circuit in the system and the fuses kept tripping : no electricity, no fan !

The rooms in the front part of the Gurdwara are underneath a flat roof on which the hot summer sun shines all day, so you can imagine that nights without the cooling effect of a fan are tough. Opening the windows more mosquitoes enter, and these got to my feet and arms even when the fan was on.

So on Wednesday I made an emergency phone call to Montecchia and asked Harpal Singh and Gurminder Kaur if I could come back to their apartment for the last two nights. Gurminder Kaur told me that their house was my house.

On Thursday I went to the Gurdwara from early afternoon to early evening and on Friday I stayed in Montecchia till 4 pm. Bhai Manjit Singh came to visit us and we returned him home before I went for my last visit to the San Bonifacio Gurdwara.

It was good to see Bhai Manjit Singh before going back to Belgium, as it was on his invitation that I came to Italy in the first place. It was also good to say goodbye to many of the friends I made in the gurdwara since arriving on the 18th of July.

Another resident of the Piazza Umberto in Montecchia together with my tabla playing friend brought me to the station.

The train from Venezia to Paris Bercy arrived 25 minutes late in Verona and 2 hours late in Paris. I missed my connection but the Thalys staff at the Gare du Nord booked me on a train to Brussel that had spare seats. I arrived in Sint-Truiden at 15.43, three hour later than expected.

On the way out I shared the Paris – Verona ‘train-a-couchettes’ with a French couple, two Korean girls (or Japanese or Chinese ?) and an Italian girl.

On the return the ‘crew’ was made up of a young Italian woman who was going to walk from the French side of the Roncesvalles pass to Santiago de Compostella, one older Italian woman who was going to cycle in Bretagne (Brittany), one French men of African descent who also spoke Italian and an Italian father and son from Alto Adige/Südtirol. Südtirol is an autonomous German speaking part of Italy between Bolzano (Bozen) and the Brenner Pass.

This just goes to show how interesting it is to travel slowly, in spite of the minor delays ! In my next column, which will be less of a travel log, I will look back on my Italian experiences from the Sikh point of view.

483.The Man in Blue – San Bonifacio (Verona), Pegognaga (Mantova), Novellara (Reggio Emilia)

On Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 July I stayed in Montecchia till about 2 pm, then went to the Gurdwara and mixed with the ‘campers’ till after Rahiras. Monday evening after coming back from Gurdwara Sahib I went out into the square in front of the apartment where Harpal Singh was sitting with some friends.

I met a relative of his wife, who also lives local and who took me for a drive in the hills around Montecchia. We came to a village, turned into a yard and saw about 7 or 8 Panjabi men talking to each other, just as if we were in some village ‘back-home’. It was not only the rural setting, but also the fact that everybody seemed to be related to the family I stayed with that gave me that real Panjabi feeling.

On Wednesday I packed my bags and left at the usual time for the San Bonifacio Gurdwara. In the evening at about 8 pm Gursharan Singh from Pegognaga and his friend Daljit Singh arrived. We had langar and left in their car, first taking the east–west autostrada to Verona and then the north-south one. We arrived at Gursharan Singh’s house at about 10 pm, met with his family, including a cousin who lives in Germany and went to sleep at 11 pm.

This time there was no big bedroom just for me, but a smaller room for three of us. The climate is also different; I am further south and in the fertile flatlands where on Thursday the temperature goes up to 40 Celsius. In that temperature I only went for a local walk, but I did take some pictures. In the late afternoon Gursharan Singh’s father, the cousin and I went to Novellara to visit the oldest Gurdwara of Italy, an impressive affair, where we were welcomed nicely.

When we came back home some visitors came with whom I had a good conversation. I do not think that the Gurdwaras here offer any pastoral care, and therefore people are keen to share their concerns with a visiting ‘gianni’ like me. I do have some insights to share, and I do not just talk, I can also listen.

Especially here where most people speak good Italian and of course Panjabi but less English, it is important to notice ‘body language’. The Sikhs live in a foreign land, and they are supposed to be a success, but one of the men I met works very hard but had not received any pay for the last four months. I cannot change his situation, but at least I can listen and point to the source of strength.

In San Bonifacio I also had ‘pastoral’ conversations, but there most people I listened and talked to had better English. What I enjoyed most there was seeing girls and women trying to find a Sikh path in the surrounding patriarchal Panjabi culture. This also seemed to be supported by those in charge of the Gurdwara.

Gursharan Singh is on a job related visit to Switzerland for two days and will come back tonight. Tomorrow we are due to go to the north east and on Sunday we will again visit the ‘local’ Novellara Gurdwara, which is about 25 km away from here. The family I am staying with treat me nicely, in a way that I am comfortable with.