This article is authored by a guest writer Sunny Hundal, journalist and author of ‘India Dishonoured‘, follow him on twitter at: @sunny_hundal
The stance taken by Sunny Hundal on this issue contradicts the viewpoint of the staff writers at naujawani, but is being published here to provide a fellow Sikh with the right to respectfully express his opinion on this issue which effects all of us. In the absence of public forums where we can discuss these issues in person in the manner of the Sarbats of old, we are left to debate and engage with one another through writing – providing healthy debate and much needed expansion of our horizons as individuals of the Panth. As one of the more vocal advocates of non-Sikh participation in an Anand Karaj, this article was published from Sunny to present the leading arguments for that case, but one our most talented writers has provided a direct rebuttal following it on behalf of naujawani.
A few weeks ago, a group of British Sikhs forcibly stopped an inter-faith marriage from taking place at a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Leicester. Organisers of the protest boasted: “On the weekend a outerfaith wedding where a Punjabi bimbo was marrying a non-Sikh (white Christian) was forcefully stopped by the Khalsa, Respect to these lads for standing up for whats right and standing up to a corrupt gurdwara commitee.” Note the usage of the words “bimbo” and “outerfaith”.
A similar protest by the same group earlier in July this year in Bradford was unsuccessful; though a video of the protest shows one of protester saying on camera: “Are we from this mosque? I don’t think we’re from this mosque,” when denied entry by police. Apparently Sikhs who don’t abide by their rules become Muslims.
Put their casual misogyny and bigotry aside for a minute (I’m sure Guru Nanak would have been proud), because this is more about how a group of hardliners are trying to terrorise Sikhs across the country and destroy people’s big day unless they adhere to their rules.
Two years ago a group of 40 such hardliners (it may not be the same group) stopped the wedding of a Sikh woman and her (Christian) husband in Swindon and even posted a video of the incident to YouTube as a warning to others. A BBC Asian Network report last year found Sikhs afraid to speak out because of a continuing campaign of harassment and intimidation; people had their windows smashed and faced other forms of intimidation simply because they wanted a religious ceremony at a Gurdwara.
This is relevant now because this week the Sikh Council UK published ‘guidelines’ on inter-faith marriages at Gurdwaras, reiterating that they shouldn’t be allowed unless the non-Sikh partner converts to Sikhism and undergoes a detailed test to ensure it was genuine. I’ve been inundated with private messages from Sikhs horrified that this form of extremism is gaining ground and being imposed on Sikh Gurdwaras. It’s time we spoke out.
Imagine this scenario. A Sikh man falls in love with a non-Sikh woman and they want to get married. Both agree to a religious ceremony at a Gurdwara. This gives her an opportunity to learn more about the Sikh religion and understand the basic tenets of this progressive religion. It gives her a sense of familiarity and the couple may decide to raise their children as Sikhs.
But what if no Gurdwara is willing to host the religious ceremony? The couple will undoubtedly feel that the Sikh community has ex-communicated them. ‘Married out of the religion? We don’t want to know you’. What are the chances they will now bring up their children as Sikhs? Who wants to be associated with a bunch of narrow-minded bigots?
This is discrimination against non-Sikhs and unadulterated bigotry. I’m perfectly aware that other religious groups do the same. That alone should make some Sikhs think twice: why be as narrow-minded as them? Why not embrace non-Sikhs, as we do when they enter a Gurdwara for langar? Keep in mind that allowing mixed-couple to marry at a Gurdwara wouldn’t hurt anyone. It wouldn’t destroy anything. It would make Sikhs look open and welcoming of people of other faiths.
I’m aware of the counter-argument. If the Sikh wedding ceremony – the Anand Karaj – is interpreted in strict, literalist form, it is aimed only at two Sikhs. But that misses the point. It doesn’t have to be interpreted in that way – Sikhism is also a state of mind and way of life. Plus, most British Sikhs who currently get married in Gurdwaras cut their hair straight after the ceremony and celebrate by drinking alcohol. Will they be forced to go through tests too?
The unsaid truth is that groups such as the Sikh Council UK and many Gurdwaras across the UK are pushing these strict, literalist guidelines not because Sikhism is being destroyed. They are doing it because they’re unwilling to challenge these hardliners. If they wanted strict adherence to the Anand Karaj guidelines, they would call for a ban on most Sikh weddings in the UK. But of course, they would much rather protest against women they call “bimbos” and stop them from marrying a white or black guy at a Gurdwara.
