Decision-Making Amongst Sikhs

SarbatKhalsa.jpegGuestblogged by Harinder Singh

Harinder Singh is a co-founder of the Sikh Research Institute and the Panjab Digital Library. He is interested in anything Sikhi, esp. institutional development towards community building. His Twitter handle is @1Force.

I heard as recently as last Sunday at a Baltimore gurduara, that Sikhs don’t know how to make their own decisions. True, and false.

For more than a century (1699-1805), Sikhs made tough, controversial, politically incorrect, yet reached consensus-driven, time-sensitive, and decisive conclusions via the institutions of the Sarbat Khalsa and the Gurmata. And this was accomplished during a century that saw half of Sikh population killed in a single genocidal campaign.

It has taken more than 200 years to dismantle these systems of consensus building; it will take a concerted effort for at least 20 years to revive it. This process will require complete openness and inclusivity. It is a risk worth taking and a solemn opportunity to grasp what others deemed worth dying for!

Sikhs worldwide responded to the recent Rajoana phenomenon with stunning solidarity. Governments, politicians, and spiritualists weren’t sure what was going on.  Musicians used the opportunity to wash-off their “sins” of sycophancy from the last Panjab election promos.  People-at-large were excited, but they were not prepared.  I felt personally that I failed to convince myself of what matters most, and I failed to convince the activists (both the Tweeting and sloganeering kinds) to do something meaningful in any concerted way.  I concluded that we self-deluded panthak folks failed everyday-Sikhs at this historical moment with an engagement policy.  There was no mechanism to decide what the Panth must do at the crucial tipping point of actionable potential.

So here I am, asking some tough questions: Are you one of 26-million Sikhs who feels that you have no voice? Are you skeptical of intra-Sikh decision making? How come it is always men, and seemingly religious men, who are always doing the deciding? Doesn’t it seem like it’s just a few hyper-active, theo-politcal Sikhs in Panjab who are deciding all Sikh business? Isn’t that taxation without representation? How can our process become more representative of the rich and varied demographics that make up our global Sikh communities? The list of our concerns is long, littered with legitimate complaints and dotted with glimmers of wishful thinking

The Vaisakhi of 1699, among other notions, was about the de-centralization of powers. Since its inception the Khalsa is sovereign and so too are its independent institutions and processes. This had to be so, to ensure there would be no Maharajas, no one despot clutching at his absolute power. We had one of those once, and while he was a model South Asian ruler, he also made Harimandar Sahib “golden” and undermined Khalsa traditions.

In 2012, we might borrow a question from Edward Said and ask, “Who are the representatives of the people?”  Will we continue to look for “orders” to follow handed down from the installed officers of the Panth? Our Gurus trained us for 238 years so we could make the best possible decisions, decisions which are not founded in the dictum that the “end justifies the means.” Rather, decisions that are grounded in consensual process based on infinite wisdom imparted by the Guru, and interpreted for the whole of the Sikh commonwealth.

Men and women, young and old, pendu and shahri, online and offline, Panjabi and non-Panjabi, ravidasi and jatt—they are all waiting for an open and progressive agenda, waiting to serve the One Panth.  But how are we building their capacity to make sure they are not only heard, but have a potential seat at the table?

The history of Sarbat Khalsa was so admirably practical because it was about dealing with the real issues, not doctrinal and philosophical vagaries. Let’s learn to sit together and deliberate. And let us not allow personal preferences to distract us from the real challenges which clamor loudly—demanding our attention.

I have been part of one such initiative to start dealing with decision-making process, by helping to organize and present Sikh Research Institute’s series of one-day Saneha workshops from Vancouver to Toronto to Oxford. In just a few weeks, on July 21, this workshop comes to New York City for Misl Amrika.

This post is an open invitation to all organizations, gurduaras, clubs, jathebandis, and SSAs who identify themselves as Sikhs. Register at least two representatives at Ratan Singh Bhangu’s Sri Guru Panth Parkash is probably the first “people’s history” of Sikhs, that describes how panthak-ness was not a slogan, but a lifestyle by which Sikhs dined and deliberated with mutual respect. A microcosm of that lifestyle will be exercised towards capacity building, so that when the next opportunity of Sarbat Khalsa occurs, the voices of the Sikhs nation will be represented. Even if such a gathering is banned by the state as it was in 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. May we feel the presence of Ik Oankar and the sovereignty of Guru Granth-Panth.

Let us become the residents of Anandpur Sahib!


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24 Responses to “Decision-Making Amongst Sikhs”

  1. nuanceishard says:

    Timely. But you missed an opportunity to bring your message of challenging introspection to the people reading your article right here and now. How are this audience missing its chance to be voice multiplier? The Sikh community retains a deep.understanding of how to move en masse. Activists need to think long about if they are really out front leading change or just playing out in left field. The mainstream can afford the usual ineffectual activists who bungle almost every opportunity but we as Sikhs should do better. Why fall to the familiar questions of why so many men/why just the old leadership. Sikh activists are failing us as well. My heart sank a little when i saw your primary calling point was yet. another. conference.

  2. nuanceishard says:

    For example this very forum is for all intents and purposes ideologically closed and already sure of the basic outline and rationale of action needed and treats deviations as less an opportunity to learn in mutual respect and more a threat to refute and bat away.

  3. Harinder Singh says:

    FYI – July 21st event is not a conference or a seminar. It is a Model Sarbat Khalsa, a meager attempt to bring various voices together for a capacity building exercise, a step towards trust/voice/leadership development. Thank you.

  4. nuanceishard says:

    If it’s a model sarbat khalsa hopefully it is actually that and not a renamed conference/workshop that like the rest manifestly exclude and silence the vast, vast majority of the community. Hope its not just a difference without a distinction.

