image caption: Author: Paramjit Kaur Matharu

Sikh Council UK (SCUK) resignations - putting the record straight

    I have been spurred to write this piece in response to some leading members of the Sikh community using public media to incorrectly label a legitimate and transparent letter of resignation from 68 delegates of the Sikh Council UK and the resulting impact on SCUK as &ldquofake news&rdquo.

 

As an erstwhile Executive Member of the Sikh Council UK who was listed in that letter as a resignee, I have thought long and hard whether my decision to resign from the organisation was made rationally and with objective assessment. The answer is yes and yes. Was it an illusion and fake - no and no.

 

   Having been previously in the organisation as a Sub Committee Chair, I experienced great partnering with a handful of Sewadaars with tangible results. However I left in 2014 because some of the colleagues in the leadership team who have objected to calls for transparent governance now, were even then, unable to support my calling out of bad governance and lack of transparency teemed with meaningless obstructive behaviours. Tempted back in after 4 years I learnt the hard way that things had only got worse.

Background

 

   The 5th Administration of SCUK was convened at a General Assembly (all delegates from member organisations are invited) in October 2018. The General Assembly has the task of selecting 30 core delegates to make up the Executive Committee (EC). The EC is then asked to convene separately to select further co-opted members to make up the EC to a count of 51. Applications are invited from delegates to apply for officer roles and chairs of sub committees.

 

During this Administrations selection process unfortunately, several distortive and negative interactions took place leading to a series of unconstitutional actions: after a back and forth an EC of 58 was picked there were multiple versions of the core 30 there was acrimony and debate over the selection of officer roles. This culminated in the unusual ask by the EC for the Board of Jathedaars ( an Advisory group of learned Sikh representatives whose role is meant to be dispute resolution) to pick the 5 officers to lead the SCUK. Unfortunately the BOJ decided to elect multiple names for many posts including assigning three individuals to act as joint Secretary Generals of the SCUK.

 

Despite a history of lack of partnering amongst this group and multiple representations of concern from EC delegates, this interim structure was maintained.

My experience

 

I was not initially picked in the thirty delegates to be part of the working EC but I was nominated as a Chair of a Subcommittee and actively attended two leadership meetings which focused on concerns about the structure and performance of the interim leadership of the Council.

 

My participation in a core EC meeting was rudely challenged by a senior BoJ representing a faction keen on controlling the agenda of the Sikh Council - this was even though I had been the one in the previous leadership meeting that had called for this EC meeting and specifically posted the one and only agenda item, seeking constitutional clarity and discipline for the actions of a flawed interim leadership. However, much to my surprise a large contingent of the leadership and EC members whose actions were being questioned and who had also agreed that an EC meeting was required, abstained from this meeting at the last minute! We can only with a high degree of confidence speculate why they abstained i.e. there were serious motions in the Council requesting disciplinary actions against two key individuals.

 

The EC meeting nevertheless went ahead with the constitutionally required quorate attendees, with the authority to consider a number of urgent issues and duly came up with a unified set of recommendations, including the setting aside of the trio of Secretary Generals and unanimously nominating a neutral new EC name for this post. However, in the light of the abstentions and in the spirit of seeking unity and reconciliation, this EC asked for a full mandatory follow up EC meeting to be called, to endorse the recommendations of this meeting and progress the work of the Council. 27th April was picked for that follow up meeting.

 

After the core EC meeting an emergency midweek BOJ meeting was held within a few days, attended by mostly one group. This BOJ meeting chaired by a previous Secretary General decided to unconstitutionally disband the 58 member EC and called a GA on the same same day as the planned EC meeting to select roles by a parchia system and specifically put aside all complaints about conduct or governance reviews.

 

The details of the meetings that I attended and the outcome of closed door huddles between cliques within the organisation led to a clear decision on my and others part that this was not the way we could practice the Miri Piri our Guru Ji created for us. There was no point in being in an organisation that continually found ways to subvert outcomes it didn't like let alone amicably sit down to discuss. Any challenge to the conduct of certain individuals in leadership being seen as anti-Panthic just wasn't acceptable.

 

Repeated attempts to seek dialogue along with formal written appeals to discuss concerns and consider constructive ways forward to keep the organisation united were stonewalled. My personal view is that the Sikh Council UK has been weakened by failing to embrace diversity and lost opportunities to engage a broad representation for the current and future generations of Sikhs.

 

So what does the Sikh Panth and its UK Sangat need?

 

Do we need another organised institution? Are Sikhs meant to be introvert or stand tall and be counted for ourselves and for others? Protecting the right to practice Sikhi freely and to allow all others to achieve equal freedoms has been the clarion call of our Gurus. Our Gurdwaras are fulfilling the core promise - my Guru Ji is resplendent in them all. However Is the Sikh community of 2019, and looking forward, making the most of our treasured gift of sovereign thought and spiritual and secular freedoms? Are we doing enough to project our Chardhi Kalla and Sarbat da Bhalla spirit? Are we creating positive role s for our future generations? Do we represent the Panth as an institution of deep foundational universal values? Is our voice heard in a sustained and structured manner? Are we recognisable as a mature faith community?

My humble vision is that we need to display the best of Sikhi principles in a sustained and united way - to both fight for fundamental freedoms in an increasingly narrow minded world atmosphere but even more importantly, to come together to create an open transparent training ground for our future female and male leaders in all spheres of life carrying our Sikhi Standard high.

 

So who should be entrusted with this task of starting with a blank sheet again and try to work in the Guru&rsquos path of Kirat, Sewa and Vand-ke-Shakna at an institutional level in the ambit of worldly affairs?

 

An institution requires core leadership and vision and an empowered membership. Can we create this? The core should be always accountable but also responsible - the membership should be awake and execution focused. I pray we can strive and aim for the best of our collective efforts and in clear engagement with the many like minded organisations who are already achieving such success in their chosen fields. A foundational building block has to be a diverse, gender and age representative membership empowered to execute on the basis of open and agreed policy frameworks with good governance. Any cliques of any kind are a nonstarter.


 

Author: Paramjit Kaur Matharu