The narrow-mindedness behind such mentality is depressing for a growing number of secular Britons from Sikh families like myself. We may not go to the Gurdwara on a regular basis but we still identify as cultural Sikhs. But this strand of thinking would rather excommunicate and expel all those who don’t follow their strict interpretations, until just their kind are left.
A once powerful and progressive ideology is being ruined by the bigotry of hardliners who want everyone to follow their narrow interpretations. This is a recipe for turning Sikhism from a global inclusive religion into a narrow cult.
Rebuttal by Ranveer Singh, representing the views of naujawani staff writers:
There are ways for individuals to “learn more about the Sikh religion and understand the basic tenets” which do not require them to first take part in the Anand Karaj. Learning first and accepting would be a more pragmatic approach; what if you did not like what you learnt?
Much like most of the problems we face amongst the Sikh diaspora, this issue is very simple. The Anand Karaj is not your conventional “wedding ceremony”. Most “marriages” in other faiths are legally binding contracts between man and wife regulated by the law of the land. The Anand Karaj at no point specifies responsibilities or duties commonly found in orthodox wedding vows. That is because the Anand Karaj ceremony is a union of two SIKHS (in my opinion practicing Sikhs, so there is no confusion over how one defines a Sikh), with Vaheguru. All four stanzas of the Anand Kaaraj are about union with Vaheguru.
Now, if someone comes along and wishes to get “married” by way of an Anand Karaj, surely the most basic and logical requirement has to be that they are a practicing Sikh; otherwise what they’re doing makes no sense, neither for them nor for the individuals conducting the Anand Karaj.
The same applies with other faith communities, they’re not being “narrow-minded” as suggested by the writer; on the contrary it’s a rational approach and any other approach would simply be hypocritical. If you take part in an Anand Karaj but you have not fully embraced the Sikh faith, then your act of encircling the Guru Granth Sahib not only belittles the Guru (which is why this entire subject causes much distress to practicing Sikhs), but it proves one thing and one thing only, that you’re taking part to appease either family or friends (or both), or you’re doing it to please your partner and maybe even to reassure yourself that as a “Sikh” you followed tradition and did what was required of you – which by the way explains why most guys then go and shave their beard and spend the rest of the day drinking, because for them it was always only a ritual which they completed.
Allowing only Sikhs to part take in an Anand Karaj is not “discrimination against non-Sikhs” like the writer has alluded to, rather it is the most logical and rationale method to adopt. The writer further insinuates that the Anand Karaj should not be interpreted as being aimed at only Sikhs; really? Enough of this wishy-washy perspective already; Sikhi is a unique way of life, with simple yet clearly distinct requirements. There is a code of conduct which defines a Sikh, and if that code of conduct is categorically ignored and the Anand Karaj is tailored around an individual’s personal viewpoint and or cultural habits then the entire basis upon which that individual claims to a Sikh is brought into question. On the issue of discrimination there is nothing stopping the two individuals from holding a Sukhmani Sahib prayer, offering a small Ardaas and then taking guidance from the Guru in the form of a Hukamnama. This is the norm for birthdays and other important milestones in life. We do believe in equality for all and the Gurudwara is open for all to receive blessings for special occasions.
What on earth is a ‘cultural Sikh’? You’re either a Sikh or you’re not. The writer seems to have an agenda by continuously labelling those with an alternative viewpoint as “hardliners” and being “narrow-minded”. The third paragraph is so opinionated and full of venom that the writer goes as far as to state that the “group of hardliners are trying to terrorise Sikhs across the country and destroy people’s big days unless they adhere to their rules”. The aforementioned incidents were comparatively small in terms of the amount of inter-faith weddings that have taken place and will most likely continue to take place. These “hardliners” are not trying to impose “their rules”; these rules were issued by the Akaal Takht, so if anything they’re trying to adhere to the Sikh Code of Conduct.
We can either continue to insist on bending the rules for personal appeasements, which not only devalues the Anand Karaj but also questions the validity of the Sikh Code of Conduct, or we can accept the simple guidance that the Sikhs have and abide by it. The guidance is not “narrow-minded” nor is it “strict”, rather it is logical and sensible for all involved.