Sikh traditionalists turn tables on modernists in Surrey temple election
By Salim Jiwa
SURREY, B.C. – (Update) Members of the Sikh community in Surrey chose long-standing religious tradition over modernists and elected a temple executive slate which has promised to remove table and chairs from the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple. The margin of victory was massive, almost two to one, with the traditionalists getting over 13,400 votes.
Traditionalists turned the tables on the modernist slate that had ruled the temple for more than a decade in a landslide victory. The final outcome of the vote was 13, 458 for the traditionalist Sikh youth slate and approximately 7,257 for the old guard.
The temple, second largest in North America, was controlled by modernists for the longest period of time and tables and chairs filled the dining hall where meals are served free to all worshipers and anyone else who wants them. In the 90s violence erupted and tempers flared over the issue of tables and chairs in the “langar” (dining) hall.
The Sikh Youth slate led by Bikramjit Sandher handily defeated the modernists during the court supervised elections where observers counted some 20,000 ballots cast by Sikhs who braved long lineups to vote.
The election result was announced shortly before 2 a.m. on Monday.
“With an almost 2:1 ratio of votes for the youth, the Sikh community has loudly indicated their desire for a positive change,” the victors said.
“Large, energized crowds gathered throughout Surrey late Sunday night into Monday morning, letting out a collective sigh of relief when reports circulated that the Youth slate was victorious. As the news sunk in, people from all political backgrounds flooded the Youth campaign office with congratulatory phone calls,” the youth group said in a press release.
“The time for change has come. The sangat (c0mmunity of worshippers) has spoken loud and clear: they want Gurdwara management that speaks to the real issues our community is facing today,” the newly elected president Bikramjit Sandhar.
“We must all join together to save our children from drugs and gangs, to provide support and equality to women, and to ensure the best services for our seniors. We must renew our mission to serve all of humanity now that we are united,” said Gurnam Sanghera, a supporter of the former slate.
“We lost. There was a voter shift – our own voters shifted. We accept it, is the decision of the community.”
“Whatever the verdict, we accept it,” said Sanghera about the reaction of long-time temple president Balwant Singh Gill who could not be reached for comment early Monday morning.
Some in the community view the Sikh Youth with suspicion – saying they are separatists who cling to the dream of creating a Sikh republic out of the state of Punjab where the vast majority of the world’s 30 million Sikhs live.
However, the Sikh Youth slate says it is made up of progressive Sikhs, many of whom are professionals, who want to return the temple to the traditions followed by Sikhs world-wide.
“The Sikh Community of British Columbia has spoken loudly in favour of a positive change for a better future, by awarding the directorship service at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Gurdwara Sahib, Surrey, BC to the Sikh Youth Slate, by a large margin of votes,” the Sikh Youth slate said on its website www.newfuture.ca.
“This service is done by the grace of God, for the well-being of humanity. Thank you to all those who supported this campaign, and all those who volunteered countless hours to make this change happen. Now, the real work begins.”
While the simplistic view can be the divide over tables and chairs, the issues are deeper within the community. There has been a sense that religious obligations and service to the community has suffered.
But some of the change is seen to have been motivated by long-standing bitterness over how the media has covered the community’s traditionalists with labels such as fundamentalists, or even extremists. While the parties that supported the basic values of the Sikh faith were labeled fundamentalists, the other side was automatically called moderate.
Much of the labeling in the mainstream media was a left over from the bitter 1980s when a Sikh rebellion consumed Punjab state over the invasion of the Golden Temple and its impact on Sikhs world-wide. Sikh militancy dissipated in Canada in the early 90s and is no longer an issue.
“We will work to unite the Sikh community through open communication, transparency and community outreach bringing positive and efficient change in our approach to community relations,” said the Sikh Youth platform.
“As community divided by years of community politics, media labels, and violent conflicts, it is our duty as the next generation to move beyond these difference and work towards uniting the community. With the united strength of Sikh societies and organizations across the Lower Mainland, we can achieve greater success in addressing the needs of the community,” the slate had said.
The youth camp also was more organized, holding massive rallies at banquet halls and using social networking sites like You Tube to broadcast their message.
” Let’s take back our holy institutions and restore them to their original purpose, which was serving all humanity and helping people to become better, brighter and closer to their spiritual source,” said a campaign slogan.
It is expected the slate with Bikramjit Singh Sandhar at the helm as president will take over the temple in January. Tables and chairs will be moved out to comply with Sikh traditional values but some will be kept in the kitchen hall to allow elderly and the infirm to participate in the meals which are regarded as part of worship.
Copyright 2009, Vancouverite News Service. Use this article on your blog or website for just $5. News organizations pay $25. To reproduce or distribute, click: http://vancouverite.icopyright.com