  5. Izhaarbir Singh says:

    What about a Sikh who does not belong to any of those categories listed? Can he or she attend?

    Also, is there a way to have this event streaming so that those who are not in the east coast or cannot make a flight at the last minute like this can participate?

    Love the thought and initiative behind this.

  6. Indermohan Singh says:

    Very well written article Harinder Singh Ji! As Izhaarbir Singh asked, is there any way you can stream this event online for those of us who would not be able to attend it in person? Probably something similar to the Webinar you have on July 14th?

  7. nuanceishard says:

    streaming video and flights to attend a conference are not promising ideas to expand access to this sarbat khalsa. Thinking about how sarbat khalsa from a gurmat perspective would look like is a wonderful idea and massive credit. But going by past evidence the kind of thinking that has led to the conferences of the past will not get anywhere close. At best maybe a thousand people would be at the far limit of the wildest dreams of a conference in all but name. That’s why real introspection of what our activists are really doing is crucial. It will not be a success to do what’s always done, call it something different and then blame the community the media the man when it comes up far, far short. Kudos on your efforts but complacency is your foe.

  8. Harinder Singh says:

    As the missive stated, it is an open invitation to all. "Categories" listed were common labels used in conversations, not an exhaustive list. There is no live stream because it involves team building, process orientation, and model activity. SikhRI is taking this to various cities, and we look forward to bringing it to West Coast and Texas if there is enough collaborative interest. We are making efforts to reach various sections of Sikh community: online forums, direct letters, gurduaras, phone calls, tv appearances, etc. for tri-state area. If you have more suggestions, please do send them to [email protected] on how to make the process/invites more wide-reaching, inclusive, and so on. Thank you.

  9. Blighty Singh says:

    I'm a Sikh and I can make decisions. Or can I ? I can't quite decide. I have always been under the belief that there is no need for any kind of Sikh groups or group consensus, just as we have no need for any 'priests' or 'sants'. Each and every Sikh in the world is, in theory, at the exact same level of simply being a 'Sikh'. What he or she needs to do….What decisions he or she needs to make…is clear, for the answers are in accordance with our living Guru : Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji. None of us need group decisions. Each one of us should know what to do. For example, I spend much of my spare time chasing the business interests of the killers of Sikhs in India (especially Delhi). I trace their business dealings and I write to each and every western distributor, wholesaler and retailer of their products and I ask them to justify how the business can fit in with their supposed 'Ethics Policy' . By hurting their wallets I've destroyed the heart and soul of many a Delhi killer in this way. What I'm saying here is that each of us , without seeking a group consensus on decisions, has enough power at our fingertips individually to do what needs to be done. You don't need forums and group meetings to bring about change and justice. For the last 25 years, without fail, the international Khalistan Conference takes place in Wolverhampton in England and each year high profile MP's from Westminster attend and make promises of supporting the Sikh cause. Conferences and Forums are pointless. They serve no useful purpose. Collectively we are all way too different to make a difference or even come to a consensus. The 'diaspora' has made us that way. For example, the Sikh youths in North America always come to the consensus that organising events along the lines of what da yoots dem are interested in..i.e Hip Hop is the way to move Sikhi forward. The UK and Italian Sikh youths, however, spend much of their time violently protesting such events for sullying the name of Sikhi. As a collective, we are all way too different. We come from too many different cultures and mindsets to be able to come to a decision. Individually, each is sava lakh.

  10. Ishdeep says:

    I find many of the above comments particularly those by nuanceishard and Blighty Singh rather absurd, missing the point and self-promoting.

    The article is about reviving a traditional Sikh way of decision making. It is not in itself a decision making forum, it is an education exercise. Sikhri is one the best if not the best Sikh organisations in education. It is easy to be an armchair critic. You are attacking someone for educating on a Sikh tradition.

    Also sarbat khalsa does not in any way stop individual actions, but there are obviously times when issues are better addressed with an informed collective response. Nuanceishard – are you even a Sikh? All you seem to do is come here to attack a successful Sikh organisation.

  11. Mani says:

    Individual actions have to blend into collective actions to achieve common good or Sarbat the Bhalla. By not organizing collectively, we risk undermining the cause of Sarbat da Bhala. Sarbat khalsa is for Sarbat da Bhala, not a partisan gain of the few. Spread the word of knowledge and dispelled the ignorance. Learn from the past, analyze the present and step into the future as Gurus had envisioned. A liberated future for all whether socially, economically or politically.

  12. I have recently been accused of arbitrarily making unilateral decisions at work. The sad part is, that for the individual accusing me of this, does not realize that it was a calculated decision. The consequences were heavily weighed and measured. The amount of b.s. that is now reigning down was also taken into account. She is now dragging administration into the equation, as well as the remainder of the department. The thing is, the calculated decision was for the greater good and she can't see that. I did what was right because it is what someone else/another department requested be done. This had other implementers, calculated risks and consequences, and long-term implications. However, the scathing email and verbal abuse in front of my students was not calculated. I appreciate your article because it spells out how very wrong she was when she said I made arbitrary decisions time and time again that affect others but she feels I don't take that into account. I did, she just can't see that. Thanks, for your help!
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  13. essay writer says:

    Its a nice article by Harinder about the Decision-Making Amongst Sikhs. Such articles are good and more helpful to know about the thinking capacity, religious and cultural values of the Sikhs. Thanks for sharing this post here.

  14. a meager attempt to bring various voices together for a capacity building exercise, a step towards trust/voice/leadership development. Thank you.

  15. Richard D. Manuel says:

    is there any way you can stream this event online for those of us who would not be able to attend it in person? Probably something similar to the Webinar you have on July 14th?
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