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Medford Gurdwara Office Bearers Ousted

Click here to view Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar's official perspective on the controversy.

India New England, Medford, MA, Jul. 18, 2005

Photo: (L to R) Karminder Singh, Jaspal Singh Pabla, and Bachittar Singh Sodhi

There are undercurrents of unrest at the Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar, after the ousting of Darshan Singh from his post as secretary and Raginder Singh from his vice-presidency by members of the executive committee of the gurdwara [Sikh place of worship] on May 25.

Several members are unhappy at the move, which is seen by some as an effort of one family to take over the management of the gurdwara.

The president of the committee is Jaspal Singh Pabla, owner of the Punjab restaurant in Arlington [473 Massachusetts Avenue], and the treasurer is Gurminderjit Singh.

Members of the congregation and the committee have each hired their own lawyers to deal with the issue.

In a letter to the management, signed by 150 members, the congregation listed a few demands, including the reinstatement of Darshan and Raginder Singh.

Some members of the congregation have also written to the Akal Takht in Amritsar, India, head of religious authority for Sikhs, which can only act in an advisory capacity.

Denying anything wrong or illegal, the committee said in a statement, '[The] committee wishes the gurdwara to be a peaceful place where people can come to connect with spirituality. Committee has the best interest of the congregation at heart. Every decision is taken with the best interest of present and future of the gurdwara.'

On May 5, a directors' meeting was held, during which the issue of removing Darshan Singh from his post as secretary and Raginder Singh from his vice-presidency was brought up.

The committee accused Darshan Singh of not taking any interest in the activities of the gurdwara, taking more interest in the gurdwara at Milford, and disobeying the president on several matters. It is not clear what the charges against Raginder Singh were.

Darshan Singh, who denies the charges against him, said that the charges are part of a personal vendetta against him.

He also said there were not enough votes to remove him at the directors' meeting, so the committee changed the by-laws to remove him from his post.

According to the registration of the gurdwara, by-laws can be changed at any time.

While the earlier by-law stated that committee members who hold posts could not serve as directors, the new by-laws made it possible for them to be both directors and office bearers.

The change in by-laws was conveyed to the congregation through the police on May 22 and, subsequently, Darshan Singh and Raginder Singh were relieved of their positions. The current committee entirely consists of members of two families.

A sense of tension was palpable last Sunday as many members of the congregation walked downstairs to the dining hall from the prayer room upstairs, as soon as the prayers were over and the committee members were about to perform sukhasan [closing ceremonies].

Sukhasan is a short ceremony performed when the Guru Granth Sahib is formally taken from its dais to a resting place.

'No one wants to listen to them [the committee] speak,' said Paramjit Singh of Somerville, who has been a member of the gurdwara since its inception in 1997.

Mohinder Garewal of Attleboro, MA was also banned from entering the gurdwara in 2002, and has only recently started coming to the gurdwara.

She alleged that the committee was not giving a chance to anyone else to express his/her views.

'After the hymns are sung, they just put their mike in their pockets and don't let anyone else talk,' she said.

Jaswinder Singh from Somerville said, 'There is no transparency. We can't let this happen. How can you run a place of worship, totally against what it stands for?'

The congregation has several other gripes against the committee, including several religious infractions, misuse of funds for legal purposes, favoring children of the committee members in competitions and monopolizing paath (prayer recital).

'They want to bring in their [the committee's] own people to be the granthi [priest],' said Paramjit Singh.

'We can easily do the work that is required, but they want to channel the gurdwara money to their own people.'

Members also accuse Karminder Singh, a research scholar at Brown University and director of religious affairs at the gurdwara, of causing the rift.

While recognizing his untiring efforts to build the new gurdwara, many members feel that his ego was one of the causes of current problems. Karminder Singh, who is now in Malaysia, was not available for comment.

The gurdwara at Medford is the culmination of seven years of hard work and efforts.

In 1997, the prayers were held in houses of the sangat (congregation), later in a rented room in Somerville. The room could accommodate 50 people and did not meet the needs of the community.

After moving twice to different rented premises in Somerville, the sangat, spearheaded by Karminder Singh, decided to purchase its own place in 2003. After intense fund-raising and volunteer work, the 22,000 square-foot gurdwara was ready last December.

The gurdwara is furnished with a state-of-the-art kitchen and a granite and marble palki, the palanquin in which the Guru Granth Sahib is installed.

The gurdwara consists of two diwans (prayer halls), a library, fully furnished priest living quarters, conference room, office, langar hall (dining room) and a full-sized commercial kitchen.

On January 11, 2004, the new gurdwara was formally inaugurated with the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, being brought into the gurdwara and placed in the shrine and ribbon cutting by Pabla.

Members wish the problems were solved soon.

'All we want to do is to come here and get some peace,' said Paramjit Singh.