A House Divided

Are we a house divided or a mansion with many rooms?

Mine is one Sikh’s (my) perspective on the Sikh journey; enjoyment directly proportional to the generated conversation. More thoughtful the disagreement the greater my joy.

Under the lens is a project defining a place for Sikhs and Sikhi in the North American mainstream. We need it. The idea is not new, the attempt is one of the few. It is a product of Rajwant Singh and his close associates. 

Honest disclosure: I have known Rajwant for more than a couple of decades, and we have been in periodic contact over the years. We have disagreed but also collaborated. In this project, I helped edit some of the voluminous material produced by the core group led by Gurwin Singh.

Did we always agree on the product? Absolutely not. So why did I work with this team? Because the idea is bigger than any man.

Sikhs seem like the new kids on the block. We are few and the world knows little of us. We are destined to remain a minority no matter where we live – in India or North America.

Keep in mind that we have over a hundred years-old history in the good old U.S of A. Sikh workers had a hand in the construction of the Panama Canal in 1901-04. But today, most Americans can’t distinguish Sikhs from the Islamic enemies of the nation.

All along, we have been struggling for an equal place at the table of this society, and the struggle goes on.

This new project is designed to introduce Sikhi and Sikh-Americans to the larger society. We need to knock on the doors of social institutions, academia, portals of mass communication for a place in the public space. It is and will always remain an educational incentive.

The project is expensive and this group raised more than a million dollars – an inspiring start to a beginning that shall have no end. This initiative remains costly despite the many volunteers (like me) who work gratis. 

Some of the loudest criticism, as expected, comes from left field. Let me recapitulate one dedicated sincere Sikh critic: “Why so much money on television and print time? All we need to do is to serve free food in every town to the millions. The money would be better spent on prayers and more gurduaras instead.” 

But don’t you think our community deserves and needs some larger perspectives and initiatives also? Then there were others who attacked the organizers for real or imagined character flaws, misguided ambition, possible financial sleight of hand, and so on, ad infinitum. 

Flaws are not rare in people and that’s what we are.

Life makes many demands: What kind of a car should I drive – Rolls Royce, Lexus, Mercedes, or a used Kia? Similar questions on my house and where it should be. Food, shelter and clothing are basic needs, but what choices I make depends on where my life is at a given time. My resources and my sense of self are important and varied. There are needs and there are wants.

Our community, like all the others around us, seems divided along fault lines that seem impossible to bridge. There are some who live more flashily than I approve or can afford. Many live like the proverbial church mouse. Our needs are many and varied; some will get the short end at any given time. Differences on how our budget should meet our varied needs may sometimes amuse us; other times we might kill because others choose a different path. Let our differences be the haven where personal innuendo has no place.

I know that we don’t proselytize or work to convert others. But this is perhaps the first ever initiative by the Sikhs to market themselves by engaging world class talent which has worked for Obama, Bush, Ford motor company and Facebook. It’s time to actively educate others on who we are, what we are, and why we are the way we are. The times demand it and the technology is available to perhaps do exactly what Guru Nanak ventured to do for 37 years by traveling thousands of miles.

Our community has the resources and the talent but, until now, not the marketing strategy. Explore these links for exactly what new doors are being opened:

Our religion, our tradition and our common needs unite us into a vibrant community with a glorious history and common needs. 

Are we a house divided or a mansion with many rooms? Sikhs are a large and complex orchestra of many instruments. Let the music play on.

IJ Singh

Dr. I.J Singh has a probing mind and a wry sense of humor. His prolific pool of essays poke, provoke and ultimately force the reader to think more deeply. His work has graced SikhNet's pages for some time.

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