Are Controversial Sikh “Chairs” Serving Our Interests?

An Article From the “Review” by various Academics

PERSPECTIVES
Are Sikh “Chairs” Serving Our Interests?
Gurbaksh Singh Gill & others
Currently three Universities in North America – University of British Columbia, University of Michigan and Columbia University have Sikh studies programs. Out of these, the University of British Columbia is the only institution with a fully endowed Chair in Sikh Studies. Canadian Sikh initiated and funded this Chair at the University of British Columbia. The purpose of the Sikh Studies programs is “to promote the study of Sikh traditions”. An Endowment Agreement made between the Sikhs of America and the University of Michigan on July 23, 1986, and signed by one of the authors of this article (Kuldeep Singh), states the objective in the following words:
“The purpose of establishing the Fund and the Position is to promote the study of Sikh tradition, in the sense of religion, philosophy, history, literature, Punjabi language, and related subjects.”
The present occupants of this position in all the above-mentioned Universities continue to portray a twisted version of the Sikh traditions in their thought and action. Instead of promoting the study of Sikh traditions, they have digressed into challenging the authenticity of the Sikh holy Scriptures. They are now arduously working at creating chaos in the realm of Sikh philosophy and religion. Thus, the Sikh Studies Programs at these universities are misdirected and the purpose for which they were established is defeated.
Harjot Oberoi heads the Sikh Chair at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. He has recently published a tendentious book entitled, “Construction of Religious Boundaries.” Ironically this, in fact, is an attempt at the „Destruction of Sikh Religious Boundaries‟. He makes the most derogatory and ridiculous remark in his book: “Just as there is no fixed Guru Nanak in the Janam Sakhis, there is no fixed Sikh identity in the early Sikh period.” The contents of this book and the papers that he read at various Seminars and Conferences are so ill-conceived that they inflicted a big blow to the Sikh sentiments. It is incongruous to see such a person head the Chair in Sikh Studies. Sikhs in Canada are disgusted with Oberoi‟s tactics. They have lodged their protest with the Canadian Government, University authorities and the members of the Parliament. They are also turning to the judicial system for a recourse. The damage Oberoi has done to the Sikh interests is incurable. Under these circumstances, it will be in our best interest to be absolutely certain about the outcome before entering into any new academic venture.
The Sikh Studies Program at the University of Michigan faces similar problems. The Programs was instituted at the initiative of the Sikhs of America, who undertook the financing as per their contract. This is approximately $525,000 short of becoming a fully endowed Chair in Sikh Studies. Pashaura Singh was made in-charge of this program, whose Ph.D. thesis created a furor in the Sikh Nation. He recently pleaded guilty to all the charges levelled against him by a high level team of experts in the area of Sikh Studies. This team of experts was assembled under the order of Sri Akal Takht Sahib. Sri Akal Takhat Sahib is the highest authority in Sikh
affairs. Pashaura Singh apologized in writing and accepted the punishment. The charges may be summed up as follows:
1. Calling the Mina Text Manuscript # 1245 as the first draft of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, when all the evidences and research tools prove it to be unauthentic and fraudulent. Linking the Mool Mantra, written on a separate piece of paper and pasted on the fourth folio of this manuscript, with the Ninth Guru in a desperate attempt to establish it as an historical manuscript; and by speaking the language of McLeod, the writer has committed an act of betrayal.
2. Claiming Jap-Ji as recorded in the unauthentic MS 1245 as the original and considering this, and the other bani of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, as the revised and modified version was a deliberate attempt to create confusion among the followers of Sikhism amounting to the sacrilege of our holy Scripture, which is the Guru Eternal of the Sikhs.
3. His slanderous assertions that Sri Guru Arjun Devji altered the structure of many shabads, either to modify their language or to make them more musical, was a very serious charge without any evidence whatsoever and is the height of sacrilege.
4. He made a sinister distinction by stating, “whether one follows the teachings of Guru Nanak contained in Adi Granth, or one joins the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh” indicating a pre-planned conspiracy aimed at dividing the Sikh Nation into two different categories, viz. the followers of the first nine Gurus and the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh.
5. At several places in the thesis, clumsy efforts have been made to create confusion over the Sikh Doctrine, Sikh history and authenticity of Gurbani, thus eroding the foundations of the Sikh religion. This deliberate misrepresentation, made under the garb of research, points to a deep-rooted conspiracy.
Although Pashaura Singh has accepted all the charges and agreed in writing to exclude the objectionable material from his thesis, no such attempts seem to have been made by him in this direction. The only thing Pashaura Singh has done is to write an unqualified apology withdrawing his baseless assertions, and undergoing the punishment awarded to him by the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, Amritsar. He should prepare an academic critique of McLeod‟s writings to set the record of Sikh traditions straight. Until that time, it is the duty of the Sikh World to put him under strict scrutiny and wait for his corrected version. Now the question arises of supporting the programs that inherently do not promote the study of Sikh traditions. Financial leverage is our last resort to make the Universities acknowledge our concerns and to insure they act upon them. The proper and careful perusal of his publications shall alone enable us to determine the required change in his attitude, approach and honesty of purpose. As advised by Gurbani, let us first examine the product before striking a deal, otherwise it is no deal at all.
With the changes expected in Pashaura Singh‟s thesis, we hope that the University of Toronto, will re-evaluate his research based on the new findings and make a determination. His present employer, University of Michigan, may also be considering taking action against him in view of this very serious and unprecedented development. His thesis has become a hollow shell as a major portion of the material has been proposed to be deleted.
We could apply the same principle and policy to Gurinder Singh Mann. He is in-charge of Sikh Studies at Columbia University, New York. Mann has recently presented his proposal for a Sikh Chair at Columbia and is keen for funds to establish it. Gurinder Singh Mann‟s Ph.D. study at Columbia University was predominantly funded by the Sikhs. He managed to withheld
his thesis from Sikh scholars for two years, in spite of the various attempts made by the Sikhs to scrutinize its contents. This thesis is believed to be no less objectionable than the others mentioned here. This matter is being discussed both in the Sikh press as well as at the Sikh Gurdwaras. The Sikh community posed a number of questions to which he virtually gave no satisfactory replies. Here is a sample:
1. Why the thesis was not given to Dr. Balkar Singh, Head of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Studies and Dean, Faculty of Humanity & Religious studies, Panjabi University, Patiala, and Dr. Darshan Singh, Professor and Chairman of Guru Nanak Studies, Punjab University, Chandigarh, for an academic evaluation when they both met him and asked for it, in New York in July, 1994.
2. In his book “Studying the Sikhs”, Dr. Mann questions the continuation of Guruship by using these words: “why was guruship discontinued?” whereas the historical evidences make it crystal clear that the Guruship was transferred to Sri Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Gobind Singh himself. And that there was no “vacuum” caused as the author claims. Do the Sikhs wish to believe that the illustrious Guru Gobind Singh did not assign the Guruship to Sri Guru Granth Sahib?
In spite of all this, the incumbent has been asking for more money from the Sikhs to serve his own personal interest. Mann‟s campaign to collect funds from the Sangat of various Gurdwaras, in itself, is a proof of his anxiety to secure his position before his thesis become public.
Paradoxically the Sikhs have suffered irreparable damage due to the establishment of the aforesaid Chair at the University of B.C. Vancouver, Canada, and a Sikh Studies Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. We have experienced no less sufferings at the University of Toronto, Canada, under a similar situation. Moreover, we have already contributed a huge sum of our honest and hard earned savings for this position at Columbia University and we should be very cautious and responsible before pursuing this matter any further.
The right move, in our opinion, is to bring all these so called Sikh Chairs under strict scrutiny. We must insure that they serve the Sikh interest using honest academic freedom. We will not go down as smart and farsighted people in the history of Nations, if we keep on allowing the misuse of our hard earned dollars for cutting out own roots. We cannot allow people to take advantage of our generosity. At the present time, the aspirations of the Sikh Nation stand frustrated, its resources are being wasted and the specific purpose for which these programs were established stands defeated. Let us honestly ask ourselves a question before going any further: Are Sikh Chairs serving the Sikh Interests for which they were established?
AUTHORS OF THIS ARTICLE, IN ALPHABATICAL ORDER :-
– Gurbaksh Singh Gill, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies, Akal University, Former Dean, Agriculture University, Ludhiana; Author of books on Sikh religion. Gurmat teacher at number of Sikh Youth Camps in USA and Canada.
– Gurmail Singh Sidhu, Ph.D., Professor, Cal-State University, Frezno; Author of half a dozen books on Panjabi literature; formerly Editor of Sahit Samachar, Ludhiana.
– Kuldeep Singh, F.R.S.H. (London, UK); President, Sikh Youth Federation of United States of America; Organizer and Director of a number of Sikh Youth Gurmat training Camps, Seminars and Conferences in North America; formerly Editor, Sikh World – a quarterly Journal; former
member of the State Bilingual Advisory Committee, Lansing, Michigan, as a representative of the Sikhs for the introduction of Panjabi language in Michigan schools, Winner of the Distinguished service award by the US District Court Monitoring Commission in 1984; Author of many articles on Sikh religion and reviews on various books on Sikhism.
– Surinder Singh Sodhi, Ph.D. Professor of Special Education, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Author of a number of review on books on Sikhism.
– Surjit Singh, Ph.D., Professor, New York State University, Buffalo, NY, Author of a number of articles and reviews on various aspects of Sikh religion.

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