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Akal Takht - Relevant To Diaspora Sikhs Or Not?

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A Meeting at The Akal Takht


My peers are always there to warn/advise me that it is NOT the institution which is at fault but those who run it.

After all, the Akal Takht is a lofty institution bestowed upon us by the Sixth Master -- Guru Hargobind Sahib.

Recently, my brother, Principal Gurmukh Singh from the United Kingdom -- he is the Honorary Secretary of the Sikh Council of UK (SCUK) -- had to visit Jathedar Bhai Gurbachan Singh ji as a follow-up to a an earlier meeting with him earlier in the year on a number of issues.

I am afraid that I belong to that vast majority of Sikhs worldwide who believe that the Akal Takht currently does very little to give direction to Sikhs worldwide, except to throw out curly hukamnamas when put under pressure by some organisation or vested interest, often from overseas.

The position of the Akal Takht jathedar too has become a political one and subservient to not only the SGPC but also the Akali Party. So, though Guru Sahib had prescribed an interconnectedness between Miri and Piri, it has now unfortunately become maya based Miri which runs the show.

That is, the tail is wagging the dog. Corruption, greed and subjugation by the politically powerful are now a way of life within our institutions.

In true and traditional style, my brother Gurmukh Singh is from the old guard and wants every effort be made to bring back the Akal Takht to its pristine former glory as the authoritative, independent seat of temporal direction for the Khalsa Panth, independent even of the SGPC, et al.

These are noble efforts and should be strongly supported.

I do see the Akal Takht as the focal point of the panthic miri-piri tradition. It is where all Sikhs, gurdwaras and organisations should converge for panthic unity and continuation of the Sarbat Khalsa tradition. Just the fact that it is there keeps Sikhs very loosely together in their diversity, their 'garam' and 'naram' organisations, their ''kharku” and placid organisations and, of course, gurdwaras, the bastions of Sikhi whether they are Singh Sabhas, Khalsa Darbars, or whatever. It gives us symbolic and practical discipline and holds us together.

So, we have a lofty institution which is, at present, defective.

Gurmukh Singh had three proposals to discuss on behalf of SCUK. I went along as I happened to be in the country. The issues on the table were:

1. Establishing a 'hotline' between Jathedar Sahib and SCUK to discuss and issue guidelines on burning issues which at present are:

a. Inter-racial/religious 'Anand Karaj' ceremonies

b. Same-sex 'Anand Karaj' ceremonies

c. The use of chairs in gurdwaras

2. Raising the profile of the Akal Takht with greater outflow of information, guidelines, etc.

3. The possibility of an international Sikh Council represented by nominated members from the various national gurdwara councils or Sikh councils worldwide which would act as an international arm of the Akal Takht.

The meeting took place at the Secretariat at Darbar Sahib, Amritsar on Wednesday, November 5, 2013. Present were the Jathedar Bhai Gurbachan Singh ji; the Akal Takht Secretary (a paid position), Sardar Bhupinder Singh; one other gentleman who was not introduced; S. Gurmukh Singh from UK; and I loosely representing The Sikh Council of Australia and also saying a few nice things about the Gurdwara Council of Malaysia … councils which will no doubt be represented on a Global Sikh Council if such a move ever comes about.

The Jathedar Sahib was very officious, as he should be, and Secretary Bhupinder Singh seemed to evade every question and seemed to want to make sure that the Akal Takht did not take on any kind of further responsibility. He seemed to be comfortable with a status quo! He is after all, a bureaucrat.

The first major question was: Why does Akal Takht not at least respond to correspondence, at the very least to acknowledge receipt of it.

The answer from the secretary was: "We get so many unsavoury communications that we have decided not to respond!"

In fact the Akal Takht secretariat does not appear to have a proficient bi-lingual secretary or clerk, firstly to translate and provide the Jathedar Sahib with information inflow or respond to correspondence which internationally is mainly in English from the largest pockets of Sikhs abroad - UK, Canada and USA.

To think of a bilingual Jathedar would be too much? The detractors, I suspect, will say that we should all be corresponding in Punjabi anyway!

From previous experience, it will appear that if you want a result from the Akal Takht or the Jathedar, you must show some clout. If a delegation of say five or so amritdhari Sikhs turn up on the doorstep of the Secretariat, they might get some action, otherwise do not expect a response.

On the minor questions of inter-racial and same sex Anand Karaj ceremonies, Bhupinder Singh's retorts were - 'Well, it says in the Rehat Maryada that a Sikh man should only marry a Sikh lady". He felt that both questions were adequately answered by thatI

It was suggested to them that these were burning topics in the western world with the gay lobby being very strong and gaining momentum. Perhaps, the Akal Takht should issue some guidelines - 'Sandesh' based on gurmat, which could help national Sikh representative bodies on making their own decisions. The secretary answered that each national body should perhaps make up their own minds as long as they informed the Akal Takht. Once again, it appears that 'they' are happy if the tail keeps wagging the dog.

On the question of an International Sikh Council comprising of appointed members from local representative bodies, the instant response was - 'tuseen karo, ussee(n) tuhaday naal haa(n)'. “You do it -- we’re right there with you!” In other words - don't ask us to take on the responsibility!

And so it went on.

Gurmukh Singh and I trying very hard to constructively urge the Jathedar and the secretary to be more pro-active, and the secretary, especially, telling us - 'we do not want to take up any more work than we have to' - which to me, seemed to be very little anyway!

They do have good tea though, if I have not mentioned that already!

Secretary Bhupinder Singh was more responsive the next day when Gurmukh Singh spoke to him on the phone. It appeared that the 'staff' would respond, the secretary said, if a concerted international effort is made to make the Akal Takht more relevant.

The age-old chicken-and-egg story, if you ask me.

In conclusion, it appears that the Jathedar Sahib is there only for a short term and a political appointee and knows full well that he cannot do much. The employees are happy picking up their fat pay-cheques regularly and doing the minimum or practically nothing at all.

I know that we Sikhs should think positively about our institutions and I do wish sincerely that Gurmukh Singh and the Sikh Council succeed in making the Akal Takht more relevant, but the way things are right now ...

I also do believe that every effort should be made to make Akal Takht more relevant as our supreme body rather than attempting to create parallel international supreme councils with impressive names to replace the Akal Takht or run in competition.

So, perhaps we should keep stirring, as the Sikh Council of UK is attempting to do, rather than shaking or throwing it into total insignificance by mere condemnation.

Will the Akal Takht truly represent all Sikhs worldwide again? That, at present appears only to be a distant dream but then, dreams can always be turned to reality.


We invite our readers to respond to the above by posting your comments, thoughts and opinions herein below.

[Edited for sikhchic.com]

November 18, 2013

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