Gurdwara Politics

Last weekend, I visited Oak Creek Gurdwara. I came at a time of tension. The picture below illustrates the issue bluntly.

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A year ago, the Gurdwara decided to put up pictures of the six victims in the lobby of the Gurdwara. The pictures stayed for a year. Now, however, two have been taken down. Why? Threats to the victims’ families. Sangat who don’t want to see the pictures before going into the main hall. A compromise gone weary – the pictures were supposed to be moved to the langar hall along with other pictures from Sikh history. A plethora of reasons, all charged with validity and passionate emotion.

I bring this particular case up to illustrate a trend I have seen in every single community I have visited thusfar – “gurdwara politics.” It’s not new. Conferences have been organized to talk about it. Youth are noticing. Big time. And egos are getting scarred.

I don’t know if it’s a product of a generation turning back to its roots to find identity or the fact that I’m part of the generation challenging and problematizing gurdwara boards’ and trustees’ decisions, but I am noticing a fast-growing dissatisfaction with the way in which gurdwaras are run and the services they provide.

Uncles don’t want to give up their power. Half the time they’re in business with some other men on the board. Aunties gossip for no reason but boredom perhaps. Domestic violence victims have no place to turn for help. Initiatives led by kids are turned down for no reason but the assumption youth are too naïve to offer anything useful. No one is thinking about the future. No one is stopping to assess the purpose and function of the gurdwara.

Youth is though. And it’s finding major problems. Some are doing something about it – discussions, trips to the park, shabad translations in English, kirtan classes; but others are just turning away. What will the Sikh population become if the very kids who are supposed to frequent our gurdwaras in fifty years are being turned off at the age of 15?

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