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You’re killing Sikhism in America: An Open Letter To All Gurdwara Committees

By Jaydeep Bhatia

Dear Gurdwara Committees,

To put it bluntly, you’re killing Sikhism in America.

On Sunday, January 10th, a video capturing a dramatic fight at the Turlock Sikh Temple in California went viral. The images of men and women shouting, punching and even hitting each other with weapons, presented a scene of utter chaos. Unfortunately, this sort of scene has become all too familiar in gurdwara’s across the world.

I don’t know the reason behind the fight. Nor am I familiar with the petty nuances of Gurdwara politics. And frankly, I don’t care.

What I do care about is the detrimental impact the conflict in Turlock, and other conflicts like it, have on the next generation of Sikhs in America. When you participate in this sort of needless violence, it does irreparable damage to the long term future of Sikhs in the country. In order for any religious community to sustain itself, it must assimilate its youth. This youth must be proud of its identity. This youth should have a basic understanding of the major principles of its faith. And most importantly, this youth must take an active interest in the preservation of the faith.

Instead, these sorts of fights have the opposite effect. Because for me, and thousands of other Sikh youth, this sort of violence, pettiness and chaos is a major turn off from the faith itself.

I’d like to clarify that I am not a particularly religious person. I am not overly familiar with gurbani (Sikh religious sculpture). And I’m no scholar of the faith. However, there are some fundamental aspects of the Sikh identity I cherish. These include a commitment to philanthropy, the inclusion of other faiths and dedication to equality. I, and the thousands of other youth like me, all probably fall in this general category. We may not completely understand the historical significance of gurbani, but we align ourselves with these tenants. And I’d argue this is why young Sikh men and women still continue to take an interest in their religion. These are things we understand. These are things we pride ourselves on.

However, when we see scenes of shameful violence like what happened in Turlock, we distance ourselves from these institutions of faith. This, in turn, is producing a generation of uninterested, and apathetic Sikhs. We don’t want to get tangled in politics, so we simply stop showing up. The difference between Sikhism, and other major Abrahamic faiths operating in this country, has been Sikhism’s lack of contemporary adaptation. There is a clear disconnect from the young men and women who are supposed to carry the torch of Sikhi, and those who currently operate its institutions. This divide is more than cultural. It’s a fundamental difference in how we view the religion. While you’ve become entrenched in pursuit of your own petty politics, you’ve managed to marginalize and push away those same people who are supposed to fill your ranks.

You, and committees like yourself, have created a toxic environment within our religious institutions. Gurdwara’s are meant to be places of serenity, introspection and peace. Instead, you, and whatever ridiculous politics you subscribe to, have shamefully devolved them into the subject of viral fight videos. You may dismiss this letter as some ignorant American kid who knows nothing about the faith. That may be true. But I can tell you this:

If this continues, the hollow chambers of Gurdwara halls, all over the world, will be filled with nothing more than the sounds of your needless arguing. Shame on you.

Sincerely,

The future

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