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In the past decade or so, Indian immigrants in the Valley have constructed around twelve Sikh temples to meet the needs of a growing community. However, these temples often lack one crucial element: young adults. The young express a sense of alienation, citing their discomfort with the internal politics of the temples and their limited proficiency in Punjabi, the main language used during religious services. They desire an increase in youth-oriented activities and initiatives to capture their interest.

27-year-old Naindeep Singh, regional leader of the Jakara Movement, a nonprofit Sikh youth organization said, "There's a generational divide." 

The need to engage the youth 

Singh, who is from Madera, said most of the parents are immigrants who observe the religion as they did in India, reciting memorized verses. Many of the youths want a more Americanized service that allows for discussion and explanation. The Jakara Movement's annual Sikh Youth Conference took place at California State University, Fresno last month, with a focus on the generational divide. During the conference, participants reached a consensus to approach their temples and request better accommodations for young adults. While some Sikh elders believe that younger Sikhs should prioritize mastering Punjabi as it holds significance to the culture and faith, they also acknowledge the need for changes.

Ranjit Singh Rajpal, the general secretary of the Sikh Council of Central California, who migrated from India to the United States in 1974, stated that most temples have taken steps to address the concerns of younger adults. They provide English translations of hymns and of the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. Additionally, many temples offer Punjabi language classes.

According to Rajpal, there is an issue with the young individuals responsible for providing English translations at certain temples. Sometimes, on Sundays, there is no projector available for the translations because the operator fails to show up. Rajpal, aged 58, additionally holds parents accountable for not encouraging their children to learn Punjabi and attend the temple.
Losing Meaning in Translation 

Parminder Singh, a 38-year-old resident of Kingsburg, believes that parents should take greater responsibility in teaching their children the Punjabi language and the Sikh faith to their children. His wife teaches Punjabi to their two children, ages 10 and 7. He said, “Anytime you translate, you lose some meaning. We have to be bilingual."
Mirigian-Emerzian, an 86-year-old woman, revealed that her parents had compelled her to attend an Armenian school during her childhood. She also regularly attended Valley Armenian churches, where religious services were conducted in Armenian. According to Mirigian-Emerzian, her parents maintained the tradition and were proficient in the language, but she was born and raised in the United States. Initially, as a young child, she resisted learning Armenian. However, as she grew older, she came to recognize the benefits of acquiring another language.
Sikhs in the valley 

The Valley is the residence of approximately 40,000 Sikhs. Sikhism, a religion established over 500 years ago in Punjab, India, and what is now Pakistan, encompasses the core values of believing in one God, leading a truthful life, and recognizing the equality of all humanity. During the Sunday service at a typical Sikh temple, known as a Gurdwara in Punjabi, men and women sit without footwear on the floor, with separate sides for each gender. The service begins with hymns sung in Punjabi, followed by a prayer.

Harjinder Dhillon, the president of the executive committee of Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Fresno, acknowledges that some temples are resistant to change. According to him, these temples are very strict and do not allow cultural dances and plays, claiming that such activities are not suitable.

Dhillon is hopeful that the new temple being built by Singh Sabha Gurdwara will attract younger adults. The temple, located on Parkway Drive between Ashlan and Shaw avenues, will have various amenities including an educational institute, a gym, tennis courts, a playground, and a prayer room. The first phase of this $10 million project is expected to be completed by next summer. Dhillon envisions that more temples in the Valley will adapt to the needs and preferences of the next generation of Sikhs.

*Based on an article by Vanessa Coln, published in Fresnobee.com on 17th July 2008


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