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I.O.S.S. Seminar: A Report

I.O.S.S. stands for the Chandigarh-based Institute of Sikh Studies.

Sikh-Diaspora (Yahoo! Groups), Nov. 16, 2003

The seminar was held on November 15 and 16. In his keynote address Kharak Singh summarized the history of the concept of Guru Granth-Guru Panth [i.e. the Guruship of the Sikh community, held jointly by a) the Adi Granth and b) the entire Sikh community]. He asked the participants to come up with a model to fully operationalize the Guru Panth concept. He suggested that an apex body of Sikhs should be created consisting of eminent Sikhs from all over the world. At the regional levels there would be organziations such as the S.G.P.C., D.S.G.M.C., and A.S.G.P.C. catering to the regions' specific needs. This, incidentally, has been a topic of discussion in the last two issues of the Abstracts of Sikh Studies published by the I.O.S.S.

As regards the Guru Granth Sahib, almost all the speakers were unanimous that the emphasis should be on the sahaj path [union with God] and on understanding and practicing the teachings enshrined in gurbani [sacred hymns] rather than on ritualistic recitation by hired pathis [priests]. However, the participants were of the view that respect should be given to the bir [book form of the Adi Granth] and practices like romala [cloth covering] and chaur sahib [whisk] should be continued.

Jaswant Singh Neki delivered a rather interesting address at the end of day one. He discussed various current issues facing the Sikhs. He was of the opinion that the Dasam Granth controversy has arisen because we have started equating it with the A.G.G.S. [Adi Guru Granth Sahib]. He opined that we must not mix literature with gurbani. At the same time he came down heavily on critics of Dasam Granth, many of whom he felt were commenting on it without having read it. He also exhorted Sikhs to regard the A.G.G.S. as the jot [embodiment] of the Gurus and not as their deh [spirit]. He favoured a conciliatory attititude toward Namdharis and Nirankaris without compromising on the tenets of Sikhism. With regard to an apex body of Sikhs, he favoured a procedure of selection rather than election. He felt that the electoral system has failed in India because it has ensured that people like Phoolan Devi are elected while those like Manmohan Singh are not.

Neki directed the audience to his recently published article in The Sikh Review wherein he has suggested his an alternate model.

I.O.S.S. president Gurdev Singh was of the opinion that rather than pointing fingers at others every Sikh should introspect and ask himself what he has done for the Panth. He said that he remains optimistic that Sikhs will come out of their current difficulties with flying colours. He also honoured the family of the late Sher Singh Sher for his services to the Panth.

Most of the speakers remain very concerned about the increasing apostasy amongst Sikhs, especially in Punjab.

On day two everyone was eager to listen to what Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who is expected to take over as president of the S.G.P.C. for the 27th time, had to say to the various suggestions raised by the participants. Tohra did not disappoint. Despite failing health and a busy schedule, he spoke for over an hour.

He said that he did not feel bad if they criticised him or the S.G.P.C. but that he really felt hurt when fingers were pointed at the jathedar [head priest] of the Akal Takht. He said that the jathedar is not an employee of the S.G.P.C. He used the analogy of the appointment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India by the President of India to argue that even though the jathedar is appointed by the S.G.P.C. he is not subservient to the government. Regarding a new apex body, he asked scholars to come up with good suggestions for the S.G.P.C.'s consideration. However, he said that new institutions should not be created at the expense of existing ones. He also reminded the gathering that the S.G.P.C. has previously experimented unsuccessfully with such an organization (World Sikh Council).

He was amused at Neki's suggestion prefering selection over election. He also expressed anguish over increasing apostasy amongst the Sikhs and attributed the phenomenon to the absence of good role models and the propogation of poor images on Punjabi television channels. He also mentioned the issue of Sikh hockey players which was being discussed few days back. He asked every Sikh to rise up to the occasion and to start by improving their own lives.

Tohra also released the book Kalaam-e-Goya [From (Nand Lal) Goya's Pen] by Pritpal Singh Bindra. The book is a translation of Goya's work from Persian to English and is published by the I.O.S.S. (Rs. 250).