Jaskaran Sandhu: Acknowledge How Our Gurdwaras Have Succeeded In The Diaspora

Some critiques are better informed than others

Jaskaran Sandhu
May 25, 2021 | 2.5 min. read  | Opinion

From committee politics to the potential of our Gurdwaras as community hubs, everyone has an opinion. Everyone. 

I have spent over the past decade engaged in direct community mobilization and advocacy across Canada, and the state of our Gurdwaras is the number one thing people love talking about. 

Nothing else comes close - it does not even matter what the actual topic of a meeting with stakeholders or individuals is, they will end up talking about how to improve Gurdwaras in Canada and elsewhere eventually. 

Many of those opinions are well-founded and grounded in personal experiences. So, I am cautious in dismissing complaints because there are real constructive ways to make Gurdwara management and community programming stronger and better in the diaspora. For example, women and young people do not feel welcomed in decision-making conversations in what is “uncle” dominated committee rooms. 

The more interesting argument, in my opinion, is around the appropriateness of western democratic systems for Gurdwara management. And, whether that is conducive to not only good governance but building models and best practices that are Sikhi inspired. 

However, some critiques are better informed than others.

Gurdwaras have played a critical role in not only connecting us to Sikhi but promoting and protecting Sikhs in places like Canada - I would like that to be more regularly acknowledged. Especially by those that may only visit a Gurdwara for weddings and special holidays. 

I would like to recognize the first generation that came to an unwelcoming country, and while facing racism and language barriers, built and maintained Gurdwaras as sevadars while working the overtime to make ends meet.

I would like to recognize the volunteers that run libraries within Gurdwaras, giving access to information and history over the years that we take for granted now in the digital age. 

I would like to recognize Gurdwaras that have built gyms to strengthen our people, providing a community centre connecting our youth with Sikhi, and continuing a culture of athletics as part of our identity.

I would like to recognize how our Gurdwaras have consistently maintained the memories of 1984, our struggle for sovereignty, amplifying human rights defenders like Jaswant Singh Khalra, and honouring our shaheeds that gave their lives defending Sikhi and our people through centuries of oppression.

I would like to recognize Gurdwaras that have used their stages to raise important community issues and push action, from raising money to sponsor Afghan Sikhs facing persecution at the hands of the Taliban and ISIS, to advocating for rightful changes to the Public Safety Canada Terror Report.

I would like to recognize the Gurdwara sevadars that have continued to serve international students throughout COVID-19 (and before), assisting them with very real food security issues and mental health struggles as one of the few community hubs that have always taken care of them. 

I would like to recognize the community coming together to run vaccine clinics for everyone, regardless of their background, out of Gurdwaras around the world to ensure we all exit the pandemic safely together. 

My point is we have every right to critique committees and expect more from community-facing programming, but that has to come with an appreciation and acknowledgment of what it has taken to get to this point. Critiques also have to come with a real investment of seva at Gurdwaras - regularly and consistently. It is only then we will be able to earn the ability and vision to correct what we may perceive as room for improvement.


Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Senior Consultant at the public affairs agency Crestview Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_

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