Each time a gurdwara dispute goes to the court, we are saddened. Did Guru ji not show us the procedure for settling disputes in Sangat? Why are our own Sikhi procedures not working when even the courts are reluctant to interfere in Sikh religious matters? These are the sort of questions which are asked by our grown up children. This week, I would like to discuss this topic in a light-hearted vein while seeking forgiveness at the outset for any insensitive comment.
Let us be clear. We need experienced volunteer sevadars to run gurdwaras which are the focal points of our religious and community life. Most sevadars are doing dedicated seva. In the larger towns in UK, gurdwaras are in plentiful supply. We have choice of the type of gurdwara which caters for our spiritual, social and physical needs. Today, gurdwara choices vary from braadri/caste based, through chairs in Sangat and langar halls, to food variety. There are sect/sampardai gurdwaras or those run by sants. Some prefer to go to these to satisfy themselves that their faith is catered for and Ardaas and “mano-kaamna” are answered.
Some gurdwaras provide choice to sit on chairs in Sangat hall, albeit at the back at a slightly lower level than the Sangat. In the Langar halls there is a choice to sit in “pangat” at floor level, stand or sit at tables depending on physical ability. Despite including “Gurmat” in the heading, it would be best for the readers to decide for themselves if all the above is true Gurmat and according to Sikh Reht Maryada.
Regarding disputes in gurdwaras, it seems more like a question of local Sikh politics, personalities and point scoring. The same people from the older generation appear to be doing re-runs of earlier years in attempts to take over gurdwara managements and using all sorts of issues to start disputes. That is the impression gained by the next generations and ordinary Sangat members. Disputes reach the courts and, usually, Sangat’s donations meant for good causes and wider community seva, are wasted.
When there is a clash between the main opposing gurdwara election-fighting parties, both present “alternative truths”! As with governments and opposition parties, in gurdwaras too, the party in opposition usually seems to have a just cause and sounds more principled and maryada driven than the party in power at the gurdwara. Yet, when the same party wins an election and takes over gurdwara management, one sees only cosmetic changes to do with decorations or pictures displayed on the walls.
Sikh Reht Maryada is interpreted accordingly i.e. either strictly or flexibly for political point scoring! Court cases follow and leading opposing national organisations then take sides to score points against each other. So, it is not as if gurdwara choices and amicable solutions are not possible but that we do not want them. One thing is certain, that if we are not following the Gurmat tradition for settling disputes, then regardless of the wrongs or rights, we are unlikely to be abiding by Gurmat tradition or Sikh Reht Maryada.
Gurmukh Singh OBE