At this time of crisis, after the killing of many more thousands of Sikhs in India, a third Sikh Youth Seminar was held in the Washington, D.C. area from December 27 to January 1 to discuss recent events in India, the genesis of Sikhism, and its evolution. Some of the 67 youths came from as far as the West Coast and Canada to listen to scholars like Dr. Thorton of John Hopkins University, Mr. Freel of the office of Delaware Congressman Carper, and Dr. Hiltebeitel of George Washington University. The forum in Washington was a unique opportunity for the youth to debate the demand for Khalistan or the need for uncut hair for a Sikh with these American and Sikh scholars including Dr. Rishpal S. Aujla, Dr. Chattha, Dr. Dhindhsa, Dr. Gill, Dr. Grewal, Dr. Inderjit Singh, and Dr. Shivdev S. Sidhu. Certain points and observations were made by the group and are presented briefly.
One of the foremost concerns of the youth was what we, as Sikhs living outside Punjab, could do to help Sikh families suffering in India. Dr. Thorton recognized that there were human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian government but explained that if Rajiv Gandhi still could not handle the internal affairs of India within two years then the U.S. and other governments might act. Regarding Punjab, the Indian government should immediately free those Sikhs imprisoned without charge and compensate those families that have lost members, property, and businesses. Until such actions are taken, the demand for a Sikh homeland is justified as an ideal where Sikhs can represent and govern themselves. Many tales of violence and destruction were heard from recent visitors to India and relatives of victims, confirming the need for Sikhs abroad organize and participate in relief funds for Sikhs in India.
The genesis and evolution of Sikhism was discussed from the Sant period to Guru Gobind Singh by Dr. Aujla, its relationship to Hinduism by Dr. Hiltebeitel, and its form after Guru Gobind Singh by Dr. Gill. Guru Nanak’s intellectual concepts of human equality and one God, presented for the first time in Southeast Asia, were quite different from the prevailing concepts of Hinduism and Islam. The Guru Granth Sahib is unique because it was not collected later as the Vedas, Koran, and Bible were but is the bani of the Gurus and our last and eternal Guru. In defining a Sikh, the Rehat Maryada or code of conduct followed by Sikhs as standardized by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandakh Committee states that a Sikh is a monotheist believing in the teachings of the Sikh Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. In addition, a Sikh believes in the necessity and importance of taking amrit to become a Khalsa, the true Sikh and full member of the Panth. The youth were concerned that certain unwritten traditions like marrying only Sikhs together, arranging marriages, and taking amrit before marriage practiced by their parents might be forced upon them. This might alienate youths who are serious about Sikhism from those who are less certain of the role of Sikhism in their lives or what religion their spouse or children should practice. On the other hand, in small communities in the United States and Canada, it is not easy for parents to find young Sikhs to marry their children with or to convince them of the need for hair and amrit to become true Sikhs. As shown by early Sikh settlers on the West Coast, it was the second or third generation that rediscovered Sikhism and practices it today. The Sikh youth will write to the SGPC to learn what unwritten traditions are required and will hold the next seminar in northern California to observe early settlements of Sikhs on the West Coast.
The Sikh youth will continue to inform our representatives in the governments of the United States and Canada that our people are without rights and are suffering injustices not dissimilar from the injustices suffered by the Jews during Hitler’s regime. We see a need for the education of ourselves and our fellow citizens in the United States and Canada about Sikhs and Sikhism to assert our rights in India and throughout the world. The Sikh youth is investigating the present situation and learning gurbani and Sikh history so that we will have the background necessary to lead the Sikh Panth in the future. A Fourth Sikh Youth Seminar will be held this summer in northern California. If there are adults as well as youths interested in attending please contact the Sikh Youth Seminar, Inc., 5420 Blue Ash Road, Columbus, OH 43229 or the Sikh Council of North America or myself at the Sikh Cultural Society, Inc., Richmond Hill, NY.
Article extracted from this publication >> March 1, 1985