Spring Cleaning Part 1 – Gurudwara Management Committees

April 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

Guru Piarey Jio,

In Asa di var, Guru teaches that Haumai is our most severe illness and yet its cure lies within it. Earning (practicing and experiencing) Guru ji’s  teachings and Vaheguru’s grace,  are the transformational tool to make our self-serving ‘ego’ into the ‘Gurmukh’, a Guru orientated ‘self’ that is attuned to the Name of our beloved. This analysis reinvigorates us to tackle Haumai, seeing it anew as a curable disease.

It is also our considered opinion that at a global level, the Gurudwaras and our internal squabbles are our most severe enemies and similarly, the cure is within their transformation. In our next three posts we’ll looking at problems and giving our suggestions for a more Guru-orientated approach.  Spring Cleaning Part 1 focuses on the Gurudwara committee, Part 2 – The divisions in the Panth and finally Part 3 – The Gurudwara itself.

An advance warning , the gloves are coming off now and we’ll be doing our best to lay bare the disease and the causes of the disease before suggesting cures. Bear with us and keep reading, somewhere, something will resonate with each person, because this is based on a lot of sad stories we’ve heard over the years.

Before we start, may Guru Nanak bless us with clarity and strength. It’s Vaheguru’s grace upon the Sikhs to be blessed with Satguru Nanak. In the coming world, we will be seeds of a revolution to bring an age of enlightenment on this planet, with Guru’s Kirpa.

Gurudwara Management Committees

This phrase is a contradiction in terms. Firstly, most committees are useless at ‘managing’ Gurudwaras such that if they were companies, heads would be rolling and we’d be considering a fire sale. Secondly, the committee are actually not the ones who manage the Gurudwara. The paperwork of the Gurudwara is actually done by poorly paid administrators and accountants. The religious part of the Gurudwara is handed over to the Head Granthee and kirtanees. The langar is made and prepared by Sevadaars or are paid langarees who are probably not on the committee. In short, the committee, though ‘in charge’ manages Gurudwaras in such as way that they do none of the work in running the Gurudwara.

In essence, the rot starts at the top from the President and then spreads downwards.

  • President – Either a puppet or else a power hungry would-be politician.
  • Committee members– Some got there purely as they could bring votes, some are safe yes men, some are losers who didn’t make it in real world, some just out to aggrandise themselves and finally some are good guys trying to make a decent difference and lets face it, these guys won’t last long.
  • The constitution – No one’s read it, the committee use it against you, you cant get a copy, they keep trying to change it to keep themselves in power for longer and with less scrutiny.
  • Election system – Totally messed up. No open debate on issues, no one cares about manifesto, anyone who pays nominal fee can vote regardless of attendance or knowledge of issues/sikhi.
  • Daily programme – consists only or religious prayers that people do at home anyway or Punjabi katha. Nothing new, nothing innovative. May as well watch Sangat TV.
  • Paid Granthees from India: The cheap slave labour that keeps Gurudwaras working. Not empowered.
  • Parchar is in Punjabi only – exclude all the youth/future sangat and preach to people who’ve heard it all before.
  • Lack of classes on anything: The internet is where you go to learn Sikhi, not the Gurudwara.
  • Money comes from selling bani, and money goes on building funds – Sell bani to build bigger buildings that you can stuff with more people (whom you don’t teach) to get more money to pay mortgage.
  • Seva projects- Not helping anyone but feeding the fed.  Barely relevant to society outside.

Basically, from what we see, the Sikh ‘sangat’ exist to serve the committee, plug golaks with cash, hold our Akhand Paats, Sukhmani sahibs and weddings at the Gurudwaras. The committee, at worst, steal the cash, or at best, they simply build massive structures, badly designed, get the Gurudwara into debt and then exhort us to give more “chadava” so they can get out of debt and then they do it again. The Committee does not exist to serve the Sangat. It doesn’t create the sangat, it works against them.

