image caption: Gurmukh Singh

Neglect and Destruction of Sikh Heritage Continues Unabated

Twenty years ago, on 18 July 2001, John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, sent me a short hand-written note with a copy of Hansard (Vol 372, Parliamentary Debates). He wrote, &ldquoYou will note that I raised the issue of Sikh artefacts as you suggested.&rdquo

Indeed at pages 128 to 134, amongst other issues affecting the &ldquoPunjabi Community&rdquo which he raised in the House of Commons, he said, &ldquoAn understanding of the history of the Punjab, especially the Sikh Khalsa, is critical to the maintenance of Punjabi culture. The recent celebration of the 300th anniversary of Vaisakhi by institutions such as the Victoria and Albert museum did a great deal to promote a greater appreciation of that culture among both the Sikhs and the general population. This year []]2001] we will witness the celebration of bicentenary of Majarajah Ranjeet Singh, and this month the V&A has organised a seminar on &ldquoPreserving the Sikh Heritage&rdquo. The Sikh material heritage ranges from simple pieces produced in homage to Sikh gurus to precious art works and gems in museums and royal collections.&rdquo And so, John McDonnell continued to make the point how best to preserve the unique Sikh heritage for future generations and made more accessible to the current generations.

When the Sikh delegation met John McDonnell at the residence of late S. Kesar Singh Mand of Hayes, we briefed him regarding Sikh heritage artefacts in the UK only.

The point which I made on behalf of the delegation was that in view of the neglect of Sikh heritage in Indian sub-continent, Sikh artefacts in the UK should be identified, catalogued and preserved in UK museums like Victoria & Albert Museum.

The background concern in our minds, however, was the neglect of Sikh historical artefacts and shrines in India and Pakistan. To quote Amandeep Singh Madra OBE of UK Punjab Sikh Heritage Association, &ldquoIn India after 1947 the Sikhs took control of the important Sikh shrines in Punjab from the British and over a single generation have wiped out virtually all historical monuments and replaced them with modern structures (see www.karsewa.org).&rdquo

In later years, quite stunning presentations about neglected Sikh heritage have been made by those like Amandeep Singh Madra and other specialists working in this area to re-enforce this view beyond any doubt. I too have expressed concern in this column and articles elsewhere from time to time. Regrettably, diaspora Sikh pleas seem to be falling on the deaf years of our central institutions.

Others have written about the destruction of ancient scriptures, and the neglect of freco work, gold bordering and minakari in Sikh shrines like Baba Atal Rai Gurdwara. We are also aware of the irreparable damage done during the Indian Army invasion of Darbar Sahib in 1984.

Recently the American Sikh Council (ASC) have expressed concern about the SGPC proposal to rebuild Guru Ram Das Saran which is the oldest operational serai in the Darbar Sahib complex. ASC echo the views often expressed over the decades by others that the SGPC should have a permanent, highly educated professional staff of archeologists specializing in Sikh heritage, who are constantly vigilant about saving those particular structures where the blood of so many innocent Sikhs has been spilt, and not to mention, are truly historic in nature.

Gurmukh Singh