On the face of it, Sikhs in the UK and elsewhere in the West are a successful community. High achievers in business, well-integrated and focused on education, the Sikh Diaspora is often held up as one of the stronger migrant groups. But it doesn’t take much digging to find that what is on the surface has little substance beneath it. The measurement of success attributed to Sikhs is based on financial wealth and civic disengagement and serves the purposes of those who would seek to stem otherwise historically rebellious voices. Why is it that Sikhs settle for this disingenuous pat on the back and how can a redress of the status quo be sought?
If there is any group of people the World over who should be devoted to the pursuit of knowledge throughout their lifetimes and beyond their own community, it is the Sikhs. Yet it is quite the opposite that we find; far from harbouring an inquisitive environment about the World around us and beyond, we rarely have the most rudimentary understanding of our own ideology. And this is where the problems begin for us today in the current climate. If Sikhs are to become realised people who can suitably face up to the challenges of the 21st century, we must know who it is that we are ourselves. And we must then learn about the World we all inhabit beyond the shores of our own geography and practices.
Our entire Panth is mesmerised by the idea of teaching ‘youth’ and whilst that was once a worthy aim, sadly it has also become the sole focus of recent generations. In the Sikh way of life, education is for all ages without exception and the emphasis is on learning, not teaching. There are ‘Gurmat Camps’ galore, ‘Khalsa Schools’ in abundance and ‘Workshops’ aplenty for those under 21; but there is little provision for adult classes, meagre attendance at day seminars and woeful interest in study circles. It would seem that we are more interested in telling what little we do know to younger minds, but instead of instigating development generation-on-generation which should be our desire, we are actually perpetuating an environment of stagnation.
Our amalgamation into wider society is limited. Too few Sikhs are members of internationally renowned charities such as Amnesty International and Medecins sans Frontiers, or active within groups like Wikipedia and Democracy Now. By ignoring the mainstream work of truly humanitarian groups, we have isolated ourselves and made it easier for others to ignore us. In that same vain we are few and far between when it comes to mainstream media in our adopted nations in the West. This does not mean we need more journalists, producers and editors from our midst, although that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. What I would like to see more of is representation in press and media outlets when non-Sikh issues are being discussed. We cannot continue to merely cry foul when our own Panth is being attacked; our drive to make the World a better place has to begin in earnest much earlier and has to take a much more inclusive approach.
A wholesale change is needed in our community in this regard. Do not wait for the Gurdware committees to introduce it, for it will not come through them. Start a Sikh study circle today. Don’t wait for your friends and family to join you, start it. Meet in coffee shops, hotel lobbies or public parks. Start reading blogs, articles and books about Sikh history, culture and ideology as well as wider topics that interest you. Visit your local library and become a member if you are not already – look for books that they hold about Sikhi and if they are not adequate, donate more varied works, but take time to browse through the range of other topics that you are interested in. Enrol in a course on Sikh Studies and take the time to learn about what it is that you profess to be. Start to attend seminars, lectures and discussion groups across the country to meet with others who are also on this path of learning.
I wholly accept that I have made some rather sweeping generalisations in this article and that it doesn’t apply to every Sikh in the Diaspora. However, what we are all guilty of is the position that the Panth is in – without international influence, clear direction and generational progress.