Who are these people in the committee? If you do a google search or even check out the Gurudwara, its unlikely that there is a list of names and photos of these committee members, let alone a biography and reasons as to why they are ‘serving’ on the committee. There is no list of tasks that they wish to do, projects they feel passionate about and more importantly, what pledges they presented to the sangat during the election campaign. Where and how can the sangat see what they promised to achieve in their term? How can we see where they failed? Maybe that’s precisely why this information is not there. Even the actual election of Gurudwara committee members shows us the failure of the voting system. The Gurudwaras won’t allow even basic election debates, where we can at least questions from these people about what they achieved from their election manifesto. Let us guess, they will claim that people might get violent and argue. Well, we’ve seen these very same people go on TV debates and talk reasonably). So why is the case that the community does not start a culture of debate and discussion (how about saying ardaas that no one will shout).  Let us ask you this question, when the sarbat khalsa took Gurmattas back in the day, you’ve seen the photos, there are thousands upon thousands of Singhs…yet they’re all chilling there and talking about real things, like what do about an enemy invasion or if India doesn’t make a state of Punjab. Those guys knew that if the Panth decides to do something, they’re going to be doing it and very likely to get shot or beaten up. They accepted that and yet they never argued in this way. Why are Gurudwaras even unable to organise a discussion on priorities for the Gurudwara in next few years?

Another pertinent question is why are these people actually in the committee? Are they keen to do parchar and spread Sikhi? If so, then we’ve never heard them do kirtan and explain any shabads or give a lecture from the stage? Are they keen to teach singing of Kirtan or playing tabla to everyone? In which case, how come we’ve never heard them running a class? Do they want to do seva by cooking langar or washing dishes or cleaning the toilets? It would be great day indeed if you saw that happening? Permit us this question, if all that gurudwaras offer today is langar and  paat/kirtan then what do we have a committee for? We only need an admin person and an accountant which most Gurudwars have anyway. So (WTF) do they actually do? And more importantly why in heavens sake are they trying to run a Gurudwara? Surely they could just run their own business, or run for local politics? We understand that the President is a grand title, but so is mayor or CEO. Maybe we should even ask whether the Gurudwara is a country that it needs a president? If they’re not going to be spreading Sikhi, go home or sit in the sangat and get uplifted. The reality is that the committees are a system where they have all the power and none of the responsibility of delivering.

On the point about Admin, it would be nice if the Gurudwara actually delivered on this end. However, most of the time the admin of the Gurudwara is in shambles. The accounts seem to be done by some Desi accountant who also manage millions of other dodgy desi accounts. You wont see regular updates. If you’re lucky, the website may even have the information for what happened two years ago, however you will be very lucky to know about the current financial situation. Ask yourself how could Gurudwaras survive without cheap granthee slave labour? We’re sure the Charities commission in the UK could tell us some horror stories about Gurudwaras. It seems that having crises seems to be de rigueur for the Gurudwara. The committee, having created a crisis situation by either their mismanagement or ignorance, will then gravely tell the Sangat the problem facing the Gurudwara so that we, the community, have to come together to solve it. What’s worse is that they will not ask people for help in actually solving the problem so we the Sangat can get truly involved, no, the help they will ask for will be just for ideas and money.

One big proof that the Gurudwara committee think that the Sangat is there to serve them is with regards to the paat and kirtan programmes.  For example, if you book a Sukhmani sahib paat to be held at the Gurudwara, they will charge you as much as they can get away with, but then they will tell you that you have to also give the Granthees a certain amount for them reading the paat. However, let’s say you want to read the paat yourself, well that causes a problem. What, you want to do the paat yourself, so that your family can actually feel closer to Guru,  that sounds too crazy! Surely you need to get a granthee to read it too you at one hundred miles an hour. Not that our community is very good either, you know when you go to these paats, most people just play on their phones or catch up over whispers. However, when someone actually wants to read the paat themselves, they say, “Well if you do that, this creates a problem, we have to keep our granthees earning the money due to them”. Now even if you say, no problem, I’ll pay the Granthees anyway, this is still too revolutionary. WHY? Good question. What they will inevitably tell you is that it sets a bad precedent you see. It will hurt the sentiments of the Granthees as you decided to do it yourself rather than use them. Excuse me, the granthee will feel hurt if you do the paat at your own function, with all your family present?? We doubt it! And nor should they feel hurt. This is just a form of emotional blackmail and what’s galling is that the Gurudwara committee are the ones who are most guilty of offending our granthees. They treat them as low paid servants. Guess who makes the tea for the committee? Granthees work way more than we’d expect of normal workers and at very extreme hours. They have very little idea of their schedule for the next week due to the committee disorganisation and worst of all they are accorded no respect! If you ever ask the Granthee whether he will mind if you do the paat yourself, most of these guys are happy that you’d like to do it. They’re tired of sitting and reading paat to an audience who doesn’t understand it. If someone comes along who can speak Punjabi, knows paat and actually talks to them as fellow humans, they wwould be welcomed. However, the reality is that if you did ask the Granthee, he will always say, please ask the committee. Basically Granthees have no power and the committee doesn’t understand the concept of delegation.  The committee cares little what they think and even little less about what they feel.  The problem actually is that the Gurudwaras pay these Granthees a pittance, and therefore you the sangat have to additionally supplement their salaries with compulsory fees on top of the “bheta” for the room, as well as they money earnt from kirtan chadava.  At some of the bigger Gurudwaras they have Granthees pouring out of the ears, but can a single one of these speak English…hardly.

One thing that is guaranteed is that the Gurudwara committee will not listen to any ideas you give them.  You’ll go up to them to offer a suggestion, “you know uncleji, it would be good to…..”.

(1)     The first thing they will say, “Oh thats a good idea, I admire you trying to help. You know you are like our children, you are our future.”  Then they will try to walk off by saying, let me put this to the committee”.

Children!! You must be kidding right. We’re now at the age that we’ve got kids of our own and run businesses! To put this in context, Guru Gobind Singh ji was 33 when he set up the Khalsa! How old do you think you need to be. More importantly, these committee members were around 30 each when they got into the committees but suddenly, we’re too young!

You might go one step further and say, “Well I can happily do this seva myself for the Gurudwara”. Hmm, now comes the harder part. The committee wallah will say,

(2)     “Oh you know, I am really in favour of you youth getting more involved but please understand that there are others in the committee who are very backward minded, they will complain about using English, and will do their best to stop it. Let me try and build some consensus.”

In this scenario, the bad people are always the other, the good people are them, and we are always the children asking permission. Or they will say,

(3)     “you know right now our focus is the building fund and our mortgage and we really cant afford to get our mind off that task”…The next thing they will start complaining about all the problems of debt on the gurudwara, how much they personally have done to give money, how we might risk the gurudwara getting re-possessed..basically they will distract you until you think, forget it. 

In summary, either you get presented with the bogey man of the “committee hates change and is backward” or you get told that “we have to focus on the building fund”. 

(4)     If your matter will take some investment and you then offer to make things simpler and get some people together to pay for it yourself, you’re likely to come up against, well the committee must agree it first. More than likely they’ll invite you to give money to the building fund, and also do their best to give you a guilt trip about the importance of getting the Gurudwara out of debt so that the chadava is not going towards paying interest to the banks (they wont mention that they put the Gurudwara under debt in the first place).. 

(5)     If however the idea is cheap or actually very good, the other thing that is likely to happen is that they will try and placate you and a few weeks later, you’ll find that someone else (either a son or close friend of the committee) will be implementing your exact idea and telling everyone how their uncleji from the committee had a great idea and asked him to implement it. Why will this happen? Well the guy who will be carrying out this idea is likely to be a “ghar da banda” i.e. he will not be looking to replace the committee members, he’s more than happy just to do some seva and he feels good that way. A the same time, he also looks good in front of the community and his proud uncle from the committee shows him off to all his mates. The committee guys know that he is not politically smart enough to be running the committee until they themselves hand it over to him when their health fails.

(6)     If however your idea is a little too troublesome and they don’t want even their own guy doing it, the next thing crafy tactic will be that they will try to annoy you so that you get angry. They might say that you are behaving like a fanatic, or you’re not a member or anything which they can claim is reasonable, but it is designed to get you angry and start shouting. Once you do this, its simply a case of labelling you a religious extremist and getting either the police involved or security and try to ban.

Whats the real reason behind this? We’ve pondered it enough and broken it down to two reasons.

(1)     One is purely fear based and that fear is that if they start listening to your ideas, when will you stop. Surely you’ll come up with more ideas and soon want to either get on the committee or form a rival to it and replace them. It comes down to remaining in control of the power that they have. If the sangat gets behind your logical ideas, then they risk creating their own rival. Better to either stop it altogether or implement the idea using their own people.

(2)     There is a second reason, one that is a little harder to prove and also likely only to apply to the bigger Gurudwaras. This will be that there are people who are actively trying to stop Sikh youth in the UK from getting too uppity and taking control of Gurudwaras. I.e. lets call these people, Indian Government/ BJP/ RSS guys or “IGBR” for short. Now these guys have a huge budget to basically keep Sikhs quiet abroad. Even if they dedicated just $1m (small change) to controlling the Sikhs in the UK, then they could afford to hire a few people full time to basically take steps to keep the Gurudwara tied up in politics. The people they hire as their agents will look like Sikhs, will speak fluent Punjabi but it’s likely that they will not themselves go into the committee. No, that would be too obvious. What the IGBR agent will do is become a knowledgeable and trusted sevadar and then purposely pick people who are pretty arrogant, self-serving and overly political and they will tell that guy, “you know, you’re a great Sikh, you’re exactly what we Sikhs need in power right now. Why don’t you stand for the committee” They’ll basically do their best to ensure the Gurudwara committee is full of unsuitable people. Then once this is done, they just hang around to create controversies. These are the “kingmakers”, they basically become trusted by committee members and then control the agenda of the Gurudwara. We’re pretty sure that the majority of the arguments and bad ideas, like going into more debt to build buildings, comes from these kingmakers. It could be from the committee members themselves too, but these guys would be really enthusiastic about them and work to get it done.

 How do we know that these kingmakers exist?

  1. Well, its too obvious, just think what you would do if you were the Indian government and had seen the gurudwaras being taken over by “khalistanis” after 1984. You’d want to ensure that the Sikhs abroad didn’t suddenly get united and start speaking with one voice. The cheapest and simplest option is to use agents. Some of the RSS have already taken “amrit” and look like Sikhs. If you think we’re being overly paranoid, let us give you one example. The British govt paid for an undercover police officer to spend 6 years in “The clown army” a pretty harmless political group.  Compare the threat that an educated and united western Sikh sangat could pose to the ruling classes of India Look at the credible theories of India actually instigating the Air India Flight 182 bombing in June 1985. We’ve all seen the undercover police in the Occupy movements, so of course the Indian Govt would infiltrate the Gurudwaras abroad. It’s too obvious for it not to be true.
  2. Look at those Gurudwaras that do not have a committee, but rather someone in charge, i.e. the Naamdhari, or baba gurudwaras. What do you see? No arguments and people getting on with projects. They are the ones likely to have kirtan/santhia classes and who probably won’t be wasting all their chadava on paying mortgage interest but doing things slowly but surely. Why are the big committee Gurudwaras not like this? Why do most people who love kirtan, paat or seva stay away form the committee? Someone is finding ways to keep us down and the committee facilitates this.

You might well defend the committee and say, “Well these committee wallahs are doing their bit by keeping the Gurudwara functioning. It’s not their fault they dont have a vision for what else to do.” This is not a great excuse. Let us give you a scenario, you’re in a park and you see a person drowning in the lake, you run over and are about to jump in the water but then a park warden grabs you and says leave it, its too dangerous. You say, I can swim and I have done a lifesaver’s and first-aiders course. This person says, well if you get stuck, I cant swim so cant rescue either of you! Now the person in the lake drowns and you feel miserable. Did the warden who stopped you, do a bad thing? Did he not prevent you from saving a life? If you think the warden did do something bad, what is the difference between a committee person who stops good things happening in the Gurudwara?

The reality of the rule of committee wallahs is that good people who want to make a difference are being stopped. We all know for a fact that due to committees, good people have been discouraged from putting good ideas into action, they feel sucked dry after working with them, disillusioned and think forget it. Some committed few think it’s just a matter of waiting, “The buddeh (old guys) will die out soon and then we’ll be able make some changes.” Well, there are 3 main reasons why we need to do something now other than this option of waiting. 

