image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Global Sikh Commonwealth and Influence

The state of the Panth is always an ongoing topic. There is a general concern about internal divisions, the failure of leadership and central institutions, and the environmental, social and political conditions in Panjab. It is possible that such concerns are based on too narrow a view of what is community progress in a fast changing world.

There are those who see Sikhi as a traditional religion only and measure Sikh success or failure accordingly. Some in this category even score own goals by knowingly or unwittingly supporting the state, especially the Indian state, which sees Sikh separatism behind every Sikh move to secure a level playing field through recognition of Sikh qaumi identity. Yet, as we have seen in the UK, the Sikhs are not slow to challenge through the law courts such denial of Sikh historical right to be treated as a theo-political entity. High profile court cases continue to raise Sikh self-awareness in the next generations for the need to be counted as Sikh in the Diaspora countries.

An alternative measure of the state of the global Sikh community based on the much wider Sikh reality is possible. That reality is the collective Sikh commonwealth and influence which, in my view, is not dependent on central Sikh leadership or some central organisation but on individual Sikh achievements and contributions towards the Sikh commonwealth in diverse fields, and through Sangats and local Sikh activism.

This reality of Sikhi influence was demonstrated during the Indian farmers protest. Few deny that it was the Sikh ethos which drove the revolt against unjust farm laws which affected the most disadvantaged in the Indian society. No single Sikh leader or central institution was providing the visible lead. Directly or indirectly, political recognition was given to the Sikh ethos which was the driving force at national and international level. As a result, Prime Minister Modi was forced to repeal the laws on the Parkash Gurpurab Day of Guru Nanak Sahib.

The true measure of the success or failure of a global community like the Sikhs is a complex issue. My recollection as an octogenarian is that the good old days were not so good so far as strict Sikh religious observance is concerned. Not much has changed in that respect if one looks at the percentage of Sikhs who were or are Amritdhari Sikhs and follow the Sikh Reht Maryada.

Yet, today, global Sikh distinction, presence and influence as a community has increased manifold since the partition of the Indian subcontinent. That is not only due to increase in Sikh migrations to other parts of India and abroad but also due to net Sikh contribution to the economies and the countries they live in. They have a reputation of being a hard-working, law-abiding, wealthy and generous community. Although, it cannot be said about Punjab, next generation diaspora Sikhs do excel in many professions. Wherever they live, economically, they are doing better than most other communities. Politically, they may not be in the front line but they are increasingly influential wherever they live.

The expanding Sikh or Panthic commonwealth accommodates diverse type of Sikh activism at different levels and in different fields and contributes to the welfare, general good and progress of the Panth and the well-being of all. The need is for the Sikhs to accept that diversity is not necessarily the enemy within!

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd