Op/Ed: To Survive Sikhs Need to Embrace a Progressive Humanitarian Agenda

2014-10-02-gurnam singhAfter 5 years very rewarding and challenging years at Sikh Channel a new chapter begins for me (and my partner Manjit) this week when I will be presenting my first ever live show from Akaal Channel on SKY843 on  Friday 3rd Oct at 7.00pm. This will be a special live show on Sexual Violence within South Asian Communities, so don’t forget to tune in and spread the word. We will be taking some calls, so it should be an interesting discussion.
I also want to offer my immense gratitude to Sikh Channel for giving me the opportunity to serve the Panth since 2009. I made many mistakes during that time, but I hope there were some positives as well. I still think my greatest achievement was to act as a catalyst for the establishment of the Sikh Council UK and I still have great hopes that it can serve as a platform to bring Sikhs together as one voice. This will, however, require all member organisations to put the interests of the Panth above their own personal ambitions; not an easy task!
Though I will be presenting regular programmes on Akaal Channel, my affection for Sikh Channel is still strong and I hope to  make some appearances in whatever capacity I am able; and I will continue to pay my direct debit! Indeed, for me all the Sikh media channels deserve the support and encouragement of the sangat as they serve such a crucial role to inform, educate and unite the community.  
Like the Gurdwara’s,  I feel the Sikh media too is at a cross roads. The reality is, that however much we engage in self deception, the vast majority (I would say over 70%) of Sikhs have little interest in going to the Gurdwara or watching the TV Channels.  The recent elections of the new Southall Singh Sabha Committee is a perfect example. Out of a potential electorate of 100,000 only about 8,000 Sikhs in Southall and the surrounding area actually participated. The poor response to appeals for money by the channels is further evidence of the diminishing support for these organisation. In contrast, we see progressive groups such as Khalsa Aid growing in popularity amongst Sikhs and non Sikhs – there is clearly a lesson for us all to learn here.
And so the challenge is to make Sikhi relevant to their lives, needs, aspirations and problems. This means we need to be progressive, forward looking yet totally committed to upholding the universal and timeless principles of Sikhi. It means projecting Sikhi as a living organic system of belief and not simply a celebration of old traditions, albeit important. 
I know that such a progressive stance is threatening for some people, and certainly in the short term it is far easier to bury our heads in the sand and/or simply accept the status quo. Sikhi is and always has been about confronting the status quo, of connecting theory and practice, of combining personal spiritual development with social development. Of drawing others into the Sikh fold, not through force or favour, but simply by being an example and inspiration as to what a complete human being should be i.e. gurmukh. 
And so when anybody makes reference to Sikhs, they should not only think about the turban and bead, though that is important. There are millions of beard and turbaned people in the world  in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but only a tiny number are Sikhs. What makes Sikhs special along with the outward appearance is  their character, their bravery, their ethics and above all their absolute commitment to serve humanity. That is what defines a Sikh, that is what constitutes a true saint/soldier. And what can be a better example of that than the brave Sikh soldiers that fought and died in the 1st World War which we have been commemorating the 100th anniversary. 
I know there are some out there who are very sceptical about adopting a progressive approach to Sikhi; they fear that doing so will end up diluting the essence of what it is to be a Sikh. For them the answer to all problems lies in going back, reclaiming  an ancient (puratan) lifestyle. I have no objection to this and indeed, I have immense respect for those that can forsake modern comforts, who remind us of our old traditions, of bana, of shastar vidya etc. But this cannot be a substitute for tackling the everyday issues that face humanity and if we can’t make Sikhi relevant to these then Sikhi itself will end up as a museum piece, like Zoroastrianism, and many other traditions that have been lost to the world. 
The good news is that Sikhi was always meant for the modern age, for the age of enlightenment, where we have come to realise that rationality is a much better way of organising life than superstitious beliefs, that all human beings irrespective of case, race, creed, gender, sexuality, ability and wealth deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and equality, that dialogue is always preferable to violence and that the way to solve the problems of humanity one needs to combine ethics with a total commitment to truth and truthful living. I hope that I can continue to up hold these principles as a humble academic, journalist and sewadar of the Sikh Panth.


  1. Very very powerful words indeed Gurnam Ji!
    Your sewa on Sikh Channel over the years is very much appreciated – you have been a catalyst of much more. The debates and questions you have raised have left an impact on all of us viewers and participators. Please do continue.
    Gurpal (Sutton Coldfield).


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