  • Firstly: These guys are not dying out anytime soon, don’t let the white beards fool you, mostly they are 60-70 odd years old and it will be at least another 20 years before they all die out! That means someone born now, will be 20 years old and already finishing off university by that time. A whole generation will be in work, tending to kids etc and majoritarily lost to kalyug.
  • Secondly: These guys have their own replacements coming in from Punjab. The pendu uncle (no vision, just proud to say he’s on the committee) who has been here 30 years will just be replaced by a pendu (villager) who has been here for 10 years. We’ve seen that there is a never ending supply of these people, younger than them but older than you who will be planning to use the committee system to get in.
  • Thirdly: Nearly every day we read shabads like “Deh Shiva”, asking Vaheguru to give us strength to do the right thing without fear. We talk about our shaheeds who stuck to their tasks and showed bravery. Can the reform of this system just be postponed 20 years?

One other argument we’ve heard recently is that if you raise too much of a fuss, the committee has goons that will try to intimidate you. We even heard of some people getting their windows smashed or cars burnt. This does sound extreme and I can see why some families might not want to face this. But hold on, we’re the Khalsa right, we do ardaas and remember the punj piarey (willing to be beheaded), the 4 sahibzadey (all shaheed), the 40 muktey (again died in battle), those people who were sawn in half, boiled alive, were scalped etc, and now you want us to be scared of a window being smashed! In Guru Tegh Bahadur ji’s time a Sikh in Delhi burnt his whole house down just so Guruji’s body could be cremated. Honestly, we’re not even sure there is a comparison. We’d happily take a beating for our guru, let alone clean up some glass and pay double glazing costs or buy another car. When we sing “purja Purja kat marei, kabho na chadoo khet,” i.e., “let me be chopped into little pieces but never leave the battlefield,” then we should take strength from that. You know, it’s almost a good sign when someone tries to smash your window, it means you actually managed to be a threat to the status quo. Take encouragement and do even more, and post it all online J

So allow us to offer our vision of what a Gurudwara management system might like.

Our suggestions for the Ideal Gurudwara Committee

We think the first criteria of the committee member should be that they heavily involved in either parchar, teaching or doing paat, kirtan, tabla or seva (larger or humanitarian). i.e., they should be sevadaars.

Secondly we should use the Guru’s criteria of Panj Piarey, i.e. Amritdhari, fully practicing and have memorised all the morning panj banees. They should be committed to Sikhi and living the Gursikh life.

Thirdly, we should change all the names, no longer a president, it should just panj piarey with specific duties of doing the amrit sanchaars and also titles like, “Sevadaar to complain about Parchar”, “Sevadaar to complain about Langar” and the “Mukh sevadaar to blame”. i.e., they are responsible for the fall in the standards that we the sangat should expect from them.

Finally, these panj piarey should have specific tasks, starting with the “Mukh Sevadaar to blame” (previously faultily identified as a president) who would have to clean the toilets every day (ideally between 5-6am). Their background, photos and phone number should be prominently displayed so whenever the sangat have a complaint, they know who to blame. Every 3-6 months they should have to give an account of what they have achieved, what failures and the plan for next few months, as well as accepting questions.

Basically make it as “unattractive” as possible to take away all the false allure and hopefully the person who puts themselves forward will genuinely feel the pleasure of doing the sangats seva and be prepared to take responsibility if it falls below the standard of what the “Guru Roop Sadh Sangat” expects.  This tackles the basic problem that people come into Gurudwara politics looking for Sardari, not Sevadari.

If you remove the committee and the president etc..and only have the Punj Piare…the other main change that needs to come is that we need to have project based leadership. Basically we should not have leaders, we should have project managers (PMs). This removes the need to have committees, what we need is projects and the people who are running those projects, and then each person can choose what project they wish to get involved it. The PM can say okay, we need those jobs done, allot roles and ensure the project is delivered, then the project is over.

This avoids people arguing about the non-issues. You come together to do a project, not just together without a project. People who are busy getting on with projects rarely even bother to argue about each others rehat, they are more concerned about how to get the project done. The Gurudwara should be having courses in project management, (Prince2 or PMPO) to train the PMs in how to deliver the projects and obviously there will be some long term ongoing projects and other short term projects.

Then the best thing to do is publish everything, publish the constitution, the calendar of events, the goals for the next six month, next year, next five years, the current financial situation, the exact funds required and for which project, costs broken down for major bills, basically everything and then ask the sangat, what would you like us to achieve within our budget and what extra items would you like ot achieve for which we need to fundraise.

What this will result in, is efficient, transparency and that most important of things, Trust. It’s obvious to all people, even those in the committee that no one trusts the Gurudwara committee. No one gives their Dasvandh to the Gurudwara because they don’t trust the committee. They tolerate the committee, they suffer the committee but they don’t trust it. To build trust, we will have to build a system where the people who run the Gurudwaras have absolutely no normal incentive to be in charge, lots of responsibility, lots of sangat scrutiny but also, the chance to make a real difference, ie.e., do Guru’s seva. Then the sevadaars (who do exist) will start coming out of the woodwork. Now lets train these guys up and get them to deliver. Then we’ll get real trust of the sangat and then the ‘beant maaya’ that Guru Gobind Singh ji has blessed the Sikhs with, will start flowing into the golak. It doesn’t have to be a baba who motivates the aunties to give away their gold necklaces. A punj piarey led Gurudwara that delivers the goods of Sikhi was enough for the ancestors of these same women to hand over their children for slaughter and wear them as necklaces. That same power of Sikhi exists today and needs to be brought into the Gurudwaras.

To some readers this proposed system will sound extreme. I ask whether Guru Gobind Singh sahib picking up a sword and asking for a head or perhaps Guru Nanak asking Bhai Lehna to eat a corpse was also being extreme. In our opinion, the test for leading the panth needs to be extreme or else we’ll stay in the current situation. We’re actually toning it down, a more favourite option was to add that each Punj Piara also give one finger to the chopping block just to show their guts and committment. 

Here is a good question though, where will these Sevadars come from? In Plato’s republic we see that in the end, its the people themselves who go and ask for a Philosopher to come and lead them. Plato’s philosophers were people who loved the truth and probably had forsake politics.  This is exactly what the Sikhs need, strong leadership which is actually focused on manifesting the truth. However, be prepared that true sevadaars are not going to just sign up for this mission. They will need to be persuaded that this is a new type of Gurudwara management system. One that truly looks for Sevadars rather than attracts Sardari orientated people. They will need to be persuaded that the Sangat will not be placing them on some pedestal and robbing them of their inner peace and humbleness, but rather, the Sangat will be giving them the mandate of doing Guru’s seva and will have expectations that need fulfilling. It is truly a wonderful Seva to serve a sangat (in a leadership role) with their permission and with Guru sahibs blessings. Look at the example of Nawab Kapur Singh. When the panth unanimously elected him as Nawab, he immediately placed the Siropa gifted by the Mughals at the feet of the Punj Piarey. He fought numerous battles and was widely respected but always remained a true servant of the panth. But the Panth had to choose him and empower him. Similarly, if today we want to bring change into our Gurudwara committees, we’re going to have to get the right people at the front.  However first we will have to change the system as its the system which corrupts and turns true Sikhs away. We need to reform our Gurudwaras and attract Sevadars. People who are willing to sacrifice for the panth, to bleed for the panth, these should be the ones who lead. This can and will happen. With Guru’s grace, more and more of the youth are getting into Sikhi and they are following the code of conduct properly. Their spiritual level is high and also they are willing to put their faith/their careers in Guru’s hand. It’s almost like all the Sikhs who died after 1984 are coming back as young Sikhs abroad, ready to do something new for the panth. They are our future and the future they bring will be Orange indeed.

Spring Cleaning Part 2 will focus on the Panth itself and reasons for disunity. May Dhan Guru Nanak Dev ji bless his Sikhs that their Gurudwaras are run by people who are imbued with his teachings and live to serve humanity. May the Sangat make this their expectation and work together to destroy the current deplorable system and build another that promotes Sevadari nor Sardari. Then truly will the Sikhs start delivering Sikhi for Sarbat da bhala and make the Khalsa worthy to be called the physical manifestation of Dhan Guru Gobind Singh ji, the true emperor.

Vaheguru

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