Monday, 2 November 2015

Exploring Sikhi and Interfaith Weddings

This is not going to be an easy post to write, especially because of the repercussions I may face. And it is because of these repercussions I must speak out even more. I have been weighing up writing about this for the last few weeks and have decided that though I might endanger myself by writing this, it is even more important that our society is better educated about this after it has been read.

I have had a tumultuous relationship with god. In my teens,I ran away from the family home, and turned my back to Sikhism, mainly due to my father's apparent devotion to the religion and yet being a monster. It wasn't until I was around 22 or 23 when I was once again drawn to this spiritual religion that I realised that despite leaving it behind, it had always been there for me. I realised that through all parts of my life, I had inadvertently followed what Sikhi aspired to teach us. It was then that I realised that my father was actually a very bad example of a Sikh and I found a new appreciation for Sikhi. Today, when I think of my belief in the Gurus' teachings I feel serenity and peace. It brings peace to my mind.

Over the past few years, there has been a greater presence of fundamentalism within the Sikh religion. Some gurdwaras are being used to forward the agenda of the Khalsa Brigade- a group of Sikhs who believe that the state of Punjab in India, birth place of Sikhism, ought to become it's own country. They give lectures at gurdwaras about their cause, I've been at gurudwara when they have been giving speeches and it was scary as it sounded a lot like brainwashing. It's probably no different to how terrorists recruit young impressionable people. Some of the more extreme fundamentalists even want 'Khalistan' to be a Sikh only country. What's strange is that despite these people having been born outside of India, their priority is turning the state of Punjab into it's own country and making Sikhi into a fundamentalist religion rather than focus on 'cleaning up' the many problems facing the people of Punjab today. For one thing, there is a huge drug problem- drugs come through Pakistan, go through Punjab and then through the rest of India. Young Punjabi men in particular are getting addicted to hardcore drugs. But these fundamentalists don't care about any of that. Another huge problem is Female Infanticide- though there is a law to stop women from having fetus gender scans and abortions due to finding out that it's a female, this is still happening illegally, and has caused huge disparities in the ratio of males to females.

A few weeks ago, something that has been happening for a while was published in a mainstream newspaper. Interfaith Sikh wedding ceremonies have been getting disrupted for years by groups of men who think that Anand karaj- the sikh marriage ceremony-  must only be undertaken by sikhs, discarding completely the decision by the gurdwara to let it take place- which they have been allowing for decades. It needs to be said here that from observations, not statistical data, many people have found that most of these disruptions take place at the weddings where Sikh women are getting married to a man outside of the Sikh faith. There have been countless incidents (all hushed up) but The Telegraph got hold of one such story, which started a whole new debate within the sikh community as well as the British Society as a whole. Sunny Hundal, a journalist had been writing about this for a while before they published the story. The amount of publicity (both positive and negative) he was getting amongst British Sikhs was overwhelming. I kept my eye on it and read the arguments by both for and against it. Many Sikhs were accepting that when one Sikh marries outside the religion they ought to be able to take part in the Anand Karaj whilst others said it was a ceremony between two sikhs only. What I saw was a lot of hatred towards people who wanted to marry outside the religion, and these radical minded people accusing these people of only wanting the Anand Karaj for show. From experience, I don't believe mixed couples would want to marry in a Gurudwara just for show after all the shame and adversity they have most likely had to face. Why would they put themselves through a ceremony that may get disrupted unless one of them is devoted.

This whole situation also brought to light other important questions, and I did wonder at one point how many Sikh- Sikh couples actually take part in the Anand Karaj just to appease their families, whether these couples are actually practising Sikhi or are they automatically allowed to have the Anand Karaj ceremony just because they were born in a Sikh family. The last part was even more important as there were reports that a wedding was disrupted this year when a sikh woman was marrying a white man who had converted to Sikhi. Despite him talking to the thugs who disrupted their wedding, demonstrating to them his knowledge of the Sikh faith, the thugs were still hellbent on interrupting the ceremony. This really does make me wonder whether the real issue is based purely on racism. There have however been non-racist based arguments too, but mainly it's been a bit of a liberals versus religious fanatics, and the religious fanatics came across a lot like radicals- very similar in their stance- verbally attacking people who stood up against their ideals. I found this article by the Sikhnet quite educational on the issue and welcomed their stance on it.

I have spent quite a lot of time sitting on this article and feel that I can now finally publish it. Having explored my own views a little widely on the matter, I believe that the Anand Karaj should be open to all Sikhs marrying outside the faith, though I disagree with couples who hold 2 different religious ceremonies. But I also believe that the person who is not the Sikh ought to fully know and understand the ceremony and  at least the basics of the Sikh religion. There is also a bigger picture to look at here, which is the future of the children from that marriage. If the couple are welcomed into the faith then the children will more likely be brought up in the faith. Sikhi is not a religion that converts people, but it shouldn't become the religion that is borne of hatred either.

A few months ago, The Sikh Council UK made a decision:

References, for those who want to further explore: