399.The Man in Blue – The Sikh Awareness Society

I met some SAS activists at the Havelock Road Singh Sabha in Southall. The activists were handing out leaflets outside the Gurdwara. I refused to accept one of their leaflets in a rather unfriendly manner, which put our conversation on the wrong footing from the start.

I have seen SAS activists in the company of people who are well known to support violence against people who disagree with them and I suspect that SAS members have been involved in such violence, but I cannot prove it.

But even if I am wrong about possible involvement of SAS activists in violent attacks, I still have some very strong reservations about the notions that SAS men/boys have about ‘Sikh girls’ and Muslim men.

Two issues were mentioned during our ‘debate’ outside the Gurdwara. The first one is that ‘illegal’ Sikh girls work as prostitutes for Muslim pimps, the second that Sikh men/boys have to escort their Sikh sisters to protect them against Muslim men/boys.

I do not know anything about prostitutes and pimps in Southall but I am not at all surprised to hear that women arriving in this country without the required visa end up as prostitutes. These are not Sikh women, but they might be of Sikh background.

A true Sikh might be an ‘illegal’ in time of war, persecution or uprising, but most people arriving here these days are just looking for a better life. This is of course legitimate, but trying to settle in a country in a dishonest manner, cannot be justified for a Sikh when you are not a refugee.

I think that the UK and EU immigration laws are trying to prevent globalisation of people movement, while promoting globalisation of goods, which makes no sense at all, and will not work. But if you settle somewhere illegally, it will make you vulnerable to exploitation by employers, and you risk ending up making a living in a thoroughly illegal manner.

This does not mean that we should not offer support to young women of whatever background who get trapped in prostitution. But remember that while nobody should be pressurised into prostitution, equally we cannot force anybody to leave the ‘profession’.

The statement that Sikh girls/young women in Southall need to be escorted begs the question whether we have brought up a generation of young women who are incapable to look after themselves. The young Sikh women I know are usually more clued up and more committed to Guru’s teachings than young Sikh men. Is this an example of Sikh men not respecting their sisters ? In the next column I will explore this issue further.

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 8:03 am  Comments (2)  
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386.The Man in Blue – Hounslow Singh Sabha Youth Programme

As part of the celebration of 300 years of the Guru Granth Sahib as Eternal Guru of the Sikhs, Hounslow Singh Sabha last year launched a year long programme of various activities highlighting our eternal Guru.

One of these activities was a monthly kirtan with kathá in English for and by the Gurdwara youth on Sunday afternoon, and on Sunday September 20 it was already the last one in the series (and one of the best !).

Recently we had a couple of meetings looking back on the last year and forward to the next. We concluded that we have a small group of volunteers who can run this type of programmes in the Gurdwara. Although one of them is a greybeard, the others are young enough to call him dada.

We have also found out that Sunday afternoon is not the best time to put on a programme. There was always some sangat coming in and going out, but it was in trickle and never a stream.

The following ideas have been accepted by the committee. On the last Friday of the month the 6 pm Rahiras, Kirtan and Kathá programme will be organised by the volunteers, using as many naujawán as are able and willing. We will follow the Rehat Maryádá and we will also encourage sangat to take part in the reciting of the Rahiras and in the kirtan.

We hope that the sangat will stay with us for the Sukhasan and accompany the Guru Granth Sahib on its way to the Sach Khand.

On the first Sunday of each month the usual kirtan hour done by the children of the Gurdwara will be extended till 12.00. In that hour the more accomplished students of the kirtan classes and other non-professional kirtanis will come on stage.

In that hour there will also be a presentation on Sikh history, particularly on the lives of our Gurus, demonstrating points of gurmat.

The katha in English on the evenings of the last Friday of the month will combine simran realising the meanings of words we meditate on, with simple explanations of sabads. We will link Guru’s teachings with life in the 21st century in the UK.

All members of sangat, from toddlers to centenarians are welcome, all are encouraged to take part, all are encouraged to share their love for Guru. Sádh Sangat, the True Congregation, is where we will find the strength to continue on Guru’s way. Sikhí is not what you do on Sunday morning in the Gurdwara, Sikhí should be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (And you should have heard the kirtan on the 20th of October !)

380.The Man in Blue – Haywards Heath, York & Leeds

On 7 July I visited the Haywards Heath Campus of Central Sussex College. After that I travelled to York for the annual conference on FE Chaplaincy and on the afternoon of 9 July went to Leeds to visit Leeds City College.

I left Southall at 06.50 to be on time for the two 75 minute sessions on bereavement organised by Central Sussex College. I had to introduce ‘faiths & beliefs in further education’ (fbfe) and discuss bereavement from a faith and a secular perspective.

The best part of these sessions is when the members of the college staff get a chance to ask questions and discuss their experiences. We did not only discuss issues around bereavement but also other issues to do with faiths and beliefs and mutual respect. Having a 62 year old, tall, skinny Dutch ‘man in blue’ (me) in front of them was a discussion opener in itself.

Doing this work is helped by Guru’s teaching of respect for all regardless of their background. Guru wants people to be good Muslims, good Hindus, good ‘whatevers’, the Guru is not into conversion. The underlying teachings of the Guru Granth give guidelines valid for people of all dharms, all religions.

I have been to four annual FE chaplaincy conferences, and have enjoyed every one of them. In this year’s conference there were three speakers that I particularly liked. The first was somebody from ‘Youth for Christ’, who said that we should not go into an institution with our own agenda, but should ask the colleges : what can I do for you ? He also said that he was not in favour of faith schools, people of faith should mix with all.

The second speaker was a ‘vicar’ who worked with young people. He told us that he went to the local football club, not to talk to them about faith but to give practical help, like cleaning the terraces after the match. I think both speakers were applying Guru’s teachings on seva.

The third speaker talked about working with people of different faiths, and was mostly factually right and had a common sense approach. On the afternoon of July 8 we had the chance to go for a walk in York and attended evensong in the Minster, about which I will post separately on my weblog.

The last worship at the end of the conference was done by two Christian chaplains and me. The theme was education and I used the meditation on Sikh words linked to education which I have posted on this weblog.

The session about the main six faiths in the UK in Leeds City College went well and I hope that I was a good ambassador for Sikhí. I took pictures of local trains at Leeds station which will appear on the weblog.

363.The Man in Blue – The Five Freedoms

All Sikhs and many non-Sikhs know about the 5 Ks, but the 5 Freedoms that Guru Gobind Singh has given us are much less well known. That might be because the 5Ks are easy to adopt, but to enjoy Guru’s Freedoms you have to become a ‘born again’ Sikh, a new woman, a new man, which is far more challenging.


1)   Dharm Nash : Freedom from the teachings of your previous religion.
This does not mean that you should now be bound by a new religion, it means that you should serve God by walking the path of righteousness valid for people all faiths and beliefs as taught in the Guru Granth Sahib.  


2)   Karam Nash : Freedom from your earlier deeds.
As it says in the Guru Granth Sahib, you carry your bad deeds of this and previous lives with you, but God can liberate you from them.


3)   Kul Nash : Freedom from caste, race, clan, heritage.
This is a big challenge for many Panjabis. You do not have to forget your background, but you should not be determined by it. A Sikh should look at all ideas, all ‘values’ in the light of Gurmat.


4)   Bharm Nash : Freedom from taboos, customs and rituals.
This is linked to the above. Most Sikhs think that we should exchange Hindu, Christian or Muslim taboos, customs and rituals for Sikh ones. Obviously that is not what the Guru had in mind.


5)   Sharam Nash : Freedom from distinctions based on job or profession.
In the South Asian context this is connected with caste. I think it means that every job done well, in the spirit of serving others, is worth doing and the person who does the job is worthy of respect.


I want to emphasise two things. The first one is, as I have already indicated above, that it is absolutely counterproductive to exchange Christian, Hindu, Muslim etc religion, taboos, rituals, and prejudices for Sikh ones. This is difficult for people of all backgrounds, but people brought up in India it particularly difficult, as the Indian culture is dominated by prejudices, rituals, taboos etc.


Secondly, our dharm, our religion is not a closed system. Sikhí, Khalsa is not about them bad, us good. The Khalsa is not about holy hair or holy kacchere. Good thoughts, good deeds, as the Buddha taught, as Jesus taught, as our eternal Guru teaches are universal.


The Biblical Good Samaritan was a good follower of Guru, the Sikh Bhai Ghanaya was a good follower of Jesus. In my Dutch Reformed Church I was taught to stand up against unjust governments, just like I am as a Sikh. 

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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362.The Man in Blue – Two Claims, One Country

The recent conflict in the Gaza made me think about approaches that might  lead to a better understanding of the position of the ‘others’. I decided to have a look at the arguments of the hard-liners on both sides.

The hard-line Israeli argument runs like this : This land is ours, it was given to Abraham (Ibrahim) and this was reaffirmed in the time when the Jews under Moses (Musa) returned to Israel after their stay in Egypt. Not only did God reaffirm that Israel was the land of the Jews, but also encouraged the Jews to chase out and even kill the non-Jews living there.

The same applies to the present situation, the Jews have returned to their land and the Palestinians (hard-line Israelis do not recognise a Palestinian identity) either can live in the Jewish state of Israel, which in the hard-line view includes the West Bank and Gaza, or if they are not willing to accept this they should move to one of the thirty odd Arab states.

The Palestinians simply say that this was their land before the United Nations gave it away to the Zionists/Jews/Israelis and they want it back. Just having the Gaza and the West Bank is not good enough because all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinians.

Hard-line Israelis want to chuck out all Palestinians from all of Israel, Hard-line Palestinians want to chuck out all Israelis from all of Palestine.

Most Palestinians insist on the right of all Palestinians living in exile to return to Palestine, many Palestinians think that all Palestinians should have the right to return to those parts of Palestine/Israel where they originally came from. Most Israelis insist on the right of return of all Jews to Israel, for hard-line Israelis that includes Judah and Samaria, historical regions of Israel that roughly coincide with the present West Bank.

For the hard-line Israelis the present Israel is not big enough to allow all Jews outside Israel to return, which is the practical reason why they claim Judah, Samaria and Gaza. For the Palestinians, hard-line or otherwise, the West Bank and Gaza, even without Jewish settlements and with the parts of Jerusalem that are part of the West Bank given back to them, will not accommodate the return of Palestinians living in exile.  

The arguments on both sides are mostly secular, and make sense within the frame of mind of each party in the conflict. If each party could bring itself to recognise the validity of the argument of the other side, we might end up with peace in the Middle East. This kind of conflicting claims on the same area of land is not unique. Northern Ireland is another example and if we do not strictly follow Guru’s teachings of seeing God in all, we might end up with a similar conflict in a future Khalistan.

Published in: on March 8, 2009 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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359.The Man in Blue – A Yatra to the West Midlands I

On my blog you can see some of the pictures that I took during my trip to the West Midlands on February 7 & 8. I took pictures of 14 Gurdwaré and also some of the Wolverhampton tram. Together with those I made when I was working for the Sikh Times I have now pictures of all but 5 of the West Midlands (excluding Coventry) Gurdwaré.

I went from Marylebone Station to Snow Hill in Birmingham by Chiltern Railways, which takes about 2½ hours and cost me only £ 5.00 ! From Snow Hill I took the Wolverhampton tram to Smethwick and a local bus from there to Walsall. I stayed too long with my friends (we enjoyed talking to each other) and got to Wolverhampton later than planned.


I first went to the Ramgarhia Sabha in Newhampton Road East (next to the Wolverhampton Wanderers Stadium) and the Ramgarhia Board and Temple in Westbury Street. Do not ask me why there is a need to have two Ramgarhia ‘Temples’ so close to each other, do not ask me why we have these caste based Gurdwaré, they are there and I took pictures.


I decided to leave the Cannock Road Gurdwara for my next visit, as it is well outside central Wolverhampton. So off to Upper Villiers Street taking a bus that dropped me just outside the Guru Teg Bahadur Gurdwara. It was amazing to see how many people attended on a Saturday afternoon, just around the corner from one of the biggest Gurdwaré in the UK.


The Guru Nanak Sikh ‘Temple’ in Sedgley Street is not a massive building like the new Singh Sabha in Southall, but I think that the total floor space in the Sedgley Road Gurdwara is bigger. Here no money has been wasted on costly building material, it is mostly ordinary bricks and mortar.


My final call in Wolverhampton was the Guru Nanak Gurdwara on the Lea Road. This is a house converted to a Gurdwara, with a grumpy young man on the ground floor reading a Panjabi Newspaper and upstairs a nice looking older man reading from the Guru Granth Sahib. I bet their Akhand Paths are a bargain compared with what the big Gurdwaré charge.


From Lea Road I took a bus to the Wolverhampton Bus Station, from where I took a bus to Walsall. I got off in Willenhall to take some pictures of the Guru Nanak Parkash Gurdwara, designed by the same architect that designed the Guru Nanak Gurdwara on the West Bromwich Road in Walsall. 


Although I did not enter all the Gurdwaré I saw, my yatra was very enjoyable. You get a feeling of what happens in Sikh communities when you visit the areas where the Sikhs live and where the Gurdwaré are. By the way, I saw many open beards in Wolverhampton and Walsall.

Click on the link to see my collection of Gurdware pictures !


Published in: on February 14, 2009 at 2:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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355.The Man in Blue – Who Runs the Gurdwara II

In my first article on ‘who runs the Gurdwara’ I discussed Guru’s teaching on ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’ and the lack of experience of sangats and prabandhaks with democracy and equality. This time I will try to raise some more practical points.

There are three very important issues that prabandhak committees need to address, the first is our old friend maya, the second getting to grips with the constitution and last but not least working on a new way of doing things, ‘collective raj’ instead of ‘pradhan raj’.


Maya : The money the Gurdwara has in the bank, or that is invested in the bricks & mortar of the Gurdwara belongs to the institution. Regardless of what the constitution says, the institution belongs to the sangat, not just to big donors and members, but to all who use the Gurdwara.


New prabandhaks have to come to grips with the financial situation as soon as possible. They have to realise that the land owned has real value, but that buildings like on the Southall Havelock Road have been costly to build, but have limited money value. These buildings can only be used as Gurdwaré or possibly as a place of worship for people of other religions.    


Constitution : I am convinced that within the framework of the existing laws on charities we can write constitutions that include the Guru Granth – Guru Panth principle and panj piaré as mediators. Under the new rules for charities it is not sufficient to be a religious organisation, you actually have to do good works, do seva ! That should be no problem for Sikhs, but might be a problem for some prabandhak types.


Collective Raj : One of the biggest problems that we face is the fact that many of us find it difficult to work as a team, which gives authoritarian pradhans, sant babas, jathedars without jathas and other anti-Sikh forces the chance to run the show for us.


The Guru teaches that there is One Humanity, most Sikhs believe that some are automatically better because of their heritage, education, skin colour or whatever. Guru teaches Guru Granth – Guru Panth, which means that the panth should rule itself following the guidance of the Guru Granth. We are all responsible and we should stop blaming others for our failings.


Finally, having conversations with the sangat only once a year at the AGM is not democracy as I understand it. Through websites, printed material and updates supplied after the divans, the sangat should know what the Prabandhaks plan to do, and should be asked for their opinion. If we do not treat the sangat as our partners, they will not grow in understanding. 

Published in: on January 17, 2009 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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354.the Man in Blue – Who runs the Gurdwara I

In many Gurdwaré in the UK the answer is simple: the pradhan. If the Gurdwara is of the dera type the baba will be the top man.

Most places of worship are charities and therefore come under the Charities Commission. That means that they need a constitution and that constitution determines which decisions are taken by whom. The fact that many of the bigger charities are now also limited companies does not affect this.

The charity/limited company cannot pay out any dividends, if a profit is made it has to be spend on the charitable purpose for which the charity is set up. Charities do not have to be in any way democratic. Charities are not clubs that you join, and where by their nature the members are in charge.


The Charity I work with is one of the limited company/charity combinations, and is run by a council. It does specify in the constitution that people from faith communities, from the further education sector and from government agencies are to be members of the council. None of these are elected.          


This leaves open the possibility for dera type Gurdwaré to have all trustees and whatever executive there is appointed by the baba. Because of the lack of democratic tradition amongst our sangats many people prefer this, just like many people prefer the ‘all powerful pradhan’ model, over a truly Sikh model based on Guru Granth – Guru Panth.


Just like it is possible to run a charity without any say by the receivers of the good works, it is also possible to have a membership that votes in a committee which is the ruling body of the organisation, with the Trustees having to make sure that the charity sticks to the purpose it was set up for.


The elections held in for instance the Hounslow & Southall Singh Sabhas are closer to Guru’s model of Guru Granth – Guru Panth than the pradhan or baba model. I would like to abolish party lists, and prefer the Irish voting system where you can indicate your first, second, third etc preference, but any type of democracy is preferable over dictatorship.


It is legal to build into your constitution a reference to the Guru Granth as the ‘Pope’ of the Sikhs, and to how the Gurdwara Sangat must act under its guidance. It can also include Panj Piaré as mediators in conflicts.  


Our problem is that most of our sangat comes from Panjab which has not known any democracy for at least a thousand years. Therefore neither the members of the Gurdwaré nor the elected prabandhaks are familiar with behaving in a democratic way. Our Gurus were true democrats who saw all as their equals, I found only one person sharing that view in the four years that I lived in Panjab. More on this subject next week.  

Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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351.Patna & Nanded

I was travelling by train to Southall and noticed that my neighbour was reading Bhai Randhir Singh’s (founder of AKJ) autobiography. We talked very nicely until my fellow traveller asked me if I had been to Nanded and I answered that I did not visit Hindu shrines like Patna and Nanded. 

My new friend was a bit shocked and mumbled something about mine being an interesting view and about Guru’s weapons that were in Nanded, and then we arrived in Southall, which ended our conversation.


I have this habit of speaking my mind regardless of circumstances. I will not go into the details of this habit, but my particular sin here is that I started a discussion about a complex issue at a first encounter when there was no chance of properly explaining what I meant.


So here goes : we are the followers of Guru, of the Guru of Gurus, or as Guru Nanak explained to the Sidhs, our Guru is the Formless One. I love and admire the spiritual giants that are our Gurus and Bhagats, who are God’s mouthpieces, but that does not mean that the places where they were born or where they died are ‘holy places’ or should be made into Takhats.


I went to Nankana Sahib and loved it, as the centre of the town looks as if Guru Nanak could appear from around the corner any moment. But it is a town like any other, with some good people, some bad people and a lot of people of the in-between type. The same goes for Anandpur or Amritsar.


I stayed in Panjab from 1996 till 2000 and spent a lot of time at Harmandr Sahib. I was not at all impressed by most of the people connected with the SGPC and I met some really good members of the sangat, but there were also good SGPC employees and bad members of the sangat. I had some wonderful experiences at Harmandr Sahib, but also some pretty bad ones.


The Patna and Nanded ‘Takhats’ perform even more unnecessary ritual than ordinary Gurdwaras, where the ‘Dasam Granth’ is put on equal footing with the Guru Granth Sahib, and whose Jathedars have a habit of taking positions based on South Asian culture and not on Gurmat.


Only Akal Takhat was founded by Guru, but even that never meant that the person in charge of this Takhat is the pope or the archbishop of the Sikhs.      


The whole concept of holy places does not stand up in the light of Gurmat. Holiness is connected to deeds, and no doubt Guru Gobind Singh did very good and holy things in Patna and Nanded, but even in his days others did things in those places that were indifferent, not so wonderful or thoroughly bad. Feel free to visit wherever you feel like going, and read whatever book you want to read, but there is only One God and One Guru Granth.

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 8:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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350.The Man in Blue – I do not believe that …

I do not believe that because I have taken Amrit, wear the 5 Ks and a traditional Sikh outfit, I am in any way better than those who are on a different path.  

I have given up drinking, smoking, using bhang, I do not have a television or a car, I do not own a house but rent a small flat, but I do not believe that this makes me in any way better than others who are on a different path. 


I have been a vegetarian much longer than I have been a Sikh but I do not believe that this makes me in any way better than others who are on a different path. 


Today when I was about to go into the divan of the Southall Singh Sabha a young woman who I know by sight came out. She had a nice smile and there was a sparkle in her eyes. I spoke to her, and asked her the best question I could think of : do you love Guru ? Her answer was yes, I do.


She did not need to ask me which Guru I had in mind. The holy men with whom Guru Nanak had a dialogue in the ‘Sidh Gosht’ did have to ask : who is your Guru, and Guru answered ‘the Formless’.


That still is the only right answer, the Ten Gurus, the Bhagats, the Bhatts, the Guru Granth are all the mouth pieces of The One and Only True Guru.


Every Sikh, every person of any religion, should recognise The One as the Groom with whom all of us are in love, the Paramatma, the All-Soul, with whom all the atmas, all the souls want to merge.


I am a Sikh, I love the ten human Gurus, I love the Guru Granth and I love the Formless Being that is God. I am happy that I am not too attached to Maya, but I know of the danger of becoming attached to not being attached.


One of my early columns is called ‘All you need is Love’, after the famous Beatle song. Our Groom, our Paramatma is the most wonderful husband that we have never seen. Looking at God is like looking into the sun, God is blindingly lovely.


God showed me the way of Love when I started on the Path almost thirteen years ago. Guru’s way is the Universal Way, Guru’s way is the Only Way.


A Sikh hero, a saint-soldier knows no hate. A Sikh hero sees God’s presence in all. A Sikh hero can be surrounded by worldly goods but will stick to the path of love for Creator and Creation. A Sikh hero is humble. A  Sikh hero does not condemn others because they follow a different path to God. Guru said : Be a Good Muslim, Be a Good Yogi, follow the right path in your way.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 6:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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